The film, Brief Encounter is set in the 1940’s, and is a romantic drama from the perspective of Laura. Laura is a usually contented housewife with a loving husband, two kids and a pleasant home. Every Thursday she visits Milford, a local town, for shopping, a trip to the library, and a visit to the cinema. It is on one of these visits that she meets Alec, a GP from a nearby town, at the train station.
This short story was inspired by a feeling that Alec was not all he seems, and is told from the perspective of his wife, Madeline.
Alec is at the hospital in Milford today. Thursday is his day. I like Thursdays. A whole day to myself. The boys are at school, and I can read or sew without interruption, and even escape to the local library for a short while. Some of the day must be spent doing housework. Alec likes to remind me that I’m delicate, but he won’t spend any money on a maid, or even a cleaning lady. And he expects the house to be spotless when he gets home. On other days of the week, I spread the cleaning through the day, so as always to be busy when he pops in from the surgery next door to check on me, as he does several times a day.
Today, as is usual for a Thursday, I fit my cleaning into the first two hours of the day, so I can relax and enjoy myself for the rest of the day.
The day passes too quickly, again a typical Thursday trait, and I’m preparing dinner while the boys do their homework at the kitchen table, when the phone rings.
“Madeline darling, how are you?” Alec always asks, but I know he’s long ceased to care.
“I’m fine thank you. Are you on your way home? Dinner’s in the oven.” It isn’t quite, but it will be shortly.
“I’m so sorry, darling, but I’ve been delayed at the hospital. I’ll probably stay over at Steven’s tonight. I’ll be back in time for surgery tomorrow. Will you be alright?”
“Of course. I’ll be fine.” I imagine he’s on a public telephone. He would be a little less caring in private.
The call disconnects, and I look forward to a pleasant evening with my book.
The boys are in bed, and I’m doing a quick dust round before turning in myself, when I hear the latch click. My heart sinks. I reach the hallway as Alec is hanging up his coat. There’s a faint smell of perfume in the air. Oh dear! Another poor soul has succumbed to the famous Alec charm. He caught me in the same way – that childlike enthusiasm, early declarations of love, followed by a swift wedding, and the gradual increase in control.
Since our marriage ten years ago, there have been at least four other ladies that I’ve detected – for all I know there could have been twice as many. They follow a similar pattern, but without the wedding. I have been unable to discover how they end. I have no doubt his poor victims are devastated when he leaves them though.
My thoughts are disturbed; Alec is speaking.
“It’s late. You should be in bed.” His gaze falls on the duster. “I’m pleased to see you’ve not wasted the day.” He comes forward and grips my arm above the elbow, and bundles me into the drawing room. He glances round, his eagle eyes keen to spot any signs of neglect. I can tell from the set of his shoulders and his continued tight hold of me that he’s very angry. His inability to find anything amiss with the cleanliness of the room appears to anger him further, because he shoves me roughly away. “Get to bed. I will be there shortly.”
When he arrives in bed, some twenty minutes later, the smell of brandy masks the perfume. I know better than to feign sleep, and suffer through his roughness for a few moments until he lies sated on his side of the bed.
The next morning, he makes an announcement.
“In two weeks, we leave to go to Johannesburg. I’m going to work with my brother in his hospital. He will find us a house. It will be good for you to have a change of scene and climate.”
“But all my family is here. My sister and mother are on the next street. How can I leave them? And the boys are at school.”
“You will be allowed to write to your mother and to Juliet. And Charles has found places for our boys at the same school his boys attend. It will be good for them to be with their cousins. And that’s my last word on the subject. You’d better start packing everything up for shipping.”
The following Thursday, I need to go into Milford to sort out some papers. I have to pass the hospital, and I am heading towards the entrance when I spot Alec greeting a pleasant looking woman of around my own age. I dart into the alleyway next to the hospital, and am able to observe them further. As I expected, Alec is very attentive to the woman. I catch a glimpse of her face as they pass, just a few feet from where I’m hiding. She seems distressed, and I feel sorry for her. And yet, she is lucky. She will have her love forever – her shining image of the perfect Alec. And she will return home this evening, hopefully to a kind husband, who will welcome her with loving arms and a warm, forgiving heart.
My sorrow turns to envy.