Saturday, 9 June 2012

40: Signals

Straight after supper each night, Gerald headed for his garden shed carrying a warm blanket and a flask of tea.  Edna, Gerald’s wife of thirty six years, understood he was a keen astronomer, so even though she sometimes missed him when she sat watching television, knitting him a waistcoat or extra woolly, she knew he could only indulge his passion at night.

Gerald did indeed indulge his passion at night, but with Maureen at number 73, not Andromeda or the Great Bear.

Gerald sat in his folding chair, legs tucked up in the blanket, looking out of the Perspex window in his shed.  Next to him was a Stargazer 5000, purchased second hand as a cover for his dalliance.  Gerald allowed himself a cup of tea every half hour as he settled down to wait for Maureen’s signal.

Maureen’s husband worked a night shift at a local warehouse and set out for work at half past eight every night.  He’d occasionally forget his sandwiches or his paper, so Maureen always allowed thirty minutes before signalling to Gerald, just to be safe.

Gerald had proposed a rotating system of signals, so that none of the neighbours should become suspicious.  Mondays was opening and closing the back bedroom curtains, Tuesdays was switching the bedroom light on and off, Wednesdays was kitchen curtains and Thursdays was kitchen lights.  Tonight he was watching for the back porch light to turn on and off.  Saturday was club night with Edna and Sunday was, of course, church.  Maureen and Dennis sometimes attended too, adding a frisson of excitement for Gerald and Maureen, whilst poor Edna and Dennis smiled on unaware.

Whatever the medium of the signal, the content was always the same.  One flash or swish meant ‘ready’ whilst two was ‘ready in five minutes.’  Repeated flashing or swishing, or heaven forbid both, meant ‘abandon all plans’ usually because Dennis had a change of shift or a repeat of his dodgy tummy.

Gerald got through his entire flask that evening without any signal at all.  He knew better than to risk a visit without the all clear first, so he waited twenty more minutes, then packed up and went inside.  He headed straight up to bed, tiptoeing past Edna’s room so not to wake her.

It was very unusual to hear nothing at all from Edna and Gerald hoped she would be at the club or even at church so he could find an excuse to speak to her and enquire what had happened.  When she and Dennis were at neither he was rather worried and began to long for Monday evening so he could see her again.
On Monday Gerald waited for two hours without any curtain movement and on Tuesday, ninety minutes passed without any bedroom light flashes.  In desperation, Gerald flashed the shed light on and off a few times, in the hopes of catching Maureen’s attention, but there was no response.

Gerald began to fold his blanket, pack away his Stargazer 5000 and finish the last dregs of tea when he heard a gentle tap on the shed door.  Delighted with Edna’s apparent impromptu visit, he opened the door, only to be amazed at the sight of Dennis stood on the doorstep.

“Hello Gerald,” he said, eyeing the blanket Gerald was folding.  “Can I have a word?”

“Of course, Dennis.  What is it?” he said.

“It’s about Maureen.”  He swallowed and said, “I saw the light and...”

“Ah, well.  Yes Dennis, about that,” said Gerald.

“Sorry if you’re just off in to bed but I needed to talk to someone.  My Maureen’s got another man,” said Dennis.

“Are you sure?” said Gerald, not sure whether to be relieved Dennis didn’t suspect him or smug at how little the man knew.  “I’m sure you’re worrying over nothing.”

“I wish I was,” said Dennis, “but she moved out last Friday.  Took all her clothes and left me a note saying she wasn’t coming back.  Been seeing him behind my back for months apparently.  I never saw it coming, Gerald.”

“No,” replied Gerald, “the signals aren’t always very clear.”

Inspired by "No signal from targeted ET hunt"

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