Two people are watching a flickering black and white television in a room lit only by the flames of a roaring log fire. They are sitting on a comfortable settee with the remains of a fish and chip supper on the low table in front of them. The woman feeds the remnants of her fish to a collie dog with one blue eye and one brown eye before rolling up the newspaper parcels and throwing them into the back of the fire.
“There,” she says comfortably, “dishes done”.
Her companion laughs, then leans over to plant a kiss on her smiling mouth.
“I never knew how much fun life could be.”
She pats his face, but says nothing. The dog, however, appears to endorse his sentiments as it stands up and wags its plumy tail.
“You want out?” he asks and the tail wags harder.
Outside it is bitterly cold, and the moonlight picks out trees whose branches are laden with ice. The man waits on the wide porch as the dog quickly does whatever is necessary before dashing back to where there is a promise of warmth. He bends to stroke the silky head and they slip back indoors together. His companion has moved to the kitchen end of the big homely room and is heating something on top of the wood-burning stove.
The man grins, and runs a hand down her ample buttocks in appreciation.
“If you are going to get touchy-feely.”
She removes the pan from the heat and turns into his embrace.
A goodish while later they are back in the comfortable embrace of the settee and the television is back on. They are idly watching the news, and contemplating bed, when a story catches their collective eye.
“Major General, Sir Sidney Wotheringham has now been missing for seven days, and concerns for his welfare are growing. Sir Sidney, who is believed to be suffering from a brain complaint similar to Alzheimer’s Disease, left the hospital where he has lived for the past five months on the morning of Monday last. Staff assumed he was going for his usual bicycle ride.” The newsreader lowers her voice and screws up her face to much the shape and texture of a prune. “He has not been seen since. His bicycle was found near junction twenty-five of the motorway. But Sir Sidney has vanished without a trace.” There is much more in this vein, as the missing man’s son speaks on camera about the family’s worry and their hope that his father is alive and well somewhere. The son looks into the eye of the camera with all the practised bonhomie of the career diplomat although he is as smooth and cold as marble, from his neatly clipped moustache to his gold cufflinks and his old school tie. He speaks of care and concern for his missing father but it looks to the two people watching the flickering screen as if he is only going through the motions for the look of things. The piece ends with a picture of an upright soldierly gentleman riding an equally upright bicycle.
The man on the settee snorts then grins and his companion takes his hand in both of hers.
“It’s an awful shame to think of that poor old soldier out there in the coldest winter we have had for a decade,” he says softly.
“Never mind, love, perhaps somebody has taken him in.”
The man kisses her hand and goes to stand in front of a mirror which hangs on the wall beside the fireplace. He studies his bearded reflection and thinks how different he already looks from the sad soldier on his bicycle…