BY: Pam Swain
The old man sat on his rocking chair, deep in thought, clutching a faded photograph in his hands. Peering at it he found it difficult to see partly because he hadn’t put his glasses on and partly because his eyes were brimming with tears. He couldn’t believe it had been twenty five years since he had last seen her. They had kept in touch for a while but when she moved they had lost touch. He often wondered if she were still alive and if so where she was and if she was happy.
The photograph was of her the last time they had been together. She was smiling and he loved her smile, her ears moved when she smiled and that always cheered him up. He held her photo close to his chest, he missed her terribly. He closed his eyes and let his mind wander back to that last time that Easter week they had in Brighton. They had been so excited, almost like teenagers although they hadn’t seen each other for nine months since he had broken up their two and a half year romance. Talking to each other every night on their phones had brought them closer again. He longed to see her again so suggested the short break holiday.
She didn’t live in England like him and that made things difficult. When he picked her up at the airport it was just like before and he was aware of the old feelings flooding back. He remembered he had worn his new black leather jacket to impress her and she had smiled that smile when she saw him.
They had been middle aged when they first met, she from a broken marriage and he had never had a romance. At first he was frightened and only wanted to be friends, never having had a meaningful relationship before he lacked confidence. But the longer he knew her the more he felt for her and soon they were a couple. She was the nicest person he had ever known and he couldn’t understand why she loved him. She made him laugh till he cried and he was happy. For the first time in his life he knew love. They loved each other unconditionally and completed each other. They were the love of each other’s lives, their true loves. He hadn’t thought he would ever have this in his life. Instead of just enjoying it he worried he wouldn’t make a good enough partner and was terrified that he would lose his independence. She had assured him they could make things work but he still worried. Then there was the money, all the travelling and buying her things had taken its toll on his finances. He had a good job but he also had a brand new car which was expensive to keep. He loved his car because people looked at him admiringly when he was driving it and it was good for his self esteem…..but then so was she and he had lost her. Why had he let her go, why had his car and his money and all his material possessions seemed so important to him when she was his every breath? A day didn’t pass that wasn’t filled with reminders of her in one way or another.
In Brighton it was like finding love all over again and their feelings were much stronger and they were so comfortable together. They loved cuddles and hand holding although they were not back together as a couple. She was moving into semi retirement being in her fifties now and was selling her house the following year. She talked about moving to England to live near him but instead of encouraging her he was frightened and told her he was worried that things might not work out and then what would she do? What an idiot he had been! She was prepared to make compromises for him but he couldn’t accept that. He said he would look at his finances and see if he could save enough some how to make things work. She knew then that although she was the best thing to have ever happened to him he was going to let her go. His car, job and lifestyle meant more to him than she did and they would never see each other again. She was going to be starting a new life and she wanted him in it but he was a man who would never take a risk. He liked his safe comfort zone. He shook his head and sighed, why hadn’t he made compromises for her.
He got up wearily and went to his bedroom. He still loved his computer and he had got into a habit of turning it on every evening and looking at the photos as a slide show of all the places they had been and the things they had done together. There she was, he put his hand up to her face and said sorry for everything he had put her through. Tears rolled down his lonely face.
His retirement hadn’t been the enjoyable experience he had hoped. He lived with his parents and one of them had died and he had to care for the other one for years. The lonely years dragged on and on. He remembered her telling him this might happen but he hadn’t wanted to listen. Nothing seemed fun without her, he never laughed any more. Once he had tried to find her but she had changed her telephone numbers when she moved and he had no idea where she was.
He longed to hear her laugh, to touch her. He loved being with her and she had been his best friend too and he missed her so. He recalled how in Brighton she had said to him it wouldn’t be great if we had a second chance at life. Oh if only. He would do so much differently and this time he would fight for her. How come, he wondered, the things that had been so important to him then, the material things, were so insignificant to him now? It was only a few years till he had looked ridiculous driving a car like that, like a pathetic old man trying to recapture his youth. The admiring looks seemed to have changed to pity and so he had bought himself a smaller car. There were things he could have done to let them be together if he had just been more confident. His life was miserable and he longed for some human contact. His closest sister had long since died and the rest of the family never came round.
A picture flashed up of a castle which had been ‘their place.’ She had written him a poem about it and he put it up on the screen and now the tears wouldn’t stop. If he had believed in God he would have prayed for a second chance. To be able to hold her, to end his days with her, to show her how much he loved her and let her know that he hadn’t known their love would last all their lives.
He turned off the computer and got into his cold bed and looked at her picture on his bedside table and he told her ‘goodnight snookums’ as he cried himself to sleep. He had never cried over a woman before. He drifted off into an exhausted sleep.
He awoke next morning with his alarm going off. It was 5 a.m. He sat up and rubbed his eyes and as he looked around his room he realized it had all been an awful dream. The contents of the dream had been true but it was just a few days since they had returned from Brighton. He understood the dream was showing him his future if he didn’t fight for her. He had to change things. He had to let her know. He couldn’t lose her again. She was his life, his future, he couldn’t, and he wouldn’t screw this up. It was too important, she was too important. None of the other things mattered, just her. She was so precious to him. He lifted his mobile to call her, he had been given a second chance and he wasn’t going to blow it.