Printed from WriteWords -

Recherching les Temps Perdu

by  BryanW

Posted: Friday, November 13, 2015
Word Count: 997
Summary: For Bazz's Week 577 Challenge

The man stares at the street sign of the road he last walked along half a century ago. He clenches his fists, stands in thought for a while, then he pulls up his coat collar and starts to walk down the road.

It is one in the morning. 

Was it a mistake to come back for this ‘Baby-Boomers Golden Get-Together’ at the university he left all of those years ago? The celebrations, if that’s what they were, are over. The one person he’d hoped to see wasn’t there, and so, at eleven, he had returned to his hotel. But then he found himself walking the empty streets of the town to search out the place his mind has kept returning to these fifty years. And now he’s nearly there.

The street lights on either side of the road create small islands of sickly yellow between the shadowy, leafless trees. The fronts of the houses look on, flat, lifeless. Like a stage set, he thinks. Unreal.

He walks slowly, as if he needs to concentrate on each step. The only sound breaking the silence of the night is the tap tap tap tap of footsteps. His own. 

“I love you, I really do,” she had said. But he hadn't replied. Why hadn't he just told her that he loved her too? 

The man shakes his head. It wasn’t the sort of thing he did. Not the sort of thing he does. 

She had continued, “And it won’t be long - only a few months. I’ll write. I’ll write every day!” 

He remembers these trees. Some had been in blossom. No, they couldn’t have. It was late June for goodness’ sake! He tries to picture that moment. There were people around them, other students. No? Just the two of them then. Were they holding hands? He can't quite …  What he does remember, what he keeps returning to in this recurring reverie, is that he didn’t look at her. He couldn’t. He would not look at her. But, oh, how he still remembers that face! Now that he'll never forget - the cascades of long red hair that surrounded it, the sprinkle of freckles over the bridge of her nose that made her seem so vulnerable, and those pale green eyes (or where they grey?) that seemed to reach into him. Was his painful reluctance to look at her because he actually knew, even then, that he was going to move on? He can remember the silence that followed her words. And always, in his mind, he remembers his averted face. He just would not look at her. What must she have thought of him at that crossroads in their lives? Did she suspect that he wasn’t yet ready to commit, that at times he had felt crushed by her? At times he had sensed she wanted too much of him. She was a woman after all. And he? Well he was only really still just a boy. And he wasn’t yet ready.

Ah. Here. This must be it then. This one. This is the house where she lodged, where he left her on that day in June fifty years ago. No? This one then? Oh for God’s sake, what does it matter? She’s not here!

And yes, she did write. She wrote every day, just as she had said she would - at first. She told him about her lycée in France - where she was working as an assistante - her language degree course had demanded it. She had decided to go over early, well before the Autumn term started, to get to know the town in which she was to live and work for the year. She told him in her letters about her loneliness, about how much she was missing him, about France, the food, the long meals with the family she was staying with, the rubbish French pop music, and about her teaching. And he did reply. He remembers doing so. But his letters were much shorter than hers and far, far less frequent. He had so little to tell her. He was never any good at small talk and feelings were as difficult to write as to talk about. 

Her daily letters became weekly ones. And then they stopped.

His mouth hangs open. He is looking, but not looking, back to where he’s just walked. He is thinking of what has passed since. Of his marriage a couple of years later. Of his two children. Of his humdrum career. Of how life takes you on a journey without signposts to give you direction and provides no chances to start again. So now he is back here at the place that his mind has taken him to every day and every night in those intervening years. “Why didn't I … If only we’d …” he says aloud, but it is too painful for him say more, let alone follow the thoughts through.  

There is a murmur of movement on the pavement near him. A cat. And she is staring at him, confused, perhaps, by this human who has wandered onto her territory in the time of the day that belongs to her. Yet she comes and rubs herself against his trouser leg. The man can't help but smile at this act of solidarity and trust. He crouches and brings his hand down to stroke the creature. With a hiss and a swipe of her paw the cat flashes off into the darkness. 

He reaches the end of her street -  the junction at the bottom. He lifts a hand to his mouth and bites at the knuckle. After a while he tugs the hand away, rubbing it with his other hand as if to warm it up or to remove some unsightly mark. He walks on, alone, taking exactly the same route as fifty years before. His stomach clenches as the cord that has been gripping it for all this time draws even tighter.