This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1900 words.
Sonia watched as Gordon struggled to start the thing. His face was red, and he took off his stupid hat, to wipe his brow. He could have got one with an electric start of course, but Alistair at the golf club had recommended this model, so of course he got that one. It wasn’t as if he even needed a ride-on mower. Although the garden was large, the lawn only took up a small part, and it meant that he drove the noisy thing back and forth, adjusting the cut each time. Anything to justify the cost.
She walked around the spacious conservatory, looking out at the man who she was married to. Can it really have been almost forty years? The bloated individual at the end of her gaze couldn’t be more different to the confident young man she had met at university. Gordon had been a catch, so her parents thought, anyway. He was a financial wizard, a genius with figures, destined to enjoy a great career somewhere. She was by contrast an average student, her future better secured with an advantageous marriage. He had been nice to her, and she had liked him well enough back then.
Not long after he started at one of the country’s oldest and most respected merchant banks, he had proposed, and she naturally accepted. The alternative had been a mediocre job, sharing a flat with a friend in one of the least desirable parts of the city, and endless dates with eligible young men. Best to get it over and done with, thought Sonia. Right away, Gordon took control. He chose their first house, a nice Edwardian three-bed terrace, in an up and coming area of west London. He didn’t really talk to her about it, just showed her the agent’s leaflet. He did let her choose the furnishings and decoration though, as he would never have bothered himself with such details.
He didn’t want her to work. At first she didn’t mind, as life felt like a holiday. It was lonely though, with Gordon leaving the house before seven, and rarely arriving home until eight in the evening. With a cleaner employed, she had little else to do except shopping and cooking, both of which soon became tiresome and routine. When she announced that she was pregnant with Douglas, Gordon’s first thought was to buy a bigger house. He didn’t seem too excited about the baby, but he threw himself into house-hunting, spurred on by suggestions from his senior colleagues at the bank. One day he drove her to see the new home, a detached four-bed house with a garden that backed onto the Thames in Berkshire. It was lovely, she had to admit. Sonia had no idea what it cost, or what the payments were either. Douglas dealt with all such matters.
Those years were the good ones. Douglas playing in the garden, and Sonia soon pregnant with Isabelle. Gordon rarely had time for the children. Even when they took their holiday at a villa in Tuscany every year, he spent much of his time working on papers, or talking on the telephone to London. Back in Berkshire, she threw herself into small-town life. School committees, charitable organisations, and the annual fete. Her and Gordon were soon well-known, and considered to be a part of the community. As the children grew, Sonia made the house into a lovely family home, and Gordon spent even longer at work, with his commute by train now extended. He was also abroad a lot with his job, and even at weekends when he got home, he spent most of his time at the local golf club. She didn’t complain, there was little point. He had told her that as much business was done at the golf club, than at the office.
Both children soon escaped. Neither of them returned from university, choosing instead to move far away, to start their careers. Douglas went to Denmark, where he got a job working for the giant Lego toy company. Isabelle travelled even further, to the west coast of America, snapped up by a silicon valley software developer. They didn’t come home much, and Gordon could see little point going all the way to see them. Sonia began to live for Christmas, the only time she managed to have both children in the house at the same time. Even that turned sour. When Douglas announced that he was settling down with Arno, a man he had met at work, Gordon refused to accept it. He referred to Arno all the time as ‘the flatmate’, and made it plain that they were not welcome back in Berkshire. Isabelle didn’t fare much better. Two marriages in quick succession, followed by divorces just as rapidly. And Sonia didn’t even get to go to the weddings, which were both in California. Gordon said it was a waste of money to travel over, as they wouldn’t last. Well, he was right about that.
As retirement loomed for Gordon, Sonia became uneasy. Life was just about bearable with him gone much of the time, but the thought of him at home all day made her feel quite ill. They had adapted to distance, and proximity seemed terrifying to her. Then he went and sold the house. Her lovely riverside home, where she had known at least some years of happiness. The house he bought for them to retire to was even larger. More importantly, it was over one hundred miles away, and somewhere she had never heard of, let alone visited. Gordon threw himself into this new life as a retiree. They were wealthy enough by then, so he got one of the best houses in the village, and one of the closest to the golf club. Even though he no longer needed to do business, he knew where he wanted to be, most days.
The bigger house had some benefits. She had other rooms to escape to, including her own bedroom, which she occupied using the excuse of his snoring. It became her refuge away from the husband she could no longer tolerate being around. It wasn’t that he was bad to her, or anything like that. She had just ceased to exist. A mother to children she hardly ever saw, and wife to a man who hardly noticed her. The new village wasn’t to her taste either. Too far from any shops, much too far from any town of interest, and dominated by a gaggle of golf club cronies and church people who Gordon sought to ingratiate himself with. She watched him eat his dinner as he read the newspaper, then sat looking at him as he watched sport on the television. She never got to choose what to watch, and he never really conversed with her anymore, presuming she had nothing to say.
What angered her most was that he was right. She did very little, hardly went anywhere, and found it difficult to warm to any of the new people. She could just leave of course. Force him to sell up, take half of their substantial savings, as well as a good portion of his pension. After all, she had managed his dinner parties, suffered his interminable formal occasions at golf clubs, given him two very intelligent children, and maintained a lovely home. She was entitled, as she saw it. But she chose to wait. She would continue to live the pretence of a settled family life, devoted wife and mother. Her plan was to outlive him, then move back to her beloved Berkshire, reuniting with the children at long last.
Last April, he had arrived home with the enormous lawnmower on a trailer. He could hardly wait for the grass to grow long enough to get out on it. He reminded her of a small child on a pedal tractor, imagining some huge farm or estate under his tiny feet. Gordon was obsessed with this new rural lifestyle, going as far as to buy four-wheel drive cars for them both. Sonia hardly needed a car. These days, she bought her groceries online, and only ever drove ten miles to the closest station, to get the train to the nearest town. He had got rid of her beloved Mini Cooper without even asking her, and replaced it with some enormous truck thing, its tyres almost as big as her. She hated driving it, and found it almost impossible to park when she got anywhere. He had got himself a very swish Range-Rover, even though he only drove it two miles each way to the golf club, or the local pub.
She came out of her reverie as the engine of the lawnmower finally coughed into life, and Gordon climbed onto the seat. She might even have a chance to have a cigarette ouside the front of the house, if he was out there long enough. Six months ago, he had suddenly decided that he no longer wanted her to smoke, and casually instructed her to give up. Just because he had stopped twenty years ago, he thought that it was that easy for anyone. She had been forced to become a secret smoker. Walking up the lane by the house in all weathers, or driving pointlessly around the area to smoke in her car. She hated that, it made her feel like a naughty schoolgirl again.
As she went to find the cigarettes in her handbag, the engine noise stopped suddenly. She went back to check where Gordon was, and saw that he was by the side of the thing, pulling on the starter cord. He was puffing and panting, and his face was redder than ever. Too many years of company lunches, daytime boozing, and eating heavy meals at night. He had been left with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and gout too. Sonia was only surprised that he didn’t have Diabetes into the bargain. Every evening, he took a handful of tablets, and his appointments with the doctor were booked weeks in advance.
Gordon suddenly stood up. He staggered backwards, his hand clutching at his chest. After a few steps, he fell over, landing heavily on the uncut grass. Sonia walked out through the conservatory doors, her pace quickening as she approached the lawnmower. Gordon was looking up at her. His face was white now, devoid of colour. She looked closer, and could see his mouth opening and closing, like a fish out of water. Small bubbles appeared at the side of his mouth, and he didn’t seem to be aware of her presence. She turned and walked back into the house, making her way through to the spacious living room. Turning on the TV, she scrolled down the channels, finding an interesting film. It was about a young girl who was kidnapped, then held captive for fifteen years. She was having trouble to adjusting to life, after managing to escape. Not the sort of thing Gordon would like at all.
Sonia brought an ashtray from her stash under the sink. She lit a cigarette, and relaxed on the sofa, choosing one of her favourite chocolates from an already open box on the side table. Then she checked the on-screen guide, to see how much longer the film was on. Ninety-six minutes.
She would call the ambulance when it finished.