Ulysses Plott, wandering downstairs in search of a cup of tea, heard the sound of furious typing from his wife’s study, and nodded with satisfaction. Good old Philomena. Excellent self-discipline.
He stuck his head around the door. “Fancy a cuppa?”
Philomena jumped, and minimized the screen. “Ooh, yes please.”
Hmm, Ulysses thought.
“I’ll come down,” Philomena said. “I’ve been sitting here too long.” She hustled her husband out of the study and in the direction of the kettle.
“How’s the novel going?” Ulysses said.
“Oh, you know…” Philomena waved a hand. “Getting on.” She peered out of the window. “Blasted caterpillars,” she said. “Look at those Brussels’ sprouts. Leaves like a lace doily.”
“Last night’s frost should have finished the little devils off,” Ulysses said. “Where are you on the novel, then?”
Philomena shrugged, still looking at the sprouts. “Oh, you know. About a third of the way into the first draft, I suppose.”
Ulysses’ moustaches twitched. He knew his wife very well; and she was showing all the signs. “Come out into the garden,” he said.
“Just for a bit. I should be working.” Philomena pulled on her flowered wellingtons and an ancient padded jacket, and followed him out into the damp and chilly November afternoon. “Ooh, look at the size of that slug! Where are my scissors?”
Ulysses shook his head as Philomena disappeared into the shed. Normally, he was the one who dealt slugs the coup de grace with a pair of shears. Philly preferred to ease them from this mortal coil with slug pellets. She was being evasive, and he had a horrible feeling he knew why.
“Where’s it gone?” she said, appearing with a pair of garden scissors.
“Run off,” Ulysses said.
“Really, Lissy. Slugs can’t run.” She looked around, snapping the blades of the scissors with unusual eagerness, and avoiding his eye.
“Chickweed,” Ulysses declared, and bent, a little creakily, to tug out the offending plant. “And look at that greenhouse. Dreadful state. Tell you what, we’ve been meaning to put that new pane in. Might do that this afternoon.”
“Yes, why not?”
“Or I could finish repainting the shed,” he said.
Philomena glanced guiltily at the shed, where a new coat of glossy green paint came to an end about halfway down the wall. “No, don’t do that, Lissy. I’ll finish it.”
“You’ll probably need some new paint. I think the other stuff’s gone solid. Well, it was two years ago.”
“As long as that?”
Something clattered up from among the raspberry canes, and flew to the roof in a flash of black and white and silver. “Ah, magpie,” Ulysses said with satisfaction. “What’s it got, can you see?”
Philomena shaded her eyes. “No idea. Bit of silver foil, perhaps?”
“What does it think it’s going to do with it? Typical magpie, grabbing at something it can’t even use just because it’s shiny.”
“Mmm. Well, I must just go and…”
“Philomena.” Ulysses injected into his tone the sternness that had held men to their lines in the face of overwhelming odds, mosquitos the size of starlings and the news that the week’s supply of tea had failed to reach the camp.
“What were you doing when I came into the study?” Ulysses said.
Philomena looked at her wellingtons. “Um, well, I had this idea…”
“It wasn’t the novel, was it?”
“No. But Lissy, dear…”
“It was something new, wasn’t it?”
“Well it just seemed like so much fun…”
“So you were just going to take a few notes and get back to the novel?”
“Well I haven’t got a deadline on the novel, after all, so I thought I’d just…”
“Have an affair?”
“You know perfectly well what I mean, Philomena.” He shook an affectionate if muddy finger at her. “You start that story and halfway through you’ll get another nice shiny idea, and abandon the story, and it will sit there unfinished. And so will the next one. And the poor old novel will end up trunked. I know you, my dear. Your one weakness, a nice fresh young story, eh?”
“You’re such a grump, Ulysses.”
“I’m nothing of the sort.”
“You are, you’re a grump. And you’re right, of course. I do so hate it when you’re right.”
“Hah.” Ulysses put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and gave her a brisk hug. “No reason why you can’t work on as many short stories as you like, once you’ve got that first draft under your belt, eh?”
“Maybe I should finish the shed first.”
“I’ll finish the shed. You get back to your novel.” Ulysses saw her back into the house, his moustaches quivering, this time with satisfaction. He’d bought new paint for the shed a week ago. He’d just finish getting that chickweed up first…