Writers had to compose 2,000 words under the title ‘Peace at Last’. Maria didn’t name her two characters — they were simply the Husband and the Wife.
The focus is their different reactions to a wedding invitation and to the event itself. The two have different personalities — he, an ‘outgoing and gregarious individual, full of innate bonhomie’, who liked to ‘engage strangers in conversation in supermarkets, bank queues or cafes’, she was ‘stout and retiring, always carefully made-up, all traces of grey carefully masked in her dark brown hair’.
Yet, the sense of give and take built up over years between them is clear from the start. When the invitation to the UK-based wedding arrived, ‘the Wife immediately knew they would have to go, even though it meant forgoing the week in France or Italy, which they always took in September’.
The husband knew exactly what would mollify his wife — ‘We’ll go to the wedding,’ he says, ‘but we’ll spend the rest of the week in England — there are some lovely places to see’.
The story captures that degree of discomfort, the sense of being one-step-removed, that many feel when they’re at a gathering of their spouse’s family.
‘They greeted each other with much air kissing, hugging and exclaiming — very nice English people, but the Wife was secretly relieved to find all the other relatives were staying at another hotel some miles away... the Husband was in his element’ catching up with everybody, while ‘the Wife tagged along, getting reacquainted briefly with people she met every three, four or five years’.
The characters are entirely fictional, Maria explains.
“But the situation is one I was in. It’s very common. When it’s your own family, it’s grand — you’re really into it. When it’s the other person’s, you’re a step outside, even with the best will in the world.” She set the story in England because she “wanted to alienate the Wife further in a different country”.
After an interesting twist — involving a sat nav and the Wife bailing out early to go back to their hotel room — the story ends on a peaceful note: the Wife dreaming of a visit to the Cotswolds and Stratford-on-Avon, of ‘dreamy river boat’ trips, leisurely meals.
Maria, an ICA member for 20 years and secretary of Longwood Guild says she was “gobsmacked” to win from a shortlist of 10. “I’m going to join a writer’s group,” she says.
Longwood Guild is actively looking for new members and meets at 7.30pm on the second Wednesday of the month in Longwood Vocational School.