The Past Has a Name and Always Catches Up with Us

A little piece of flash fiction today, inspired by a prompt during one of the workshops at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol earlier this year.

His voice preceded him.

‘Ain’t this just the quaintest place? Is it Hogwarts or what? Look, it’s even got the date written on the frontispiece or whatever you call ‘em bits.’

‘Bet they don’t have air-conditioning in this old pile of stones, eh? … Mind the step, honey, can’t be having you spraining your pretty ankle, Mary Lou.’

Only then did he materialise in the doorway. He had lost some hair and put on weight, but it matched the Hawaiian shirt he was wearing. His clothes were trying just a little too hard, I thought. Birkenstocks and bermudas, a red bandana knotted carelessly around his sunburnt neck, as if it had just fallen from his head while playing a particularly tricky guitar solo. He still clicked his fingers when he expected everyone to burst out laughing at his jokes.

He was surrounded, as always, by a gaggle of ladies. This time they were elderly and American, to match his newfound accent. They followed his every move with the requisite giggles, gasps and applause. He was their tour guide, their leader, their go-to person. As he had once been for us.

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Nostalgia: The One That Got Away

Sacha Black has a ‘Writespiration‘ this week themed around a nostalgia that hurts in less than 200 words. I’ll give you first the flash fiction, then the back story.

When you are thirteen, your cousin’s best friend is the knight from fairy tales: tall, dark, handsome, blue-eyed. How could he walk, talk, breathe amongst us mere mortals? And yet he looked at you, kissed you,  so you wrote to each other for two years. You lived for your brief meetings. No cross word ever passed between you.

You parted as good friends, moved on to other lives, other people, marriage, children, divorce, remarriage. You studied and worked in different countries, met again on LinkedIn. Grey hair, little paunch, wrinkles – and that’s just the flattering pictures. Older yet not much wiser, you knew he had been The One, but you were both too young to understand or to need each other all those years ago. No going back, no proof of discontent with your present life, but you wanted to let him know how you felt about him back then.

You let him in through a gap in your armour. You held out the shivering pulp of raw heart. You try to be fair, not see disgust or hasty retreat where none was intended. But the silence was thunderous.

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He was my cousin’s neighbour and best friend. He was like something out of fairy-tales: tall, dark and handsome, with the most amazing blue eyes. I couldn’t believe someone as beautiful as that could walk and talk and do all the normal (i.e. silly) things that my cousin and I were doing.

Whenever I passed through the town where my aunt and uncle lived, we would go out in a large group of friends for walks, go rowing on the lake, get lost in the forest, linger through cemeteries. The usual teenager stuff. We laughed, we talked, and I dared not hope that he would ever think of me as more than Bobby’s little cousin.

And then one day our fingers brushed against each other. A silence fell between the two of us, as our hands found each other. The others continued to walk and joke, but we felt set apart. Our eyes were drinking each other in.

We never lived in the same town, so for a couple of years after that we lived on letters and phone calls. There was one public phone at the post office in the village where he went to boarding school and he was only allowed to use it once a week. I would try to plan my weekends around that call, never quite knowing at what time it would come.

But life went on and others entered our lives. We parted as good friends. We both married young, divorced, formed new relationships, had children. We found each other again online, with careers taking us all over the world, with a few extra kilos and greying hair.

The moment has passed. Our courage and idealism have withered, even if a small seed beneath remains unchanged. There is no use asking: ‘What if…?’ We were too young then to know that we had already found the perfect partner all those years ago.

So we beat on, boats against the current….

This was one of the very first stories I wrote for Cowbird on the 14th of February, 2012 for the Valentine’s Day collection. The theme was ‘First Love’. I felt the story would be incomplete if the above-mentioned first love did not get a chance to read it. We had recently got in touch again after decades of not hearing much about each other (he had found me on Linked In). We had parted on good terms, we had moved on, had rich and fulfilling lives, so there was nothing desperate or stalkerish about my email to him with the link to the story.

I just wanted him to know how much he had meant to me at the time. Because I was too young and foolish back then to express it.

It’s been four years since I sent that email. I have not heard from him at all since. Not on Linked In or email or anything else.

I know emails can get stuck in spam folders or deleted. People can get busy or forgetful. The heartbreak is minor, negligible, easy to laugh at wryly, easy to explain away. It was, after all, so long ago. Spring has come and new life is budding forth. I am full of energy and plans, I do not look back.

But beyond all the excuses and shrugs… there is a younger, more tremulous heart within this hardened crust which does now have scars. And the memory of that first love is no longer quite so serene.