The drive out from London seems to take longer every time.
He parks the rented car in the village. It looks the same. He stops at the little shop and the guy at the counter is new. Or, new to him.
He pulls over just before the corner of the same street, and walks up the road. He unhooks the little gate that comes to below his hips and walks through the front garden that is saturated with the smell of honeysuckle.
He knocks on the door, and the telly in the sitting room’s turned off or put on mute. She opens the door.
“Sebastian,” she says, pulling him into an embrace. She looks the same, except she let her hair go grey.
“Brought you these,” he smiles, “Ones in the yard look nicer, though – healthier.”
“And have you walk all over my foxgloves and daffs?”
Seb grins. He takes a seat at the little table in the kitchen. His mum pulls her long cardigan closer, and puts the kettle on. They don’t talk till she’s sitting down across from him, biscuits and tea and all.
“How are you?” He asks, sitting back in his chair.
“I’m well, thank you, love,” she smiles at him, and it’s the same smile she’s always had. “You look tired.”
“S’the jet-lag,” he offers gently. “I have a layover, and then I’m off and away again.”
“And where are you off to?”
“Italy for a few weeks, like. Catch up with a few mates.” the colonel replies.
He thinks of his slim-legged wife back in the their hotel room in London – half-dressed and looking at car rentals and wondering if they could fit in a dirty weekend in France, too. Moran takes a mouthful of tea and makes the same decision that he always makes when he goes to visit his mother – he would tell her he had married at age 20 to a woman from Bangkok who was biologically male, expensive to maintain and a brilliant shag – on her death bed. After she died.
“Oh, that’ll be lovely. I’ve always wanted to go. Send us a postcard, if you’ve time,” she smiles the smile she’s practiced after the sort of marriage she’s had.
“Yeah, ‘course,” he says, emphatic enough that she actually does smile.
They talk about his drive down from London, about her health, about cousins and family friends, about what he’ll see in Italy, and what he needs to pack.
His mum starts to make dinner, and so the colonel takes the opportunity to walk around the house while there’s still enough light to work. He starts by cleaning the gutters and mending the gap in the fence – someone had already mowed the lawn and chopped the wood. He replaces a few cracked tiles and old lightbulbs and fixes the cabinets in the kitchen before he’s called to the table again.
They eat in relative silence, partially because they’re both tired and partially because Sebastian doesn’t come up for breath while he eats.
She tries to thank him for his help, but he rolls his eyes.
It doesn’t take him long to take his leave, because he stands in the kitchen through the washing up until he realises he doesn’t fit in that kitchen anymore.
She kisses him on the cheek after Moran pulls on his coat.
“Let me know next time?” She asks him.
He grins, because he won’t. He kisses her cheek anyway, and moves out of the little garden and onto the road, back to his rental car. He leaves, beeping his horn, grateful he got away without slipping back into a thicker accent and forgetting his London lilt.
Seb drives impatiently through the village and sees him come out of the pub anyway. He’s lost nearly all his bloody hair and he’s put on more weight than last time. He looks like an old bulldog, stocky-chested and jowly.
Sebastian can’t figure out how to turn the radio on, so he drives all the way back to London, only half-remembering how he actually got home when he does.
He doesn’t look back.