an old biscuit tin lid
with a painted scene
so lovely in it’s own
quaint way that you
can but smile at such
until the day comes
while wandering the
roads you drive round
one more bend and
there it is, the self
same scene exactly
as perfectly projected.
The electric jolt
of shared memory
shocks you both
into silence as
quietly, with no
you reach over to
hold hands again.
Searching for love
Lorraine watched, in a carefully furtive manner, as the red tail lights disappeared around the corner. Their house, their first home, had only a small paved area in front so it was easy observe any traffic passing along the street.
Her husband’s, their car, turned right at the junction, gone for the evening, again. The street lights cast a sheen on the window allowing them a glimpse of her own ghostly reflection.
‘A ghost, that’s what I am now, a fucking ghost,” she murmured aloud.
Her never seen, felt and never touched, a resident ghost, that’s what I am now!” She was louder now, consciously so, why wouldn’t she be, the silent house was her’s to fill with whatever sound she chose.
About to turn away something in her movement caught the street light in the window from a reflective angle.
“Nothing wrong with me, is there ghost?”
A quick appraisal, hair still shoulder length, no lines on the face, at least not in the window pane. He once praised her ‘cute nose’, “and my luscious lips,” aloud again, angrier now.
“Nothing wrong with me,” she almost shouted, turning to face the empty room. A surge of adrenaline fuelled by anger, aggravated by a sense of the unfairness of it all got her moving, drove her to the kitchen.
Classic hits were her thing, usually the radio was set to a station broadcasting an endless stream of songs and dance tunes she knew so well even the first few notes, before a single lyric, was enough to re-kindle a memory, generate a smile.
The opening bars of Abba’s ‘Chiquitita’ were enough for her to silence the radio. Cradling a coffee, reckless at this hour, especially while she seethed with already heightened emotions, she wandered back to the living room.
“I wonder,” she murmured, somehow feeling better already, comforted even by such a simple thing as being able to speak aloud. “Talking to myself, better than anyone else here right now, ‘hello’”, she called even louder, “no just me, the ghost, just me.”
When the screen burst into life she automatically turned to Facebook, scanning through other people’s lives. It didn’t help. The whole world seemed to be posting pictures of themselves, their lovers, their families, friends, cats and dogs.
“Pull yourself together, Lorraine, this won’t do,” she muttered.
Leaving Facebook she was about to check out TV listings for the evening when a thought occurred to her.
“What are you up to?” If her fingers hesitated over the keyboard she certainly never noticed it. With a few masterfully determined strokes she had logged out of her account and called up his home screen.
“Now, Paddy dear, let’s see what you’ve been up to.”
When Lorraine entered her own name as his password and found it worked she felt a pang of guilt. “Not changed, still me,” she wondered for a moment if she had been imagining things. “Maybe I’m the one who’s changed, not him,”
Reaching for her coffee she sat back, confused, uncertain, lonely.
“Fuck it, you should be here, where are you?”
For over an hour she worked through his virtual world as best she could. There was nothing there she didn’t already know, nothing. There was nothing to be found that could cause her to worry even more than she already was, nothing.
The last thing she checked was his version of Calendar. It was the same story, she couldn’t see anything out-of-place, yet an unformed thought still nagged away at the back of her head, she still had a troubling, worrying sensation that all was not what it seemed, there was something wrong, something she couldn’t quite grasp.
“That’s it, nothing is the answer.”
With renewed determination she attacked the keyboard, skilfully stroked the mousepad. In his version of Calendar months passed by in a blur until she paused.
There it was. Finally nothing became something.
Evenings they had spent together, restaurant reservations, arrangements for weekends away, they were all there in among bills due, bills paid, meetings to attend, work related deadlines. His life, her life entangled and intertwined together. Then it stopped, there was no him and her, it was all work, all business, the diary entries tracking a life separating, falling apart.
“The curious case of the blank calendar,” she whispered, “so I’m not crazy after all, what happened then and what now?”
She cradled the by-now cold cup, smelling the faint aroma of coffee dregs. “I’m right,” she said but felt no better for knowing it, no comfort in saying it aloud.
A few days later during a slight lull at work she looked around, wondering who among her colleagues would be best to approach.
The manager, was he one? Perhaps Miss Potter, prim and proper as the called her but never in her hearing. Did she too have a secret persona, a safe place where she unveiled herself to lovers, released her wild side buried deep beneath the frowning forehead, the pursed lips?
What about Wandering Wayne? Forever rambling about the place, dodging any real work, what exactly was he running from? There was another layer to his name. Were there other hidden levels beneath the ever smiling exterior? at office parties when girls were tiddly and giggly he liked to let his hands wander. Was that really as playful as he claimed when apologising the following day?
From the little she had learned it seemed everyone on the internet was hiding behind a false name.
She had a lot more to learn and looking around some more realised that Shirley was her girl. She was a rare mix of wild and free at times yet sensible enough and definitely capable of keeping a trusted confidence, this she knew from experience. Shirley then it should be, all that was necessary was the right moment and the right mood. Time would deliver both and sure enough in due course it did.
“That’s a strange question,” Shirley replied.
Lorraine ignored any implicit suggestion that her mousey life would never include surfing the net for a partner.
Honesty, or at least partial disclosure, was the best policy, she decided.
“Shirley, I wouldn’t even begin to try to pull the wool over your eyes. I think I just want to try a little harmless online fun, no one need ever know, except you of course. I know I can rely on you to keep anything to yourself.”
Shirley hesitated, slightly, “really? Gosh, I never thought of that, well, ok then. Bit unexpected but still, hey, why not, a girls gotta do and all that?”
“That’s great,” Lorraine felt a sudden rush of renewed enthusiasm, a scheme shared was a scheme made feasible, even in merely sharing.
With Shirley’s help and guidance Lorraine developed what they thought was an interesting profile and more importantly only posted it where they felt it would be safe. They settled on not using a photo, instead Lorraine chose an avatar using the Mona Lisa. The enigmatic expression, the knowing smile and the eyes that followed you everywhere appealed to her.
The same image as an avatar intrigued Peter, whoever this mysterious Laura Byrne was she had caught his eye, even more, she piqued his curiosity and held his attention. His fingers gently, slowly and carefully caressed the keyboard bringing to life the first delicately flowering words of interest.
Now Lorraine could look to forward to time on her own, time to herself. It was fun and she was certain was harmless inconsequential fun. No harm could of this ghostly online imitation of herself.
“Shirley, you’re a genius,” she whispered to the screen as she clicked on yet another message drawn to this other Lorraine, her alter ego Laura.
Paddy was surprised by how easy it seemed, chatting to this unknown woman. It was no bother to share feelings, eventually fears, troubles, hopes, interests with her. It was remarkable how much they had in common. Interacting with the Mona Lisa he was drawn away from all the worries and fears he had about his marriage.
Here was a woman he could be with anytime.
Why not, little ideas unchecked and then nourished can grow into big ones and become a source of courage, or was it recklessness? Paddy decided against over analysing as he always did. Impulse, action, time to, move, wasn’t it? The final barriers of hesitance fell away. He was ready. Was she?
There were times she felt more Laura than Lorraine. The freedom to unburden herself to an unseen, unknown man was something she was coming to cherish. One evening, when Paddy was out, again, she was chatting easily online when she laughed aloud. Nothing unusual about that anymore, not during these comforting sessions.
This time the laughter sprang from the oddest of thoughts. Long ago as a young girl approaching what became the turmoil and pitfalls of puberty, she still attended Confession. In the comforting security of the darkness, speaking to the unseen whispered voice behind the wire mesh, she had been able to rid herself of troublesome and disturbing thoughts.
Now the faint light was the glow of the laptop screen and the voice was something to read, aloud if she liked, but otherwise unheard.
The effect was similiar to what she felt as a girl but now as a grown woman, much better. Maybe the time had come to hear the unheard and to meet the unseen, face to face and not on-screen.
It was a beautiful evening, the warm air still lingered from a fine summer’s day. Paddy strolled with a confident air towards the cafe by the canal. he would be early, it was good to relish slowly a turn he felt coming in his life. The red carnation he carried would be on the table and when it was joined by a white the evening would truly begin. Mona Lisa was surely the woman for him.
The white carnation Lorraine had plucked impishly from a neighbour’s garden where she knew it grew twirled in her fingers as she held on to the confidence to turn the final corner to the cafe by the canal.
When she said she was having an affair I didn’t believe her, as simple as that, I just did not believe her. Not of course that she ever put it that way. She never looked me straight in the eye, over a second cup of coffee or a drink, and said, “Sheila, I’m having an affair.”
I don’t suppose people say things like that; “I’m having an affair,” I mean. It’s more like a word they use in books, or magazine articles, or even on early morning chat shows, but never heard, or said by real people. You know the sort of things you hear.
“Good morning, we have a lot of interesting items for you today, why are dogs roaming our streets? The Greenhouse Effect, is it responsible for our atrocious weather? But first, affairs, who’s having them and why, are they sometimes necessary, how common are they?”
However, this is not about the significance of words as used in magazines and on radio, or words as used in real lives, your’s or mine. This is about Anne. Anne and her…, what shall we say then? Entanglement? Sounds spidery. Relationship? God bless her and all who sail therein.
“There’s something I want to tell you.”
That I remember is how she began, “there’s something I want to tell you.”
I suppose as well that as any other foolish way of trying to tell me, her best, indeed almost at times, her only friend, that she, Anne, of all people, was now and had been for sometime past, going out with a man who was married. To someone else.
In telling me all of this she came at it in a roundabout way. That particular conversation, I remember, was going along fine, right up to the point where she said she was seeing someone on a regular basis.
Good for you, I thought.
She liked him, she said, and yes, they had been to bed together.
Why not, I thought, why not.
I needn’t tell you I was interested. I was pleased for her, we were after all, really very good friends and then she said, “the only thing is, he’s married.”
I said nothing. Neither, for a while, did Anne. I don’t know what I thought, what could I say? I asked her what he was like.
“What do you mean,” she snapped, “what’s he like? He’s married, that’s what he’s like!”
Do you know, I could not disagree with that. No matter how hard either of us might try on that point we both knew she was right. Anything else she could or would say, was totally and completely irrelevant beside that one great statement.
He was married. Needless to say he, they, had children. Three of them, two boys, one girl. They had a fifteen year old marriage, personal problems, obviously, financial problems and now, an Anne problem. Well at least he had, or knew he had. Bernie was the other third of this cosy little threesome and she as yet knew nothing. She also had an Anne problem but lived on for the moment, in ignorant bliss.
Anne, who did some baby-sitting from time to time. Nice, harmless , poor old Anne, who actually worked in the same building as Bernie, well what can I say? Those two, Anne and Bernie, Bernie and Anne, shared an awful lot more than working together on monthly motor-tax returns.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that old-fashioned and I would never dream of judging anyone else. I have my own life to live and I always say let others live theirs. I’m single, mid-thirties and I’ve never slept with a married man but I’m no prude. The only reason I mention any of this is that I was so stung when Anne said, “the trouble with you is you’re becoming so bitter.”
That was so unfair, it was really uncalled for. I mean we are such good friends and the only reason she said that was because I could see no future in what they were at and told here so in no uncertain terms. After all, what are friends supposed to be for? If I couldn’t say these things who could? How could she think they’d be any different? All married men who have such, involvements, said they would and never could leave their wives and certainly not their children. That’s what I felt and that’s what I said.
But that came later, at first I listened to her, all her sympathy for David and his problems. I listened to her delight in the things they did and the places they went and the people they met. think of it! They actually went about together, a public pair, a couple who met other couples who sometimes knew and sometimes didn’t. They weren’t so bold around here of course. That wouldn’t be David’s style, as far as I could gather from Anne. However, there are other places, it’s a small world now, London is merely short hop, accountants travel and Paris is only a weekend trip.
I listened to it all. I didn’t say very much, just a few pertinent comments now and then, but when she said I was bitter, well, we just didn’t see each other after that, not for quite some time.
I will admit I was upset when I realised she wasn’t coming around anymore. I missed the company, but I put all that behind me and carried on.
I heard various bits and pieces through mutual acquaintances, the sort of people you know well enough to swap a few words with at bar counters. I’m sure you know the type as well as I do, jumpers slung casually around their shoulders with the sleeves hanging over their breasts, ordering drinks with notes folded lengthways pointing towards the barman, “hello there, gosh I haven’t seen you in ages, how’s whatshername?”
On that sort of grapevine I heard that Anne had gone away on some sort of course and then, for a good while, I hear no more.
Until, well really, there she was. That’s it exactly. The bell rang one evening and there she was and then we were inside and we talked and talked.
Oh, the things she told me!
I’ve never had a ringside view of a fight but this was as good as. The language she used! I’ve never heard such words before and I’m glad of it.
Naturally it had all ended badly. There was no need for me to say I’d known all along this would be the case. Any fool could have seen that. Mind you, I have to admit it didn’t end exactly the way I thought it might, perhaps it was, if anything, even worse than that.
Bernie and David had separated, the business had finally proven too much, he’d gone working for another firm. Anne had stopped seeing him, she’d gone back to him, they fought, they made it up, they fought again.
Now I heard her say, “it’s over for good this time, no question of it, I’ll never have anything to do with that bastard again.”
So she said but I couldn’t help wondering what would be so different about this time. Of course I asked her straight out and with a bit of dithering and a lot of beating about the bush she finally told me. It was something else all right. David must be a very fine accountant indeed, but whatever about accountancy he’d get full marks for neck. He’d written Anne off against his tax.
I just looked at her. I don’t know which was worse, to do such a thing, or having done it, to tell her. I suppose in a way it was something which made a perverted kind of sense.
It seems that after Bernie and David had gone their separate ways, Bernie returned to work and claimed the full married couples tax credit. Now that was reasonable enough to my way of thinking, he wasn’t working for a while and had no need of any tax credits. But then, when he did land himself a job, what did he do? He got a little bit greedy, not surprising, considering his track record, and being greedy he used mother’s maiden name as surname when he went about settling his tax, claimed he’d been working abroad and that Anne was his dependant spouse.
Anne, being neither spouse nor dependant, was livid when she heard this. He talked about different tax districts and she talked about the right to live her own life and on that sort of note they parted.
“Forever, I’m telling you, I’ll never see him again, or have anything to do with him, nothing, just absolutely nothing!”
So she said, but when she had taken all the tea and sympathy I had to offer, when she was gone, I sat and thought it over for a while.
Anne had dived in deep in the first place. She’d risked her name, her friends, everything, for this David. Would she do the same again? Look at this tax thing, I thought, something should be done about that.
He’d get away with it, thousand sand thousands of people paying income tax and who’s going to notice a little thing like that? I’ve thought about it a lot lately and the more I think about it the more I feel it’s wrong. I don’t want to see Anne hurt even more, but I don’t think she would be. He’s the one who’s cheating the system, not her.
She needn’t come into it at all, just the fact that this man is making false declarations on official forms. If it’s to be done maybe i should wait until the right time, the end of the tax year would be just about right.
Yes, that would gave me time to think it through. After all, I don’t want to rush into things, I just want to do what’s right.
it will take you to the site where you can choose between four stories, including this one. Hope you can read, enjoy, choose and vote, thanks, Kevin
Fragment of a love story, recovered
No more than the following fragments were ever found, as if a tiny piece of pottery must needs reveal to us the whole.
…so they would be safe. However, as we think it will be is not always how it transpires. More was expected of him, being older. Strange then that such foolishness came from him, not from her.
She could see all the dangers, the perils behind them illuminated for her the dangers in the ways forward.
The whirlpool of passionate love swallowed her in deep. Such reason as she at first tried to apply was soon swept away. Together they would go wherever, do whatever, escape however. Together they would be, forever.
In their time of troubles, in the making of them, she was not entirely innocent. Jealous gossips later said it was pride in her own great beauty drove her to such extremes. No woman they said, could be so unaware of her own beauty as to be senseless of it’s effects on others, no woman…
…strange how none of the jealous gossips who speak in such vicious tones are never troubled by the burdens of beauty themselves.
It was a small enough world they lived in, you could only hide in it for so long. They never spoke of a first meeting. Did their overwhelming love grow slowly, a great blaze from a tiny spark? Was it perhaps a sudden light, flaring in blinding brightness through the dark night? They never said before the time came when they could no longer say.
The same gossip, oftentimes the same gossips, who were so critical of her unquestioned loveliness, were their ultimate undoing. That is the way, the path of gossip. Once the tales, the whispers, are unleashed they can never be unsaid.
Long years ago a wise teacher told me that if you wished to retrieve words spoken you might as well take a pillow filled with the finest of feathers to the top of the highest mountain you could see. There you must shake loose the feathers, turning all the while to the four corners of the world. Repairing the damage of ill-chosen words was as easy as gathering once again each and every feather and restoring it to it’s place in the pillow.
Soon the lovers had more to contend with than words. One day in the narrowest of lanes leading into the Great Market a clay flowerpot fell from on high. He was lucky. A full blow on the head from that and no surgeon, no matter how skilled, could save him. As it was the pot hit a ledge on the sudden downward flight and fragments flew everywhere.
His scars were simply added to yet again. The malicious gossips commenting on his ugliness compared to her much maligned beauty now had even more to say.
It did not help their cause that that one tiny fragment flew away from him, towards an old storyteller, the lane being that of the scribes, storytellers and singers. A storyteller can be a dangerous enemy at the best of times. One who has lost the sight of an eye, blinded by a projectile meant for another, could be a terrible source of trouble indeed.
Tellers of tales can tease the truth to torment others. That he may have stepped into the lane from his lair of manuscripts to ponder the man of scandal passing by possibly rendered his cup of bitterness even more galling.
They say that the strange day was not finished then, they say that…
(The manuscript is unclear here, I have left out some pieces I cannot understand, dear Reader forgive me)
The lanes of the clothing for women were some distance away, at the far side of the Great Market. This led on directly to the Quays. Inside one of the finest shops in the best part of the lane of the finest women’s clothes she waited to try on something new.
The owner, an older woman who wisely presented herself plainly to her customers, helped her in her choosing. In her plainness the woman of the shop supported the faith of her customers in their own beauty. Alone, when evening had come, when the doors and shutters were firmly closed, the candles lit, she had the choice of all she showed to others during the day. All the wonderful colours, fabrics, dyes, scents, powders, jewels, sandals, shoes were hers to choose. it was the and only then, she would reveal to herself and her many mirrors the truth of her own loveliness.
With her customers she gave pride of place to them, by false praise she lined her pockets, all the while attracting no attention, or jealousy, to herself.
That day the woman in love, in exhilarating, disapproved, scandalous love, glowed with the inner beauty of all women in the first flushes of the blinding light of love. Truly, she needed no further enhancements, no more adornments. Yet she could not resist the allure of the fine materials the woman of the shop laid out for her.
It was the older woman who picked out clothes she could try. These were such that her customer must needs disrobe. Stepping behind some curtains she removed her street clothes and reached her hand through to receive the chosen garments.
To her utmost horror, as she did so, the flimsy rail supporting the curtains seemed to collapse of it’s own accord. There she was exposed, her beauty momentarily naked, unadorned.
Stranger still, even more horrifying, she caught a glimpse of a silent knot of people, women and men alike, standing around the door and the little windows. Somehow items previously displayed on the window ledge had vanished, making the interior even more visible.
She turned her back in confusion as the woman of the shop covered her in apologies and curtains.
The image of silent figures with burning hostile eyes almost glowing in the darkness of the lane was seared in her memory. When she could turn again they were gone, as mysteriously vanished as they had arrived.
Some say it was that very day the lovers first made their desperate plans. Who can say? Certainly they cannot. It is known for certain that they were seen later beyond the lanes and narrow streets leading from the Great Market. Far out on the Breakwater they were seen walking together. Almost at the end they seemed to spend a long time looking out across the waves, beyond the fishing boats, far beyond the great swirling masses of white birds drifting up and down the coast.
Then, for a time, they were not seen or heard of again. It cannot be said they were not spoken of during that time. For sure it was not anything like the storm of stories, songs, tales and so on that flowed later. It could not have been, not then.
Even during that quiet time they were still spoken of but it was along with all the other affairs with which people were concerned. The price of food, the movements of ships, the unpredictable nature of weather, the luck and otherwise of gamblers, births, deaths illnesses, these all occupied peoples thoughts and words. In that time the two lovers were just one among many other concerns, for that little while.
Then they were gone. One morning they were gone, no-one knew when but crowds streamed towards the quays where the cut ropes that had fastened tight one of the boats were held up as further proof f their treachery.
It wasn’t long before other boats were made ready, there was no shortage of people to take part in the pursuit. Swiftly the best were chosen, the boats launched, the chase begun. There was no doubt now as to the outcome and what the terrible future would bring to them upon their return.
Surely, all thought, they had no chance…
(At this point the manuscript finally ends. Other than some faint drawings we know no more.)