My short story Second Time Around was published in People’s Friend in early 2015. This is an excerpt from it and you can read the whole story in this PDF.
Second Time ARound by Maggie Ritchie
Tessa stood in front of the metal shutters, which were covered in graffiti and tattered flyers. ‘It’s closed down.’
‘Are you sure it’s on this corner?’ her husband said. ‘I remember it being further up the hill.’
Tessa pointed to the faded sign above the restaurant. ‘No look, Claude et Jules. They must have gone out of business.’
She blinked back tears. Ridiculous to be so upset, but she’d been looking forward to having a meal with Ed in the same tiny back street restaurant where the sentimental patron had toasted them as newly weds thirty years ago. The other customers had lifted their glasses with cries of ‘L’amour!’ and Tessa and Ed had laughed and shared a shy kiss to whoops of delight. It had been the perfect end to their honeymoon in Paris.
Now they were back in the city on a second honeymoon, but nothing was the same. Tessa had booked their old hotel on the square on the Butte de Montmartre where they had tumbled into bed night after night after drinking too much wine at the pavement cafes and bars. Tessa had been thrilled with bohemian Montmartre then, but now it seemed tatty, the noisy bars filled with hen and stag parties. When she’d made the hotel booking, she’d remembered the views over Paris and the pigeons that cooed their love songs on their windowsill. She was dismayed when she saw the room, so poky and dingy. They were used to greater comfort these days. Tessa had tried to hide her disappointment and snapped at Ed when he’d complained about the lumpy pillows and the dribbling shower.
‘For goodness sake, can’t you just relax and enjoy yourself for once?’
It was unfair of her, she knew, but he’d been getting on her nerves since he’d taken early retirement last year, just as their youngest, Charlie, had gone off to university. The house seemed so quiet with just the two of them and she missed the hubbub of their three children, their voices in the kitchen where everyone gathered. But as the days passed, she began to enjoy the quiet, getting up early to sit on her own with a coffee and look out over the garden. Without the endless grind of laundry, shopping and cooking meals for five hungry people, for the first time in decades she had time to think about what she wanted and dream about the future.
Clearing out the Charlie’s room in the spring, she’d found a cupboard full of her old art materials, the paints dried hard in their tubes and the brushes stiff and unusable. A lifetime ago, Tessa had wanted to be an artist and had started to put her portfolio together for Art College. Temping in the City to make ends meet while she attended life-drawing classes, she’d met Ed, and love, marriage and children had followed in a dizzying whirl. Then one day she’d woken up and she was fifty, no longer needed as a mother, and living in an empty house with a grumpy husband who barely talked to her anymore.
She looked at Ed now, as he scowled at his streetmap of Paris. Where was the young, carefree man who had swept her off her feet all those years ago? He seemed content to spend his days reading the paper with the sports channel on full blare in the background, lifting his head only to ask her the same maddening question every day: ‘What’s for dinner?’ She’d been so busy with the children she hadn’t noticed him getting older. But so had she: when Tessa looked in the mirror she wondered what had happened to that young art student who used to tie an emerald green scarf around her curls and wear hoop earrings and kohl eyeliner. She barely recognised the middle-aged woman who stared back at her, with her softened jowls and dark circles under her eyes.
Tessa had thought a second honeymoon in Paris would bring some of the magic back into their comfortable but well-worn marriage. Now they were here, nothing was going the way it should. Instead of the glorious June sunshine lighting up the golden statues that lined the bridges over the Seine, there were dirty little squalls filled cold gusts of sharp rain that forced them to hurry through the streets, heads bent.
Ed and Tessa squabbled on the first night, tired and hungry after a delayed flight. She wanted to go out and sit in a pavement café and talk under the Vincent van Gogh night sky, but Ed said they’d better have an early night. Tessa tossed and turned as he snored beside her on the sagging mattress, while Paris twinkled outside their window and began to fantasise about leaving her husband. She would be free; she could do anything she liked. She’d always wanted to go to China, walk along the Great Wall, visit the Forbidden City, take a riverboat along the Yangtze and sketch the cormorant fishermen. If they sold the house she could have her own place, a little cottage in an artists’ colony in Cornwall. She’d always wanted to live by the sea. It wasn’t too late; life was still full of possibilities. Tessa had spent thirty years looking after everyone else and ignoring her own ambitions: it was time to look after herself.