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Waiting For George (winner)

Three minutes to seven. George always arrived home at seven. Arthur was very clear about this. He had little else to think about most days.

The pain in his legs so intense he could barely get up, let alone walk. Weekdays felt endless. He would drift into dreamless sleep for what seemed like hours only to discover that just a few minutes had passed. He would wake, continue to watch whichever channel George had left on TV that morning and then count the hours until he returned. Arthur was tired; so, so tired.

George had been married to Rosemary for 49 years. And for the past 16, the three of them had lived companionably together in their small Edwardian cottage. This last year, Rosemary had fallen ill. She had grown weaker and weaker, barely able to get out of bed. Arthur knew the feeling. And then one day Rosemary didn’t come down at all, not even for her afternoon cup of tea taken from a bone china tea-cup.

That evening, George had shuffled down the stairs, looked sadly at Arthur and gently shook his head from side to side. ‘She’s gone Arthur, she’s gone,’ he had said. George cried, then sobbed uncontrollably and eventually, legs weak from both age and despair, he crumbled to the floor. Arthur managed to get himself up and despite his crippling arthritis, had offered George comfort. And now they needed each other more than ever. Rosemary and George had never had children. Arthur’s health had deteriorated of late and although there was little he could do to compensate for the loss of Rosemary he knew that George appreciated his company and what little comfort he could offer.

Arthur looked up at the clock on the mantel, dust motes dancing through the air as the evening sun shone in his rheumy eyes through a chink in the heavy green curtains. He considered moving from the wingback leather chair to the sofa to avoid the sun. Perhaps he would get himself a drink first. Water dribbled from his mouth as he hobbled back into the room and settled himself on the sofa, his legs stiff and his joints painful. George would give him his medication when he came home. Today was the last day of waiting until seven. George had finally taken retirement. Arthur needed him. He needed Arthur. Having lost one best friend, George couldn’t bear to lose another and not be there for him.

As the mantel clock struck seven Arthur heard the key in the lock and looked up expectantly. ‘Only me,’ called George, taking his shoes off carefully by the door and placing them in the cupboard under the stairs. He came in and sat down beside Arthur. ‘Well that’s work all finished,’ he said. ‘At last!’ Arthur and George sighed in unison. George smiled at Arthur, stroked his head and ruffled the fur under his chin. Arthur wagged his tail gently from side to side. No more waiting.

This winning entry to Time & Leisure’s short story competition was written by Jules Chatelier