Monday, May 18, 2009

SHORT STORY - THE CHOICE

The part about the teenage romance is based on fact; I actually dreamt, very vividly, that the rest happened!

On the day of their reunion they strolled around old Bristol hand in hand, laughing like young lovers, a woman approaching her sixtieth birthday and a man two years her senior. It had been she who had suggested they meet in town. She hadn’t wanted to go out to Soundwell, for that was where she had parted from him last. It had happened over forty years ago but she still didn’t trust her emotions. She remembered, as if it were yesterday, crying as the sound of his footsteps faded the night before her family moved to London.

He hadn’t written. She was breaking her heart and growing thin and he did not write. Her father was furious and she fought him, making excuses for Paul and saving for the coach fare to Bristol, so that she could find out what was wrong. [We didn’t have mobile phones and texting in those days. Many people didn’t even have a phone in their house and Paul’s family were among these.] Finally, fearing that she might actually run off, her father relented and took her to Bristol to see Paul. Oh, he’d thought his silence would end it, end it for her sake, he’d said. [The intensity of her own letters and the depth of her pining had frightened him.] And then he broke down and cried, right in front of her. Don’t let anyone tell you, reader, that young love is not “real”, that it cannot hurt, for it hurts like nothing can again.

After that there were many weekend trips to Bristol and for one glorious, summer week Paul came to stay with Mel and her family. Together they’d explored the sights of London and in Selfridge’s he even bought her a ring. Her father wasn’t pleased and she could not understand why. Hadn’t he married young himself? Didn’t he want her to be happy? Of course he did! He just wanted her to be sure, to go to university like her friends, to give her young life a chance. It wasn’t until years later that he told her he’d seen Paul in Bristol one night when he’d stood her up. He’d seen him with a girl, an older girl who would “go all the way” as we called it then. That was why he didn’t trust him.

Two years after Mel’s first trip back to Bristol, Paul called and finished it. Distance, it seemed, was too much for him. Her father got his way and off she went to university, where she studied French and Italian and read de Beauvoir when she wasn’t dating other young men and plenty of them. She didn’t think of Paul again until the summer she broke her leg, when she was in her mid-thirties. It’s amazing how enforced inactivity can make us recall the past. She just wondered about him and that was perfectly natural, she told herself.

She didn’t marry but she was not without male company when she wanted it, so several disastrous men entered her life and left it. Meanwhile she had a career and the years went by. Slowly those years became decades, then one day she saw a 55-year-old woman in the mirror and wondered who she was. That was the day she decided to move to Italy, a country which had won her heart three years after the “Paul débâcle”.

How, then, did she happen to be with him in Bristol on that October day? By chance she had seen a name which she’d thought might be his son’s on a social networking site. She’d left a message, not quite knowing whether she wanted a reply or not, and the next day she had found Paul. Widowed, now, he had asked, through his son, if they could meet when she next came over and, as it happened, she was scheduled to attend a translators’ conference near Bristol within weeks. So there, incredibly, they were.

When he met her train, she had had no difficulty at all in recognising him. She looked into his sixty-two-year-old eyes and saw a boy of eighteen. She desperately hoped that he’d see a young girl when he looked at her, but the “sensible woman” inside her chose that moment to whisper a warning that time is, in general, kinder to men than to women. He’d smiled as he touched her cheek and uttered her name softly , just as he used to all those years ago. He gave her his arm as they left Temple Meads [she’d told him an illness had left her a little unsteady on her feet] and as soon as they sat down for coffee in a Harbourside café, the years fell away and they chatted easily. So much to tell and so much to explain: could you really narrate a whole life story in a day? This, she reminded herself, was the man most likely to have been the father of any children she might have had, if her father’s work had not taken them to London, if Paul himself had waited for her, if………

They met every day that week or perhaps it would be truer to say that they met every night. And of course it felt good to be with a man again and especially so to be with this man. Part of her felt that it was where she should always have been. At the end of the week he broached the subject of their staying together, as she had realised he would:

“We could make it work, Mel. We're not kids any more. I’d look after you. I know you like it out there but you could come home. With me. Let’s have what we didn’t have then.”

She was tempted. What woman in her position would not have been tempted? He’d always been protective and he’d look after her. She was sure of that. For she had to admit that she needed to be looked after these days. “Have what they didn’t have then”, though? They could have many things, it was true: a life together, for however long they had left; times they had shared when young could be shared again as memories; love, too, for that had never completely gone away. But they could not turn the clock back. Their lives had taken very different paths and she was probably more different from the girl she had been than he was from his eighteen-year-old self. She could not now imagine herself as a woman who had not read de Beauvoir and questioned her life because of it. She, who had chosen a new life in another country, would have to leave Italy for him; he would not come to her, any more than he would have in that so distant past. And one day she would look at him and resent him for it. He didn’t deserve that.

On the train back to London she wept, behind her sunglasses, almost as much as she had wept when she was sixteen. Only this time, she knew she would survive. She had chosen Italy and, like Françoise in L’Invitée, “elle avait choisi soi-même” – “she had chosen herself.”


Image of Avon Gorge and Suspension Bridge, Bristol, UK - Wikimedia Commons.

The sea at Marina di Modica, Sicily.

13 comments:

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

What a beautiful story...it made me cry :-( .... I don't think it is about Mel though !!!

I love the last few words "She had chosen herself"...very touching, and very true, not a lot of women do that!

jams o donnell said...

That is an excellent story Welshcakes. She made the right decision in the end to choose herself

PinkAcorn said...

Smart lady...I should have read de Beauvoir...

If only....

mutleythedog said...

I am wondering what they ate, I only pop by for recipe tips ;-)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Anne. Sorry it made you cry! You're right - it's probably not about Mel! Thank you, jams. I'm glad you think she was right. Hi, pink. I don't know what to say to that! Hi, Mutley. I think they were too busy crying to eat much!

jmb said...

Very poignant story Welshcakes, and beautifully written.

We all have our young love stories and no matter which path we have followed we always wonder what if we met that person again, what would it be like, would we still have the same feelings for them. In fact it is a story that has no ending, except in our dreams.

Winchester whisperer said...

You see - Simi is the way forward. Paul was too late. carpe diem.

Lucia said...

The story was heartbreakingly beautiful...I feel for Mel...how sad it is to leave someone behind although you know that you have to live for you and not for them.
There is someone I would like to see in Sicily again! One day, I hope he sees me as he saw me then and I won't care if he makes fun of my Sicilian Dialect!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, jmb. You are right. Thank goodness for dreams! Absolutely, WW. Hi, Lucia. Thank you. I hope you find him again.

Trubes said...

Hi Welshcakes:
What a touching story...I too, like Anne, felt the story was about somebody we all know !!
Mel made the right decision though, by letting her head rule her heart and not the other way around.
I made the mistake of marrying a man who had me betrayed and that all ended in tears!

Di.x

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Trubes. Thank you. I'm glad that you, too, think she made the right decision.

Abbey said...

Beautiful Welshcakes, Mel sounds a woman of emotion and strength :)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Abbey.

Counters


View My Stats