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U3A Writing: Or Will You Just Politely Say Goodnight?

Can a sundial help to mend a broken marriage? Norman Hodghton tells a tale of tangled love.

No words have passed between us for several minutes, so I sit back in my seat and listen to the wind swishing past the windscreen and to the sound of the engine. Me? Silent? I’ve never been at a loss for words before, but I am now.

For a moment I close my eyes and ask myself, “What am I doing here, in an open car, beside this man who was once my lover, my husband, and who is now another woman’s lover?”

It wasn’t possible to live and work in the same small town without seeing each other, and after three years of crossing the road to avoid you, or developing a sudden deafness if you tried to speak. I knew it couldn’t continue like that. I unfroze slowly. At first a nod of recognition, a semi-audible mumbled greeting, and finally we spoke again.

So here I am, a year later, spending a whole day with you. Blame the sundial I’d ordered a few months ago. Too heavy for me to lift, you offered to help collect it. I’ve always fancied a sundial on the house, their shadow pointers move steadily and predictably throughout time. So unlike my life, which has swung erratically as if driven by some wild wind.

I break the silence. “How is . . . she . . . Julie?” It is an effort to speak that name.

“Gone.”

“You mean …she’s left?”

“Yes … cleared off last month.”

I make sympathetic noises, while thinking “Now you know how I felt.”

At the same time the thought comes to me that now you are free you might want to start all over again? Do I want that?

Conversation flows again – inconsequentially – but if it approaches that dangerous topic – our shared past – it veers away to safer territory.

What are you really thinking? Your face gives no clue as you concentrate on the road ahead. All I can do is to imagine what is going through your mind, and I was never very good at that.

The sun is shining when we arrive to collect the sundial. Carrying it to the car the shadow of the gnomon skips erratically across the engraved surface of the metal, yet once installed it will follow its preordained path.

“Now lunch!”

“Well . . . ”

“I know a great pub not far from here. Good food, lovely garden, it’s your sort of place. You see; I remember what you like.”

“I don’t know.”

“No argument. I’m paying. Clinched a really good deal – so money’s no problem.”

You haven’t changed have you, always the wheeler-dealer. I acquiesce and wonder where this is leading.

Warm sun, good food, a glass or two of fine wine and I relax. Conversation drifts without effort onto that previously forbidden subject.

“Remember when we stayed at . . .

“They asked how you were.”

“They didn’t know about . . . ?”

And so it goes, our previous life together takes on that rose tinted aspect that only time and selective memory can give it.

“We had some good times.”

Your fingers softly stroke my hand, just once.

I hear myself reply “Yes they were good years.” Have I forgotten so easily? The rows, lies, betrayal and public humiliation. But I push those thoughts back to where they belong and leave my words hanging, unchecked.

We are on the way back, to the town where you and I both live our separate lives. And what then? I will invite you in. I’ve prepared food, bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and if you read the wrong signals I’m perfectly capable of sending you on your way. Aren’t I?

All too soon we arrive at my house, before I know for sure how I want this day to end. The sundial is unloaded and waits now for the builder to fix it.

Much later I pour wine; you compliment me on the meal; I pour more wine. At last I know, enough wine and you can’t drive home, but not too much . . .

Carrying our glasses and the bottle we retire to the sitting room. Is my unsteadiness due to nerves, excitement, or too much wine?

The settee is small, so that our bodies touch as we sit trying to keep our words casual.

Music is playing quietly in the background when the words of another song come into my head; a song that we imagined had been written just for us when we first met. I get up, find the record, put it on and return to the settee.

The singer’s voice fills the room.

We’re sitting here playing so cool,
thinking “what will be will be.”
But it’s getting kind of late now
I’ve gone too far, it’s too late to turn back, even if I wanted to.
Oh I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now?
Or will you just politely say goodnight?

That rosy glow obscures all experience.

Early morning: I wake slowly, and remembering, whisper your name. No answer. A moment of panic and then I hear you in the bathroom. When you re-appear you’re dressed.

“You’re not going already? Can’t you stay?”

“Sorry, not today.”

You gently slide back the duvet and kiss me. I shiver all over and reach out for you.

“Sorry darling I must go.” You smile a smile that cuts deep. “There’s a big deal going down, and you’ve gotta’ be on that train when it leaves the station.”

Before I can say anything you are gone. The rosy glow dissolves immediately, leaving me looking once more into lonely darkness.

“You’ve gotta’ be on that train . . . ”

One morning, four years ago, you used those same words. And you never came back.

* “Will you?” was sung by Hazel O’Connor,
from the film “Breaking Glass.”


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