A Walk Through Memory

 Love me but do not own me: Celebrate but don’t possess me;” I see her smiling as she said it; the last words I heard spoken by her face to face. Off on an adventure, never to return, crushed by a lorry in some freak accident, and silenced for eternity: a girl who made being fearless possible in my life: who faced down any challenge but intimacy.

I dared to love her but not to use the word. To thank the stars this girl, who lived for wilderness and open ended questions, had used me as her anchor and her reference point: “Conclusions” she told me, “Are only for the elderly,”   and yet she would always return to me: we all have contradictions and perhaps I was hers. She would live in any moment, in any life, as long as she was free to leave it: now she had, and I was left to live in a world no longer magicalised by her interest.

“If you want to understand something, never seek to own it:” that was her mantra. She, who loved the wilderness above all things, loved me because I left her free to wander through it, but without her noise and cheery exuberance, the stillness that I dwelt in, the place she called her sanctuary, has now become an emptiness experienced without release.

“Oh Charlie” she had told me, “I stood among the elephants, and they just let me, and we watched the sun rising together, species joined with species. Can you imagine such a moment?” and I could, because the image was printed in her eyes, bright with life and joy, but fearful of possession: that was my gift: to love her, but just for who she was and in the moment only. I, a man of no apparent distinction, was made extraordinary by her presence, and won her trust by not seeking to control her.

That face remains with me fifty years later, as all around me life seeks to find my measure, but they will not find me here. I am living in her sunshine, and in those eyes which still smile at me from a treasured photo. Now eighty-seven years old, and long past the time when people take an interest, I sometimes catch the excitement when she returned, and smile to myself, and to the puzzlement of strangers: become a man who nods to himself, and, without warning, when lost in reverie, talks out loud to a girl he loves, as she walks through his memory.

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A Coincidental Reunion

The doctor’s words  slid across his mind, played with his future and settled on the hand in front of him. His hand. “Three months at most”. The words were not ambiguous. He had a period of mobility, and armed with pain killers could cling to normal routine for a while longer:  routine,  had always been his most loyal companion, his order in an uncertain world: the habits between him and a  fear of the chaos somewhere beyond the horizon.

Sixty- three years old and not much to show. A couple of children. Lovely in their own way but gradually estranged by his lack of  circumstance.  Somewhere in later middle age he had lost his way and now  assumed the air of nonchalance so essential to survival in an urban landscape. His career was distinguished by a lack of progress.  and his character by a failure to grasp the importance of the everyday. 

He had become adept at whittling out nourishment and emotion from the bleakest scene: making a feast from a titbit, treasuring a passing view, but his time was mainly spent in solitude with music as his companion. Friendships cost money, and that was in short supply. “Not to worry”, he thought, “I’ve got  memories”. And so he had. Journeys abroad filled with adventure. Parties where common sense had left the room. Meetings with minds who touched base with life’s eternal questions. Women who moved him with a tender curiosity. Who enjoyed ,with him, moments of suspended reality among the coffee cups, the tousled sheets and the bric a brac of a careless life. In turn, they left him for more certain landscapes, but  without rancour. They had their needs, and he could not fill them.

By and large the place he sat in was full of known and unknown faces typical of a tourist venue. The rusty stalwarts like himself: same table, same coffee and a newspaper sat among the passing tourists who talked more loudly than the locals; excited by their new adventures.

Chance and coincidence were all that refreshed him, and there she was, a visitor from another land, another time and just across the shop. He remembered their conversations, lying there in bed. Her red hair, now grey, spilled out across the pillow. “You love life don’t you. You drink it up” . Her words had never left him. “It’s all I have” he replied  and they had laughed.  Now here she was, forty years on and sitting with a family, settled with her grandchildren and the picture of ordered and polite common sense. Across the room their eyes met and hers were warm; familiar but final: a nod is all it takes to share a history. He had three months but now he knew that part of him would live on in others, in their memories. Perhaps that was the right place for him.

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In Another Place

I woke up in another place, in another time, sitting in a chair and staring at a man I had never seen or met before. “ Hello” he said. “I wondered if you’d wake up here or just return to your time “present” or whatever you call it and think this was a dream”

His voice was calm and he seemed to find everything about the situation normal, though we both know “Normal” is an apparition served up to make life bearable.  

“Who are you?” I said, and he replied, “I’m your great-great grandfather’s older brother, so a connection of sorts before adding, almost as an afterthought, “Have you found love, I never did?” It seemed an odd question, but perhaps it was question he kept asking himself and anyone he met: I did not reply!

To explain, I am a man approaching his seventieth birthday, whose life has been a patchwork of misfortune and good luck, and here before me was a character claiming to be my relative: a man I’d never heard of in my entire life.

“You might recognise the chair you are sitting in” he said, and when I looked down at it, indeed I did. It was the armchair I had inherited from my father, killed when I was young and a sentimental resting place I relaxed in after working in my study.

I raise my eyes to his, no-doubt filled with unease, and he said, “There is something odd about that chair, clearly. Those in it are sometimes posted to another time although only to people who have previously owned it, as you do, if only for an interlude. Would you like a drink while you are here?”

“Yes please, a large whisky would be nice” I said and he smiled, “My favourite tipple too” Every life’s a battle between the lies and the unsettling truth or at least mine has been. How about you?

“ Do you speak  in anything apart from profundities” I asked. “I thought it was about surviving and supporting your family” but still I think I knew what he meant: I hope I did. I looked back at the wreckage which was my past and laughed as people do when they meet someone who  might understand them. He replied. “If you meet someone who has travelled through time you don’t tend to waste the moment discussing the weather, or at least I don’t” and he smiled.

“What year is it anyway?” I asked and he told me it was 1906. From my pocket I pulled out my mobile phone and said to him, “Do you know what this is?“ and he smiled and shook his head so I continued, “There are going to be many changes and events in your future but I will let you discover them for yourself. ” I did not want to alarm or depress him by saying his world was moving towards the numbing destruction which was the First World War!

Strangely, he seemed almost untroubled by my reticence and said, “The essentials are the same: you know everything changes but then nothing does”

As he said that I moved from one “present” to another or awake; you take your pick: the whole thing seemed a fantasy apart from the glass I was holding in my hand!

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A Life Resolved

I have always loved the voyage of life while showing little regard for safety or sense of a destination; I was always the sauce on the dish but never the main ingredient. Still there was one dish I wished to be at the very heart of it Sheila was my oldest dearest friend from primary school, who I’d known since the age of eight and with whom I had always maintained the deepest, open yet strictly platonic relationship. “Once you are married, never look over the garden fence” I said to her when we were in our thirties during my second marriage and she had nodded saying, “You are so wise” which was embarrassing, it being the last thing I ever was: I had loved and longed for her since our early teens but such was her appreciation of my earnest monkish exterior I never had the courage to admit my feelings .Life being what it is I married two women over a span of thirty five years producing four children but always, as I fell asleep, dreamt only of “My Sheila!” who, in my waking hours, did nothing but shake her head at the passage I had walked through life. She saw something in me but I don’t know what it is In our early seventies our friendship deepened because her husband Eric, a profoundly decent and caring man who became my dearest friend and football terrace comrade ( how can that be I hear you ask), died in his sleep and in her desperation she turned to me for comfort which I gave without limit, always aware of the boundaries set by kindness .On my eightieth birthday she suggested a joint celebration: did I mention we shared the same birthday, and whispered, one wheelchair driver to another, “Why don’t we get drunk one last time.” I have never reject that celebration so there we were on the veranda of our shared care home sipping from an illicit bottle of port slipped in by her eldest son earlier in the day when she said, “Do you think it’s time we got married?” and I said “Yes,” and who could not love her for the question. She took a lost man and brought him home!
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A First Connection

When I met her she felt her beauty was a recollection: her power to attract, she feared, long since gone and she was defenceless against the scrutiny of those less charitable than herself. She was a drunk in a bar at some place I had never visited but had stopped at in search of shelter. I don’t know how old she was but I’m guessing she thought her sixties seemed like youth and she was now alone with her incongruous health: drunk and smoking like a wild thing: she could still stand and dance and become the abandoned hippie she might have been fifty years before.

I joined her at the bar, and later in her bed, because she dreamed she could still connect in a way her age had no sense of. “Youth has judgement on its side but little else” she said to me as we got undressed and then she started giggling: her accent and the way she spoke hinted at a forgotten education and her movements of her youth. After a pause she reached up to kiss me as if physical was the only language left with meaning. She had travelled life, mostly alone, sometimes beautifully, often lost and seldom comforted and I determined that in my arms, if nothing else, she would find a kind of peace. Out here in the social wilderness there is little left of etiquette, credible gestures or sermons for the meek. All we have is kindness and the hope that beauty and tolerance might still be related.

She was the wisest, loneliest, poorest and most beautiful person I have ever met, who sought a night of abandoned celebration. In her heart and soul she would never be old. Every sentence she spoke was marked by a quality of pathos drenched in whisky and every weakness by a movement of her hand. She talked as if we were both still young and careless of the consequence, and yet we both knew life will challenge your dreams and leave most of them exhausted.

Somehow, despite the madness, disappointments, and that hard knowledge carved out of experience; something in the way I held her brought her home and, before she fell to slumber, I saw light fill her cautious eyes. I love heroes and heroines, and she will always be a bit like that to me: the lady who died in my arms just after she found herself. The wise sometimes find value in the worthless and she saw something precious in my life. Love was a drink late to her table but I was honoured to bring that chalice to her lips. I too can drink, I can’t say otherwise, but the way she looked at me restored fragments of my dignity.

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A Recognition

As a student I hide myself behind an unremarkable exterior but wondering about those paragraphs in history,no-one can explain, where brave men live, striding across ungoverned terrain where only the courageous or foolish dare explore. 

She must have known that because a girl just sat down beside me on the train and said, “What do you seek in life?” and, of course, the normal or replete among us would have granted her the briefest of glances before saying “Nothing” and then returning to their newspaper but that is not what I did.

My imagination, always careless of the sensible, took over and I said, “Something about the definition of life: about how connecting with another, or anybody is the only thing which saves us from the bald truth: that the universe is not interested in your history.” 

 To my surprise she did not look round for the conductor and say “This is a madman, get him off the train,” but replied, “Me too, I’ve got no answers either, so I just bought a ticket to the end of the line and when the mood takes me I will get off and explore wherever I’ve landed. Come with me: it might be fun!” and for reasons I cannot explain apart from the lack of choice, I did what she requested.

She was not a girl fixated on material success and , like many of us, dreamed of that unlikely dance where the everyday and wonder join within our souls. Perhaps she had discovered, like me, that curiosity may bring you to the edge of wilderness from which few of us return.

We worked as a waiter and waitress at a cafe in Cardiff at the end of the  railway line, and discovered we could connect with people who did not dream of being important until, heartened by each other’s company we saved the wherewithal purchase the cafe from the retiring owner: a lifelong friend.

Finally, soothed by routine and the recognition we gained from each other and our customer’s we became engaged and then married: it was the bravest wisest thing I ever did and joined with her I discovered that wonder is often hidden within the mundane. We rescued each other from absurdity and celebrate that everyday !

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Non-commital Love

I came across her as she was walking down some road in the dark, with the rain pouring off her face and back, and I demanded she just get in the car and out of the weather till she muttered “Pervert” and climbed in anyway. I’d never met someone like her; who looked at common sense, and then tossed it out the window like it was a sandwich wrapper.

I never got to the heart of who she was, but she ‘got’ me in her lucid moments, more than anyone else I’ve ever met, or that was my impression. Between her affairs with ‘Weed,’ and drunken nights of partying with other men she might come to me and tell me ” You are the only one who understands me” and I took that to be praise, or the sign I had strength, or was someone special or just plain stupid. Nothing, I now understand, disarms a man of certain years more than tenderness. We get so little don’t we? Once we leave our youth, and only then if we’ve been lucky, and I was as hung out as any man can be but didn’t know it.

Her stock phrase, “Whatever gets you through” was often in use about me, or any topic we might discuss. She was exuberant when high: up for anything, and in those blissful hours and days, when we were first together, I became the happiest man alive. She made me feel understood: celebrated even, like no one had before. Oh how I loved her in those early days and weeks, but we both know the story don’t we. I mean I already knew the story, but attention makes you forget what you know. Someone pretty, like her, smiling at me, and saying you’ve got nice eyes, was like something out of a film and I just drowned in a smile I took to be tender and loving and personal. She had the understanding which comes from being lost, and meeting her dismantled my certainties

Later, as the vapour cleared my brain, I realised the moment was not personal. It was more about regret, and the lives she would never lead: the unborn children, the house with mown lawn and paid-for furniture she feared would not be hers. She longed to be ‘normal’ as much as I longed to be reckless and we met somewhere in the middle; crashed is, perhaps, the better word, as our needs and dreams ground against each other in this unformed universe.

I loved the look and feel of her, and the way her hair tickled me as she lay on the pillow by my side, and how the fear and aggression flowed out of her face as she slept. In slumber she became that sweet being I would protect and love above all things: vulnerable was a word she hated, but at night she could be that, at least to me.

I remember saying to her one morning, “It may be necessary for me you to marry me” and she just laughed at me as if I was clutching at a dream, which, of course, I was. Is there some note we play, which only a few people can hear, and as the sound of it rises and is lost among the clouds they reach out to seek its origin. Am I dreaming too much? Was I that note for her or merely a roadside café where she stopped to catch her breath.

One day she was gone, no explanation given, and that window to another world closed with her exit. Where she went, or why, I cannot tell you, but she has spoiled me for life. I no longer want death by common sense, or low-carb food, or tending to the normalcies of routine. I want to drink from darkness and adventure, and the religion of a moment, but now, with only timidity and lack of imagination as my guides, I am both cowardly and lost.

Our lives are unwritten epics, every one of them, and patterns and circumstance repeat themselves in that cycle of unlearned lessons we call history while our ancestors look down on us from above and shake their heads. We dance between fear and courage, and flirt with fragments of self-knowledge but she taught me this: that love may be worth more than ‘common sense.’ Through her, adventure waved to me from the shadows and was gone

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Lost Conversations

Heard on the radio, a transmission from past decades: a fragment of conversation, picked up as the spacecraft travels its uncharted path. “I’ll see you soon, put the kettle on,” then laughter drifting into silence.

“Who were they” you ask yourself but cannot say; trapped as you are on this lost mission to a distant galaxy; sent out to explore the universe before the Earth was destroyed by meteorites.

“Life on other planets, I hope? ” was all you could think as you turned to look at Greg, the captain of the spacecraft, now piloted without purpose or destination. “Shall I make a note of it” you ask, but he just shakes his head,

What is the purpose? There’s no one left to talk to, and nothing but these fragments of conversation bouncing round in space to stir emotions: brief relics of a vanished home

“Can’t beat the view” you say, trying to keep it light, but routine without purpose drained the magic from this adventure years before: now silence is their only companion. Galaxies pass by unremarked by two souls lost in travelling, robbed of home and context by that catastrophe which destroyed the earth, careless of it’s evolution.

“What does it mean” you ask yourself, staring at the photograph you hold of your young wife and baby boy but mute indifference has no answer to your question. At some unspecified hour, you accept, some black hole or other matter will swallow this lost evidence of man, and suns will rise and planets form without comment or exclamation as you become a particle in space.

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A Question Of Choices

Her stare challenged everything in sight: late twenties and a shaper of events, the answer to many situations lay filed in her experiences: she feared little but some aspects of emotion, and looked on those she knew as reference points. Unmarried and unattached, six years spent with a school-time love now consigned to memory, she had determined, if nothing else, that life was a matter of furnishings and dress.
All her friends were relatives, and home a concept more than place: protected by ability and a career of some significance she had moved to a new property. She had not met the owners yet, and there was no reason she would do so.

Thus the knock on her door was unexpected, and opened more from habit than intent to reveal a boy of around six looking up at her with an enquiring face. “Do you play the piano miss” he asked as if she already knew his name, and before she could control herself, she said “Yes” because music was a dormant passion in her life. “We’ve just got one from my gran, she’s dead” he told her by way of explanation, adding “Come and see”

Why she did we cannot say but there was an openness about him she could not bruise so she followed him to the flat below where , sure enough, a battered upright stood against the wall, lid raised and keyboard in full view. His mother poked her head round the kitchen door, a bit older than herself but not by much, and clearly on a different path and warm.

Both looked at her expectantly, uneasily it must be said, as she sat down and played one of her own compositions, written before her father lost his way and her parental home became a mausoleum. The boy started dancing by her stool and his mother said, “That’s really good” and so it may have been, but written in another time, when flowers bloomed and angels still wore white.

“What do you do?” the mother asked, and she replied, “I am a retail analyst for a large department store.” The mother was impressed, though in a baffled way. “But what about the music?” she asked and the young boy said, “Play some more,” but she replied, “I must get on, I’m sure you understand” and the mother said “Of course” and the boy just shook his head, for he was from that gentle place where flowers bloomed and angels still wore white.

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A Matter Of Appearences

Each day her thoughts were driven by the need to present a positive message starting at 8:30 am, regardless of her mood. She might wake up as she liked, sleep as she may but Monday to Friday her smile was obliged to convey an impersonal welcome to those placed under her charge.

Roger was one of the new candidates who passed by her desk each day on their way to training at the financial services firm where they both worked. One morning she could not prevent herself asking him, “Is that shirt ironed?” noting his crumpled appearance, before he replied “ “Some of it is!”

The previous evening he had moved up to her at the reception marking his and other’s welcome to the firm saying, glass in hand “ There is always light you know? ” and smiling at her in a way which said, “No one has the answer,” before walking off towards his fellow candidates. His presence stayed with her throughout the evening, leaving her wondering how such a man had managed to get through her company’s rigorous selection process. Whatever the mystery, there was something about him which spoke of the world beyond planning

Was his thought an assault or a revelation: the words made more impact than she wished but she fought her response to them. Her father had been an unpublished poet, largely unrecognised, who struggled to protect himself and his family while asking questions all his life without regard for self-advancement. She had loved the tender heart within him though those dependent on him lived with material uncertainty!

Somehow this man seemed an echo of her unworldly father, recalling that time before she achieved maturity and independence. She remembered moments in her childhood, running in the park, or sitting on her father’s lap as a small child and hearing his unpublished yet magical stories which always filled her with wonder . She had not felt that since his early passing

Later in the day and alone at her desk, a wave of emotion flowed through her as she realised there is nothing more unsettling than to discover you are understood. “We cross many lives but are touched by few of them,” her father told her once but. When Roger came up to her at the lunch break she could not stop herself raising her eyes to his.

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