Janet Pywell ellie BravoWe are in the park finishing our sandwiches. We have dashed out of the office between showers and it turns cold when the sun disappears periodically behind scuttling clouds.

We are in the park finishing our sandwiches. We have dashed out of the office between showers and it turns cold when the sun disappears periodically behind scuttling clouds. Five schoolboys pass us, carrying a football, jostling each other laughing and teasing.

“I told you Michael is working on the cycle path between Dublin and Galway? It’s like he spends more time there than he does here.” Maria lifts her face toward the sun languishing in the warm sunshine. Her neck is raised and tilted like a beautiful sunflower. She wears small diamond stud earrings.

“Marriage is a strange thing really,” she says quietly. I’m not sure if it is a statement or a question, so I wait and listen. “I think it’s only in fairy tales that people live happily ever after.”

I have an overwhelming urge to speak. I want to tell her about Kat, my life, and my loneliness.

Behind us, a bird shrills its merry tune from an ornamental cherry tree. I should feel happy and relaxed but today I’m melancholy and tired. I should have gone away at the weekend but I didn’t. Instead, I worked on some more IT projects at home refining and honing the details of the Independent Travel Group (ITG) project for the new tekkie from Glasgow, Mark Bowman.

A bumblebee buzzes past. It settles on the arm of the green bench where the empty package of my sandwich balances precariously.

“My sister Jenny is very happy,” I say, closing my eyes. “Richard is lovely, and the boys complete the perfect family. They seem to complement each other. I think they have a perfect balance. I still assume all marriages should be pretty much like that apart from my own parent’s marriage of course but I guess I’m still old fashioned and I believe in a happy ending.”

Maria turns and I feel her smile on my face.

When I open my eyes she has turned away.

I watch the bumblebee fly away before I continue. “When I was a child I took it for granted my parents were happy. I never heard them argue. It was only when Grandma moved in with us and our lives changed that I realised they weren’t happy. Dad went back to Spain, one summer during the school holidays, and he never came home. Mum said afterwards, Relationships are like that. As you go through life you have different needs and expectations. One person can’t fulfil them all. What you want at twenty is different to what you want at thirty or forty. Now I’m beginning to understand what she means.” I stretch my legs, cross my ankles and wrap the remains of our picnic in a paper bag.

“Does that mean we should have a different partner every ten years?” Maria asks. “Your mother’s attitude is ideal but very hedonistic. My mother is the complete opposite. She married my father for life and even though there were bad times she wouldn’t have left him.”

“Wouldn’t or couldn’t?”

“Umm. Couldn’t be more likely. Divorce was unheard of and certainly for a Catholic in the heart of the troubles.”

“Just as well things have changed. There’s no point in being stuck in a rotten marriage and everyone being miserable.”

“She would be mortified if Michael and I split up.”

“Best to stay with him than just for your mother’s sake!” I say too quickly and I regret it immediately.

“I would stay with him for Lily’s sake.”

I stand and stretch. “Good! I believe in fairy tales and happy endings so come on, it’s time for the two Princesses to go back to the castle dungeons, check on the minions and face John the old Ogre.”