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FOR WORSE
by Tom Haskworth

They had been together a year and Kate felt they touched wonderfully. Granted, her partner had faults but nothing extreme: Alan was a little untidy though not excessively so, and he tended to forget special days like today's anniversary of their meeting - but all in all they wove together like fine silk. That morning they had had one of their rare and very minor disagreements with no time to smooth it over like they usually did. Still, Kate felt sure that all would be harmonious again by evening because she knew Alan never nursed any dispute for long. They did everything together and had much in common in their outlook.

Since they shared everything - including household tasks, Kate fully expected that tonight being Tuesday, Alan would have a lovely roast or a nice hot stew waiting to drive out the cold this wet and windy evening. Yet as she entered the front door there was no welcoming cooking odour nor any greeting at all. She felt a cold chill like a barrier in the hallway and there were physical obstacles scattered everywhere too: a worn leather bowls bag bulged near the door; an odd boot, a scattering of slightly smelly food-stained newspaper pages strewn with pieces of a broken dish or plate, a soaking, half-open umbrella lying limply on an equally wet cardboard box; a dirty milk bottle catching drips and almost full of water. What seemed a faint trace of air freshener sadly failed to obscure the whiff of old food and damp cardboard.

Kate sensed a commotion from the lounge. Looking through the doorway she could see the room was as disarranged as the hall.

Alan's large, clumsy frame came struggling out in a rush. He was trying to pull on a big coat with one huge hand while chattering excitedly to the other jammed to an ear and almost engulfing the recipient of his exclamations, "I'll be there by seven-thirty." He listened for a moment then "Make sure it's the same." Seeing Kate, he broke off and shouted at her, "Sorry, I've not put the heat on - I'm going out. Might be late!" He turned his head and quickly added more softly to one side, "No, not for that! Wouldn't miss that for anybody!" As he brushed past Kate while heading for the front door he heaved and swung into the coat. A hand just escaped its twisted sleeve in time to grab the bowls bag. "There's a chinese in the microwave!", he shouted back over his shoulder.

Kate disliked oriental food but her troubled mind pushed Alan's oversight to one side as she recognized the familiar pattern of the fragments of porcelain on the floor amongst the scattered debris. The pieces were not of crockery at all. Alan had bought her a beautiful globular vase decorated in pink and white and filled with red roses the day they moved in together. On the unglazed base Alan had written simply "Love you" and the gift meant a lot to Kate. She had slightly chipped its rim herself a few days ago and guiltily turned the damaged edge to the wall hoping Alan would not notice what seemed to her a glaring defacement. The way the tiny flaw was now concealed by total destruction seemed ironic.

She looked in despair at the lack of any concern on the face of the man she thought she loved as he completely ignored her anguish and laughed and joked to his tightly clenched fist, "...and a Dutchman in the pantry!"

"Alan, you know how much that vase meant to me," and when he did not respond, "Alan, are you listening?" in a loud voice. At that moment she had a second frightening realization. The fragrance in the air was not their air-freshener; it was perfume; and it was not Kate's. She refused to believe where her feelings where leading yet still failed to stifle a sob.

Alan stopped, turned, dropped his left arm to his side, and said,

"Kate, I know this is a bad time, but... will you marry me?"

Kate stared numbly in disbelief. She knew what he had said - something she had longed to hear for months, but her feelings were shocked into confusion. Feeble replies suggested themselves to her thought: "Are you completely mad?", "You pick the most ridiculous time to ask!", "not if you were the last..." but she stood speechless for what seemed a long time. Finally, she watched herself helplessly moving forward and heard the long-held breath gasp out a whisper from her own lips, "Oh... " as she ran to his arms, "...yes!"

The bowls bag swayed against her leg but seemed light, airy trivia in a distant outer world. They hugged and kissed for some time. Kate heard no sound through the magic but at some moment Alan started to raise his phone hand again as he asked himself with a puzzled look, "Is that a ring?" He turned his hand to reveal a slim box which trembled as they opened it with shared fingers,

"Yes, I believe it is!" said the smiling Kate, breaking from the embrace to examine the sparkling band with wide eyes.

When she tore her attention away to look gratefully back at Alan, he was opening the bag. He took out an unusually ornamented sphere, swung it quickly through a feigned bowling motion, then held it up to see Kate's reaction. "I got a new one." As he turned it upright, Kate's eyes opened even wider and she shrieked,

"Oh, Alan, it's exactly the same as the first one!"

"No, Kate - it IS the first one." He tilted it to show the timeless message beneath. "I had it mended." He glowered with mock strictness at her sheepish expression. "The new one is sacrificed on the floor. It just didn't feel so ... personal." He placed the vase on the hall stand, opened the cardboard box on the floor and took out a grand bunch of deep red roses. Their rich perfume was no longer stifled by the soggy box and now satisfied Kate's senses and smothered her fears. Alan placed the flowers in the vase and added the water from the milk bottle. He grabbed the umbrella, "Come on. Yes, I really am going out - and so are you. I booked the table where we had our first date. We can eat; dance; be together."

Kate's eyes misted. "Oh Alan, why didn't you wait till later to ask me in a more ... romantic moment? You must have known I would be a pushover after a glass of wine and a waltz."

"I wanted to know you would accept me for worse." replied Alan, wisely. "So from now on it can be for better."