Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Mary Rothwell

Twilight

In the weeks and months which followed, Frank gradually got himself organised. He learned again to cook for one and remembered to do a weekly wash. For company less intrusive than his well-meaning grown-up children, he began visiting a club down on the seafront. It wasn’t the sort of place he and Rene would have gone to, but it was warm and had a good supply of books and newspapers. The decor was what Rene would have called tasteful and he could get a sandwich at the bar.
He found that being out of the bungalow seemed to help distance him from the twilight place he inhabited these days. He felt somehow stuck between her darkness and his own approaching one. He seemed to be waiting rather than living. This time last year, they’d waited for her diagnosis, then for her operation and finally for her place in the hospice. These days he waited for the alarm clock to sound each morning, for the kettle to boil, then for a bus to take him away. Anywhere away from the silence.
This Friday, he’d dozed too long after his beer and sandwich so had to rush to catch the 5.10 bus. Due to yet more roadworks, the bus-stop had been moved fifty yards up the street. He didn’t walk so fast these days. They’d sold the car to pay for Rene’s op.
It was still raining. Water gushed along gutters like mountain torrents, immersing kerbstones, racing down to the ever-waiting sea. And there was scaffolding with vast sheets of plastic flapping, smacking rainwater onto passers-by. So many roads up. It was the same all over town, as if the whole place were being disassembled. Regeneration they called it, but Frank had liked the town as it was. So had Rene. You could barely hear yourself think with cars and buses shunting and coughing and grumbling at red lights, diversions, narrow lanes. Then, with a clear run before them, they’d accelerate dangerously, wheels swishing on the steaming roads.
His bus was late. The wind was rising and the tide full up. Still the rain sluiced down. He was cold. He thrust his hands into his pockets. Water dripped from his cap onto his nose. The continuous swish-swash of wet wheels almost drowned out the crashing of waves behind him.
At last his bus came, squelching to a standstill and spurting brown water over his trousers. He pushed his way to the only spare seat. When he glanced at the woman beside him, his heart lurched for she was the image of Rene ten years ago. The same clear skin, soft curls with blonde amongst the grey. But her eyes, when she turned to face him, were hazel, not blue.
“Will it ever stop raining?” she said.
“We’ll need boats soon, if it doesn’t.”
“Like Noah’s ark?”
“Two by two. I wouldn’t fancy being cooped up with all those animals, though.”
She rubbed at the steamed-up window with her sleeve. “Just look at those clouds!”
Huge and heavy and black, they rolled in from France. Then a long orange spear of light slashed the horizon free from the cloudbank. From a reddish, golden crevass, its light came bouncing over the grey sea towards them.
“So the sun is still with us,” he said.
“Oh, never doubt it,” her smiling eyes reassured him. “Clouds have names, don’t they? Cumulus? I wonder what that one’s called.”
As Frank looked once more at the shining isthmus dividing dark from dark, his heart rose.
“Hope,” he answered, smiling back at her.

 

Sanctuary

It is a hot October afternoon, not a breath of wind, the sky a harsh metallic blue, when Kathy comes once more to the garden. Taking 5C for Poetry Appreciation has worn her to a frazzle. She hates Wednesdays.
As before, she pauses, nose pressed against the gate’s wrought iron curls, to contemplate the peace and beauty within. It has been a fraught summer culminating in a broken heart.
He came, the young man, with the first daffodils, all golden and shining with promise. He pranced before her along red brick paths, ran laughing round the sparkling pool whose fountain scattered jewels. They did not talk much. He led her out of the garden. She felt suddenly cold as the gate clanged shut behind them, yet his urgent hand clasping hers was warm and friendly.
Now, autumn leaves patterning the lawn with bronze and amber, she longs to possess the garden again. She fears it will be sullied by their tawdry affair. He did not really care for gardens, he said, all those creepie-crawlies. Given the chance, he said, he’d concrete it over, just have a flowerpot or two.
She lifts the iron latch. High walls keep out the noise of traffic, of schoolchildren shouting in the park. The garden cocoons her. She feels safe, as when a child at home with her parents. Crunching acorns underfoot, she traces paths, reclaiming them. Dogwood stems glow red in the sunlight and flowerbeds exude perfumes from late blooms of honeysuckle, lilies and white jasmine.
She recalls a stone bench beside a pool. She will rest there awhile. Then, too late to turn back, she sees she is not alone. An elderly white-haired gentleman is seated at one end of the bench. The sweet scent from his pipe drifts around her as she settles at the other end. The once-bright fountain is dry. Beyond, late roses spot a shrubbery with scarlet and an unseen bird sings from the trees.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before,” says the old man.
“I used to come . . .” she falters, “I . . . I met someone here and . . .”
“You fell in love?”
“I thought I had, but . . .”
“I loved my Love from green of Spring / Until sere Autumn’s fall. Is that how it was?”
“Oh, you know Christina Rossetti?” She continues the verse. “But now that leaves are withering / How should one love at all? It’s from a poem called . . . ” she hesitates, “called The End of Love.
“Are you sure that what you fell in love with wasn’t just a sunny spring day in a lovely garden?”
“Perhaps; this is such a magical place.”
“Remember that magic, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. This is merely a plot of land designed to shelter delicate plants. That’s all.” He brushes a fallen leaf from his knee. It crackles into brown dust.
“We’re each of us delicate from time to time,” he continues, his voice growing fainter. “Then we regain our strength and carry on.” He turns to face her.
“Don’t we?”
“I guess so.”
A sudden breeze rattles the reeds and clouds invade the blue sky. Kathy shivers, fastens her jacket. Time to go.
“Goodbye,” she says.
“Au revoir,” he replies.
Approaching the gate, she glances back but there is no sign of him at all. The garden is empty, the pool dull and grey, and no birds sing. Time to get on with life, lessons to prepare for tomorrow. She will come here again next Wednesday. Maybe.

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