AIDA AUSTIN: “Booked something,” I squeak, “what have you booked?”

IT IS the morning of our 27th wedding anniversary. We’re exchanging gifts upstairs, in last-minute fashion before my husband leaves for work.

After receiving his, he says, “and now for yours. Close your eyes.” He hands me my gift as I’m yanking on my jeans.

Under cover of buttoning up my trousers, I’m able to muster my happy gift-recipient face unseen.

It is quite a thing, mustering this face, what with all the wariness (due to long history of wide-of-the-mark-gift choices), hope (that he’s kept wide-of-the-mark gift receipt), curiosity (as to how wide of the mark gift choice will be), and gratitude (I mean manners maketh man and all that).

It’s tricky mustering a happy recipient face when one half of you feels like a 12 year old sticking her hand in a lucky-dip barrel at a school-fete, and the other half like a 15 year old opening a birthday present from an alcoholic auntie.

“You can open your eyes now,” he says.

I look down at my gift. It’s an envelope. On it — where he might more accurately have written, Final Result of Random Ideas Sampling — he’s written, “Happy Anniversary”.

“I’ve booked something,” my husband says as I begin to open it.

Now my face is really feeling the strain; twice in the past, an envelope proved cause for alarm and besides, “booking something” can mean anything, such as being compelled to take everlasting exercise under the auspices of an outdoor activities centre, like the one in Mayo, for example, which he mentions from time to time in wistful manner.

Nothing — not even a tap-dancing class — can be ruled out.

“Booked something,” I squeak, “what have you booked?”

“Well open it and see.”

I look at the envelope and think of the things that my husband has badly wanted me to like for 27 years.

“Theatre tickets?” I say.

“No.”

My mind is leaping around like a frog from lily pad to lily pad.

Perhaps, I think, he’s lost all financial reason along with the ordinary kind, and what with my brother now living at the bottom of the Alps…

“Not skiing?” My recipient voice falters badly; it is a rasping bark, for a woman cannot know how terrified of heights she is until she’s sat in a ski lift, and I’ve sat in a ski lift.

“No,” he says, “stop guessing and open the flipping thing.”

“I thought about buying you a hat,” he says happily as I open the envelope.

“A hat?” I say, stopping all movement.

“Yes,” he says.

“But you decided not to?” I say, holding my breath, half-opened envelope aloft.

“Yes,” he says.

“And it’s not in a box under the bed?”

“No.”

“As an extra… surprise?”

“No. Just the envelope.”

I exhale. “Speaking as someone who’s never worn a hat, I can only say …”

“Actually, it is under the bed,” he cuts in.

I breathe in again.

“No,” he says “I’m kidding, but I nearly bought one. I saw one that would have really suited you.”

“What was it like?”

“Cream, with a black and red bow on the front.”

Inside the envelope, I find confirmation of a booking for a night in a Dublin hotel.

My face is really feeling the strain now; I’m not out of the woods yet. Not quite.

“I haven’t made any plans,” he says, “and it’s nothing fancy. We’ll drive up. You can bring your book and read all weekend if you like.”

I relax facial muscles, breathe out.

I don’t give a fig about fancy. I don’t give a fig about fancy at all.

Not now.

Not when I think that right now this minute, I could be trying on a hat of my husband’s choice for size.


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