What I want… to be in the park in the morning, the long shadows on the grass and the swans still asleep. Elastica, My Sex.
From the park bench I watch the world go by. The early summer days here are my favourites, when it is just becoming warm enough to simply sit, doing nothing, only watching and wondering. The days are growing longer and I could easily spend so much of these long days on this bench. I scan the faces of the passers by, always wondering if I have ever known them. I have known so many names, so many faces over the years that it is easy to allow some to slip from memory.
A light breeze blows, rustling through the grass, lifting a stray fallen leaf fallen in the autumn. It lands by my feet and I pick it up, running my fingers over its lined markings, unable to help myself comparing them to the lines of age on my face.
I smile indulgently at the small child who passes me on her bike as she makes her wobbly progress along the path; her parents hurry along behind her, their expressions a mixture of pride and anxiety. I hope that they will treasure these moments with their daughter for I know only too well now my own children are grown how fleeting they are.
A cloud drifts lazily over the sun, casting a brief shadow on the perfect day. The young couple, lost in each other, sitting on the bench beside me shudder and wrap their arms a little tighter around each other. I smile to myself for I have known colder, all those years ago beside the Tiernsee.
Sometimes those days almost fade from memory, but the smallest things can take me back to those endless, almost carefree days in the Tyrol that I always swore would never end. If I could have held time still in my hands it would have been then, beneath the sun at the Tiernsee with Nell. I always though our friendship would be as it was then but I changed so easily, without looking back over my shoulder for her.
And now, in the autumn of my days, I sit beneath the summer sun on a park bench, watching the world pass by and wondering.
We could steal time, just for one day ~ Elephant Love Medley, Moulin Rouge
It’s not supposed to be happening so fast. I wanted to hold each moment of this day in my hand, guarding it, to remember it. I don’t recall how I got here. Surely I shouldn’t be saying these words now? Can’t someone make it stop, and just go back a little. I don’t want to forget because I’ve been waiting for so long.
I turn, half expecting her to be there, shaking away the memories as I realise that she isn’t.
“Time to go.”
He holds out his hand to me; I take it uncertainly and we take our first steps into our future, my future without her. And I know that I daren’t look back because if I do then I won’t be able to make myself go forwards.
If I could steal time…
Piece by piece, is how I let go of you ~ Piece by Piece, Katie Melua
She sits on the edge of her bed, staring at the contents of the box in her lap, discarding the letters that once meant so much. A smile flickers at the corner of her mouth at the postcards written sitting side by side on trips they had once taken together.
No point in saying “wish you were here” since you are and I’m jolly glad of it. Having a splendid time so far – what do you think we should do next?
Charlie and Bill. Bill and Charlie.
She holds the pillow close to her, smelling it, trying to find some remaining trace. But she won’t cry; the time for that has passed.
She jumps at the knock on the door, hastily pushing the pillow back and the box under the bed. That little hope that it just might be remains…
“Nell?” A voice that she knows so well asks softly.
She shakes herself for allowing that split second belief. Without Charlie…
Without Charlie there can be no Bill.
All my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity ~ Simon & Garfunkel, Homeward Bound
Well, that’s it, all over and now here I am, married to Jock. Can you believe it after all the time and faff it’s taken us to get here? At long last we are safely on our way to Singapore and it simply doesn’t seem real – almost as though I’ve walked into somebody else’s life, you could say. I’m sorry you couldn’t be there but it was all such a rush – drat Joey for insisting on dragging you away from Guernsey when she left! How is everything going at Plas Howell?
I stop there, laying my pen down, resting my chin in my hands and wonder. What is the point? Is there any point in trying to write to her? Goodness only knows when I’ll get the chance to post it and if I do when on earth she will receive it. I sigh and push my writing pad away as Jock slides into the seat beside me, his arm snaking around my waist as he leans over to lightly kiss my cheek.
“There you are, Connie,” he whispers.
Yes, here I am.
I heard the wedding went off without a hitch and I would think that now you’re well on your way to Singapore.
She stops writing for a moment, staring idly into space, tapping her pen lightly against the wooden top of the desk and ignoring the irritated stares of those around her. With a sigh she rips the letter from the pad, screwing it up and half heartedly tossing it at the wastepaper basket, narrowly missing it.
Picking up her pen she begins again.
I’m not even what the point of me writing this letter is; I don’t know when you’ll get it. Drat this stupid war, Charlie.
But you’re not Charlie anymore now, are you? No, you’re Jock’s Connie.
The second letter follows the fate of the first.
*Though you’re still with me, I’ve been alone all along ~ Evanescence, My Immortal
I pause for a moment from the weeding and squint up at the sky; it’s a shade of perfect blue today, not a cloud in sight, the sun is beating down mercilessly and I’m glad of my big shady hat. I tug gently at the weed, prodding the soil around it with my trowel to loosen it. In the freedom afforded to me by retirement I knew that something would have to give so I could see the world I had long been unable to. Being able to escape to warmer climes to avoid the winters so harsh on my aching arthritic joints meant that it would be the garden that suffered, much as I hated returning to find it overgrown with weeds.
It takes a while to prise the tiny weed free; I never cease to be amazed by how quickly and firmly they take hold. For some reason as I carelessly toss the weed into the bucket at my side, my thoughts turn back to the letter that arrived this morning. I’d left it on the kitchen table, knowing that I must reply but not knowing what to say. It’s been too many years and so much has changed in that time and it makes me afraid to.
I glance at my watch, wondering what the time is. The sun is high in the sky and my stomach tells me that it must be almost lunchtime. Maybe I ought to put down my trowel and go back indoors, but I know that my stubborn streak won’t let me until I’ve freed the area I’ve marked out even though I’m only too aware of how much my joints will object to it. I always said I wouldn’t let the arthritis rule my life and I don’t intend to start now.
I turn slowly, easing myself up from the ground, feeling the familiar creak and dull ache in my knees as I do so.
“Lunch is ready.”
I grin as she comes and stands beside me. “How did you know I was just thinking about that?”
“Must have been.”
“I saw the letter from Con on the kitchen table.”
Charlie, I correct her automatically in my head even after all these years. Charlie. “Oh?” I can’t criticise her for reading it; I did leave it out quite obviously.
“Are you going to go?”
I shrug. “I don’t know.”
“You should. You always said you would once you retired.”
“I know, but… It’s hard.” I bite my lip, not quite sure what else to say.
We stand in silence and I look at our shadows cast by the sun across the long grass and I feel a pang of something… sadness? I’m not sure. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
“Let’s go and have lunch,” I say instead. “I don’t know about you, but I could eat a scabby horse I’m that hungry.”
We both laugh and I push the question of Australia to one side for now. Not forgotten, how could I?
The flight touched down on time in Sydney to the relief of the passengers. She moved quickly through the crowds with an air of ease that suggested she was a seasoned traveller; her fellow passengers oblivious to the knot of nerves she felt inside. At baggage reclaim it was the familiar sight of impatience, the same for the paperwork, accompanied by the sound of an anxious tapping of feet and brief sighs breaking the silence. Edging ever closer to her final destination she feels the nerves increase. What will it be like? Have too many years passed? She glances anxiously around her fellow travellers, the tired family groups, the impatient business travellers and she wonders. She wonders what will be waiting for them on the other side of the door.
“Connie, for goodness sake,” snaps Jock as I shuffle my feet impatiently, going over to view the information screens yet again. “It’s only been a minute and a half since you last looked, it won’t say anything different!”
I shrug in response and he smiles at me. I can’t help the nerves, the impatience. I know her flight has landed and I know how long it takes to come through but I still can’t help it. I look around the other groups in the arrivals hall, chatting eagerly amongst themselves and wonder who they are waiting for, what reunion awaits them when the doors open. Jock has sensed my nerves and reaches out to place a steadying hand on my arm as I make to go and view the information boards again. I smile weakly and stay where I am. After all these years I can afford her the time it takes to come from the plane. It has been too many years, too long but now she is here.
“You’ll think of something,” he says reassuringly but I don’t think he understands.
We lapse back into silence and I stare at the doors, half of me willing them to open, half of them wanting a few more moments to gather my thoughts. And then she is there. For a second I don’t recognise her.
She stops for a moment on hearing the name called to her, one she was sure she would never be called again. She turns to see who is calling to her. It takes a moment for the recognition to dawn but as it does the years that have passed fade away.
“Charlie!” she cries in response.
Amidst the airport reunions, no one pays much attention to theirs, too engrossed in their own but it doesn’t matter to them. It is this moment that counts, the one that wipes away the absence of more years than they care to count. Everything around them is forgotten.
Charlie and Bill.
Bill and Charlie.
With one there can be the other.