Her son, handsome in his navy suit, glanced down at his mother with a small bewildered shrug. Mary smiled and patted his arm. She’d explain about Jim’s ‘Ladies’ another time, when his grief was less new. And, if she was honest, even she was surprised by the number. So many satisfied customers!
The vicar turned from a woman he had been comforting, a puzzled frown furrowing his normally untroubled brow.
“I can’t remember such a full house,” he said. “I knew Jim was well regarded but this is extraordinary!”
“Yes, it’s very gratifying,” Mary replied.
Then, to show she was aware of the gender discrepancy, she added, “They relied on him, you know. For everything. Just like me.”
Her heart swelled with affection for the man who had been her friend and lover for over forty years, with hardly a cross word in all that time. However would she – and everyone else – manage without him?
It hadn’t been until after their children had grown up and moved out that the couple began to develop an expanded business plan. Despite extensive commitments in the community and a circle of good friends, they now felt they had time, energy – and love – to spare. As the word spread, demand steadily increased.
On their rare evenings relaxing at home together they’d discuss their clients, many of them women past their prime, widows and spinsters with no one to turn to for even the most basic of maintenance work.
“So much loneliness,” he’d say, with a deep sigh.
“I know, dear,” she’d reply, “but you’re doing your best. Maybe you should employ an assistant? You’re not as young as you used to be, you know. And if you put your back out, where will that leave me?”
He would nod and promise to think about training up a successor for when he could no longer manage the long, often exhausting days, but had never quite got round to it. There was always someone urgently requiring his kindness and expertise.
And then he was gone.
Mary strolled through the sunny churchyard between her son and daughter, their arms tightly linked, and thanked God again for so many wonderful years with the most generous person she had ever known. And that he’d died in his own bed, doing what he enjoyed most.
Imagining her own funeral, whenever that might be, and the probable gender imbalance there, too, she allowed herself a private little smile.
So much love! So many satisfied customers.