Every Friday afternoon Mary had her friends over for tea. They had their own ritual, they’d have their cupcakes, flapjacks, China Rose Tea... and then they’d clear the table for their game of bridge.
It was one of the pleasures of not having a husband. She could invite whoever she wanted, whenever she wanted. There were no arguments or sneers about her choice of friends or the noise they made. She was free to live her life without having to give explanations or excuses.
Now, as she sat in the garden with her friends and listened to them chatting away and catching up on the gossip, she relaxed in her chair, knowing she no longer had to rush back to the kitchen to get her husband’s dinner ready by eight o’clock on the dot.
‘Mary dear, you’re ever so quiet today. A penny for your thoughts?’ asked Emily.
‘It’s now been a year since John left,’ answered Mary quietly.
Her three friends gasped and looked at her concerned. ‘Oh, no. We never realized. It must be such a painful day for you.’
‘Painful? Why would it be painful?’ she asked and searched their wrinkled faces in surprise. ‘I was wondering if the bottle of champagne would be chilled by now.’
Her friends exchanged gazes. They’d always assumed the fit of giggles that had possessed Mary at the time was part of a nervous breakdown. Could it have really been happiness?
They eyed her carefully and were further surprised by the wide grin spreading over her face.
‘You should all try it. It is absolute bliss,’ said Mary as she got up and walked towards the kitchen.
A moment later, she came back carrying a tray, but as she approached the table she caught sight of her Terrier trotting back from the end of the garden with his paws covered in dirt and something in his mouth. As she made out the shape, she dropped the tray and the champagne bottle and flutes fell with a crash on the floor.
The Terrier came up to her wagging his tail and she tried to free the object from his jaw, but he wouldn’t let go. ‘Oh you naughty little dog, I told you it wasn’t a ball. Go and put that skull back where you found it. What will my friends ever think of the state of him now, as if he wasn’t ugly enough during life.’ Then, she turned to her friends with an apologetic smile as they all watched her in horror, ‘Sorry, girls, but my husband is determined to embarrass me, even after dead.’