A few days after the party, Dot had plucked up the courage to knock on Tom and Jennifer’s door. She was a bundle of nerves and shame as she could not convince herself that she was anything other than the initiator of the trouble. As she waited outside the flat, she shuffled from one foot to the other, let out a little cough and adjusted the collar of her blouse. After a couple of minutes and another knock, it was apparent to her that no one was at home, or they were at home and aware than she was on the other side of the door, choosing to hide behind the sofa like television licence dodgers. She did not blame them for ignoring her if they were inside but, at some point, she was determined to make contact and clear the air if possible or, at the very least, apologise and never speak to them again, if that’s what they wanted. One final knock, another wait of a few minutes and Dot decided to go to Jonathan’s flat instead. She climbed the stairs slowly, her head a-jumble with thoughts and regrets. She hoped that Jonathan was in. She wanted him to be there. She needed to offload to someone and he was always a shoulder to lean on, to cry on, always a friendly ear when someone needed support.
“Oh, hello Dot, come in.” Jonathan was as polite, charming and friendly as ever.
“Are you sure?” asked a contrite Dot. Jonathan beckoned her in.
“I’ve just made a pot of tea and it would be nice to share it and have a bit of conversation with someone,” said Jonathan. “I’ve kept myself to myself a bit since Molly died. Do you know, I still can’t believe she’s gone. It was all so sudden, but then I suppose all death is sudden, in a way.”
“I suppose it is,” said Dot, sipping her tea. “Jonathan, I feel so awful about all of this. What if my stupid reactions to the party food and all that trouble triggered something in Molly’s heart or whatever and she died because of me.” Dot’s hands were shaking and her tea was spilling. Jonathan took the cup from her and held her hands. Instinctively, he gave Dot a reassuring hug.
“You are not to blame. Don’t be silly. It was Molly’s time. I know that might sound a bit hard but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it comes to us all whether we are young, middle-aged or old. Molly died peacefully, even with a food fight going on. I know it. I feel it. So, don’t be silly, don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault.” Jonathan released the hug and Dot took a tissue from her sleeve to dry her eyes.
“Feel better?” asked Jonathan. Dot made an effort to smile. She nodded.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, not really knowing what else to say.
“Jonathan,” said Dot eventually, “I’ve been thinking. I don’t know if you know but most nights, I stay up late and wander around the flat thinking, looking out of the window and just trying to make sense of my life, especially where I’m heading. Sometimes, I sit on the landing stairs just for a change of scenery, not that it’s much to look at, but I feel that the flat, or maybe my life, is like a prison sometimes and I just have to get out of it every now and then.”
“But you’re out of it most of the day anyway, at the deli,” said Jonathan.
“I know that,” Dot responded, “but it’s when I’m in my own time away from customers that I feel, well, lonely, very lonely. When I was younger, I never believed or even thought about loneliness. I remember my Gran saying that it is possible to feel all alone in a crowded room, but I just thought that was old rubbish. But now, I think, no I know she was right. I can stand in that shop watching customers browsing or be running up and down serving a queue and still feel that isolated.”
“It’s not all about customers. You’ve got friends and neighbours too, Dot. There’s no need to feel alone.” Jonathan knew that this kind of platitude was okay for agony aunts and meant nothing. Dot smiled at him and he knew that she could see that he was both helpful and shallow at the same time.
“After Molly’s death and all my guilt about what happened, I realized that I have to take more control of where my life is going and in order to do that properly, I need to ask you a question.” Dot’s eyes were locked on Jonathan’s face. He looked puzzled, half-dreading what was coming but intrigued nonetheless. He knew Dot well enough to realize that she was unpredictable. He knew she fancied him and that he frustrated her by not reciprocating romantically.
“Of course,” he stumbled, anything, anything at all. Just ask.” He put his cup down on the table and sat back in his chair. Dot stood up and paced to the window and back to the sofa twice. Jonathan was about to stand up too but Dot waved him to stay seated. He obeyed and settled back into the chair again. She was wringing her hands but stopped suddenly, turned round to face Jonathan, inhaled an audible, deep breath, looked to the ceiling, looked to the floor, then looked him straight in the eyes. She spoke clearly and precisely, enunciating every word like a United Nations interpreter..
“Jonathan, will you marry me?”