The Secret Party

Entry by: jaguar

15th March 2016
I found the tickets in your pocket on the eve of your sixty-fifth birthday. I was checking your best suit to make sure you had something clean to wear for the secret party I’d spent months organizing. The top ticket had your name on it. Flight to Florida and the Royal Caribbean for a ten-day cruise. The flight was for tomorrow morning.
Perhaps I’d kept the party a little too secret, so secret it seemed you wouldn’t even be here for it. I wanted it to be a complete surprise that marked the end of the bad days, the start of something new and exciting. I wanted to let everyone know we were solid and that I'd go to the ends of the earth for you. You must have decided the posh dinner I tried to distract you with wasn’t enough and you would surprise me.
I swallowed, touched by the thought of you booking a holiday alone and how good your choice was. I couldn’t remember ever telling you but it was my long-held dream to go to the Caribbean. Perhaps Louise, my ex-best friend, had told you. She and I used to fantasise about being married to the kind of men who would insist on taking us on glamorous holidays. The Caribbean had been our favourite fantasy destination.
I didn’t deserve this. I hadn’t supported you well through your illness. I have to confess that sickness turned me off, as if I didn’t want to be with you. I didn’t deal well with the evidence of your age, the reality of our mortality. I had that stupid affair as if to distance myself, pretend that your frailty had nothing to do with me. I walked away from the antiseptic smells and the sense of helplessness in the hospital into posh hotels and fragrant dinners.
I don’t think you ever knew. There were a couple of occasions when the Doctor couldn’t get hold of me but you were too groggy to realise I wasn’t there. Then there was that horrible day when I walked in to find Louise sitting by your narrow, white bed that reminded me of skeletons, her mouth so tight and thin it looked like fishing wire. She always did have a mean mouth. She was holding your hand.
‘Where have you been, Jenny? They’ve left several messages. John’s had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic, he’s only just beginning to respond.’
‘I’ve been trying to get my head around everything. I wasn’t at home and I left my mobile there by accident. Bit of a state, to be honest.’ I let my voice tremble on the last word until I realised I wasn’t acting. I was in a bit of a state and I wasn’t being honest. It had been a long time since I was honest with Louise.
She didn’t get up but just sat there in my place. ‘You think you’re in a bit of a state…’ she said, waving her hand at you, covered with tubes and nasty bleeping machines.
‘What are you doing here?’ I said because she was annoying me now, she’d made her point, she didn’t have to rub it in by clutching at my husband. I met her eyes and that was when I realised. She thought I didn’t deserve you, that you would have been happier with her. She knew I was a lightweight thing that crumpled at any sign of need. She would betray me for you, without a second thought.
‘I just came to visit John then there were doctors everywhere.’
‘May I?’ I indicated the chair. Louise hesitated as if she wasn’t going to give way. I turned as a Doctor swept in behind me.
‘Mrs Hubbard – thank goodness.’ He ignored Louise who got up, nodded at me and left.
My eyes followed her not really focusing on what I was being told. ‘…So all’s stable now but your husband had us worried for a while.’
I looked at you, immobile, your cheekbones flaring out of your thin face, your gentle eyes closed and fluttering. I took the hand Louise had reluctantly abandoned and I squeezed it. ‘I’m back John. I’m really here now.’
That was three months ago. I've done everything I can to make you understand things have changed. Yet I'm not sure it was enough. I stand very still not looking at the name on the second ticket. I wonder if you’ve noticed Louise and I aren’t even friends now. I can’t help but wonder if you’ve seen her, you were always very close. That’s the only reason I’ve invited her to your secret party. For me she’s too stark a reminder of what a selfish fool I’ve been. I know it’s not really fair on her but it’s what you get if you play the judgmental martyr.
I can’t look at the ticket. I’m not ready to find out if you’ve forgiven me, if you’ve let me off the hook again. Will you smile, shrug and say I’m impossible but you love me anyway the way you have so many times before? Or do you finally agree with Louise that I’m a spoilt brat who needs to learn a lesson? Which secret will your party actually reveal?