Avery and Maude meet at the clock near the cemetery, a habit formed over the last three years. The clocktower is simple yet elegant, erected many moons ago at the expense of a long-forgotten man in memory of the woman he’d loved and lost to illness years before. Avery’s broad smile is met with a silent nod from Maude, the corners of her mouth only lifting slightly before she turns to walk on. Avery, as always, follows a little behind, hands in pockets, wondering idly how she’s passed the morning before she met him.
After all this time, neither of them knows exactly where the other lives. All they know is which direction to expect the other from each morning, and in this they’re as predictable as the hourly chime of the clock they meet under. Never any surprises with Avery and Maude.
Avery sometimes toys with asking her about her past and her present, other lives. “But Maudie is a very private woman…no, lady,” he corrects himself mentally. “I won’t ask unwanted questions.”
It’s not as if he wants to encourage the idea that she might visit him in his cluttered rooms. Not until he’s had the clear-out he’s been promising himself for months. There’s time for that.
When it’s dry, they make their way in companionable silence to the same park bench they sit on daily. In unpleasant weather, they repair to the local library, where they ignore the hard stare of the volunteer librarian and work their way through their usual daily menu of topics. As ever, Maude removes from her bag a thermos flask of weak tea, “…sweetened with one small sugar, just as we like it,” she will say.
Secretly, Avery wishes Maudie would add another spoonful, but guiltily says nothing. Isn’t her company enough? He takes out his customary contribution to the proceedings – the newspaper.
Delivered to his door every morning, the paper remains unopened until they meet. Steadily, the rituals have been formed and are now maintained.
Avery always turns first to his horoscope and reads it aloud avidly, while Maude, according to habit, prepares her mock scorn. Today’s prediction piques both their interests, though.
“Today, you may both gain a little and lose a little,” Avery reads. “Perspective is everything.”
“Maybe we should buy a lottery ticket,” Avery ventures.
Maude rolls her eyes. “That will certainly take care of the ’losing a little’ aspect,” she says derisively.
Avery understands the conversation is closed for the time being and begins talking about corrupt politicians, a favourite, familiar musing. At certain points during the remainder of the morning, though, one or other of them refers back to the horoscope. Avery’s acutely interested in what will be gained, Maude more likely to worry at the problem of what could possibly be lost.
“At least, whatever it is, it’s a small thing,” he says reassuringly, more to himself than to her.
“Those are claptrap anyway,” Maude concludes. “How can they possibly be relevant to a whole twelfth of the population at a time?”
“You’re all cynicism, Maudie. There are more things in heaven and earth…” But she only laughs – almost affectionately, he dares to think – at his folly.
Ultimately, though, before they part at the usual time to go about their daily routines, they enter into a more philosophical discussion. They both agree that to gain something is lucky, but largely unforeseen and maybe even undeserved; while a loss implies a lack of foresight and surely a degree of carelessness.
“One must pay,” Maude declares “for not taking care of what one has. And nowadays, we all have far too much. It’s no wonder we lose sight of what’s important.”
Avery can’t help thinking he would like a little more. But he shrinks from trying to explain out loud to Maude the half-formed thoughts that creep into his consciousness whenever they meet or part. He aches quietly for a more permanent arrangement, a more constant sort of companionship. He longs to invite more warmth into his life.
As she turns to leave, Maude rubs idly at her breast bone. “Terrible indigestion today, Avery. I’m thinking of foregoing sugar in tea altogether. I don’t think it helps.”
The corners of Avery’s mouth turn down, just a little, but he switches quickly to his broad, purposefully guileless smile. After all, what does it matter? He can have all the sugar he wants at home. It’s no loss.
They both jokily determine to take good care the rest of the day, just in case Maude should forget her umbrella or Avery fails to find the remote control to the television this evening. He hasn’t yet told Maudie that he has, in fact, been unable to find this for days, knowing what her verdict would be on his careless untidiness.
Next day, Avery is a little late to their rendezvous. He’s been delayed by the postman with a letter from an Australian cousin. On the way, he plans the words he’ll use to tell Maude that a forgotten uncle has left him a small inheritance.
“There,” he’ll say. “The horoscope was right. I have lost a relative I barely remembered I had. In return, I’ll receive a few hundred pounds, although it’s hardly millionaire territory.”
He anticipates her sharp response.
“That was yesterday’s horoscope, you foolish man,” she’ll declare.
He pictures her shaking her head in mock disapproval and smiles secretly to himself. But still, he dare not look at today’s prediction – not until Maudie joins him. He arrives, mere minutes late really, but still flustered and uptight, apologies waiting to be released in a torrent. But she is not there.
He waits in vain, not only that day, but many weekdays to come. Each morning, hope wins out over despair. He understands that at heart, Maudie is a lady, and always too good for the likes of him; and so he bears his loss bravely, silently, stoically.
His Maudie never comes.