Many things in Barry's life were of a predictable nature: leaving for work, working, coming back from work, having meals, going to bed. Organised, they form the basic outline of his days.
Organised, like his collection of tropical fish. Whilst on the surface (if the pun might be pardoned) they might look to be wild and free, rather spontaneous, really they were just swimming in the set amount of space dictated by the tank. Over the bridge or under the bridge, they never moved from their corner of the lounge.
How futile they must feel.
Barry had always felt slightly sorry for tropical fish. Where could they go? Tropical fish in Yorkshire? It was almost beyond belief.
They were calming, really. Glenda liked him to have a hobby. "Tropical fish," he'd said, "I've always been interested in tropical fish."
She'd been very understanding. She let him keep the fish, now she even helped to feed them. He was starting to suspect they preferred her to him. Perhaps that should be a problem, but it wasn't.
In all honesty, Barry wasn't entirely sure what was a problem and what...wasn't. Marriage suddenly seemed a bizarre world, though he'd seen it coming for a significant length of time. "Don't rush." That was the advice, what there was of it. Two words, repeated to the point of unoriginality.
The trouble was, at the time, it was a decision that seemed...simple, really. Logical.
He didn't regret it, but it confused him. The main problem was where to go from here. Children? Barry wasn't sure children would be such a good idea. What if they didn't like tropical fish? What if he had to alter his workdays or stop having the peaceful picnics in the park with Glenda? Whatever it was, no doubt he shouldn't "rush".
Besides, all this advice was for not getting married. It's no good advising a married man on how to stay single! What he needed was someone to tell him what to do now.
Courting was all about flowers and days out. What was marriage about?
Habits? Picnics every Saturday, when it wasn't raining? Sharing a room? A golden band around one finger? That couldn't be all, surely?
They'd gone to those pre-nuptial meetings and discussed the ceremony, but he couldn't remember anyone mentioning what he was meant to do afterwards. Not...well, not immediately afterwards. His father had given him brief instructions on that part, with no small degree of hesitation.
No one had ever mentioned what you were meant to do as a husband. Work seemed to be the priority: a steady job. Barry worked in a building society.
Flowers? Gestures of affection? Or was that only in the courtship stage? Should he leave work early in an utterly spontaneous manner and whisk Glenda off to a film? His boss would kill him, and spontaneous had never been Barry's style.
Planning was his style. It seemed to have been inherent in his upbringing. Plan, plan, plan. Make sure you're planned thoroughly. Then die.
Where was the middle plan? The one between childhood and death? More specifically, after marriage and before retirement. Retirement looked fun enough if Compo, Clegg and Foggy were typical examples. Messing around, mostly. Barry could handle that.
He'd tried to ask Mr Pegden- Dad- but he was too busy with motors. Barry wasn't hurt. Not being listened to was a consequence of being male. Glenda had asked him to try and talk to Mr- Dad more, but Barry knew nothing of cars. Maybe he'd read up on it, some day.
Was that it? The key to a successful marriage?
No. Unless you were married to your father-in-law.
Give and take? Sharing? Family units?
The words span around his skull, refusing to translate into action. Numbers were far kinder. Accounts never looked at him with odd expressions of pity, embarrassment or disdain. Income figures never frowned at him; expenditures never urged him to speak up almost in the same breath as demanding his silence.
Why couldn't the rest of the world just make up their minds?
But he couldn't make his mind up either. Did you have to wait until death to finally discover these things? Everyone seemed to assume he'd just muddle through.
All around, happy couples now turned belligerent; men almost worn away, women frustrated by masculine 'incompetence'. Barry wasn't stupid. He did notice things. He perceived how Mrs Pegd- Mum shooed Dad outside or onto newspapers. Barry had only seen Mr Pegden sitting in the living room once. Mrs Pegden had been out.
And Mrs Batty...a terrifying precedent. Glenda would never be like her, Barry was sure, but didn't women become more like their mothers with age? Would he spend his retirement on newspapers?
Such thoughts prompted the resurfacing of Barry's longing for spontaneity, or for some way to break out of everyone else's lives. Their patterns were worn so deeply into society, into Yorkshire, perhaps into the world. The same lines, same changes, same stagnation.
Barry did not mention these thoughts to Glenda.
Glenda. He loved her, truly he did. He just didn't know what to do about it. Courting, engagement, marriage- obvious ways to officially express his affection; everything had to be official before the lace curtains would be carefully lowered to hide the screwed up eyes of their judgemental neighbours.
She might get frustrated with him, Barry mused. He couldn't blame her. He was probably missing something hideously important. What it was, no one seemed able to tell him. Some sort of gesture?
He'd once tried to hold hands in the street, but shopping had made it difficult. Hugs were difficult in their small hallway. The service stations on the way home from work seemed to be constantly devoid of flowers.
With a sigh, Barry turned his gaze away from the meanderings of his tropical fish. Maybe children were the answer.
Catching the blue-eyed fish's gaze out of the corner of his eye, Barry saw it wink, knowingly.
He didn't tell Glenda.