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Standing outside the supermarket Harold noted the diminishing line of trolleys. It’s going to be busy, like last week. Tuesday was ‘pensioners’ day; besides the specials, it was a time to socialise. 

His wife, Mavis, was an imposing lady and thanks to her job at the local school was used to issuing commands. ‘Harold! Get a trolley,’ she requested.

Harold, recently retired, was a tall man who projected authority. That morning he had been advised to wear his jacket with a pair of grey trousers. Rather be at work than strolling around here, he thought. At least the aircon is on. He selected a trolley and followed Mavis in.

Over the last two weeks he had learnt the routine, Fruit and veg first and then up and down all the aisles. He followed Mavis with the trolley between them. As Mavis selected something he placed the trolley directly next to her. And of course, there was the socialising. He came to shop, but as far as he was concerned Mavis came to socialise. It was a time to catch up with everybody and find out who had passed away or whose illness had progressed. Mavis spotted a friend at the potatoes. She was also wearing a pair of checked slacks, fortunately a different pattern and a pretty twin set.

‘Sandra, how are you doing?’ asked Mavis.

‘Still here,’ replied Sandra, smiling. ‘Getting used to shopping for one. A lot cheaper, but I miss Charley.’

‘Him not being around. A big upheaval. How long were you married for?

‘Forty years.’

‘Long time, must take some getting used to. Can I help you with anything?’ asked Mavis.

‘I’m okay. Thanks anyway,’ answered Sandra.

They continued up the aisles Mavis would select something and Harold made sure the trolley was next to her as she dropped it in. It was his third time at the super-market and he knew exactly where everything was. They paused regularly as Mavis stopped and chatted to her friends. Harold fiddled with the handle of the trolley and sighed as he waited.

Finally they reached the tinned food section. Mavis studied the tinned beans. ‘Harold, which brand would you like, regular or today’s special?

Harold stood tall and rubbed the nape of neck, ‘Mavis! I actually don’t give a shit as to which beans we buy.’

‘Harold! Don’t use that language! We’re in company.’

‘Well, I don’t care,’ he flashed back. ‘This shopping is not for me.’

‘There’s a coffee bar at the entrance, why don’t you go for a cup of coffee. I can finish on my own. Done it loads of times.’

He pushed the trolley towards her, ‘Be my guest.’

The coffee bar was full of pensioners chatting. Harold headed to an isolated table on the outskirts and sat down. He kept checking his wrist watch as if he was in a hurry. Suddenly the waiter appeared.

‘What would you like, sir?’

Harold snapped his answer, ‘A coffee.’

‘Cappuccino or Americano?’ asked the waiter.

‘I don’t know, just ordinary coffee. Like I used to get in the office.’

‘Won’t be long, sir.’

Harold sat listening to the people at the other tables. There was tentative talk about ailments and their progress with the odd chat about grandchildren. Harold gently chewed his lip and swallowed. This is like a waiting room.

He had almost finished his coffee when Mavis arrived.

‘Well, we stocked up for the week.’

‘Are you expecting a war?’ he asked. The waiter arrived and he ordered two more coffees.

‘Feeling better now?’ asked Mavis.

‘I can’t do this. Up to three weeks ago I was responsible for the welfare of four hundred people. I worked at the company for forty years and then, that’s it, goodbye. Now my life is down to which brand of beans I like. I can’t do this, Mavis’

Mavis looked at him, ‘Why are you so forlorn? This is supposed to be the happiest time of our lives. But you don’t look like you’re having a good time.’

‘I’m not. I am used to working and interacting with people.

‘So why don’t you get a job?’

‘I’ve been pensioned off, no choice. Now I’m too old to work at the company. No company will employ me at my age.’

Mavis thought for a moment, ‘So do something different, you’re only sixty five.’

‘Like what?’

Mavis sipped her coffee. ‘Last week I watched a program about pensioners in Japan. They had a university for the older people, somewhere over seventy, doing degrees and others were doing practical studies.

‘I can’t be a doctor or something.’

Mavis sat drinking her coffee…‘You don’t have to; you could do something like pruning.’

‘Pruning? What kind of job is that?’

‘Well, we do have the best roses in the street and you have loads of books on pruning. You could do pruning for other people. Everyone keeps asking you to help them.’

Harold was silent as he stared at the wall.

Mavis continued, ‘You have a good pension, we’re not short of cash, but some extra would be good. We could save up and go to London, see Bella and our grandchildren.’

‘We hardly see them now they’re in London,’ mumbled Harold.

‘You could advertise, get some customers. You don’t need lots of work. It’s pocket money after all. Just work part time, keep busy.’

He carried on staring at the wall. Finally he replied, ‘we could sell one of the cars. Then I could buy a panel van, have it sign painted, “Harold’s Pruning Service.” I could employ a labourer to hold the ladder and help clean up.’

Mavis’s smile was very discreet.

Harold rocked back on his chair, clenched his hands above his head and smiled. Great, back to work.


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