In these last days and hours before my final breath may I, Gordon Richard Carlson, lay my guilt and thoughts before you as a matter of conscience, if not regret, so that I might meet my maker free of worldly deceit, if nothing else.
I was, and largely remained, a man of detail, head of the Office Of Statistical Analysis in the county where I live. My wife also worked because I was, by her own admission, incapable of supporting a household of any standing by myself.
She was punctilious in all matters of social standing and appearance, insuring maintenance of the marital home in everything but intimacy: no carpet was uncleaned or dish unwashed, no book undusted, though not read, and everything maintained to standards of unfeeling excellence I always thought. Does that sound too bitter or too harsh?
To me she was correct in everything which did not involve mess or unleashed joy and I lived by those dictates while quietly shrinking inside myself, unaware of my own circumstance till events conspired to provide me with an alternative.
As the demands on my department grew, staffed only by me, I was offered an assistant who would help me with my work. Clarice Brown, ordinary to the casual glance, that was her view, was beautiful to my shy and awkward gaze. She grew to love me, as I did her: being together gave purpose to our days. Our feelings grew silently over time as duties conspired to entwine our lives and then our hearts.
She was a younger person than me by eighteen years and the product of a strict and controlling family, still living with her mother and father, and I was a man just past his fortieth birthday, sited somewhere beyond hope, but gentle I like to think, and caring of the unregarded in a way which gradually gained her attention and then her love. We formed a conspiracy of private and diffident urgencies unnoticed by the world.
One Friday, and recklessly, I pinned her up against the filing cabinet and told her I loved her. She knew all about the barren pieties which were my home but, faced with this commitment and sincerity, I felt her pious resolve melt and then we kissed. We kissed more each day, two souls who found purpose in each other’s lives. Our hearts bonded in secret desperation until, over the coming months, as intimacies grew beyond anything I had previously known we became lovers in every physical sense.
I loved her then and now. We discovered what life and urgency might bring to those who think that “Ordinary” is not a world they seek. Finally I decided, regardless of the cost, that I would leave my wife and marry her, and walk the path of knowledge without guilt.
I bought a ring, premature I recognise, to pledge my love, and prepared to place my life in her palm and tell my wife that all we had was gone but Clarice did not come to work that day, or any day again: an accident had robbed me of her life and longed for destiny.
By some bewildering chance, our love and intimacy had grown without it being public knowledge so when I was told that Clarice Brown had been involved in an accident and killed I merely nodded and said, “How sad” because privacy of emotion is the last sanctuary of the disenfranchised.
I attended her funeral, together with my wife, and passed on our commiserations to her family, giving my own feelings the weight they deserved, which is no weight at all.
Now thirty-six years later I slide away from life, breathless and without strength. My wife, punctilious to the last and ignorant of my feelings, visits me in hospital every day, noting the cost of my daily treatment. We have, and had, no pets, because pets can make a mess, and no children because that requires intimacy, unsettling at best, but we have a house, paid for now, and paintings of value I believe, which she will possess when I am gone.
But if there is a hope in life’s eternities, Clarice will greet me at the gates, kiss me with that warmth she always did, and walk with me across Infinity. If there is hope.