Geoffrey Longridge, a widower of twenty-eight years standing, had lost his wife in a car accident leaving him childless and alone. Since that time, emotion was something he employed sparingly, and in his memory of her he had, he considered, a sufficient reservoir of intimacy to provide all the nourishment required to live an ordered life.
Her photographs were everywhere in his house, and conversations with her departed soul remained central to his life. She had been his co-conspirator, his map and compass, and without her he had become a mannered, dutiful soul, working latterly as the chief librarian in his local town.
His sensibilities were tuned to connect with ideas and vistas rather than people: he had a quality of civilised distance about him which marked him out in the community. He was a receiver rather than the teller of stories, but you could tell the quality of your words by the power of his response. Sometimes, in a stubborn attempt to awaken interest in an artistic dimension among the local population, he would invite speakers to give talks at the library on matters literary, or sometimes just to recount their recent adventures. He loved the way some small event could make an individual discover themselves.
So it was that he invited a poet, who had recently returned from the tropics, to give a reading from her latest book of poems: the product of her experiences there. Her sense of life and its adventures seemed exotic to a man whose formative, and then more mature impressions, were gathered throughout a life bound by ritual and routine within the small English county where he had lived and worked all his life. At the appointed hour she arrived at the building and he guided her to the room were a small but appreciative audience applauded her entrance. Brief introductions were made and then the poet began her recital.
The audience was moved by her assurance and intensity: her words igniting their dormant imaginations. She was the living embodiment of artistic courage, a dramatic reader of her own verse, and the audience responded to her urgency. At last the reading was over and, noticeably, the applause at the end of it was more real and energised than the polite clapping of hands which had signalled her introduction. After the event, poet and librarian sat together on a bench near the entrance and looked at the abstract painting before them, which seemed almost like a conceptual map of imagination.
“Do you like abstract art ?” she asked him earnestly. “Yes” replied Geoffrey and suddenly he seemed to be no more than a puppet. A will stronger than his own pushed him forward and he found himself kissing her forehead, then her cheek and finally her lips with a release and abandon which, till now, had been entirely alien to him. She was the first women to whom he had opened himself in twenty-eight years and he was stunned by his own actions. Instead of shrinking away from him she seemed to be somewhere between the polite and receptive as he talked to and then kissed her in turn and again. Finally, without any comment on his behaviour, she told him she had a dinner engagement. They rose from the bench and he showed her to the door.
He had no address for her, apart from her email, or any knowledge of her circumstances, excepting some blurb on her website and after she had gone he sat down again and stared at that painting as if it might supply him with an answer. What does a polite man do, living largely within convention, when he has stepped outside himself and kissed a lady so? The painting offered no advice.