On the back porch of our house there are two red rockers. They were bought on our honeymoon, a trip to Devon, nearly sixty years ago, and they have been repaired and repainted a good many times since. But always red. Because that’s what made us buy them. The colour. We spotted them in a strange little shop, not quite antiques and not quite bric-a-brac but somewhere in between, and they weren’t new then. We could see the red paint beneath the white, trying to make itself known, as though only we could see it and appreciate it.
They cost us all the spending money we had, and we still had to put a bit on tick – it took us five years to pay it all off in the end. And once we had handed over every note and coin, and signed away a heart stopping amount on top, the man in the shop didn’t want to know, so we had to lug them back up that long cobbled hill to the guest house ourselves. I can still remember the look on the landlady’s face when she saw them in her parlour, a mixture of disbelief and all out fury. She was a harridan, that one, but you and your charm persuaded her to let us keep the chairs there overnight. We worried about them all night, like parents with a newborn, and in the morning we rushed downstairs to check nothing had happened to them. Nothing had.
Because we had spent all our money, we had to cut our honeymoon short and leave that afternoon on a train back to London. The guard promised he’d keep an eye on our pride and joys, for a fee, but we had nothing to give him so we took it in turns trundling up to the luggage carriage and back. When we got home, I stayed with the chairs at the station while you ran off to find your dad because he had a cart we could use to get them home.
Home. Home was with your parents then. We had nowhere else to go, and no money (especially after debting on those chairs) so it made sense, but your mother was strict and was never too fond of me, and she refused to let the rockers into her house. Your charm was powerless against her. They had to stay in the shed in the garden. The evenings we spent out there, just the two of us, a glass of beer and each other, rocking gently, were some of the happiest I can remember.
Hard work and denial and we finally found our own house, and it had a room for the rockers, but I always preferred them outside. You promised me that when we were rich we would have a house with a porch at the back so that the chairs would have their own place. I laughed and thanked you and we smiled about it.
We never got rich, but we did eventually buy ourselves a nice, respectable house with a good sized garden. You surprised me one birthday by telling me you had hired some builders to put up a porch, like the one you’d always promised me. The children – we had three by then – didn’t understand and thought it was the worst present they could think of, but I was more pleased than I think I let you know. I always wondered whether you understood how much that gesture meant to me.
The children grew up, they moved out, they visited occasionally. You and I missed them; we were reminded of those early days when it was just the two of us, and at first it was awkward but soon it was natural and as though years had never happened. We sat on those old red chairs and I don’t think I have ever felt peace like it. Every now and then you reached across and squeezed my hand and for a moment I saw the young man you had been.
But now I sit next to an empty chair, and remember.