What’s Love Got To Do With It?

No mat­ter how hard I tried, I could never get my head around this whole ten­nis busi­ness!

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The Wim­ble­don Wi­d­ower and Wi­dow, we jok­ingly called our­selves

What’s Love got to do with it?” I asked, that first time we watched it to­gether.

Ger­ald sighed. “It’s part of the scor­ing sys­tem.”

I didn’t un­der­stand it then and it never did make sense to me, no mat­ter how many times Ger­ald tried to ex­plain.

I’ve never seen the fas­ci­na­tion with ten­nis. I don’t un­der­stand the rules or the scor­ing and can’t re­mem­ber the names of the play­ers. Un­like Ger­ald, who loves it.

Ev­ery year, for two weeks in July, he goes into the liv­ing room, shuts the door on the out­side world, and im­merses him­self in Wim­ble­don.

“I don’t see the prob­lem, Jenny,” he said, when I first voiced the opin­ion that it was a bit weird. “Other peo­ple watch foot­ball on Satur­day af­ter­noons or rugby at week­ends. I just cram it all into two weeks ev­ery year. I know we’d said we’d do things to­gether when we re­tired, but it’s only a fort­night – the rest of the time I’m yours.”

I re­ally couldn’t think of an ar­gu­ment when he put it like that. But it didn’t stop me feel­ing at a loose end when Wim­ble­don came round.

“Why don’t you meet up with a friend?” he sug­gested. “Have a few days out – all I need is some food shoved un­der the door each evening. Treat it as a bit of a break for your­self. Only, with­out me.”

So that’s why I’m sit­ting on the bench down by the river, wait­ing for Al­fie to ar­rive.

We met one sum­mer al­most 10 years ago – the Wim­ble­don Wi­d­ower and Wi­dow we jok­ingly called our­selves.

“Not watch­ing Wim­ble­don?” he’d asked as he set­tled down on the bench be­side me.

“No,” I smiled. “I don’t get what Love’s got to do with it, though my hus­band’s ex­plained many a time.”

“That’s a Tina Turner song in my book,” Al­fie replied. “But Deuced if I know.”

We’d both col­lapsed into gig­gles then. It was like find­ing a kin­dred spirit. And that was the be­gin­ning.

We’ve been through a lot, me and Al­fie, even though it only amounts to 20 weeks, or four months, or ap­prox­i­mately 140 days, over 10 years. Grand­kids ar­riv­ing, a health scare, talk­ing about Ger­ald, and Al­fie’s wife Rosie. But we’ve al­ways man­aged our two weeks to sit, chat, laugh, some­times shed a tear, and put the world to rights.

We’ve walked by the river, rowed a boat down the canal, shared fish and chips for lunch, caught the lo­cal steam rail­way to the fun park and back... Stuff we’d never do in our every­day lives, and never any­thing to feel guilty about.

So why didn’t we tell our part­ners? Maybe it would have spoilt the magic. Or sown a seed of doubt. No, best to leave them hap­pily watch­ing Wim­ble­don, none the wiser. And there’s some­thing spe­cial about hav­ing a se­cret, even an in­no­cent one, isn’t there?

As Wim­ble­don ap­proaches, I al­ways have the slight fear he won’t be there. What if some­thing’s hap­pened to him? What if he can’t make it? What if I’m left wait­ing, won­der­ing?

“I’d let you know,” he said when I broached the sub­ject once. “I prom­ise.” He’d put his hand over mine, the clos­est we’d ever come to more than sim­ply en­joy­ing our time to­gether, and I didn’t like to push things any fur­ther.

But to­day, it’s like my worst night­mare com­ing true as time ticks on and Al­fie doesn’t show.

I’m curs­ing my­self for not get­ting a phone num­ber, an ad­dress, any­thing re­ally.

And then I see the woman com­ing to­wards me.

“Do you mind?” she ges­tures at the bench and sits down as I smile and nod. She’s crying, softly, like she doesn’t want any­one to no­tice but isn’t able to hold back the tears.

“You OK?” I ask ten­ta­tively. The woman nods, sniffs, and musters a smile as she wipes away the tears with a crum­pled tis­sue. “This is the first time in years I’ve missed any of Wim­ble­don. I used to watch it ev­ery year while my hus­band...” she trailed off sadly. “But he passed away a few months ago, taken sud­denly ill. There was noth­ing any­one could do. He was just so pos­i­tive, even at the end. He made me prom­ise I’d come to meet a friend of his here and let her know...”

The world spins, and I have a vivid mem­ory of Al­fie’s hand on mine, and the last thing he’d ever said to me… I’d let you know. I prom­ise.

“Rosie?” I asked, plac­ing my hand over hers.

When I get home I pause out­side the liv­ing room door, hear­ing the soft muf­fle of the ten­nis match on the other side. The ball be­ing bat­ted back and forth, the call of the um­pire, the ap­plause of the crowd. For the first time ever, I turn the door han­dle and in­ter­rupt him.

“Ger­ald,” I call. “There’s some­one I’d like you to meet.”

An­other five years have passed. Al­fie and I are sit­ting on the bench just as we al­ways did.

It’s a new bench now, with an in­scrip­tion: In mem­ory of Al­fie and Jenny, who loved it here dur­ing Wim­ble­don Fort­night.

Back home, Ger­ald and Rosie are watch­ing Wim­ble­don, and it’s a com­fort to know they have each other. Al­fie places his hand over mine and we smile.

I still don’t un­der­stand the scor­ing – Love and Deuce con­tinue to be a mys­tery to me. But I think I un­der­stand at last what Love’s got to do with it.

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