It’s definitely going to pour today. That’s Sheila’s proclamation, this sunny Sunday morning. She’s going to have her stall set out at the annual fair and she can just feel it in her bones that the rain is going to arrive (from out of nowhere) and ruin all her hard work.
She’s spent the last two mornings baking the oven off its feet. Cookies (gingerbread men, chocolate chip, cracked sugar, orange oatmeal [for those with half an eye on health and wellbeing]), walnut and date brownies, rich dark calorie-abundant chocolate brownies with muscovado sugar and toasted pistachio nuts (for those willing to give the health index a blind eye) — all assembled in pretty jars and tins.
Now all she needs is a double-shot Espresso to calm her nerves, for this year she’s set her sights higher than the $800 she made the previous year.
“If it rains, all is lost,” she says, stopping just short of wringing her hands, an admirable feat given that her body language indicates that this is exactly what she’d like to be doing.
Conrad, her husband of forty-one years, is seated calmly in a corner of the stall lost in the sports pages of the newspaper, particularly an article on Shane Watson and how Shane who nearly took Australia single-handedly to the finals of the T20 is now battling both injury and a test spot.
“Look at him, not a care in the world. Oh, if I were a cigarette smoker I’d have gone through a pack of fags believe me,” says Sheila.
“How can you worry about rain when there’s not a cloud in the sky? The forecast said sunny,” Conrad offers from behind his makeshift paper enclosure.
“Ah, they always say that, the weather guys. How often do they get it right, eh?”
“Here, pass us one of those rich chocolate brownies. That’ll give you something different to worry about. Me getting a heart attack and falling dead, for example.”
Conrad is a tad overweight and a straight line can easily be drawn connecting him with rich chocolate brownies.
“Oh, stop it Con, I’d much rather worry about the rain. And you’re definitely not getting another chocolate brownie, so don’t sit there and hint. You might make yourself useful and help me arrange things.”
Conrad, who’s in the first year of retirement after starting out as a full-fledged earner at the age of 19, sets aside the newspaper and rises.
“Now, not there, Conrad, that corner is too sharp, you won’t be able to fit fifteen jars,” says Sheila.
Conrad silently shows how it is possible.
“And the other fifteen at the opposite end. There, how’s that?” he asks.
“Hm, it does look rather nice,” says Sheila grudgingly after the task is done.
Over their years together, Sheila’s turned down chances to learn to: drive (“I’m too scared I’ll end up in an accident and injure somebody else.”), swim (“I’m never going to take a cruise so why bother? But seriously I can’t stand water getting up my nose.”), or play bridge (“That’s for the snobbish, of which I’m not one, thank you very much!”)
Conrad, on the other hand, can drive a truck (“My brother used to have one so I thought why not learn a new skill; a lot different from steering a car, I tell you.”), build a house (“Well, apart from laying the foundation. I used to hang out on weekends with mates who were builders. Learned everything, from carpentry to plumbing to welding.”)
And now, as a way of perhaps shedding some post-retirement kilos, he’s taken up South American dancing, attending classes twice a week.
Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an opportunist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
If the learning-to-hip-wiggle Conrad, however, were asked how he and Sheila have got along fine these 41 years his answer perhaps could well be, “It takes two to tango, you know.”
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.