Tonight, thought David Morrell to himself, we can celebrate. He had expected good news from the consultant at the out-patients clinic. But it had been more than being given the “all clear”. They had actually discharged him. When he left the hospital he’d telephoned Mary and told her that it was all over. They could pick up their lives again.
“And how was your day?” he’d asked, “Was the presentation a success?”
“Davey – they gave me a standing ovation! I knew I’d got something good for them, but really I was … I was overwhelmed. But that’s nothing. I am so, so glad that you’re well again at last. It’s been dreadful for you. And I’m so sorry I wasn’t with you today”
How typical of Mary. Self effacing, selfless. She, the quiet one, who always looked understated. He knew from her colleagues, and what he had read about her, that she was fast becoming a world leader in her field.
“When will you get home?”
“Oh … my train leaves in an hour. So it’ll be about 7.30 I guess.”
“I can’t wait! We’ve so much to talk about. I’ll walk in to town and get us something to celebrate with. And I’ll have the welcome light on for you!”
The welcome light! David smiled to himself. Was it ever not on for him? It seemed strange that a top scientist should attach such significance to it. It was like a superstition. He had gently teased her about it, and she’d blushed faintly. “Not really,” she’d told him. “It was always a tradition in my family.”
David thought he understood. Mary was one of a large family. Her father had been in the Merchant Navy and was often away for months at a time. For her mother the welcome light had been a sort of a talisman, to guarantee her husband’s safe homecoming. It burned in an upstairs window from the moment he left the house, until his return.
The train was only half full. He found a window seat. For the first half hour of the journey he read his newspaper. When the last straggling suburbs gave way to open fields he stared out across the countryside, reflecting on how fortunate he had been. He had had a narrow escape, he knew, and at no small cost. After what the doctors had had to do, he and Mary knew that they could never have children of their own. She had made little of this when he had told her, but he knew that it must have been a blow. “Some things just aren’t meant to be, Davey.” And she’d not talked about it again.
The journey west brought a change in the weather, and when at last he stepped down on to the platform he drew his coat around him and pulled his umbrella from his briefcase. He hurried across to the car park, dodging puddles. He threw his coat on to the back seat of his car, started the engine and waited for the fan to clear the mist from the windscreen. Then he eased the car out of the parking space and tuned the radio in to a local station hoping to hear the weather forecast. He caught the tail end of the news report … the resolution of a dispute at a local factory, a fatality at a pedestrian crossing. “Poor devil” thought David. “Some of these drivers are just crazy”. He turned up the volume as the forecast came on. A stormy night was in the offing it seemed. Thank God for a warm house and a warm welcome. Like Mary’s father, he felt that he was returning home again after a long journey.
At last he turned into the lane where he and Mary lived. At any moment now he would see it, the welcome light, calling him, as it were, to shelter and safety and the comfort of a good woman.
But only utter darkness lay ahead, and with it the stark realisation that he faced the end of his world.