Sarah Mathews had been 49 when she was widowed. Now at 52 she still felt it so silly that Tom had just died. There was no great tragedy or accident. He was found at his desk. A massive and fatal stroke. He didn’t even have time to stand. He would have hated that. As she packed her shopping into the boot of her car she couldn’t help but feel cheated. It was silly and selfish but she still felt so young and she had loved Tom so much and to have lost him, to be alone at her age felt like she was being punished for a crime she didn’t remember committing.
Packing away the frozen food at home she wondered whether to sell the house. They had never had children and it was probably too big for one person. Passing to the sink she turns on the hot water tap to rinse her hands. The water is freezing. Turning the tap she heads out to the utility room at the end of the garage. The boilers’ control panel is dark and the little red light is off. She is embarrassed to be knocking on her neighbours door. She doesn’t even know their first names but she remembered them mentioning having their boiler and central heating replaced last summer. Mrs Kamal opens the door, she is so small and thin, her sari is the most delicate turquoise “Sarah! Come in. I am just making tea.”
Mrs Kamal leads her into the kitchen. So cosy and with childrens toys left on the floor. The sort of home she would have wanted once. Over hot jasmine tea and butter cookies Sarah explains the problem with the boiler. Wanting to know if the plumber they used was efficient and worthwhile. Mrs Kamal crosses to the message board and pulls away a business card. “This was the man.” She says, handing over the card. “Very polite, very professional and not so much expensive.”
After two hours she has started to notice how cold the house has become, her breath is visible as she exhales. When the doorbell chimes she is relieved he was as prompt as he said he would be. “Mrs Mathews? I am Jakob. The plumber.”
He talks so easily as they sip the coffee she made on his arrival. As he stretches over the counter top to the boiler she can’t help but notice the muscles bunching in his arms, his slender waist. His accent is quite strong but his English is perfect. She must be imagining it but it almost seems like he is flirting with her. As he screw the faceplate back onto the control panel he casually asks if she would like to meet sometime. Sarah is shocked and blushes and stumbles over her words, yet manages to say a ‘yes’ despite herself.
Six months have passed and Sarah is more free and happy than she can remember. It isn’t like it was with Tom, she still loves him. Jakob is 31. He cooks and cleans and drives her everywhere, he listens when she speaks and is very, very good in bed. She has never known such an attentive lover. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He doesn’t gamble. He seems to genuinely want her to be happy. Sarah is lying in bed with Jakob’s leg over hers and his arm across her chest. She feels warm and safe. She bows her head and kisses his cheek. “I love you.”