The oven started to bleep so Mrs Beechcroft switched it off and, putting on a pair of white oven mitts, opened the oven door. Footsteps behind her indicated Clive's arrival. Clive rubbed his hands together, and for the first time glanced at his wife with something like sympathy. Unfortunately, she was too busy to notice. She took the pizza Funghi out and placed it on one of the two glass plates. It was one of hers and Clive's favourites. Taking the kitchen knife she cut it into six slices and placed three on each plate before sprinkling a generous handful of pepper over all the slices.
Clive quietly filled two glasses with tap water and brought them to the table. He also brought the bowl of salad along with the knives and forks. When all was ready he sat and waited for his wife to come with the pizza. As he sat he contemplated her - his expression was a mix of sympathy, slight guilt and dissatisfaction. She came and sat too but the moment she began to speak, as usual he felt irritrated beyond words. Nevertheless he controlled himself. He thanked his wife and started to eat. He did not deny that the pizza was delicious, nor that it was his favourite - it was he after all who had first found it in their local supermarket.
Mrs Beechcroft also started to eat. There was hardly any conversation between them anyway. She knew they had never really been close. Yet, he had been more distanced from her since his return from America. She knew that, though she never mentioned it. Her hair had now grown longer, and it was right down to her back as her husband had wished it. Clive had straightened it for her only yesterday. His fingers were always gentle in her hair but he was usually silent when he did the straightening and she could not help feeling that he knew it was not her hair he wanted to straighten though he never said anything.
Feeling Clive's eyes on her, she swallowed a mouthful of salad before turning to look at him. He had been observing her thoughtfully. She waited. Clive, realising that she was waiting for him to say something, spoke.
"Your hair looks nice darling."
"I knew it would look better this way."
"It does look nice" Mrs Beechcroft agreed.
Clive put some more pizza into his mouth. He was of course grateful that his wiffe had bought the pizza, but he knew his feelings did not extend beyond that simple gratitude. He naturally did not say so though.
"I was thinking love..."
"It might perhaps be a good idea if..."
"It would make a nice change if your hair was a different colour."
Mrs Beechcroft looked taken aback.
"But my hair has always been mousy."
"I know, but there are more elegant colours."
"You mean like brown or red?"
"I was thinking of black."
Mrs Beechcroft was silent. Mr Beechcroft picked up his glass and drank from it.
"Oh come on darling, it's not too much to ask." He put his glass down.
"I suppose I could ask Jane at the Beauty Salon to colour it."
Clive smiled. "Jane may be your friend but she does charge. Besides she couldn't colour your hair all the time.
Mrs Beechcroft went pale. "All the time?"
"Well why not?" For the first time Clive seemed to be reverberating a slight wave of energy.
Mrs Beechcroft's mind seemed to blank. She struggled to find an objection but she couldn't. After all, Clive had been right about long straight hair looking better on her than her old style of a simple bob. Why shouldn't he also be right about the colour?
She concentrated on eating more pizza. "What would you suggest then?" Her voice trembled.
"May I colour it tonight? I found a fantastic black dye at work today. It would look really elegant on you." He leaned forwards, scarcely able to contain his sudden eagerness.
She looked up to find her husband's eyes locked onto hers. For the first time his gaze was intense but not with love. She lowered her own eyes.
"Very well." Her tone was submissive.
"Excellent". Clive leaned back, rubbing his hands. "Until tonight then, my love." He spoke the last two words with a sort of quiet menace.
He leaned forwards again and now, having obtained what he wanted, started to eat with gusto. "Eat up darling."
Mrs Beechcroft leaned forwards automatically and continued to eat.