The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

Two Weeks Each Year

by

Stephen Collicoat

'We have a problem.'

Alice Kay bit her lip in vexation. As chief steward it was her job to
resolve any problems brought to her by the cabin crew. Until the moment that
hostess Barbara Kingower came to her looking pale and worried, Flight 587
had been perfect. The plane had left on time. There was a minimum of
turbulence. The microwave ovens in the galleys had worked perfectly. Dinner
and breakfast had been served promptly and there had been no demanding or
abusive passengers.

'A serious problem?' Alice asked, trying to hide her weariness.

'Very.'

'Concerning?'

'A gentleman seated in First Class. 2A. Mr. David Sheridan.'

'He's still on board?' Alice felt puzzled. The plane had landed in Manila
thirty minutes before. Usually all passengers disembarked within 20 minutes:
first class passengers well before any others.

'Yes.'

'Why?' Alice began to feel irritated. Drawing answers from Barbara in her
present mood was difficult. 'What's his problem? Does he refuse to leave?'

Barbara shook her head. 'No. He can't leave. He's dead.'

'Dead! You better show me.'

They entered the compartment. There among the usual debris of crumpled
blankets, magazines and newspapers a handsome, well-dressed man lay back in
his deep chair as though sleeping. His lips were parted in a slight smile.
Alice took his pulse. He was certainly dead.

'When did you realize what had happened?'

'A few minutes ago,' Barbara said tearfully. 'Mr. Sheridan told me when he
came on board that he wanted to sleep through the entire journey. I offered
to wake him for his meals, but he was adamant that he didn't want to be
disturbed. I felt sorry for him. He seemed so tired. So I left him
undisturbed until now when I thought I better wake him.

'This is terrible,' she continued. 'It's never happened to me before. He
might have been dead all the time I was serving food. If I had known he was
in trouble, I could have asked for help.'

Alice shrugged. 'Don't worry. You did the right thing. It was what he
requested. No one will blame you.'

'Has any passenger died on you?' Barbara asked hopefully.

Alice smiled wanly. 'Not so far, but you know Susan Moran?'

'Vaguely. Is she on the Bangkok run?'

'That's the one. She's lost five in the last 14 years.'

'That's dreadful!'

'It happens. She's works mainly in Business Class. It's not surprising. All
those fat men, gorging on rich food, swilling alcohol and worrying
themselves sick about their high pressure jobs and whether the plane will
fall out of the sky. It's a wonder more men don't die in flight. Many are
prime candidates for strokes.'

'How awful! But Mr.Sheridan was thin. He looked fit, but I guess he was an
old guy.'

'Not so old.' Alice said, suddenly feeling the burden of passing time. 'When
you've been in this job a while you'll realize a man that in his seventies
these days isn't really old.'

Barbara was unconvinced. Seventy was old. Even at 39, Alice was clearly
getting past it. Barbara couldn't imagine growing old. There was no way
she'd still be working in this job in five years time. 'Why do you think he
died?'

'No idea. Here's what we'll do. Tell the cleaners to stay out of here. I'll
inform the captain who'll notify airport security. Mr.Sheridan may have
someone waiting for him in the terminal. They'll bring in the police who'll
no doubt come with a doctor. Don't forget to keep the cleaners out. This
might be a crime scene.'

'Crime? Do you think he was poisoned or something?'

'No, but the police will need to make sure. It wouldn't be the first time
someone's been murdered on a plane. There was that flight to Hanoi three
years ago for instance. Most likely, he died from natural causes. A weak
heart perhaps. People die all the time and some are a lot younger than this
gentleman. Anyway, let's get on with it. There's plenty to do.'

Barbara looked at the dead passenger with compassion. 'How sad to die like
that,' she sighed.

Alice looked at her in surprise.

'Why?' she demanded tartly. 'He died in first class. True, he missed the
smoked salmon and Bollinger, but it doesn't look as though he suffered.'

'Still to die so publicly with no one he loved at the end.'

Alice shrugged indifferently. Mr. Sheridan was probably lucky, she thought.
When she died she doubted her death would be in luxury.

....

The next day the phone rang in Tom Arnold's Sydney office.

'Thank you for taking my call,' the smooth, educated voice began. 'My name's
Carter Freeman. I'm a senior officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade stationed in Canberra. Am I correct in assuming that you're Mr.
David Sheridan's solicitor?'

'Yes,' Arnold replied guardedly. 'May I ask how you have my name?'

'You're listed as an emergency contact in Mr. Sheridan's passport.'

'I didn't know he 'd done that. David is both a client and a friend. Is he
is trouble?'

'I'm sorry to tell you that Mr. Sheridan died yesterday on a flight to
Manilla. DFAT was contacted this morning by the Philippine authorities via
our Embassy. They asked us to notify Mr. Sheridan's relatives, but so far
you're the only contact we've been able to make'

'How did he die?' Arnold asked, still shocked at the sudden loss.

'The police believe it was a stroke, although Mr. Sheridan wasn't old and
appeared to have been in good physical condition. An autopsy will be carried
out next Tuesday at two o'clock their time. There'll also be a coronial
inquest, but that'll probably be a formality.'

'I'm so sorry. David was a good man. Your news has shaken me.'

'As Mr. Sheridan's lawyer, can you tell me who else I should be contacting?
Was he married?'

'No. David was a widower. His wife, Anne passed away about three years ago.
He had a son, Nelson but they were estranged. I don't have a current address
for him, but I'm sure he can be traced. Could we liase on this? I'll need to
contact Nelson anyway. He's the sole beneficiary.'

'That's a good idea. Mr. Nelson Sheridan may wish to attend the inquiry.
Certainly the Filipinos will want to know from him what to do with Mr.
Sheridan's remains.'

Tom winced. Already David was being thought of as 'remains'.

After taking down details, including Freeman's contact number, Tom sat back
and stared unseeing out his window. He doubted Nelson would take the trouble
to fly to the Philippines even if he had the money for an airfare, which was
unlikely. He'd probably expect Tom to make all the arrangements. Nelson
would doubtless prefer to have his father buried in Manila. It'd be cheaper
and easier. Tom had seen little of Nelson. What he saw, he didn't like. The
guy was a no-hoper; a talentless musician and drug addict who lived off
women. He was violent, putting several girlfriends in hospital.
Unfortunately, none of them pressed charges. He also had a criminal record
for petty theft. Nelson it seemed wasn't suited to anything, including a
life of crime. He hated his parents, but not because they had done him harm.
As far as Tom understood they had given him a good education and plenty of
support. He was simply an ungrateful, selfish and useless bum. Nelson would
be unmoved by Sheridan's death but excited to find he was the sole
beneficiary. For a while, he'd think he'd won the lottery. He's in for a
nasty shock, Tom reflected. Everything David Sheridan owned was mortgaged to
the bank. What David and Anne had done with their money Tom couldn't
imagine. He knew them as well as anyone could know that very private couple
but for two weeks each year they left home and Tom never discovered where
they'd been. The news of David's death, he reflected, wasn't that great a
shock. The man seemed to have lost interest after his wife died. Tom
wondered if it really possible to die from a broken heart.

....
'What an interesting life you lead!' she enthused. 'How I envy you!'

I met the elderly lady by chance at a party, celebrating the wedding
anniversary of a distant relative. I was surprised that she recognized me as
an occasional travel writer and pleased she had not only read but admired
several of my books, most of which sank without notice shortly after
publication.

'What fascinating people you've met!' she continued, 'That impoverished
Russian nobleman in your latest work, the Italian prince who murdered his
wife and that Turkish arms dealer. What characters!' She glanced around the
crowded room and sighed. 'It must be thrilling to mix with the rich. They
lead such glamorous lives. You're the only person that I can recall meeting
who was even slightly different and interesting.'

In truth the Russian, Italian and Turk exist only on the written page. The
rich people that I meet on my travels are generally a disappointment.
Fitzgerald was wrong: the rich are not different from the rest of us.
Generally, they are just as dull as the poor. In fact, the Sheridans
immediately attracted my attention because they looked so right for the
part, being handsome, charming and assured. Unlike most wealthy couples,
with their habitual, ill-concealed expressions of boredom, snobbery or
resentment, the Sheridans clearly savored every moment of their lives.

Most trains enter or leave Bangkok through Hualampong station, a large,
grubby white Art Deco building situated in a run down section of the city.
Up to two hours before the Eastern and Oriental train sets forth on its
leisurely journey to Singapore, passengers assemble at a small lounge that
is located on Platform 11. It was here that I first saw David and Anne
Sheridan. The lounge is small and dreary, but the framed reproductions of
travel posters from the 1930's that line the walls offer a tantalizing
promise of exotic adventures ahead.

Chance - or was it fate - threw me into the Sheridan's company over the next
three days. Although I asked to be seated alone, the couple were often
behind, in front or across the aisle from me and we exchanged civilities.
Although I often preferred to stay in my State Compartment reading a book,
recording my impressions or idly watching the unfolding scene, I
occasionally enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in the bar car, the second dinner
setting commencing at 9pm. It was there I had several casual, wide ranging
conversations with David and Anne. They were a stylish couple and I was
flattered at their interest in my ideas and experiences. Clearly they were
great travelers, but unlike most people, were good listeners. I was
surprised to later realize how much I had talked about myself and how little
they revealed.

Rail travel is best suited to people with a calm and reflective temperament.
Sitting in your luxurious cabin with its walls of burled walnut, fittings of
gleaming brass, muted lights and heavy drapes, one can easily imagine one is
traveling in the stylish 1930's. You sip your fine china cup of Java coffee
or Earl Grey tea, nibble cakes or oven fresh, warm flaky croissants brought
in a silver basket nestled within the thick folds of snowy white linen for
afternoon tea by your attentive steward. Thus fortified, you contentedly
watch the countryside sliding past like a slowly paced film. I remember the
small groups of children waving frantically as we passed and their delight
when I waved back, the lazy plumes of blue smoke from village fires and the
glimpses at night through lighted windows into the small world of other
people's lives. I remember a herd of pitifully thin bulls that bolted at our
approach, running beside the train until the road abruptly swung away. I
recall the silent wonder of people sitting patiently in the hot little
railway stations staring into the fairy tale world that I inhabited. We only
seem to live in the same world. Actually, each of us inhabit parallel worlds
where five feet may separate one man luxuriating in comfort from another who
will go to bed hungry.

The Sheridans were in every way ideal traveling companions, being polite,
amusing and undemanding which made a small incident that occurred on the
second evening seem all the more puzzling.

My day had begun early when I watched the train easing its way across the
wooden trestle bridge at Wang Po. Most of the morning was then spent
visiting the achingly sad Death Railway Museum at Kanchanaburi and the Don
Rak war cemetery. I was sweaty and tired when I returned to the train and
after a shower and delicious lunch, I curled up on the sofa for what I
thought would be a short nap in my cool and quiet compartment. I was
surprised when I woke to find that a pale moon was rising above the black
fringes of the palm trees.

The first dinner seating was announced and the lady went on to tell us that
an astrologer had joined the train and was available for consultations in
the library. I decided that I had spent more than enough time by myself in
the compartment and though astrology leaves me cold, I decided to look in at
the library before going for a drink in the bar.

When I reached the library, I found David and Anne standing outside the
library with another couple. The couple seemed determined to attach
themselves to the Sheridans, who I doubted cared for them but were too well
mannered to cut.

'Oh look, ' the woman shrieked. She was tiresomely loud and endlessly
dramatic. 'An astrologer. What fun! Shall we have our fortunes told?'

'You go ahead,' Anne smiled. 'David and I will have a drink and you can tell
us about it later.'

'Oh, you must come,' the woman insisted. 'Who knows what your future holds?'

'Oh, for heaven's sake,' David snapped. 'Anne said she wasn't interested.
Can't you just leave it alone?' He stalked off, leaving Anne smiling
apologetically. 'Please forgive my husband,' she began, but the woman cut
in, 'Well, I never! What a rude man! Come on George. We're going back to our
cabin.'

She turned to Anne tartly, 'Tell your precious husband he won't bothered by
us again. There are plenty of other guests on the train who'll be more than
happy to enjoy our company. George, are you coming?' She stormed off trailed
by her red-faced husband. Anne shrugged helplessly to me and we continued
without speaking to the bar car.

How strange, I thought later that talking about Anne's future seemed to
irritate David Sheridan. Before the trip ended, I understood the reason for
his anger.

Policemen and priests have a term for it: the urge to confess. Over the
years, I've lost count of the number of people who have said ruefully to me,
'I can't believe I'm telling you this.'

Something about me - my kind face, sympathetic manner, what I say - seem
to invite confidences. It's a mysterious gift and one that I'm not sure is a
blessing or a curse. Certainly it helps that I'm a stranger, that I want
nothing from others and that I never gossip. 'You're a strange person,' one
perceptive young woman once said. 'A still center. A vacuum most of us feel
we need to fill.' But this story isn't about me. Suffice to say that I made
sufficient money while young to allow me to enjoy a comfortable though
solitary middle age. I travel the world in ease, observing and recording,
sometimes in books but mainly for my own private amusement, the foibles of
human nature. I mention these personal details only because it helps explain
why David Sheridan, a man who guarded his privacy almost to the point of
obsession finished up revealing to me so much of his life.

On the third and last night of the journey, I entered the club car. David
Sheridan was there by himself, staring morosely into his drink. He spoke
before I could leave.

'Join me.'

'If I'm not intruding.'

'Sometimes it's good to talk.' His words were pleasant but he spoke so
absently that I wondered if I should leave.

'Your wife won't be joining us?' I asked, settling down reluctantly

'No. She had a headache and went to bed early.

'Trouble is,' he added with unexpected frankness, 'she's having more
migraines and they're getting worse. She's on painkillers and we keep
increasing the dosage, but we've almost reached the limit.'

'I'm sorry to hear that,' I said lamely.

'Not your fault,' Sheridan muttered bitterly. 'Nobody's bloody fault. The
fact is Anne's dying.'

I was appalled. What could I say?

'Anne has a rare form of brain cancer. It's horrible to think that each day,
the tumor grows, eating deeper into her mind. She'll be dead within weeks,
perhaps a month at the most. She prays - we both pray - that she'll go
before it gets much worse. Above all, she fears losing control. You have no
idea how brave she was coming on this trip, but she said it was her last
hurrah. A time we could shine once more before the lights were turned out
forever. We've been dreaming of this trip for years and she wasn't going to
let anything deny her this last pleasure. She also knew how much I wanted to
go on the E & O train. She's like that. Always doing things that will give
me pleasure.'

David Sheridan's voice broke and burying his face in his hands he wept
quietly. It was pitiful to watch.

I sat in silence. It seemed the cruelest irony that such a handsome,
confident and outwardly happy couple carried such a dreadful secret.

We sat there for a long time as the train sped through the black forests.
Finally he rallied and asked quietly, 'What are you thinking?'

'The truth?' I couldn't lie though my answer was wretched. 'How happy and
healthy Anne looks. I'd never have guessed.'

Sheridan smiled wanly. 'Anne would love to hear you say that, though she
must never know we've spoken like this. She's not a vain woman which makes
her all the more beautiful. There's nothing more repulsive than a lovely
person who judges their effect on others. Anne just wants to look her best
for as long as she can. Some people might see that as vanity, but I believe
it's her dignity. Who was it that said that we have a duty to others to be
happy?'

'Forster or Kipling? Whoever said it was right. '

'Generally we don't talk about the future. Soon after she was diagnosed,
Anne said, "Do you know worst thing about dying? It's that while you
desperately long to feel normal, everyone treats you as a victim. That's why
I don't want you telling any friends. I know some will be hurt I didn't ask
for their support, but that's not my way. I want my early death to shock as
many as possible."

'I've always felt women are generally much braver than men,' Sheridan
continued thoughtfully. 'They stoically endure mental and physical pain that
would turn most men into gibbering idiots. Anne is very centered and she's
right about most things.'

He paused, 'But there's something about which she's completely wrong. She's
told me that she expects me to marry again. She thinks it will happen about
a year after she's gone. I don't argue with her, because the thought that
I'll be looked after gives her comfort. It won't happen. I just pray that
I'll join her soon. I won't kill myself but it won't be long. That belief
helps when I'm awake at night, lying beside her, crying but afraid to make a
sound.'

At the time I confess I thought Sheridan was being dramatic. Nobody, I
reasoned can hasten his or her death simply by an act of will. I'm sure that
David imagined his death would be quicker than it was, but when I read his
obituary notice four years after our conversation, I realized how prescient
he had been.

'So much of our life is based on deceit, but surely it's a harmless deceit
if it gives ourselves and others pleasure? It's not as though anyone can do
anything and Anne would loath being pitied. I'm sorry that I've told you
about her illness. It was selfish of me. I've made you miserable and frankly
I regret putting myself in your power.'

I felt mildly insulted, but knew that I shouldn't. Sheridan knew nothing of
my character. 'It's not something I wished to know,' I agreed carefully,
'But you're certainly not in my power. What you've told me tonight will
remain our secret forever.'

Well, not forever as it turned out, otherwise I wouldn't be telling you this
story but Anne and David Sheridan are both dead. Whatever I reveal won't
affect them and perhaps even I, receiver of the world's secrets occasionally
need to lift the burden I carry of other people's confessions.

Sheridan looked me curiously 'Do many people confide in you?'

'A few. Actually, all the time.'

'Strange. That must sometimes seem like a curse.'

I nodded.

'Would you like to hear my story? Perhaps you'd prefer to sit in silence or
go to bed. I won't be offended.'

I almost flippantly replied, Plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead, but
thank heaven stopped myself. Instead I murmured, 'I'd like to hear it'.
Knowing Anne's condition, I wasn't sure I did.

'Let's freshen your drink. Then I'll tell you about the Sheridan's two weeks
each year.'

'Do you remember Poseidon?' he began when the steward withdrew.

'Vaguely. I wasn't in Australia at the time, but the 'Straits Times' gave it
extensive coverage. That's really going back. Was that in the nineteen
sixties?'

As Sheridan nodded, I recalled fragments of this exciting and for many
shareholders calamitous time.

'My life changed for the worse a year before the Poseidon crash in another
less publicised stockmarket disaster. The sixties introduced a period of
feverish speculation. Most young Australians were fed up with the Menzies
era - a fusty 1950's double-breasted worsted way of looking at life. Someone
was making serious money out there and it certainly wasn't our parents with
their Depression ethos of keep your head down, nose clean and pray you live
long enough to draw a pitifully small age pension. I was 25 and a year out
of uni having taken a double Honours in maths and law. I secured a job in a
stockbroking firm. The company was long established and conservative, but I
reasoned it was a good place to learn the craft. I was full of myself in
those days. I met Anne the same year and we were engaged within six months.
She's the only woman I've ever loved.

'I'd been in my job less than a month when news broke of an exciting nickel
discovery in a remote area of Western Australia. It's easy to be wise after
the event, but no one, least of all myself, asked fundamental questions
about the company and what the 'evidence' really was. The company that
announced the find was virtually unknown. Its stock value was a joke. We
used to call these shares 'penny dreadfuls'. Yet within days, the stock was
worth more than the combined market value of huge blue chip miners like BHP
or Rio Tinto. That should have woken someone up. The evidence for the find
rested solely on a highly favorable assay report. Normally, it wouldn't be
long before other experts weighed into the debate. Experts are generally
only too happy to correct the mistakes of others in their field. The nickel
field however was in an area that was hard to reach being thousands of miles
from the nearest town, as hot, dry and dusty as Hell and bordered on three
sides by restricted tribal lands. For a while everything the company said
was believed, mainly because it was so hard to prove the opposite but also
because we wanted to believe what we read. Galbraith once said there are two
parties to a successful con. The ruthless and the greedy. In those days many
of us needed to believe in caverns of gold. Australia seemed to be teetering
on the brink of massive mineral wealth. Every red blooded man or woman
wanted to be part of the action, particularly someone like myself being
young, impatient, self important and hopelessly na´ve. The trouble was
everyone knew I that was honest, my family was respected and a lot of people
in those days had an exaggerated respect for formal education. Most people
of my generation were lucky to complete high school while our parents
generally didn't get beyond primary school. Seeing how well a poor boy like
myself had done at uni winning scholarships to pay his way led them to
believe that as a stockbroker I was smart enough to help them make a
fortune. The stock market was then an arcane art for most people and I
seemed to be a bright guy with the inside running.'

Sheridan signaled to the steward and with fresh drinks, he resumed. 'It
wasn't long before I ran into a brick wall with my employers. Day after day,
I fretted watching the mining company's stock soar. Day after day, I urged
my firm to take a position in the market for our clients. "Young man," I was
told loftily. "Our clients are our long-term friends. These people - wealthy
graziers, charitable foundations, socialites - rely on our good sense, our
balanced judgment, in developing portfolios that weather the test of time."
Yes, people really did talk like that then! I became increasingly
contemptuous of my superiors. How dare these arrogant people deny their
clients the opportunity to make solid profits. Some of the clients begged me
to buy the miner, but my firm refused to lodge their orders. 'Let them go
elsewhere," the insufferable senior partner smirked. "We'll still be here
when they come crawling back, begging for us to take their business again."

'Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer and I quit. Immediately I was free
to place orders for the stock for myself and others. I bought heavily into
the stock, watching as the stock doubled, tripled then quadrupled in value.
Soon I was a paper millionaire five times over. I invested every cent I
could borrow and encouraged others, including my parents to do the same.
There was my father: a man whose principal ambition was fulfilled when he
paid off his mortgage suddenly borrowing heavily with his home as sole
collateral. What on earth was I thinking of? Why didn't I establish stop
loss orders so they 'd be sold out if the stock dropped below a certain
point? It was madness. I remember my father saying, "I don't know where you
got your smarts from, son. Certainly not me. I wish I had a tenth of your
intelligence when I was young. Still, it's not too late to start enjoying
life. We'll take that trip your mother always planned and maybe buy a bigger
house. She deserves much better than I could ever give her." Of course no
one wanted to listen to reason. If you cautioned people about the risk of
losing money, their faces would tighten. I remember one of my uncles became
abusive when I suggested he make a smaller investment. "That's bloody
typical," he exploded, "It's all right for you to make a fortune. It's all
right for your parents to do well, but I'm supposed to stay poor for the
rest of my life. Well, I'll tell you what. If you don't want to invest my
money, if it isn't good enough for you, then I'll find someone else who'll
take my business." And he did, the sad fool!

'For almost a month, the stock soared. Everyone, journalists included
accepted the assay report as gospel.

'Then one day, a young investigative reporter called Bruce Winterthur
published a three part examination of the mining company. Winterthur did a
fine job. He looked at every aspect of the company, including a detailed
history of the directors and its sources of working capital. He looked at
the assayer's history. He traveled privately to the fields and he spoke to
people on the spot. Before publishing, the newspaper's legal counsel went
through his articles word for word. They agreed it couldn't be faulted. It
was a brilliant and devastating piece of journalism. The articles shredded
the company's reputation and its claims. The directors if not criminals were
sailing perilously close to the wind, the assayer was young and may have
been bought off. A lot of damaging material was printed and much more was
implied. Clearly, the regulatory authorities had been asleep at the wheel.
Minutes after the 'Change opened, brokers were falling over themselves to
rid their clients of the poisoned stock, screaming at the chalkies to take
their bid. All day, the stock was savagely sold. There was a brief rally the
following morning, they call it the 'dead cat bounce' but by lunchtime, the
value of the stock had dropped through the floor. Men and women were
standing watching the Board, their faces frozen in shock or quietly crying
as they saw their lifetime's savings disappear. I was shattered. Not only
was I ruined, but my parents, relatives and close friends who I had helped
lost everything and were plunged into debt.

'My parents lost their home. A year later, my father died. The doctor told
me it was the direct result of intolerable strain. My mother lived another
20 years and gradually lost her mind. In some ways, it was a relief for me
when I no longer saw the quiet reproach in her eyes. I lost my friends and
my relatives shunned me. Everyone blamed me for their loss. I've carried
that guilt since. A year after Anne and I married, we went interstate to
begin again. I got a low-level job in an accounting firm, but my confidence
was crippled. We lived very modestly for many years as I paid off every cent
of my debts. Finally, I did, but by then it was too late to think about
becoming rich. Anne uncomplainingly stuck by me all those years and it was
thanks to her that I finally turned my life around.'

Sheridan told me that one Sunday morning, he woke from a long and
untypically refreshing sleep to see Anne smiling at him.

'Good,' she began. 'You've finally woken. Last night, just after you went to
sleep, I had an idea. I felt so excited I was tempted to wake you. I've been
fidgeting here for hours. Honestly, I've never known a man who can sleep so
much. Not,' she added hastily, 'that I've watched many men sleep.'

'So what's your wondrous idea?' David invited, still groggy from sleep.

'It's so simple that I wonder we didn't think of it years ago. It's about
never having enough money.'

That woke David up.

'It's always worried you more than me,' Anne continued, 'but it would be
nice not to always scrimp and save. My idea, I should warn you means that
for 50 weeks each year our budgeting will be even stricter than it is today.
If it was tight yesterday, it'll be far tougher today.'

David was disappointed. 'That sounds awful,' he groaned.

'Yes, but it's the price that we'll willingly pay for the other two weeks
each year. Two weeks of utter bliss that we'll enjoy year after year for as
long as we wish.'

'What happens in that fortnight?'

'In that time, we'll live as though we had won, rather than lost a fortune
from those wretched shares. We'll go on amazing holidays: stay at exclusive
resorts in exotic locations. We'll drink fine wine, sample delightful food
and meet interesting people. And we'll look the part. We'll buy
well-tailored clothes that won't date. And they needn't cost a fortune. The
secret to looking rich is bluff. I've seen silver-plated necklaces in
marketplaces in India for instance you'd swear were worth twenty times their
price. We'll live like kings, then at the end of each fortnight, we'll
disappear to emerge here as plain old Anne and David Sheridan.'

Anne giggled, 'It's a modern take on the Cinderella story. At the stroke of
midnight, the belle of the ball becomes Cinders again.

'Of course,' she added seriously, 'it won't be fun scrimping for most of the
year, but at least with my plan we'll know it's for a good purpose, not just
because we're poor.'

They bought a small, quality digital camera and during the long months of
deprivation, often turned the pages of their scrapbooks to relive their
triumphs. 'Remember that evening with Jeffrey Archer?' David would ask.'
What an entertaining man!' Anne agreed. 'Shrewd though. I felt that another
few minutes with us, he'd have us sussed. Thank goodness for his urgent
phone call from London.' 'That's because Jeffrey's observant. Most people
only want to talk about themselves. They're like the old joke, 'But that's
enough of myself, let's talk about you. What do you think of me?'

Many people who met the Sheridans on their travels were charmed by the
couple and would beg for their address to keep in touch. All were surprised
and disappointed to find that emails, letters or telephone calls never
connected. Occasionally the Sheridans encountered the same person on another
trip. Anne would laughingly apologize that she'd unwittingly transposed a
figure in the address or phone number. To increase their privacy, they took
a silent number and always made sure they recorded incoming phone calls
before responding.

Few of us can keep a secret. We might last a week, fortnight or even a
month, but sooner or later after a few drinks or during a moment of
misguided intimacy, we lower our guard. This never happened with David and
Anne. They would have made perfect spies. They were totally comfortable with
their double lives.

Before closing, I asked David Sheridan if he felt on balance that the two
weeks experiment had been successful.

'Not a shadow of a doubt!' he enthused. 'Anne and I squeezed so much life
into that small time. The stories I could tell! People were often puzzled.
They'd say, "You two get so much more out of life than the rest of us.
What's your secret?" It's often tempting to say, "Poverty. It keeps us
real." '

I thought his response sounded smug. There was always a troubling hint in
David's confession that they enjoyed deceiving others. That they were
secretly laughing at both their poor friends and rich acquaintances.

Well, that's my story of the Sheridans. I can't decide if theirs was a plan
that others should follow or whether they just were a vain and shallow
couple. My judgment on their lives doesn't matter. David and Anne did what
they wanted, enjoyed themselves for as long as fate allowed and departed
with dignity. Perhaps that's enough.

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.