Two figures waited straight-backed, their regimental ties familiar to me, shoes spit-polished and shiny.
I saw them as if through frosted glass, predicted their opening statement: “Mrs Drake? May we come in?”
Once they were in the front room I knew they would say: “We’re very sorry to have to inform you, but…”
I heard but didn’t listen because they were talking rubbish.
Paul was fine, due home on leave next week from Afganistan, I was ready for his return.
Every inch of our army quarters was spotless and I’d booked our favourite restaurant outside the cathedral precincts for a celebratory dinner.
After they’d gone I sat in the dark through the night, waiting for morning.
Wednesday was market day and I caught the number 57 bus as usual, sat outside the Copper Kettle before my weekly shop, a cup of tea stewing on the table in front of me.
It turned cold as memories trickled through my mind.
I thought of our honeymoon in Siena, sunlight filtering through bottle green shutters onto our naked bodies.
I pictured the shell-shaped square where we’d sat nursing Limoncello in a tiny bar under the porticoes.
We’d discussed everything and nothing – from the theory of relativity to how Paul loved my heart-shaped mole beneath my chin.
We’d even planned in detail our allotment which we were going to plant with zucchinis, artichokes and red chilli peppers, like we’d eaten on pizzas during our week of Italian magic.
Now, in the market square in England other people’s lives continued around me.
Women at the next table bitched about their men; a baby cried with hunger; a shopping trolley squeaked past, dragged along by an old woman wearing a pink raincoat; a stall-holder sang out his adverts for ‘luvverly tomatoes, buy one pound, get one free…’
I watched and listened until the whole world fell silent, still, frozen, colour draining into a black and white tableau.
I was the only one who moved in this picture.
High above me a pigeon stopped in mid flight from its perch on the gargoyle of St Edmund’s church, wings stretched wide and fan-like.
I rose from my seat to choreograph the scene before me, tweaking a young girl’s greasy fringe to reveal Botticelli features, straightening an old man’s tartan scarf around his neck, wiping snot from a toddler’s nose and retrieving his cuddly monkey dropped from his pushchair.
Then I walked over to the fishmonger’s stall and covered the cold, dead eyes of a row of mackerel with sprigs of parsley heaped beside crab claws.
When the clock on the tower began to strike midday, life in the square trembled back to colour and movement with each chime.
A woman began to moan, her keening sad and desperate as she knelt alone on the cold pavement.
I wanted to take her in my arms and comfort her.
But the crying was coming from me and I was powerless to stop my sobs.
• Angela Petch is the author of Tuscan Roots (Amazon), a love story spanning the war years to the present day, set in Italy and England. She spends her summers in Italy, where her writing room is a shady spot under a willow tree.
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