Breakfast, a week later.
Camellia was complaining that the quality of journalistic photography was no-where near as good as it used to be and Hugh was saying nothing.
That was when Camellia looked round the edge of her newspaper and realised something awful was happening.
She had been expecting him to suggest they go to London for a few days, visit proper galleries and see proper pictures. It's what he always did. They’d discuss which ones - and then not go. That's how it went.
But Hugh was looking very odd and seemed incapable of saying anything. He was holding a letter and his hand was shaking but apart from that he was sitting stiller than she’d ever seen him. His face was white; paper white. Then his colour deepened. Sweat broke from his forehead and his lips parted and closed, parted and closed - without sound. Was this what a heart attack looked like?
She wanted to go to him. She began to stand. But time seemed to have gone sticky and, although she was sure she was moving as quickly as she could, her limbs would hardly budge from the chair and she felt as if air itself was pushing her back.
Hugh’s nostrils flared. She saw him suck large, silent, unsteady, slow-motion breaths. Her ears stopped working. Her body was swimming. Would he die before she reached him?
Then, he wrenched his attention from the half crumpled letter and, gathering his remaining strength, fixed her eyes with his and willed her to sit.
She did. And was flooded with relief so fierce it was as if her blood had been sucked away in a second and replaced the next moment with aniseed. She could feel it flushing her face and trembling her fingers.
Hugh smoothed the letter.
No dieing yet.
Camellia concentrated her face into a frown. She didn't want her eyes to widen too far. They might bounce out and fall into her cereal bowl.
The last they’d seen of Rosemary was when she graduated.
A cow had calved. Unfortunate timing. If they’d stopped to change out of their mud-spattered overalls, they'd have missed it.
So they'd crept into the back of the hall at the last minute and sat there proudly; pleased with their daughter; pleased with themselves that they were there.
Rosemary was not pleased.
“You stink!” she’d screamed. (They did.)
Fifteen years later - a letter!
It took a few moments before Camellia realised Hugh was reading aloud. Time seemed to be tidying itself but sound lagged still.
Faintly, she heard the word ‘husband’.
“They’re coming to see us?” . It was a whisper.
Hugh tried to say ‘yes’ .
“Have they . . . .?”.
“Yes,” said Hugh, suddenly explosive and noisy. A grin broke out and his eyes sparkled. Camellia felt her insides jump. And then - a distraction. A great lurch of love for Hugh; it happened from time to time.
. . . the sea-blueness of his eyes . . . their first summer . . . whiteness on waves . . . gulls and children shrieking, indistinguishable.
“Two,” he said joyfully. “Both girls. Cressida and Cornelia."
For a moment, they gazed at each other, wide eyed from their distant ends of the table. Then they bent over their plates and giggled.
“What?!” asked Camellia, suddenly able to speak - though the sound was odd and staccato.
(At least I can speak again, she thought.)
"It could have been worse," said Hugh. "Lady Macbeth."
Camellia felt her hands relax. She was returning to life.
“And Camellia isn’t ordinary as a name, is it?" Hugh continued. What if she'd chosen flowers to remind them of you? Um . . . Buttercup and Marsh Mallow?”
"Foxglove and Bindweed!”
“Dandelion and Burdock!”
They were hysterical with delight. Their dream was true. Rosemary was alive.
And they had grandchildren to boot.
Camellia raised the teapot.
Hugh looked at his watch.
“I think,” he said happily, “I can put off mending that gate for another few minutes.”