Today's picture prompt (below) is a Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash
I know the picture is of Japan, not China - I hope I don't offend anyone! - but the story appeared in my head and needed to be written: please allow me a bit of artistic licence!
“It’s here somewhere,” Graham said, pulling her along by the hand.
“Can’t we just eat in this place?” Marie said, pointing at the nearest restaurant, The Golden Dragon. She looked at her phone. “It’s got good reviews! The crispy pancakes are to die for, apparently.”
“I don’t want to eat at the fucking Golden Dragon, I want to eat at the Rising Sun!” He stopped, turned towards her and looked into her eyes. “Sorry,” he said, looking like he actually meant it for once. “I didn’t mean to swear at you. It’s just it’s significant, isn’t it? It means something. At least it does to me.” A smile. “I want things to be right, just for once. Just for tonight, at least.”
Marie smiled, weakly. She was getting a little tired of Graham’s little mood snaps, as she called them. But Dr Jenkins said it was part of his condition. She had to be more accommodating, he said. She thought she had been pretty bloody accommodating, already, thank you very much!
“I know,” she said. “But perhaps it’s closed down.”
“It hasn’t,” he said, looking around him again. “I passed it a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure I did, I remember…” he stopped. “Anyway…” he said, looking away, over his shoulder. Was he blushing?
“You were in town a couple of weeks ago?” Marie asked. “I don’t remember you mentioning it.”
“Er… no. It was probably longer ago, than that. You’re probably right. I mean,” he laughed, it sounded hollow, false to Marie’s ears. “What kind of restaurant doesn’t have a website these days?” Marie was about to reply, when he grabbed her hand. “There!” he said. “I recognised that sign! I think it’s over there.”
And she was being pulled again. She sighed, although it was one of her internal, silent sighs, that Marie had perfected, recently. Don’t show frustration with him. You must be patient. Easier said than done, Doctor.
Anne said Marie had “the patience of a Saint. If it had been me, I’d have booted him out after that dalience with that woman!” And perhaps she should have done. But after thirty years of marriage, it wasn’t that easy, was it? To throw everything away. To start again. They had married so young. Marie hadn’t been with anyone else. Graham had been her one, her only.
And the affair with the other woman (a fellow lawyer at the firm he’d been working at for seventeen years) had been a result of his illness.
His depression caused a lack of judgment. He wasn’t thinking straight. Doctor Jenkins seemed to think so, anyway. Although Marie wasn’t sure if things fitted together quite that conveniently. In her mind (and she had replayed the events of the last year in her head over and over and over - particularly at night when sleep escaped her) the depression had come after the affair had ended. After he had confessed.
After Marie had threatened to leave him.
But Dr Jenkins said that was just when the depression had gone through “a different phase”. Anne said that was “just bollocks”.
Or had so at the time.
Graham had taken time off work. And the lawyer he slept with - Jenny Somethingorother - had left the firm now. He was getting better. Dr Jenkins said he’d be ready to return to work soon. And Marie had thought so too. Over the last couple of months, or so, Graham had perked up. Found his mojo. He’d started reading again, showing an interest in current events. He’d even started going out.
Marie thought she had the “old Graham” back. And then a couple of days ago, the return of his mood snaps. He didn’t want to go out. Marie had phoned Dr Jenkins and brought his appointment forward.
Then, this evening, when she returned from work Graham had been waiting for her. Smartly dressed, clean shaven. Even wearing that aftershave she bought him for Christmas, last year.
“Let’s go back to the Rising Sun!” he said. It took Marie a few seconds to place it. It was there, thirty years ago that Graham had proposed to her. It had been unplanned. Silly really. At the end of the meal they had been given a fortune cookie each. Marie had broken her’s open and read it and burst out laughing. It wasn’t the usual fortune cookie message, enigmatic and badly spelled. This one just said “You’ll be happily married for thirty years”.
Graham had asked what she was laughing at, and she passed over the bit of paper, and he looked at it and asked, “Well, why not?”
“Why not what?” she countered.
“Why don’t we get married?”
Not the most romantic proposal, but it was the only one Marie had ever had and she cherished it. She said yes, and he had saved for a ring and then asked her properly two months later. They married the following spring.
Graham explained, in the back of the taxi, on the way to Chinatown, that the fortune cookie had correctly predicted the number of years they were happily married. They needed to go back and to get another cookie, he explained. Marie worried that this was another “phase” of his illness. He had never been superstitious before, and she was worried that he had got this strange idea in his head that a generic message in a stale-tasting confectionery could fix everything.
The restaurant looked as it had thirty years ago. The staff had changed, of course, the man who showed them to their table - the same one as they had sat in thirty years before - probably hadn’t even been born when they had last set foot in there. But the decoration, the smell, and the paint work looked the same.
Graham insisted they have the same meal as they had thirty years ago - although how he could remember, Marie had no idea - so she let him order.
At the end of the meal the fortune cookies were delivered and Marie opened hers, whilst Graham looked on expectantly.
“All good things come to an end,” she read. Graham snatched it from her and read it before throwing it aside.
“No, no,” he said. “Not that one.”
“True friends will never betray you.”
“No!” Graham shouted, whipping the paper from her hand. He stood up, abruptly, the chair crashed to the floor. “I’m going to the toilet, and then I’ll demand to see the manager!” he said.
Perhaps, he had organised something, Marie thought. Aranged for a romantic message to be delivered to her. But they had given her the wrong cookie. As she pondered this, her husband’s phone, vibrated gently on the table beside his half empty water glass. Without thinking Marie reached over and swiped the screen.
“I’m sorry, my love,” the text read. “Forgive me. We are meant to be together.”
Marie read and reread the message, and checked the number three times. It was from Anne. Their best friend.
Her best friend.
Marie stood up and picked up Graham’s chair, tucking it neatly under the table. She found the two crumpled pieces of paper Graham had thrown away. She carefully flattened them out so he could read their message, placed them next to his illuminated phone, and left.
True friends will never betray you. All good things come to an end.