"...and Oliver, don't forget the breakfast cereal!" Lois called from the front porch as her husband eased the station wagon down the drive; her piercing voice penetrating wound-up car windows, and driving the neighbour's cat in a scampering frenzy through the bordering hedge and under Number 16, two doors up the avenue.
Oliver halted his careful reversing manoeuvre. Then, winding down the window, he quietly replied, "No, darling, I won't forget; it's written on the shopping list." He re-engaged the transmission and continued to creep the station wagon down the drive.
"Oliver!" Lois screeched--Oliver screeching the brakes to harmonise in perfect pitch with Lois' shrill tones--"Oliver... don't forget my jar of wrinkle-vanishing cream!"
"No, dear." Oliver gave a well-practised sigh as he backed the car out onto the avenue and made good his escape.
As he navigated through the winding streets of the housing development he again had one of the flashes that occasionally lit up in his mind like the showing of a movie. This time it was the scene where the POW bursts through the barbed-wire fence under the nose of the enemy guard and scrambles beneath the covering underbrush to freedom. The scene faded to black, and gently into focus came the tropical beach scene where the hero lay on the golden sands shaded tenderly by the protective arms of the palm trees whilst the turquoise waters played their never ending caress upon the shapely curves of the water's-edge. Oliver shook his head, scattering the fragments of the movie to the edges of his mind, clearing the centre-stage space for the Great Debate... the panel show where Oliver interrogated himself in the strongest investigative-journalist style; "Now, tell me, sir, why was it that you married this woman?"
He never did arrive at an answer that satisfied the judging panel. Oh, he remembered occasionally, the young pretty Lois of their courting days, the blossoming young bride, the caring supportive young wife... but where she went as time meandered along, he couldn't have told you. He was sure he was the same now as he always had been... something had changed though... something...
Oliver paused at the traffic signal as he prepared to turn into the shopping mall. Should he turn in, or continue on... on to... on to where ever that passing Greyhound was going. The traffic signal changed....
* * *
"..and don't forget the breakfast cereal", Lois called from the front porch. It was always such a bother to continually have to remind her husband, but he was ever so forgetful. Oliver braked the station wagon heavily, sending the neighbour's cat scurrying under the hedge and up the avenue.
Oliver leaned through the wound-down window and called back in the exasperating tone he used more and more of late, "No, darling, I won't forget; it's written on the shopping list." He crunched the car back into gear, and in his usual reckless manner continued his rush down the driveway.
"Oliver?" Lois gently prompted. Oliver angrily screeched the car to a stop. "Oliver, please don't forget my wrinkle-vanishing cream."
"No, dear", he gave an irritating audible sigh as he spun the tyres, and charged down the street.
Lois turned and walked inside the neat comfortable home. As she made her way through the familiar rooms, pages turned within her mind like the extracts from a romantic novel. She wound her way through the castle corridors trapped within the harsh stone walls by an evil tyrant; her shinning armour-clad Knight searching the Kingdom for her... for his lost love. Would he find her? Would he? She shook her head, scattering the story pages like leaves in an autumn wind. The sun shone through the bare-leaf clearing in her mind illuminating the thoughts that she tried to keep locked in the darkest compartments. What has happened to us? Where has Oliver gone... the Oliver, the handsome prince that loved me so long ago... where has he gone? She remembered the considerate and gentle suitor of her youth, the strong and protective young husband. Why had she married him? She remembered why... and one day, one day soon, it would be like that again...
* * *
Oliver wandered the septic white tiled boulevards of the Mall lugging the straining plastic bags of weekly shopping. He'd searched the supermarket's shelves, inquired of the pharmacy assistant, and harassed the cosmetic counter lady in the department store, but Lois' particular brand of wrinkle-vanishing cream remained elusive. Of course, he could have bought a different brand, but Lois was always so insistent that it just had be the perfect product. Of course, he could have simply returned home without it and explained patiently that it was unobtainable. Of course he could take his usual course and doggedly persist in his search... if still unsuccessful, he remained the martyr for his questing; if he did by chance find the cream he would regale Lois with the story of how he suffered to bring unto her the jar she demanded... the passing of guilt onto her would be most satisfying.
He gave up the search, having worked himself into a suitable state in which to return home and to continue the game...it wasn't his fault, he tried to find the cream. He wove through the parking lot, avoiding the reckless shopping trolley drivers and the chains of attached children, towards the station wagon. On the far side of the lot were erected colourful marquees and stalls, all enveloped with more mothers, fathers and bright-eyed... and raucous... children; and music and noise and the hurly-burly of the Monthly Markets. He placed the carry-bags in the rear space of the car, and made his way towards the festive melee.
There were the usual White Elephant stalls, with tables covered with the kind of household bric-a-brac one was constantly trying to get rid of... not buy; there were stalls of used and dog-eared books that no-one would ever again read; there were plant stalls, electrical goods stalls, costume jewellery stalls and more costume jewellery stalls, food stalls, astrologers and fortune-tellers, leather goods and "Genuine Oil Paintings" processed in a factory line in some forgotten warehouse by art students who were obviously a long way from perfecting their craft... and there was a cosmetic counter.
Oliver approached the strangely dressed stall-holder... she was wearing some kind of Indian sari, or was it a brightly coloured, sparkling Gypsy’s outfit?... and asked whether she stocked Lois' particular brand of wrinkle-cream. She hesitated, ever so slightly, before ducking beneath the velvet-cloth covered trestle table. She returned shortly holding a small jar, and looking deeply into Oliver's eyes said, "I believe this is the particular vanishing cream you're looking for."
He paid over the amount of cash asked; he was sure that it was more expensive than the last time he had purchased some at a supermarket, but then that, too, gave him another excuse to blame Lois for the overspill on the weekly budget.
* * *
Lois eased her stiff back from the kitchen chair, leaving the household accounts for a moment to check on Oliver's dinner that was simmering atop the stove. She gave the pot a quick stir and turned back to face the scattered papers on the table. God, she hated the book-work, the bill-paying, the tax forms... but Oliver was so hopeless with the accounts it naturally fell to her to ensure that such mundane necessities where taken care of. At times she felt she was the lead cyclist in a bunch of racers where she made the running, and handled the buffeting of the headwinds whilst Oliver tagged serenely behind content to shelter in her lee, but ever demanding that she go quicker, slower, or take another route.
She surveyed the paper mess, deciding whether to return to the bill-paying or sneak some time in her small studio behind the garage where she escaped into her world of clay and sculpting, and statues, busts and stone. The thought flashed through her mind... maybe Oliver was really just one of her clay figures... maybe she imagined the real him, but had created a stone statue in her studio; well, actually she was working on a bust of Oliver as a surprise present for him. Whether he'd appreciate it or not was a matter on which she was undecided. Maybe he was becoming that sculpture... sometimes he had as much response, sometimes she felt he ignored her as if he was simply sitting there cast out of clay. She quickly tidied the table knowing that Oliver would soon return... and wondering what kind of mood he would be in...
* * *
Oliver gently closed the door behind him, and quietly called to his wife, "I'm home, darling."
Lois screeched from the kitchen, "Did you manage to get everything?... You didn't overspend the budget did you?" The plates sitting unwashed in the kitchen sink rattled with the shrill tones.
Oliver came through into kitchen, lay the shopping bags in front of the refrigerator, and began to put the items away as he soothingly replied, "Yes, dear I did manage to get everything... although I had to search a little bit for your wrinkle vanishing cream.. and it did cost a little bit more."
"Well," Lois moaned. "I do need it. Come on hurry up, get out of the way... I'll put the things away, you're letting your dinner go cold, and I've slaved over it all afternoon."
* * *
Oliver slammed the door behind him, and yelled to no one in particular, "I'm home!"
Lois quietly inquired from the kitchen, "You managed to find everything, darling? Did you have enough money?", as she placed the last of the just-washed dishes into the rack.
Oliver stomped into the kitchen, dumped the shopping bags in front of the refrigerator, and began to noisily shove the items haphazardly into the shelves as he grumbled, "Yeah, got everything.. had to hunt everywhere for your wrinkle-vanishing cream.. went to seven places before I could find it.. that stuff costs the earth, too, you know."
"I know it's expensive, darling, but it's the only one that works for me, and you know I want to look pretty for you. Now, you relax, I'll put everything away. Have your dinner before it goes cold, it's your favourite, darling."
* * *
"Are you going to bed or are you going to sit up watching television all night?" Lois squawked from the bedroom door, her face covered in cream. Oliver decided to ignore her.
* * *
"Please come to bed, darling. You told me there was nothing interesting on the television." Lois tempted seductively from the bedroom door, her face glowing with her cosmetic face cream. Oliver didn't hear her.
* * *
Oliver looked up from his bowl of breakfast cereal as Lois came into the kitchen. He could have sworn that the morning sun shone right through her... a trick of the light, he thought. Impossible. She could not be so translucent... and yet he could have vowed that he could make out the vague shape of the kitchen bench through her. He shook his head, clearing the image from his mind. "Good morning, darling," he said. She shrieked something in reply.
* * *
Lois came into the kitchen and looked at Oliver as he sat over his bowl of breakfast cereal. She could have sworn he was as immobile as a sculptured bust... a trick of the light, she thought. Impossible. He could not be so inert... and yet she could feel the coldness of the stone emanating from him. She shook her head, clearing the image from her mind. "Good morning, darling," she said. He ignored her.
* * *
Oliver put his feet up as he stretched out on the sofa. God it had been a hard day. He tried to share his troubled experience with Lois, but from some hidden depth of the living room all he could hear was some frantic ranting about Lois' troubles. He opened one eye, but on glancing around the room, it seemed to be empty... not another living soul to be seen... not another living soul shared his space.
* * *
Lois sat in the armchair opposite Oliver as he stretched out on the sofa. She tried to share with him the troubles of her day, and the concerns of her life, but the reclining statue opposite her lay motionless, as deaf, and as unhearing, as a lump of clay. She stared at him and realised that he was just a lump of clay shaped like the man she once knew... the room might as well have been empty... not a another living soul to listen to her... not another living soul with which to communicate -- and share her space.
* * *
Oliver closed his eyes, and tried to re-run the movie in his mind... the one where the caring, loving wife tenderly administered to his needs. But the frame was blank, there was no co-star, no wife. He felt his mind-movie flutter like a projector running out of film, and then seize up... like it was suddenly turned to stone. He opened his eyes to search for Lois, but she was gone... disappeared... vanished.
* * *
Lois closed her eyes, and turned the pages of the storybook in her mind... the one where the caring, loving husband tenderly administered to her needs. But the pages were stuck together, there was no handsome prince, no husband. She felt her storybook mind close like pages flattened by the weight of a stone statue, and disappear... as if it suddenly vanished. She opened her eyes to search for Oliver, but he was gone, there remained only a stone figure... or was it just a lump of clay.