John walked slowly towards his flat. Slowly, because there are no surprises for a man who has been married for two years and lives in a flat. There was no “perhaps” in his life. As he walked John Perkins gloomily imagined the end of his boring day.

 Katy would meet him at the door with a kiss flavored with mint. He would take off his coat and sit on the couch. He would read the evening newspaper. For dinner there would be sausages and salad. After dinner Katy would show him the sewing she had done that day. At half-past seven the fat man  upstairs would thump and bump as he did his exercises. Then at eight the gentleman downstairs would get out his flute. This was the start of the routine at Frogmore flats.

 John Perkins knew these things would happen. And he knew that at a quarter past eight he would get up and put on his hat. And his wife would be upset and say,

 “Now where are you going, John Perkins?”

 “I think I’ll go up to the bar,” he would answer, “and play a couple of game of pool.”

 Lately, this had been John Perkins’s habit. He would return home at ten or eleven. Sometimes Katy would be asleep. Sometimes she would be awake and annoyed. John sometimes felt that his marriage was like prison.

 Tonight John Perkins met a huge change when he reached his door. No Katy was there with her affectionate minty kiss. The three rooms were in a mess. All her things lay scattered around. Shoes in the middle of the floor. Combs, dresses, and make-up mixed together on the bed and chairs. This was not normal. With a sinking heart John saw a comb with a curl of her brown hair stuck in it. Something unusual and awful must have happened.

 Then John saw a note on the table from his wife. He ran to it. It said:

 Dear John,
 I just got an express letter saying mother is very sick. I am going to take the 4:30 train. My brother is going to meet me at the station there. There is cold mutton in the ice box. She was sick last spring. I hope she’s OK. Pay the milkman 50 cents. Don’t forget to write to the gas company. Your best socks are in the top drawer. I will write tomorrow.


 John and Katy had never been separated for a night in two years of marriage. He read the note over and over in a confused way. Here was a change in the routine, and it made him bewildered.

 There on the back of a chair hung the red apron with black dots that she wore while cooking the meals. Her clothes had been thrown everywhere in her hurry to leave. A little packet of her peppermints lay on the floor. Next to them was a newspaper with the train time table cut out of it. John Perkins stood in the middle of the room with a strange sadness in his heart.

 He began to tidy up the flat. When he touched her clothes a feeling of something like terror went through him. He had never imagined life without Katy. She was a part of him. She was like the air he breathed – necessary but hardly noticed. Now, without warning, she was gone. She’d disappeared as if she had never existed. Of course Katy would be gone only for a few days, or at most a week or two – but it seemed to him that the hand of death had touched his safe and quiet home.

 John took the cold mutton from the ice-box, made coffee, and had a lonely meal. After that he looked out the front window.

 He did not feel like smoking. Outside, the city roared to him. It invited him to it’s bars and pool halls. The night was his. He could go anywhere as free as any bachelor. He could drink and dance until dawn if he liked, and there would be no angry Katy waiting for him. He could play pool all night. The chains that tied him to Frogmore flats were loosened. Katy was gone.

 John Perkins did not often think about his feelings. But as he sat alone by the window he realized something – Katy was necessary for his happiness. His feelings for her, that were lost in boring routine, had been awakened by her absence. He remembered the proverb: We never value the music until the bird flies away.

 “I’ve been an idiot,” said John Perkins, “the way I’ve been treating Katy. I go out every night to play pool instead of staying home with her. Poor Katy, she has been here all alone with nothing to do. I’ve been terrible! I’m going to make it up to her. I’m going to take her out and we’ll have some fun. I’ll never play pool again.”

 There was an empty chair next to John. Katy’s blue shirt was on it. The shirt still held some of her shape. Halfway up the sleeves were wrinkles, made by her arms as she worked to give him comfort and pleasure. A delicate smell of flowers came from it. John held the silent and cool shirt for a long time. Katy had never been silent and cool. Tears – yes, tears – came into John Perkins’eyes. When she came home, things would be different. He would treat her better. What was life without her?

 The door opend. Katy walked in carrying a small suitcase. John stared at her stupildy.

 “Oh, It’s good to be back,” said Katy. “Mother wasn’t really sick. My brother met me at the station and said she just had a cold. She got better right after they sent me the letter. So I took the next train back. I’d love a cup of coffee.”

 Nobody heard the click and rattle of the cogwheels in their apartment in Forgmore flats. It buzzed its machinery back into the Usual Routine. And everything slipped back to normal.

 John Perkins lookd at the clock. It was 8:15. He picked up his hat and walked to the door.

 “Now where are you going, John Perkins?” asked Katy.

 “I think I’ll go up to the bar,” said John, “and play a couple of games of pool.”


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