A Misunderstanding

Ruth was getting ready for her date with Herman, but her heart was not singing. She knew in moments of honesty that she had rung Herman to annoy another man, and not from any real desire to see him or get to know him romantically or for any reason at all, come to think of it.

Like many of us, she was too proud to admit her mistakes when they affected someone else, so, sure enough, she smiled warmly when she answered the door to him, saying, “Herman, come in, come in, how lovely to see you” and offered him her cheek to kiss.

It was clear that he had been cheered, and possibly emboldened by her call, and felt a romance with her was actually possible. In truth, he had tossed and turned restlessly at the prospect of the date and the teasing prospect of being loved again. The thought had made him smile, because, if he was honest with himself, it was more than possible that his first wife had married him more on the grounds of common sense than emotion. 

He could not dwell on that, but let his imagination focus again on Ruth and her pleasing and sophisticated manner: she seemed, as they say, to be ‘well out of his league,’ but then she had rung him, and that must mean something. What it actually meant was that she was hurt and irritated with another man: a fact she  would not recognise

Once at the restaurant they sipped their drinks and studied the menu, then Herman’s hand moved over hers as it rested on the table. That symbol of gentle connection did not settle her. She looked up at his bland and pale face and saw the cautious and possibly clumsy agenda in his eyes.

“Let’s not get carried away, Herman” she said.

“Sorry,” he replied, and the hand was withdrawn.

She could act as she wanted, but after all, it was she who had rung him, and that must mean something he thought. More certain of his purpose now, he was sure the evening and atmosphere would provide him with another chance to establish their new connection: he was famous for his patient pursuit of goals. For her part, Ruth was looking increasingly at the evening as a test of endurance.

Clearly, the man, as she now thought of him, had forgotten their previous conversations and was embarking on a flight of fancy which could only cause embarrassment. It was important to nip that error in the bud, so she did what most people do: nothing. The food was delicious, the music played by the orchestra in the restaurant was both skilful and unchallenging, the atmosphere at the table tentative and unsettling.

 No one had the courage to say the ‘date’ was clearly based on misunderstanding mixed with pride. Her evening ploughed on through the expensively provided courses towards coffee and release or, in his imagination, a promise of some sweet union which might rescue him from his path of isolation.

In the corner of the restaurant, near the band, was a small area set aside for dancing. Already, in this expensive place, Ruth observed some middle-aged guy with balding head dancing with a girl clearly young enough to be his daughter and wondered what their relationship was. Looking at him, and then back again at Herman, she felt the whole evening to be tragic, possibly even sordid. How stupid she could be?

It seemed a place to her, where men clearly used their money to gain the favour of ladies who would otherwise pay them no attention. The food, produced with diligent thoroughness and some attention to flavour did nothing for her. The sweet, tempting love songs from the band floated over her head unnoticed, and all she could long for was the chance to return to her own dwelling, unmolested or desired. Anything she wanted in her life was not in this room or in his company.

“More wine,” he said, and his eyes shone with brilliant anticipation.

For his part, he could not fail to notice her uncertainly and uncomfortable demeanour. He could not say why, but the image excited him. He mistook her nerves for frailty and anticipation, and did not realise she was suffering from a mixture of boredom and claustrophobia.

“Where would you like to go after the meal?” he said.

“Home,” she replied, and seeing his eyes light up added, “On my own.”

Finally, some sense of her mood seemed to enter his consciousness, and he settled back in his chair. The expensive merlot, now free of that undertone of celebration, tasted inconsequential in his mouth. He would not be ordering another bottle.

“Have I misunderstood something?” he asked her. “Yes, I think you have. I rang you because I was angry with somebody else, and not because I especially wanted to see you. I don’t want to hurt you, but I don’t want to give you the wrong impression either.”

No one can fault her candour, but candour is seldom appreciated. On this occasion, Herman sat back in his chair and looked at this woman, who now clearly wished to exit his life with a gathering urgency.

He smiled and said, with a hint of iciness, “Glad to be of service. Shall I get the bill?” Ruth just nodded. The evening suddenly seemed to have become unpleasant, and she couldn’t wait to get away. “This is awkward,” she said. “I think I’ll leave you with it and get a taxi home. Thank you for a lovely meal.”

The surprise announcement and offhand use of cliché did little to settle Herman’s battered confidence, and he said nothing as she collected her bag and left the restaurant. The waiter, when he arrived, managed to neither raise an eyebrow, smirk, nor say anything clever, which was impressive given the fact that the first thing he did when he got to the kitchen was say, “That old codger at table 15 has been dumped. The lady just got up and left him to settle the bill. It was brilliant.” It was moments like these which made his job bearable.

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No Agenda

Laura Cunningham, who I discovered on the internet last week, was filmed and made immortal during a chance visit of the Lumiere brothers to the factory where she worked in 1910. Her eyes, brimming with mischief, turned to the camera and dragged me into her soul before she bent over, consumed by laughter over some incident I will never witness: I searched her face, drawn in by the energy pouring out of her.

She had no way to know that six months later she would be killed in a railway accident! That immutable joy, her raw unconscious beauty would never get to experience old age and all that would be of her was what I could see now. Oh how I wished I could travel through time, touch her arm and say “Do not take that train,” but that would never be.

I played the video obsessively: our lives seem fleeting episodes at best and how clear that was to me as I studied her.  I so wanted to say, “No agenda, I love what you feel. I love who you were.”

“No agenda” is my passport to most social interaction: wanting nothing means you can still help an old lady across the road, or ask that girl who catches your eye what made her choose that jacket, or so I hope, or so I fear,

That was my belief as I lay down to sleep that night and drifted into the dream which has since charged my life. Laura came out of nowhere, still dressed in that same long dress now revealed as green, and with eyes shining with recognition saying, “I’ve been waiting for you to see that film for ever. Do you not know you loved me in another life? Do you not know you will love me again? I will be waiting for you at Heaven’s gate. Do not miss the train!” With that she drifted from my gaze leaving me to waken, startled and wondering at her words.

Was it nothing? Was it everything? I had no way of knowing but a longing to be with her filled my heart. I was losing it, I understood, and thought to look out of the window to gain some perspective before my day began.  On the gate visible beneath me someone had hung a shawl of identical green to the dress worn by Laura. My privacy is my sanctuary but within its walls I could hear her voice again, saying, “Do not lose your faith in me.”

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Happy Thanksgiving

Many of my blogging chums across the pond will be gathering together with their families and dear ones today to celebrate thanksgiving and give thanks that they have got safely through this troubled year.

May I give a wave to you all and thank you for the support you show me. It is appreciated more than you can know!

Cheers 🙂 🙂

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The Wedding Photograph

My mother’s wedding photograph was notable in one degree only: she was smiling from the heart outward and love flowed from her eyes. Looking up at my father she clearly had found and married the man of her dreams and was floating along on those warm winds we believe originate in Paradise.

What made that remarkable was I never saw her smile in my company: I only knew her when she was already a woman of resigned or even sour experience: my father was killed in a freak accident when I was three and my younger sister only a year old: it changed my mother forever. 

 To add colour to the picture I will tell you one of her favourite sayings, “Luck is a matter of chance, death a matter of fact” a remark, which hardly lifts the spirits of the young or troops on the eve of battle.

She was, to all intents and purposes, a prophet of gloom, who counselled constantly against reckless optimism or euphoria. She was a successful author in her own way, but not to a degree which gave her any satisfaction.

I am not saying she was right or wrong, but her outlook on life impregnated every aspect of my childhood until I thought euphoria was the precursor to damnation. That girl I kissed in the park in a moment of pagan connection could not draw me into sunlight because, where laughter was concerned, my mother always kept the curtains drawn. She lived life largely in the shadows and, as she grew older, I became the guardian of her barren inheritance.

Severity became her natural outlook, but within that she had a peculiar and original sense of humour. Robbed of life by septicaemia as another year came to its close, she beckoned me to within hearing range of her exhausted body and spoke her final phrase, “Happy New Year”

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A Matter Of Choice

It was my friend Colin who said, there are two records of your life: one told in the photographs and the other through the impressionist pictures which describe how you felt in the same period. Sometimes it’s hard to see how both medium’s are describing the same life.

“Smile for the camera” the photographer said, “And damn the truth” and that’s how I’ve always played it. I’ve managed twenty-eight years of marriage and built a career as a jobbing solicitor dealing with events which do not make the news such as the sale of your house or the drafting of a will.  It is not challenging work and could be done by anyone with common sense, some experience and the ability to smile even when bored: that’s where the paintings come in.

I could show you the photographs: me and my wife Sarah standing in front of a lighthouse at some Devon fishing village, I forget which one, and another of us with our youngest son, Geoffrey, taken when he was learning to ride a bike and many others. I’m in most of the photograph, smiling merrily as always though my heart longed to be in another place.

That’s the story in the main, although I should include our office manager Jackie who’s worked at my firm for the last nine years and been my lover for seven of them: both of us are very aware of consequences and careful of the world around us. To make matters a little more complicated, Jackie is a meant to be a devout practising catholic who still lives with her parents and any mention of my name in a private capacity would be beyond shocking to them: our more intimate exchanges take place during late night “Working sessions” on a settee in my office.

All well good and sordid until emotion got the better of me one evening and I said to her, “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to divorce Sarah and marry you” and her eyes just shone, sparkled if you like, and she replied, “I’ve been waiting for you to say that for so long. I will make you happy” and you could tell she spoke from the bottom of her heart.

We agreed she would have to leave our practice and get another job to mute the scandal and then I would get my divorce and move in with her. Jackie left our firm as agreed, and everyone was sad about her going but wished her well and then life went on while I learnt to deal with a new  office manager who did not ask me if I wanted a biscuit with my coffee or even if I wanted a coffee at all.

Things carried on as normal, with my wife criticizing me at breakfast and then telling me what we would be doing at the weekend and, as always, there was a quality of discrete vulnerability beneath her commanding exterior. One day at breakfast the truth hit me: that it was her vulnerability which moved me and I could not bear to hurt her so with Jackie I was indulging in a fantasy. I would miss the warm conspiritorial love and the sex of course: my wife has given up “That messy practice “ some years before.

I texted Jackie to  say how very sorry I was but that I just could not go through with it to which she replied, “Do not contact me again. You broke my heart” and I look at that text every single day wondering if I’ve made a terrible mistake. I always discussed the main events of my life with her since we became lovers, and treasured her advice, but on this most important question she is not there to help me.

I do not have her photograph but I will paint my feelings about her for eternity. Someone once said, as a joke, that his advice to a coward would be to never hurt someone when they are in the same room as you. Perhaps he was talking to me

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An Afterlife Conversation

I must have left the physical plane for  about six months when I found myself at the back of a forum at a session called “How to get your next life right”  I turned round to this entity beside me and asked “Who were you in your last life?” and they replied, “Margaret Cotton. I worked as a cleaner for most of it and had two husbands, neither of whom I’ve seen up here yet. In the life before that I was Winston Churchhill: apparently I was meant to be working on my humility in my last life!”

“How did that work out?” I asked and she said “My second husband was the spouse of a client, wealthy beyond my wildest dreams and he took me to levels of unmatchable luxury in return for services we are not allowed to discuss here: his wife had no imagination apparently.  That’s her in the row below us by the way: she hasn’t forgiven me yet, death or no death”

“Have they told you who you will be in your next life then? I asked her, presuming she had not yet discovered inner serenity and perfection.  “Not yet,” she replied,  “But apparently insects have to invite you to join their number so I may have quite a time to wait in purgatory. Who were you, she asked and I replied,  “I was a bluebottle but apparently I will be a human being in my next life: no permission required for that  I understand. I wonder why that is !?

They offered no reply.

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A New Perspective

 “What do you want from life?” a friend asked me once: we were both twenty- one at the time: two adventurers on the road to glory; two comrades with stories to discover.  I looked up, squinting at my glass of cut-price wine and said, “Truth, some kind of closure: to be present at that moment when conscious life first moved onto dry land” and they smiled and I said, “What about you?”

 “I want to be a solicitor” they said and we both laughed, because that was us: the practical and the dreamer, the strategist and the mad man searching for the definition of a timeless present which I later discovered is a form of alienation. You became a solicitor surrounded by family and bathed in comfort while I remained the proverbial wolf howling in darkness, but we still have our friendship and our wonder at the shape of life. 

Truth, we felt back then, was a destination and place of mystery hidden in ambiguities. The works of art we liked offered no solution but were full of unsentimental observations painted on canvas, incanted in verse, written in music or in the novels of the great. We promised we would not spare ourselves in the search for some definition or profound insight: we did not understand our promise.

Only years later did I realise that in deep space any noise you hear is not one that living creature’s make. The further you go into the unknown, the more you discover your insignificance: there is no companionship, no church bells here, or children playing in the snow: only a darkness that devours your context or blinding light impervious to human feeling.

At last, after years of hurling myself at the unknowable I realised I did not wish to understand, so much as to be understood: to value others and be valued and discover harmony in another’s spirit. After years in the wilderness I discovered what I most wanted was to be accepted. 

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The Doorway To Greatness

Party Pete’s’ the name and keeping people happy is “My raison du jour”: a joke here, drink there; you get the picture. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my friend Eric, a master chef who knows his onions from his shallots, was asked to cook for an event starring some Cabinet Minister. Eric wangled me a ticket so I could share the moment with him: can’t be bad.

Come the night and Eric’s done his cooking and is going for the traditional wander round the room soaking up praise and feeling the love. I go with him, an unexplained presence, but as a friend of Eric’s people let it go. The cabinet minister with his mate: some Earl with the remains of an estate in Devon and a debt or two, if the gossip columns are right, walks up to congratulate Eric on his food.

You know these really successful blokes: he was about my age but unlike me had made a decent pile, got the knighthood, country house and a wife who spoke more than one language, and that understated smug look about him which says “I don’t have to boast about my success because I know you are going to praise and fawn over me anyway.”

Putting my hand up here, if unsteadily I admit, I’d slide outside a glass or three of wine and the need to speak wisdoms in famous company was almost overpowering. You know; make some telling remark or utter that killer phrase which makes these top-table types look at you and say, “This talent should be walking along the corridors of power by my side?”

I decided to take the “Man to man” approach and throw one of my life tips across the bows of his eminence, the cabinet minister and humble lord of all he surveys. As he drew level with me, wife in tow, I leaned in towards him, confidential like, and suggested with a face like that, his wife could do with wearing her dress with a lower neckline if she was to grab the attention of any passing notables. I winked at him then to demonstrate my insight was strictly between him and me and spoken in my capacity as a fellow celebrant in the hall of greatness. Eric stopped and looked at me, and seemed less happy than normal and the cabinet minister’s face was going red although the earl, bless him, started wheezing with laughter until he stifled it with his handkerchief.

“And who are you sir. WHO ARE YOU??” boomed the Cabinet minister in a tone of voice which suggested no social invitations would be forthcoming from certain government departments. “Just trying to be helpful” I said, “It’s the little things isn’t it, or it certainly they are in your wife’s case” I added, chuckling in my best conspiratorial manner, before some security man grabbed me by the arm and propelled me towards the exit. As I left I heard his wife ask “Who is that vile man?”

It was some days before I saw Eric again, and his manner was warmer than I expected. He said, “When the Minister moved on, the Earl came back and invited me down to cook at his place, and said, “Make sure you bring that rude fellow with you.” They may have locked the main entrance but perhaps I’ve discovered the side door into Greatness Villas: only time will tell.

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Was It Destiny?

Thirty years ago we promised that if life took us in separate directions, we would meet at this place, the corner of Trafalgar Square in London if destiny had not joined us in the meantime, and I can tell you it had not.

Still, I am drawn by agreements, pacts or call them what you will so on the date and hour agreed I took my woman of the moment, Katherine, to the spot where we would have met if life was less chaotic.

It was an interesting tale, as Katherine told me, and would have remained so if, out of the corner of my eye, I had not spied a lady in a wheelchair, grey haired and slightly plump but somehow as I remembered her: is not that always so?

I paused in mid-speech and, leaving my date on her own, walked over to that sedentary person and said; “Samantha” and she turned her head to me and said “Yes.” In those eyes was the angel I loved before I discovered complexity, and the memory of my first kiss! 

I walked back to my bewildered partner and said brusquely, “Let me get you home, I have business here” and I almost pushed her towards the taxi-rank and gave her address to the driver at the head of the queue. We are not always kind or mindful or faithful towards another’s feelings, I am not anyway, and I failed on that day to be civilised, but Samantha was my centre and imperative, and to leave her now could not be embraced: that’s how I felt anyway!

At the time we parted, I loved her as only the young can do, but she was engaged to a man who was shaped to be a hero and served as a pilot in the RAF; a sportsman to boot, and I had nothing to offer her apart from those “insights” writers trade for drinks. 

When young, she was in a place where “Insights” have little value, but somehow she loved me despite all that. She called me “Unemployable” and so I was: an “adventurer without budget,” but her beauty, inside and out, made me want to be a normal man, and so I became a journalist with a daily paper but by then she was gone: transported off to another space in the arms of her hero who, I now learned, had died in a motor accident which also left her paralysed.

Here she was, and here I was, almost by coincidence: I as a matter of sentiment, and she because she wanted to connect with her past I presume, but did that matter in the end?

Looking at her, still with elements of that beauty I remembered, I raised her hand to my lips and dreamt that we were both young again and brought together by destiny. 

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One For The Road

“Was he my hero,” I ask myself, this man who’d walked another path than mine; climbed mountains I would never see but whose eyes lit up with understanding when I talked. You do not have to be young to be lost, and living on the edges of approval was a fate we  both shared. I was twenty four and he “just over eighty” as he’d said for several years.

He was difficult by all accounts, and refusing to be wrapped in his obituary: we shared a horror of the commonplace as seen from Chaos Road. His morals were doubtful, career had been patchy, but he was exuberant in person and a celebrator of the smallest event.

He was there by force of circumstances and I, because I lacked direction, but our bond was to “Grab the moment and let the morrow damn you if it can. “

“Drink and smoke forever, and dance till your legs betray you, and never let the buggers see you beg for a reprieve.” Such was his advice to me, barely comprehensible, but his defiance of the fates was born on every breath. His eyes were full of mischief and his hands were never disciplined but he still knew the urgency of wanting “a good night out.” His mind was free to travel, his memories were infinite and in our wish to be “free of it,” we shared a common bond.

“Take me away with you. Let me see the moors once more, sit in a bar and share a smoke with friends” he pleaded, and so one night I stole him from his old peoples home, sneaking out during a shift change, and climbed into my wreck of a car, “Nearly as old as me” he said, smiling at the thought.

For one night only, we sat and smoked and drank where no one would know us, as if we’d discovered home. I was not and never have been, “Romantically gifted” but he told me, “If you find a woman who’ll love you, discover her every day. Eighteen or eighty, or somewhere in between, will not matter in the slightest. Their eyes will be the pool in which you swim and their happiness the point of every day,” and as he said it, I felt him shut down for a moment.

His Annie was seventy-two when she died, he told me, and chided him each and every day for all that she celebrated him, and in the central well of values he loved her without question, and missed her presence always. “She’s a corker ain’t she” he said holding up her photograph, taken on their fiftieth wedding anniversary outside some city pub, and she was smiling up at him and her look was saying, “What will I do with you?” but she’d made an odd man happy which is a hard thing to do.

I got sacked the next day and barred from seeing him because common sense will stand no reckless acts but I will raise a glass to him forever: the bravest man I knew.

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