Friday, 20 July 2012

Here's a short story for you.



WATERLOO by Glyn Smith-Wild

        ‘A million years ago you loved me’  he had said.
‘A million years ago I loved you.’
There was a pause. And then, ‘The only difference is that I still do.’ 

This was not something I was expecting at the funeral of my best friend’s mother. Indeed he was not someone I was expecting to see there. I recognised him immediately as I walked, along with the other mourners, out from the dark confines of the church into a gloriously bright spring afternoon. I have got to admit that my heart missed a beat. We had not seen each other since the break up, or more precisely, break down of our marriage twelve years previously.
He seemed at that first glance not to have aged at all.
Immaculately dressed as he always was; still the tell-tale signs of an expensive hairdresser.
I had to plan how to handle this, as it was inevitable, wasn’t it, that he would have seen me, and would want to talk? I mingled as one has to, but all the time looking over my shoulder to see what he was up to, who he was talking to, who he was eyeing up. He was sure to catch up with me soon. I tried to pre-empt his opening line and my reply. I would play it cool, show little interest. I mean, twelve years is a long time. Much water under many bridges.
I am not saying that I enjoy funerals, but I do take pleasure in watching people, whatever the circumstances. I stood and wondered who all these people were. Relations, many of them; personal and family friends. I had been invited as a friend of her daughter, but why was he invited, and by whom? He was making his way over to where I was standing. I turned away in case he thought I was expecting him. I surveyed the many cars parked around the church, wondering which was his. The Jag? The Porsche?
When I looked round again, he was heading back to my friend and entered into what appeared to be a deep conversation with her. It would surely be my turn next.
The gathering started to disperse, some going home and others waiting for the journey to the cemetery following the hearse. I walked over to my friend, hoping that I could perhaps accompany her. As I approached, he walked away and climbed into a very ordinary Peugeot 307.
Reaching my friend I said ‘Who invited him?’
‘Who? Phil? I did. He knew my mother well. They used to get on like a house on fire. Didn’t you know that?’
‘Can’t say I did. Is he coming to the house afterwards?’
‘That’s what we were talking about. He is coming, but only briefly. He’s flying to the States this evening. Only just managed to make it here this afternoon. Why? Is that a problem for you?’
‘Good Lord, no. I just wondered.’

It was half an hour after arriving at the house that he came to me.
I had been sitting at a small table with three other people, but they got up to leave, and he sat himself opposite me and smiled. That was a relief in itself. After all it was me who had caused the break up. It was me who had taken up with his best friend. And here he was smiling at me.
‘How are you keeping?’ he asked
‘I’m good,’ was my meek reply. ‘And you?’
He asked what I was doing, where I was living, was I with anyone now.
I answered his questions with brevity.
I saw his beautifully manicured hands tentatively reaching across the table towards mine. I withdrew mine into my lap. That’s when the “million years” bit came in.
‘Yes, well,’ I stammered. ‘I hear you are of to America this evening.’
‘Yes, unfortunately. But I would like to see you again. Is that possible?’
‘It’s possible, but I don’t really see the point.’
‘Does there have to be a point? I just wondered...’
I looked into his eyes. He seemed genuinely disappointed. ‘O.K It’s possible,’ I said.
‘That’s great. I’m back next Wednesday. Can you get to London easily? Look I’ve got to go. Say yes. It might be fun. Lunch perhaps?’
‘O.K. Where and when?’
He was getting up to go. ‘Midday at Waterloo Station. Under the clock?’
My face must have been a picture. My mouth was probably agape, my eyes wide. What was going on here? What was I thinking of?  I was behaving like a teenager. I left him twelve years ago, basically because I didn’t really like him any more. And by his appearance and his arrogance at presuming that I would meet him, he apparently hadn’t changed that much.

My train was on time, and I settled myself under the clock at precisely 11.37 with a coffee in a polystyrene mug. Midday came and went with no sign of him.
At a quarter past twelve I was approached by a man that I thought I might have met before.
‘Phil sends his apologies, but he has been held up at a rather important meeting, and won’t be able to make it until later. He’s suggested that I take you for lunch, and he will join us later. Is that O.K?’
I said it would have to be alright. I was hungry.
We ate at the Park Plaza, watching the London Eye orbiting slowly in front of us.
Towards the end of the meal, his mobile phone rang.
‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to take this,’ and walked away from the table raising the phone to his ear.
‘How’s it going?’ Phil asked.
‘It’s not happening at all, Phil. She hasn’t turned up. I waited around for over half an hour, but there was no sign of her, so I gave up.’
‘That’s a real bummer. I was phoning to say that I was just leaving and would be with you in about twenty minutes.’
‘Sorry, Phil. I tried my best.’
He returned to the table and told me that Phil would not be able to join us after all.
‘Sorry it’s been a wasted journey,’ he said. ‘I see you have been watching the Eye. Have you been on it?’
I told him I hadn’t had that pleasure.
‘Then I will take you on it.’ he said. And he did. There was a queue, but he was such good company that it didn’t seem to matter. Sitting with him in the pod, picking out London’s many landmarks made me feel quite comfortable with him, and by the time I had to return home, we had exchanged phone number and email addresses
We have met many times since, but I have heard no more from Phil.
His words still sometimes come back to me.

‘A million years ago you loved me’
‘A million years ago I loved you.’
‘The only difference is that I still do.’

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