The date of the party was set for the eleventh of April, that very evening, and Julia was very busy as she rushed around trying to make the final arrangements. Tonight’s dinner party was very important to her, and to her husband, John, who was retiring from his job as a banker. However, John wasn’t old enough for a proper retirement; he was leaving work for the sake of his health. Many people spoke behind John’s back and said that he had nothing between the ears, and however much it hurt Julia to hear those things said about her husband, she herself was not completely innocent of the crime.
John was sat in his chair in the garden and his head was tilted slightly to the left. Although his body was relaxed, when Julia got closer to him, she could see that his face was screwed up like a bulldog’s, and his lips were as thin as paper. His eyes stared out towards the gardener, who was taking a short break from collecting any apples that had fallen from the large tree at the back of the garden.
When Julia saw him like this, it pulled on her heart strings. John was such a good banker, so good that he alone had paid for their grand house, and he had made sure that Julia had never had to work. Yet, he was now tied to his chair, and was entirely dependent on Julia to get him around. John just sat there, day after day, hour after hour, sinking steadily into the other world, where his brain wanted to take him. Julia knelt down gently next to John’s chair.
“Good morning John.” Julia said.
“Is it still morning? It’s so bright I thought it must be the afternoon.”
“It’s nearly the afternoon, there’s only seven minutes left of the morning.”
“How slowly the time goes.” John looked towards his wrist to check the time, but Julia had forgotten to put his watch on that morning. Or perhaps he had forgotten to ask her. “I heard that we are having lamb.”
“Yes we are.”
“I don’t like lamb.” John interrupted.
“I can arrange for you to have something different.”
“No!” he shouted, “I’m sick of being the special case.”
“What would you like to eat John?” Julia watched as John tensed up in concentration, then he squeezed her hand and looked into her eyes.
“I want lamb, Julia.” He said brightly.
“I thought you didn’t like lamb?” Julia whispered.
“I love lamb, it’s my favourite meat.”
“Lamb it is then.” Julia went to stand but John clutched tightly onto her arm and elbow.
“How was the party?” He said.
“We haven’t had the party yet, it is tonight.”
“Really? Whose party is it?”
“It’s your party John, you are retiring.”
John threw down Julia’s arm and held onto the armrests instead. The leather creaked and groaned as John’s finger nails scraped against its surface.
“I’m thirty four! I have a right to work”
“You are retiring for your health John.”
“The doctors are wrong!” John whined, “I’m only sick because you force me to be.”
“I don’t force you to do anything John.”
“Yes you do, Julia! You force me to sit in this chair, and you force me to eat lamb.”
Julia stood up suddenly and held her breath to stop herself from shouting. She couldn’t shout at John anymore, it wouldn’t look right for her to be shouting at a sick man.
“Perhaps you should come inside now John; it’s getting warm all of a sudden.”
“I want to watch the flowers.”
John took his foot out of the rest and put it on top of his other foot. He often did this, to make sure that the floor was still there. His chair made him feel like he was floating above the ground, like a zombie.
Julia walked quickly back to the kitchen door. When she reached the cover of the trees she started to fan her eyes to stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. She’s not allowed to cry anymore either, as she has to be strong for John. If she were to lose her mind too, then nobody would have any control and the house would completely fall apart. Soon, she thinks, she will renovate the east side of the house to make a business of her own, something she has always dreamed of. She will be a seamstress at last and her business will provide for their new income.
Once back inside the shade of the house, Julia walked briskly to the nursery, to find her son Edward. He was playing with a toy engine when Julia ran into the room and swept him up into her arms.
“I’m going to make a cake today, Edward.” Julia smiled.
“Can I help you, Mummy?” he asked.
“If it makes you happy.”
“Who is the cake for?”
“It’s for daddy, to show him how much we love him.”
Julia carried Edward to the kitchen and set him down on the counter. Edward watched as she took eggs, flour, sugar and butter from the shelves and measured out all the ingredients on the scales. Then she put them into a mixing bowl and added some vanilla. Whilst the cake was baking Julia takes Edward out to the front garden, away from John. Then the cook started to yell from the kitchen and Julia ran back inside. When Edward toddled after her, he found her hanging her head over a something that was as black as the fireplace.
“What’s wrong Mummy?”
“I’ve burnt it.” She said, “I’ve burnt the cake.”
Julia was ashamed of herself, she had made thousands of cakes before but this time she had set the oven too high. She pushed the cake away from her as she doesn’t want to be associated with something as dreadful as a burnt cake. She slammed her way out of the kitchen door and stomped down the hall. As she pulled the front door open she walked straight into Ellen, her greatest friend, who gasped and used her free hand to protect a bouquet of fresh flowers.
“Ellen, you’re early!”
“No, no it’s fine.” Ellen gave Julia the flowers and the smell of them calmed her down.
“Thank you for getting the flowers, they’re beautiful.”
Julia led Ellen through to the kitchen and seeked out a vase for the flowers. She was calmer now that Ellen was there, and already she was beginning to laugh at her attempt at baking.
“How is John today?” Ellen asked.
“Is he excited do you think?”
“I think so.” Julia didn’t think that she was lying, as she knew that John would enjoy himself when his old friends were there.
“What’s that I can smell?” Ellen said, sticking her nose into the air.
“I burnt the cake.”Julia sighed.
“I can pick one up for you and I’ll be back in time for the party.”
Ellen leaned forward and offered her cheek, but Julia kissed her on the lips, only for a short time, but it seemed to her like the right thing to do. Ellen squeezed Julia’s hand before she leaves. She understands what Julia is going through, and although she can’t see any way to help, she feels that she can help Julia with the little things, even if they do seem insignificant to her.
Julia was glad that Ellen had come early because now all of her plans for the party had been made. When she took John upstairs, she was scared that he would start to fuss and complain. He was humming lightly to himself as Julia pulled his chair up the many flights of stairs, but as soon as Julia took his dinner suit from the wardrobe, he groaned loudly.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“I don’t want to go to the party.”
“Don’t be ridiculous John, all of your guests are here already.”
Eventually, John gave in to Julia and as soon as he was smart enough, Julia wheeled him to the dining room. They were both silent as they made their way down the stairs, whether they were both nervous Julia couldn’t tell.
When Julia took John into the dining room, the other bank employees got to their feet and many of them raised their wine glasses high above their heads to him, and John greeted them warmly, much to Julia’s relief.
When the meal was served, Julia was pleased with herself because she had ordered pork as well as lamb. She was happy with her party now and she was especially pleased with the flowers. They stood tall and proud around the room, none of them with broken leaves or unopened buds. They represented her feelings, and perhaps Julia herself. As she watched John laughing and joking with his old colleagues, she (the only woman at the table) sat with a straight back and a large smile. She attracted more attention than John as the evening went on; everybody was interested in her business plans.
Julia thought that it was time for women to stand out. Instead of clinging onto their husbands elbow, their rank in society and their money, they should make something of themselves. Just like she has stepped up to the challenge of looking after John. None of the guests at the table could notice the difference in John, the way he changed the topic of conversation without any warning, and how he tended to talk more to himself than to the guests, only Julia could see that.
It was very late at night when the last guest finally left. Julia was exhausted, and John was asleep in his chair. Julia wondered whether John had had a nice time at the dinner party, or whether she had stolen his spotlight. He used to be in charge of the dinner parties, and he was so used to hosting them, but now Julia was in charge of everything.
Julia took John straight upstairs and she took her time taking him up the last stair case so that she didn’t wake him, but he sat up anyway when they get to their bedroom. Julia got John ready for bed first and she was surprised to find him still awake when she pulled back the covers and climbed into bed next him.
“Will you tell me a story about your day?” he said.
“I had a busy day today. We had a party this evening.”
“Did we? I don’t remember it.”
“What about your day John?”
“I stayed in the garden all day and watched Edward play.” He said
“No. I think I watched the flowers.”
“Edward was with me today John.” Julia said.
“But I watched him play in the garden.”
“Do you have a headache John?”
John touched his fingertips to his temple, and then he shook his head. Julia picked up her favourite book and turned to the place marked by the bookmark. John was fascinated by the cover. It was green and black and on it there was a child wearing a scarf.
“Is that your favourite book?”He asked.
“Yes.” Julia mumbles. She had been captured by the words in the book.
“Yes.” He agreed, “I have to be up early tomorrow for work.”
Julia watched as John laid back into the pillows and pulled the covers all the way up to his chin. She placed her book on to the table next to the bed and laid down next to John. The dinner party, she thought, was a success and it didn’t matter that she cannot bake a cake or choose the correct dinner, she is good at her main job, at caring for her husband.