On the first morning of their honeymoon John and Susan came down to breakfast late. The big sunny room was almost empty of people but an indulgent waitress brought them juice and coffee and hot buttered toast, and the cereal was still on the side-table.
The only other guests were an old couple taking a leisurely start to their day. Their table showed the signs of a good morning meal already taken. Now the grandpa was hidden behind the Sport Section and grandma was knitting something and staring out over the balcony at the scenery beyond.
John and Susan nodded to the couple and helped themselves to jam and butter.
“A late start and a healthy appetite,” came the old man’s voice from behind his paper. “That’s a good sign in a newlywed couple.”
Susan blushed and John nearly choked on his first bite of toast and then both of them had to suppress a fit of giggles.
“Don’t mind this old fool,” grandma said, leaning over towards the youngsters and gesturing with her knitting. “He wishes he could do the same, that’s all. There was a time.”
“Oh, here we go,” gramps cut in. “There was a time when we were young, yes. It was a very long time ago, seems like now.” It wasn’t really a complaint, just reminiscent. The old folks seemed comfortable in each others company.
“Have you been married long?” Susan asked politely.
Gramps emerged from his paper. He had one of those familiar faces that make you think you’ve seen it before. “Fifty-three years, isn’t it?” he checked with his wife. “We made a big deal of it for the fiftieth. Kids and grandkids all over the place. Damn near one great-grandkid as well, but it turned out to be false labour pains.”
“Well, we needed to boil those towels anyhow,” shrugged grandma.
“Fifty-three years,” John admired. “I thought we’d done well to manage twelve hours.”
Susan punched his arm. “You said you’d love me forever!” she scolded playfully.
Grandpa sucked in air through his teeth. “Ooh, loving forever. That’s the tricky bit. That’s the part that takes a bit of doing.”
“What do you mean?” asked Susan, frowning. Maybe these old folks weren’t the happy couple they’d seemed to be.
Grandma answered. “He means that every marriage has its hard patches, lovie. It’s all for better and worse. When we got married I was all full of romantic dreams of happy ever after, but there’s days when its unhappy too.”
“Now then, don’t go souring the youngsters on their honeymoon,” Grandpa chided.
“I’m not souring them, I’m preparing them. We were lucky enough to get some good advice when we started out. Who knows what would have happened if we hadn’t?”
John exchanged a glance with Susan. “What advice?” he ventured.
Now the old couple looked at each other. “Don’t go to bed mad,” Grandpa offered. “It says that in the Bible. Don’t let little things grow into big things. If you’re mad then tell your partner and talk it out. Don’t store it up till it grows too big to talk about then too big to live with.”
“Or if you go to bed mad,” Grandma added with a wicked smile, “then don’t go to sleep mad.”
Susan blushed again.
“Don’t expect everything to be like you dreamed it would be,” Gramps advised. “We spend years thinking about what we’ll do when we’re married. Girls do anyhow. China and colour schemes and lifestyles and babies. And we plan it all out so carefully we forget the one thing that can spoil all our plans.”
“What’s that?” asked John.
“Us,” snickered grandpa. “We just don’t always fit into that husband-shaped hole our brides make for us. And I suppose they don’t always conform to that wife-shaped space we set aside for them either. But you know what? That’s the thing that makes marriage better than you planned it. Different anyhow.”
“You have to know when to compromise and when to stick to your principles,” Grandma added.
“How do you know that?” wondered Susan, who was already learning that John wasn’t quite what she’d expected. Not bad, but certainly different.
“Well, love helps,” Grandpa admitted. “You surrender when you can, and it’s a sweet kind of surrender because you’re prisoner to somebody who loves you. But when there’s something that’d damage you, or your spouse, well then you hold fast and you stick to your guns for dear life.”
“We all do silly things,” Grandma explained. “And sometimes we need… a spotter. Someone to warn us what we’re doing.” She flicked a thumb at her husband. “I have to be his spotter all the time.”
“Oh, like you haven’t been stupid in your day,” scorned Grandpa. He turned back to John. “Don’t be afraid to be wrong, or to say sorry. And mean it.”
Grandma leaned to Susan. “Don’t be afraid to talk about feelings, and don’t let him get away with hiding his.”
Grandpa chuckled. “A kiss every day, an ‘I love you’, that’s more important than anybody knows. A man can go a long way on nothing but ‘I love you’. A woman too, I guess. When the bad times come then ‘I love you’ is sometimes all you can afford, but you never need to run out of it.”
“There’ll be tragedy,” warned grandma. “That’s the world. Don’t suffer alone. You’re together for a reason. You’ve been given into each other’s care. Take comfort in each other. Never shut each other out.”
“And rows,” chipped in gramps. “Oh Lordy, the rows! But you’ve got to get over yourself, like your partner’s more important than you are. And when the kids come then they’re more important still.”
Grandma winced. “Oh, the kids. Yes, when they arrive you’ll wonder whether there’s still time for each other. You’ll hardly know yourselves. Make time to be together though. If you’re strong with each other you’ll be strong for your family. Never mind all that nonsense they show you on TV. You just be there for each other and your kids and you won’t go far wrong.”
“Right,” said John. Somehow his hand had found Susan’s again across the table, and her eyes were shining at this long diatribe from these strange old people.
“What else?” grandma asked grandpa, puzzling.
“Adventures!” offered the old man. “Very important this. Always have adventures. Don’t get too boring. Always be a little bit silly. Explore the world together. Routine is fine but don’t be dull. Romance doesn’t end at the altar. That’s just the start.”
John and Susan realised that the old folks had somehow clasped hands together too. “It’s wonderful that you still feel like that after fifty-three years,” she told them.
Grandma and grandpa looked down at their hands as if surprised to find they were linked. “Well, now,” said grandpa. “Fancy that.”
“We should be going now,” grandma said. “It’s your special time, after all, your honeymoon. You’re just at the beginning of the story. I wish you all the joy in the world, children.”
“Yeah, be good to each other,” grandpa told John and Susan. “And when the time comes, don’t forget to pass on what you learned to somebody who needs it.”
“Thanks,” said Susan. “We’ll remember.”
“I think we will,” agreed John. He turned back to his new wife and gave her a kiss. “I love you,” he whispered.
They didn’t even notice gramps and grandma leaving their table and heading outside.
“So very young,” smiled grandma reminiscently. “So much to learn.”
“So much fun learning, on their honeymoon” smirked grandpa. “Takes you back, doesn’t it, bride?”
“Well that was the point really, wasn’t it?” grandma shrugged. “We got helped, so we had to help them. There are things they need to hear now, in the good times, to store away for the tough ones. I hope it takes.”
Grandpa’s eyes twinkled. “I thought young Susan was very cute.”
Grandma sniffed. “Well I thought young John thought far too much of himself. Although I suppose he’ll do.”
They kissed. “I love you,” they each said.
Grandpa pulled the time travel device from his pocket and set it for fifty-three years into the future; for home. “Back to the adventures, Susie, old thing,” he told his wife.
And they vanished.
Original concepts, characters, and situations copyright © 2008 reserved by Ian Watson. The right of Ian Watson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.