Valentine's Day Short Story winner: Plymouth writer Alan Grant's tale chosen as best
A REAL life love story has inspired the tale chosen by The Herald as the best romantically themed short story readers sent in to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Retired social worker Alan Grant’s tale of young love, titled Welcome Home, was chosen by Plymouth novelist Gavin Smith as the best submission from a bulging postbag.
It is the second time Alan has had one of his short stories selected for publication in The Herald recently.
In October his spooky story Homecoming was chosen as the top terror-filled tale to mark Halloween.
Alan said he was “absolutely delighted” his story was picked out for publication.
And he said the story’s success is all down to constant revision of the prose.
“One of the best bits of advice I read as an aspiring writer was that writing is about ‘editing, editing, editing’, and that sometimes a really effective story has elements of the writer’s own experience in, although it may only be a gem of an idea,” he said.
“The basis of Welcome Home began in 1959 when the incident actually happened, and provided the basis of my life for the next 50 years.
“In the early 2000s I put pen to paper, and produced the first draft.
“The chance to enter the Valentine’s Day competition in The Herald gave me the added incentive to get back into the ‘edit, edit, edit’ mode, to develop a beginning and the end.”
Alan, who has had a book of short stories published, dedicated his triumph to Plymouth writer Roy York, a friend and former tutor, who sadly died last year.
“His advice, encouragement and wonderful sense of humour spurred me on,” said Alan, a former Naval Provost Marshal who later trained as a social worker and worked in senior management in Devon Social Services, the Civil Service and for Plymouth City Council.
Alan also thanked the Plymouth Proprietary Writers group, of which he is a member, and said: “Their high-quality, consistent and constructive comments have aided my writing skills.
“Now I hope my success in winning twice encourages others.”
Plymouth author Gavin Smith, who lectures in creative writing at the Open University and penned the novel DogFellow’s Ghost, judged the entries and chose Alan’s tale as the best.
Gavin, whose second novel is currently being considered by a leading publishing company, said: “It’s a touching love story, very well told, with some excellent period detail.”
Alan’s story just pipped Heather grange’s The Photograph, which Gavin called “a skilfully crafted tale that explores the darker side of love”.
Gavin also commended Better Late Than Never, by Barry Gee, which he said “steadily builds to a memorable, clever climax”.
WINNER - WELCOME HOME, BY ALAN GRANT
HE had known for many months that his brain functioning was steadily deteriorating.
Issues and experiences that he had dealt with, even in the past few weeks, could now prove difficult to recollect, whilst other longer-term memories, and the emotions they raised, remained as sharp, clear and real as if the incident was occurring at that very moment. He closed his eyes.
The early morning sea mist was slowly lifting, as a massive grey structure, a gigantic menacing sea monster, emerged from the embracing cloud. It was February 1959 and the 20,000 ton aircraft carrier HMS Hermes was returning to the UK after a six-month deployment. Occasional cautionary bursts from their fog horns were met by similar responses from other ships in the area, some also under way, whilst others had anchored in nearby Plymouth Sound.
As an 18-year-old serving in the Royal Navy, Alan was part of a 1,500 all-male crew, who had spent their recent lives on major exercises and duties in the Mediterranean. Apart from some helicopters, the ship had already launched its aircraft and subsequently landed them at the Naval Air Station in Cornwall. They were fast approaching their final stop, a home base in Portsmouth. There was growing excitement on-board, as Alan and his shipmates looked forward to their impending leave. Tired faces, free of months of responsibility began to relax, with smiles, jokes and wind-ups commonplace during this final up channel phase. They were due alongside on the next afternoon which was a Friday. However, as part of the team needed for overnight security duty, Alan would not be able to get away until the Saturday morning.
It was a very emotional time, and he felt really envious standing on the brow, watching his suntanned uniformed shipmates streaming down the gangway. Many were clutching bags, parcels and the occasional stuffed toy camel, before running up the jetty to Portsmouth Harbour railway station, and destinations throughout the country.
Local families had already welcomed them home, cheering and waving as their ship was carefully nudged into its berth by the powerful tugs. Then excitedly and expectantly the people waited on the jetty for their loved ones, until the gangways were lifted into place, and they finally met, embraced and loved, before moving off arm in arm towards the dockyard gate.
A year earlier, and out of the blue, Alan had received a letter from Sonia, who lived in Croydon. She worked with his aunt and was asking if he fancied being a pen pal. During subsequent weekend leaves, they'd met and got on very well together. Both were born in 1941 in Croydon, and had lived through the Blitz. They also came from very poor working class backgrounds, and also realised, that immediately after the war, they'd both gone to Elsie Baker's secondhand clothes shop in Stanley Road.
This was located in the front room of Elsie's terraced house, still part of a street of war damaged properties. Elsie would sit knitting in an old rocking chair, surrounded by various canvas sacks of used clothes, reminiscent of a scene from the French revolution. Much of the clothing had been recovered from war-damaged buildings, or from donations to local charities, fetes and jumble sales, where Elsie had bought stock for subsequent resale.
Alan and Sonia's search for school shoes, socks, jumpers, trousers and other clothes would involve Elsie nodding at a specific sack, or waving a knitting needle in that direction. Having identified an item, the haggling on price would then begin.
Over the months, their friendship and relationship, mainly conducted by letter, had developed. Sonia had agreed to travel to London and meet him on arrival at Waterloo Station on the Saturday afternoon. It was an exception for a working class home to have a telephone, and for many, the nearest public phone box was the only form of communication, if it was not vandalised, and did not have a massive queue outside of it. Sonia was not on the phone at home.
His night duty was quite difficult, and Alan got called out several times, before falling into his bunk exhausted, just after midnight, still thinking about Sonia, and knowing he had to be up at 5.30am to finish his duty. At 7am he awoke startled as the Duty Officer gave him a rough shake and told him abruptly that he was already absent from his place of duty, and would face a charge later that morning.
When he realised the implications, Alan felt immediate waves of anxiety. There was no way he could contact Sonia, and already she would be preparing to travel to Waterloo station. Pleading with the Duty Officer for leniency, and explaining that he had to be in London just after midday, in order to meet Sonia, met a stony response. He was found guilty and sentenced to immediate extra work and drill. This meant the earliest he could get to London would be nearly midnight, instead of midday, on the Saturday.
Special permission was given to go ashore and use the call box on the jetty, where he tried to ring his Aunt and see if she could contact Sonia for him, but there had been no recent contact, so Alan spent the whole of Saturday in a mental daze knowing that Sonia would even now be sitting at Waterloo station, and becoming increasingly worried.
Meanwhile the drill, exercises, more drill, and more exercises, all minor punishments in themselves, had to be completed on-board his ship. Alan felt his mind racing as each hour passed by. He visualised Sonia sitting somewhere on the station, waiting for him, then gradually beginning to think he'd stood her up, and walking away.
Finally the punishment was over, and having hurriedly dressed in his shore uniform, Alan collected his bags and presents and, like his friends and fellow shipmates the previous day, ran all the way to Portsmouth Harbour station. The train was virtually empty. It was the last one to London that night and the journey seemed interminable. He realised his smoking rate was increasing by the minute, especially when the train slowed, rattled round the curve, and drew into Waterloo station.
Without waiting for the train to finally stop, Alan flung open the carriage door and jumped down onto the platform, nearly knocking a nearby railway porter over. The porter was pushing a massive trolley loaded with sacks of mail, and after giving Alan a dirty look, he picked up his cap from the platform, and turned away.
Alan began walking quickly towards the main ticket barrier, frantically looking up and down the arrival platform but it was completely deserted. His heart fell, and he began to walk more slowly towards the exit. Then as the porter pushed the mail trolley further down the platform, he suddenly felt a surge of emotion.
Sonia was sitting on a bench on the adjacent platform and looking quite despondent, miserable and lonely. As he approached, she sensed his presence, and her face broke into a brilliant smile. She stood up and walked quickly towards him. Alan realised that not only was she was very pretty, slim, well dressed and had such a terrific smile, she also looked quite gorgeous.
"Alan, where the hell have you been?"
"It's a long story," he replied grabbing her hand and pulling her towards him.
Finding a discrete bar with some nice background music wasn't too difficult. The nearest pub at Waterloo station happened to be Dirty Dicks, and having found a quiet table, Alan bought a round of drinks, loaded the jukebox with Johnny Mathis and Ella Fitzgerald, and began to relax.
"I'm so sorry," he said and explained the chain of events that had led to him arriving 10 hours late.
"How long were you going to wait anyway?"
Sonia responded. "Well that was the last train tonight, but..."
"Well the milk train from Portsmouth was due in at five o'clock in the morning."
"Do I mean that much to you Sonia?"
She smiled then opened her handbag and gave him a red envelope.
"What do you think?" she said, looking at him intently.
"I think we should get married," Alan replied as he opened the envelope and realised it was a Valentine's Day card.
In July 1960, and three weeks after they married, he sailed again for another six months deployment in the Far East; when he returned, they subsequently had three children and six grandchildren.
From his bed, he slowly reached out a trembling, mottled and veined hand to pick up the card, which usually lay in his cabinet drawer. Now it stood on his bedside table. There was a knock, and the door to his room opened.
"Are you ready for your medication Mr Amis, then perhaps we can settle you down?" asked Mandy, the nurse.
"Oh I see you've already had a Valentine's card. How nice to still be remembered. Big day tomorrow then."
"I've had it for some time," Alan replied, a tear beginning to slowly roll down his cheek.
HEATHER GRANGE - THE PHOTOGRAPH (COMMENDED RUNNER-UP)
What the photo doesn’t show are those glorious auburn tints, or the way you walked, nobody can tell if you had an accent, or the funny way you pronounced your vv’s. And nobody knew how besotted I was. If only I hadn’t been so lonely and worked such anti-social hours! I logged onto chats lines for singles. I was cautious at first but then thought why not? You said Russian was your first language, you were fluent English, well educated. You were honest, you said your parents were dead, they’d eked out a living on a small holding, the ‘Middle Ages’ you called it, and you wanted to escape, who could blame you. There were telephone calls and more e-mails. We had things in common, I even remember the books I sent. It wasn’t the first time I’d fallen in love with a foreign girl. Years before I’d met Charlotte, a French girl, and it had been wonderful while it lasted. Now I was smitten again.
The next step was to arrange to meet up, I had some leave owing and booked my ticket. My colleagues knew nothing about you, I was prepared for them to shrug their shoulders and say: ‘another mail order bride.’ Some of them had married foreign girls, some marriages worked, some didn’t, one was married to a Thai, there was an age difference just like ours, I didn’t care what people thought, I’d invite them to the wedding.
We met up at the airport. I recognised you immediately, ‘though you were smaller than I thought and your eyes were an unusual brown/green, a head-turner, it would have been strange if they’re hadn’t been other lovers. You worked during the day so we spent the evenings and weekends together, just the two of us. I never knew why you didn’t introduce me to your friends, was it because I was a policeman, you must have told them about us. I paid for everything, we travelled, we went to Paris and we did what other lovers do: walked around the city, drank coffee in pavement cafes, ate in family restaurants, had afternoon siestas and you bought clothes. I can still conjure up the combination of smells of that hotel room, French soap, leather shoes, I can still see twirls of your hair around the plug hole in the shower. Forensics would have had a field day!
Back at work my colleagues guessed there was ‘something in the air’, but they knew better than to ask, they would know soon enough. I kept you a secret from everyone. When you came to England we knew the next step would be marriage and you stayed in a small hotel miles away from the office while I made the arrangements
I can’t remember when I first became suspicious. Was it when I arrived early at the hotel one morning and heard you abruptly end your conversation? It was unlike you to be brusque or furtive, I didn’t ask questions, for one thing I didn’t understand Russian. That was followed by a series of text messages and e-mails, your way of saying goodbye to a friend you said, was it to an ex-lover or an ex-husband? When I confronted you, you swore there was nobody else in your life. Was it the policeman in me that suspected you were lying? I’d met so many fakes and actresses in my time. During the course of my investigations I’d seen the manipulative, the crafty, the vicious, the insane, it was Max, the pathologist in ‘Morse’ who said ‘life is full of the unexpected,’ well, I thought I’d seen it all.
My colleagues were slow but hard workers and their tenacity paid off in the end because they got results. I wanted the enquiry to go a certain way. I tried to re-read the mood. Dan who had wanted to be a dentist was more interested in forensics than the day to day tedium of detective work, Kelly, who was single and looked dishevelled with lose shoe laces and a well worn shirt, had been out the night before, Dave, preoccupied with his large family and a neurotic wife, looked fragile and washed out, and Jill, who was up for promotion but was lackadaisical and forgetful, stood with the other slow thinkers on the edge of the group.
I was worried. I could read their minds but I hoped they couldn’t read mine as we stood around the photograph pinned up on the wall. I knew they would be angry at the waste of such a young life. Her right leg was bent beneath her body and one arm was outstretched above her head.
“The way she was lying is consistent with a fall, it’s almost as though she stretched out her arm to save herself. The knock to the head would have killed her,” Kelly said, “might have been pushed. But who pushed her and why? No sign of a struggle.”
“M’m,” I said.
“Fashionable jacket and jewellery…...,” I didn’t quite finish the sentence. I was just in time to stop myself saying that I liked the way she was dressed. There were curious glances. After all, what would I know about women’s fashions, except that I always noticed a well dressed woman. Before she left me over a year ago Linda had always asked for my advice, she liked to have me with her when she went shopping. But especially now I had learned to think before I spoke, to be more discreet about my personal affairs. In the office we never talked much about our personal lives, my colleagues knew about Linda, of course, but there was no need for them to know that I met up with women on the net.
“The jacket’s French,” Jill said. We agreed that she’d been pretty, admired her shapely legs, long auburn shiny tresses, noticed her clear skin and well cared-for nails. My mind wandered, but I forced it back.
“Alright,” Kelly nodded knowingly, “so she wanted to be noticed, liked being the centre of attention, probably had a string of boyfriends. What type of woman was she? What type of background? Someone must be in the know.” Yes, I thought.
“She looked after herself, ate the right things, maybe worked out, kept her figure, wouldn’t you say, wasn’t wasting away from some terrible disease,” a typical Dan-like comment
“Might have been depressive though, a suicide? Too young to die and why that house?”
“Perhaps an estate agent?” from Jill, and we all thought of the Susie Lumplugh case, the estate agent who went to meet a client and disappeared, the mystery still unsolved. The house was a well-known local eyesore, it was isolated and couldn’t be seen from the road, and for these reasons it was empty for months or came up for sale on a regular basis.
“How did she get in, who did she go to meet? Did they get through the broken window in the kitchen? There were no signs of her mobile, personal documents, briefcase, handbag, keys or address, so where are they ...must have been stolen to hide her identity?”
“Might have been on the game,” suggested Kelly, “could have gone there for sex.” They’d checked but she wasn’t among the local missing women and, so far, not one from further afield. Dave looked at me:
“It’s not easy guv there’s so little to go on.”
“Yes,” I said. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“And if she wasn’t local, what about nationality? Obviously, northern European and fairly prosperous judging by her rings and broaches.”
“Cheap tat,” Kelly said, drinking the last dregs of his coffee, “perhaps she was a prostitute. A girl from the East, Albania or Russia…?” An astute comment coming from him.
“…More like a Geordie or a Scouse,” I interrupted, not knowing where that line of enquiry might lead and not wanting to involve Interpol.
“And what about motive? If it wasn’t a gangland killing or the drug world, revenge then, someone driven by jealousy. So where do we go from here?”
“If she didn’t live locally, where’s her luggage? In a hotel perhaps but where?” Dave surprised me. Apart from her dental records and tracking her origins, there was little to go on. I needed to be kept informed. What else was there to do except wait? They all went their separate ways.
They hoped that, eventually, somebody would come forward. I wasn’t so sure. If there were no other leads Crime Watch was always an option. That meant keeping records open, perhaps for years, a body without a history, an unsolved crime, nothing so unusual, girls disappeared every day from their homes, their families and their countries. How far down the road would the investigations lead them?
In the meantime, I would have to work out what I was going to tell Vic, he was good at his job and, like me, had been in the service for years. Would he be able to convince his superiors she was just another statistic? Was she going to be a mystery girl?
Oh! Sonya! Even after I learned through a Slav-speaking translator friend what the letters and e-mails were about, a put-up job, a quickie marriage, a divorce settlement and a British passport, I couldn’t give you up. I didn’t want to know about the details, who it was was was irrelevant, but when I confronted you, you cried. I was too angry to have pity, I’d been taken for a fool. Marriage was out of the question but what to do about you was the problem. I decided that if I couldn’t have you, nobody would. I’d seen people get away with things before.
I don’t know what excuse I made to get you to visit the house that evening, the size of the rooms, perhaps the garden, or something about seeing its potential by moonlight. I planned it in advance, had broken the window at the back and got a key cut. It was easy, all it took was one strong push across the rotting banisters. You died when you hit the floor. Oh! Sonya, even in death, you were lovely, I wanted to kiss you and touch you one last time but I knew it was dangerous. My dilemma was what to do with your body. In the end I left it there because the chances were it might not be found for months. I’d been careful, left no prints, thrown your things away, settled your hotel bill, there was no reason the people at the hotel would remember me. There was no-one and nothing to trace you to me. Somebody might come to London to look for you but where would they look? And what if they tracked your mobile to mine? I’d thrown them both away and dumped my own computer. I hadn’t introduced you around. I congratulated myself. Even after the builders found you a few weeks later - how was I to know then that negotiations were under way to alter the house - I felt confident things would go my way. There were ways and means of being obstructive if anybody delved too deeply. I was, after all, in charge of the enquiry and felt I could convince Vic.
What I didn’t count on was Dave having a brother in Immigration.
BARRY GEE - BETTER LATE THAN NEVER (COMMENDED RUNNER UP)
It was a childhood day and the sun was gently warm. The light was as bright as a halo on a newly painted fresco and the early autumn colours were kind and friendly. Morning soft air wrapped itself around him like a fresh woollen blanket and grey squirrels sprang from tree to tree like ball-bearings in a pin-ball machine. The protective arms of Mother Nature gave him a hug and a maternal breeze hummed lullabies. Jim Broadbent sat on a bench in the park and praised the day.
There was a garden at the residential home but it was too cultivated for him. The flowers were planted in rows and there was symmetry to the placing of the bushes. The grass was cut to regulation length and even the insects seemed to conform to a pattern. The residents, too, were tended and cared for, protected by their money from the savagery of survival, and they had grown weak and over-sensitive.
Jim went to the park nearly every day; sometimes because he wanted to but often because he needed to get away from the Westwood Residential Home and its ten inmates. He was the only man living there. There had been three others but they had died and now there were just ten old women and himself. None of them was younger than eighty and he had several years to go before he reached that venerable age. They spent their days slumped down like cushions in over-soft armchairs and occasionally made oft-repeated comments.
In the living-room, where the residents breached the gap between getting up in the morning and going back to bed at night, conversation had been replaced by a long drawn out silence punctuated only by sighs. A new arrival would sometimes instigate a few days of desultory conversation but it soon settled down and sank like a bucket of water thrown into a lake. Once upon a time the television had been left on from morning to night and played at a very high volume but the practice was ceased when it was realised that nobody was watching.
Jim had considered moving to another home where the average age was much lower but, after visiting one and finding the conversation to be both banal and constant he came to the conclusion that no conversation was better than idle chatter. The food was good at the home, his room was adequate, and he could always escape to the park which was just minutes away.
He looked at his watch in order to confirm what his stomach was telling him. Lunch-time was coming and, as it was Tuesday, he would be eating ham salad. Many people were coming into the park now and filling up the benches. They all had newspapers or books and packs of sandwiches. Some had vacuum flasks of coffee or tea. They were mostly young. Soon he was the only one sat by himself. The sight of so many people eating made him uncomfortable. His peaceful feeling was slipping away and he tried to hang on to it by ignoring the diners but everywhere he looked a meal was in progress. The birds dug for worms, the squirrels munched nuts and the ants carried crumbs home to their families. Jim was suddenly very hungry. He was about to get up and leave when a woman he recognised from the home came walking down the path and sat on the bench.
“Good morning.” She smiled and Jim was taken aback. He was unused to being addressed so directly. At the home the nurses and helpers all conversed with a third person seen only by them.
“How’s Mr. Broadbent today?” They would ask and look right past him.
“Good morning.” He replied to the woman and bowed his head a little.
“You live at Westwood, don’t you? I’ve seen you there.” She said.
“Yes, but I try to get away as much as possible. The living room is like a graveyard without the birdsong.”
“I know what you mean. It even smells of death.” She agreed.
“That’s why I come here; to be among the living. It’s the first time I have seen you here.” He said.
“I usually go to another, smaller, park a bit further away but today my legs are tired so I made do with coming here. It’s very nice.”
“Yes. It’s a very good park.”
A small squirrel inched its way closer to a piece of bread that lay on the ground close to their feet.
“My name’s Molly.” She said.
“I’m Jim.” He replied.
They talked about the weather and the approach of winter and, a little later, returned to the home and sat next to each other at lunch. They ate in silence as any conversation immediately became the focal point for all eyes in the room and they did not wish to be stared at. After lunch they went for a walk around the town and stopped at the museum to see an exhibition of impressionist paintings.
“Let’s not go back for tea.” Said Molly. “Let’s take tea in town. I know a splendid cafe.”
Jim wished never to go back. He was feeling happier than he had done in a long time.
From then on they were inseparable, except at night when they parted reluctantly and went to their own beds. Even in sleep they kept each other company in their dreams. Each morning, about eight o’clock, Jim and Molly walked into the dining room looking for each other and the first to arrive was always disappointed not to be welcomed by a smile. A small table was arranged where they could dine together, alone, in the corner of the room. Molly brought a candle and, most evenings, they ate by its enchanting, romantic, glow. There was always a vase of flowers on the table. Sometimes Jim brought a bottle of wine and they toasted their good fortune in finding each other.
“Better late than never.” He often said.
They found they had many things in common and shared similar interests. They had the same musical tastes and both enjoyed good food. Jim preferred a steak cooked medium while Molly would rather have it rare but it was a long time since either had eaten steak so the discrepancy in their preferences was only hypothetical. She wiped crumbs from his waistcoat and told him he was messy. He was glad that someone cared. On cold, windy, days he advised her to wear a scarf and she welcomed his concern.
They went to lunch-time concerts of chamber music and matinee performances at the theatre. In the street she held his arm and slowed her pace to suit his. He opened doors for her and shielded her from the crush of bodies in busy situations. She changed her hair-style, bought her first new dress for ten years, and found it exciting to look at herself in the mirror. He walked more erect when he was with her and felt fifty years younger when she smiled at him.
The passion he thought was long gone re-emerged, transformed from the larva of confused, adolescent, feelings into the brilliant butterfly of mature emotions. Sometimes he looked at her and a painful, pleasurable ecstasy welled up inside, his mouth grew dry and his senses tingled. He listened to her voice and heard the gentle hum of eternity; looked into her eyes and witnessed the miracle of timelessness.
Most mornings, after breakfast, they went for a walk but if the weather was not good they sat together in the drawing room and read books. Now they had each other it was easy to stay at home and do very little. They spent more and more time sitting in adjacent armchairs holding hands and sharing an unspoken desire. On fine days they sat in the garden and remarked on how pretty it was. They were kind and considerate to each other and neither grew tired of each other’s company. They exchanged birthday cards and swapped presents at Christmas. Molly knitted Jim a scarf. They were madly in love although they never, ever spoke of it.
As time passed they said less and less until whole days would pass when not a word would be spoken. Messages were passed from hand to hand with a tightening of the grip, a gentle squeeze or a stroke of the fingers. They looked at each other a lot and whole conversations were conducted from eyes to eyes. It was tiring to talk and they had discovered it was unnecessary, until he asked her to marry him. Then he had to use words.
“Molly. I’ve know you for some time now and I think you’re a lovely woman. I thought to myself, we spends so much time together we might as well be married and then I thought, that’s not a bad idea. So that’s what I am trying to say. I love you Molly, with all of my heart, so will you marry me?”
She acted coy and said that she would think about it but later that day Jim told the matron that he intended marrying Molly. The matron smiled and asked if she would be invited.
The matron broke the news to a nurse.
“Mr. Broadbent has proposed to Mrs. Broadbent.”
“But they’re already married.”
“I know, but isn’t it sweet, at his age?”
“It’s a bit spooky.”
“That he don’t remember that he’s been married to her for fifty years.”
“That happens a lot with dementia.” Said the Matron.
That evening she spoke with Molly, alone.
“You’ll have to tell him the truth. You can’t marry the person you’re already married to.”
“He doesn’t need to know.” Said Molly. “It would only make him confused. We’ll arrange a false wedding, here at the home. We could use actors if we wanted to.”
“All right,” Said the matron. “If you wish but I still don’t understand why you won’t tell him the truth.”
Molly sighed. “I don’t want him to remember who he was. Mr. Broadbent was never a good husband. We stayed together for fifty years out of habit. Jim loves me more than my husband ever did and I love him much more than I ever did my husband. In fact, I feel loved for the first time in my life and I like it. Better late than never.”