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Through the Belgian Glass

It was blowing a gale outside. From the comfort of her front room, Barbara stood watching a wedding party on the beach, having their photo taken. Although she disapproved, thought a garden setting more suitable, she also worried. What can we do about the wind? She moved nearer to the window. As if by watching closely she could find a solution, solve the problem. Life for Barbara was a series of problems requiring her to worry on behalf of all those who at any precise moment might be suffering more than she was. And then she scratched viciously at the psoriasis on her elbow. Large flakes of thick white skin fell onto the carpet, and her elbow flared red.

‘What a shame.’

‘What’s a shame?’

‘They all look so jolly cold.’

‘Who . . . who looks cold?’

Barbara’s husband was reading the newspaper, comfortable in his new leather La-Z-Boy chair, not really listening to Barbara, but responding as he always did, by repeating what he heard – a reassuring echo. He’d learned that trick after years in the Public Service. Mirror the boss’s body language, repeat what he says and he’ll know you are listening. It hadn’t been a spectacular career, but then he hadn’t crashed and burned either like others. No, in hindsight, he’d made all the right moves – a slow, steady and unspectacular career, and at the end of it, this very nice house with a view of the beach.

‘Oh, no, she’s going to get her dress wet.’

‘Is it raining?’

‘No, no, it’s not raining. You can see for yourself!’

Impatience now in Barbara’s voice, as she rubbed her flaming red elbow, but she didn’t take her eyes off the wedding party. It annoyed her – here they were with one of the best views in the Bay, and all Grant did was sit in his
La-Z-Boy and read, read, read – as if somewhere buried in the newspaper was the answer to life itself. Whereas Barbara knew that life was out there, on the beach, happening before her eyes and it was imperfect and it annoyed her and she wanted Grant to care as much as she did. She’d lived with him for forty years and, alone for forty years, she’d worried for the both of them. Promotions offered that he just missed, and then a sideways move with more pay and Grant happy for the chap who’d been promoted – because he didn’t want the responsibility, not to mention the budget and you could never get it right, not when the minister came in and revised the policy around his portfolio at the drop of a hat. He’d never understood her aspirations for his promotion. Oh why did it have to be windy on wedding days – the poor girl, imagine all the planning, and the wind was going to ruin her hair. Mind you, her hair was pretty casual for a wedding. And the bridesmaids were in black.


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