She had a rattling old woman’s voice. Like a fairytale character. Typical. The type who said things like “now listen sonny”. Quavering. Her appearance suited her voice. Short, with concave chest. Woollen swathed hunched shoulders. Kind face. Short pastel blonde hair. Finger waves. She offered you home cooked apple pie. Served with a home sewn embroidered napkin and polished silver. With the first mouthful slipping lusciously past your tonsils, she’d tell you the filthiest joke you’d ever heard. Astonishment made you laugh harder. At the joke and her sweet face. A dry delivery. “I’m serious dear”. Then the devilish smile. Behind those Nana Maskouri glasses her eyes were still the life of the party.
Tonight there were no smutty jokes. Just her dry, matter of fact voice.”He’s very sick dear. Meningitis. He’s a sick man.” She thanked the old woman politely. Withholding her emotions. He wasn’t hers. He never was. Something she didn’t understand. The feeling they were perfect. Fitted together even though they were poles apart. She wished she could break through. At times she did. Briefly. In his arms, music notes drifting up the white hallway. Circling them. Hypnotising. Seductive. Cocooned in each others embrace. She saw it in his eyes. Fleetingly. He felt it also. Before he pushed it away like he always had. The only way he knew how. Risky behaviour, to love someone.
The old woman was a matchmaker. The little lady with the eye popping jokes had invited her to a dinner party. A blind date for four unsuspecting singles. She knew his vital statistics before the big night. The matchmaker raced her to the window when his car pulled up. Vintage Bentley. Through the crowd she spotted him. Charming. Suave. Red roses for the hostess. The second male of the quartet was suitably impressed with her. Whilst ‘Bentley and roses’ was drawn to the other single female. A Las Vegas, tit sequined show girl. Home for a visit.
She was young, just bought her first car. Cocky and self assured, she hung in there. Against the odds. At thirty seven, he was already a man of the world. Wealthy. Big business. Giddy from champagne, she giggled as the old woman read her palm. She strutted through the late night guests declaring she would be rich and famous. They would all be glad to have known her.
The Bentley was leaving. So was she. He asked if she wanted to look at his car. Clever. Easy… they thought to themselves. Whichever way he might have played the game, fate stepped in. Her car stalled. He tried to jump start it. The car failed but her heart was jump started. He drove her home. She gabbled away while he listened. She told him she loved to write and he looked away from the road to see if she was serious. She never forgot that look. As if he saw her for the first time. Her passion made him notice her for more than her blonde facade. In that instant, a bond formed.
Now he was desperately sick. With all her heart she loved him. Couldn’t be by his side. The possibility of the world without him in it. Unbearable. She prayed without ceasing. Until her swollen eyes sealed up for sleep. A steady flow of grief flowed down her face into tightly squeezed tissues. Others, taken by her pain, looked on speechless. Her father offered to drive her to the hospital. If only to hand deliver her message of healing to some stranger at reception. To sit somewhere close to him, felt right and comforting.
“Please God, make him better. Even if he is never in my life again….please make him better”.
He resumed his life. They continued their casual affair. She met others who offered some commitment. Some form was better than none. He was always on the periphery. Standing safe. She wished he would step in. Neither of them willing to sever the unacknowledged tie.
Two live- in relationships dissolved and she wearily came to the conclusion that people simply, came and went. Shared intimate details. Knew her family, past and present. Warts and all. When it was over, they carried secrets away, scattered them to the wind. Discarded and forgotten, on their way to another life. Without her. Nobody stayed forever. She came to believe she wasn’t good enough for anyone to want to stay. Throughout, she drifted back to him. To the periphery and back. Never owing loyalty to anyone. She became a mother. On her own. Another unsecured relationship. Late at night , the cat watched as morning sickness hung on through the long dark hours. At days end he rubbed against her swollen ankles and snuggled at night against her growing child. With her son and daughter, her unused love had found a purpose. Out of the loneliness, she had forged a loving family of three.
She forgot herself, but she never forgot him. Brief encounters spanning fourteen years. A phone call on Valentines day one year. The next year, her birthday. Mothers day or Xmas. She’d wait in anticipation. Which one would he choose? Never letting go. Hiding herself away. From what she knew she had become. Ashamed of what he would think. Goals not reached. A far cry from who she was. Physically. Inside, she knew she was much more. Wiser, richer in spirit. Capable and strong. She called him one day. A safe mile from his house.
“I just drove past….”
“Why didn’t you come in ?”
“ Oh….I don’t know… I’ve put on weight. I want to look my best when I see you again……”
I’m different, not who you remember. My clothes, car….life. I’m a mother…a frumpy mother. I yell at the kids like a fishwife, but I love them more than I love you. Something alluded me throughout all my relationships. Because you were the one I loved. I had dreams once. I’ve been dreaming all my life. Pipe dreams keep the flame burning.
Once a year, your voice is a life buoy for the drowning. A fragile thread offered. To pull me out of the mire. The offer is brief. Then it’s gone. Long enough to remind me of something better. That I can be better. Connecting me to a time my soul yearns for. In your arms, listening to your hearts rhythmic beating. The touch, the feel. Your kiss. The scent of Kouros. I watch couples with envious eyes and wonder why I missed out. I want to know what life has in store for me. It better be good. To compensate for what I’ve been through. Maybe that deal I made with God sticks…you’ll never be in my life again…. After all, you survived. When I hear your voice, I’m reminded that I can survive too. Ultimately it’s up to me. Only I can save myself. The old woman read my palm once. When I was young and cocky….long ago…..
His voice transports her. She drives up the black road. Phone clamped
to her hot, sweaty ear. Automatic pilot. The kids are in the back….way back
there. She is with him. Through space and time. In a vacuum, hearing only
his voice. The magic makes her breathless and light. He’s telling her to forget all that……come over. She knows she can’t.
One day she hopes to. Time to hang up…….
”I love you….” It came out…….I don’t care. It rolled out…….. and it felt right. The overwhelming truth.
His voice is saying, “Love you too…………….”
All those years gone. Would it have ever come to anything? Now she was afraid to see him. Tears rolled down her face. Her chest ached .The kids noise came back.