He weaved between the slow-moving traffic that snaked all the way back to the supermarket car park. Engines growled, fumes rose dramatically into the cooling air. Drivers’ faces conveyed varying degrees of impatience and despair. Brake lights flickered along the bends and straights of the road, like a strip of trickling blood half-caught by the moonlight.
Crossing the road, he wondered quite how on Earth he’d be able to recognise a woman he’d never previously met. Why hadn’t he thought to wear his glasses? His vision wasn’t too bad, but the evening was quickly darkening, and he was struggling to tell whether the blurry figures in front of him were walking towards or away from him.
“I’ll be by the bridge,” she’d told him. “White top. Jeans.”
“Give me 15 minutes. I’m in my jammies,” he’d replied.
There wasn’t far to go now. He could see the bridge up ahead. Its cobbles, stonework, its streetlights. And, wow, her. The woman waiting on the bridge was unmistakably her. White top. Jeans. He inhaled deeply and breathed out through his nose, and then smiled when he realised she’d seen him. He continued at the same pace, watching her figure take its form as he drew closer. First he saw her pearly white smile, and then everything else followed. It was a bedazzling display of natural beauty.
“Hello!” he said, and went for a handshake.
They were holding hands across the table when the waitress came over with the bill. After finishing off their beers, they paid up and left. They decided to go for a walk down by the river – the night was still young, after all. She linked arms with him and off they went. It was the first time they’d really walked together like this, and they found that they regularly had to re-adjust to each other’s speed. He kept forgetting that she, wearing heels, was struggling to keep up with his pace. But at least they didn’t have far to go.
At the riverside they found a bench to sit on, and he pulled a joint out of his wallet. She put her legs across his lap as he sparked up. They passed the joint back and forth, and spent the next half hour in deep conversation.
Then something caught her eye. Something right in front of them.
Startled, she pointed and said: “Just look at that.”
He followed her eyeline across the river, and then he saw it too.
“Wow,” he said.
An old medieval tower’s reflection glimmered majestically in the black water.
“That’s beautiful,” he said. He exhaled and passed the joint.
“Just think how long that building has been reflected in that water...” she said.
“A thousand years?” he said.
As she shook her head in disbelief, he looked at her and was spellbound by her vision and passion – characteristics that he defined himself by. It was the first time he’d seen them so alive in someone else.
Later, they spent a long time kissing goodbye at the taxi rank, and he thought of her all the way home.
“Come over here and join me on the sofa!” she said. She’d surprised him by trying to kiss him earlier, and he wasn’t sure what to expect next. But he walked over and sat down next to her anyway.
“You know how I feel about you,” she said. “Listen, do you not think this can work?”
She climbed on top of him and looked into his eyes.
“Do you think we should just be friends?” she said. Her tone suggested she didn’t think so.
He knew how he felt about her, but he couldn’t find the words. He shook his head and exhaled as he thought about what to say.
“No, I don’t,” he said eventually. “I want you.”
She smiled. “Really?” she said.
“I do! I want you.”
She sighed and threw her arms around him. He held her just as tightly. They stayed in a strong embrace for a while.
“Just me, in bed, yeah? No one else,” she said.
“Of course!” he said.
They looked towards the open bedroom door and then exchanged glances. He raised his eyebrows.
“Sweetie, I would but I just don’t have the time!” she said.
He looked at the clock and knew she was right. 20 minutes was nowhere near enough time.
“Who do you think you are, Marilyn bloody Monroe?” he said with a smile.
They both burst out laughing, in relief as much as anything. They were back together.
The dawn crept in through the curtains and cast a watery blue glow over her still face. It must have been about 5am and they were laid down, side by side, looking at each other. Just looking at each other. Deep, infatuated gazing. Outside, the raindrops raced each other down the windowpane. It was as if they were the only two people awake in the city. It was as if they were the only two people on Earth. He stared into her icy jewel eyes, and she stared back for a long time without even blinking, the corner of her mouth occasionally twitching with excitement.
They had made love several times in the night, and they had never felt this close. Like they were one person. A singular entity, on the same voyage. At that moment, they both knew they were involved in a deep union that was truer and purer than anything they had experienced before.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
She gasped when she saw him. Then, after taking a deep breath, she felt his forehead with the outside of her hand. He was cold. She touched other parts of him – the tip of his nose, his ears and neck. Everything was cold.
She placed her face onto his chest and began to cry. She sobbed for a long time, her tears absorbed into the thin white sheet that covered his body.
It took her a few moments to notice his right hand moving, ever so faintly. He was using his last ounces of energy to wriggle his fingers. He wanted to hold her hand. Without hesitating she grabbed his hand with both of hers. She passionately kissed his palm and held it to her cheek.
When she did this, his memory was jolted back into life. He remembered all the times he’d touched her cheek. He recalled the first night they spent together, when he’d stroked her soft skin and looked deeply into her eyes. He recalled their wedding day, when, after the ceremony, he’d run his fingers along her jawline and tenderly kissed her eyelids. He recalled wiping the perspiration from her face after she gave birth – and then thought of their children, and grandchildren, who’d all been to visit him earlier.
He held her gaze and mustered the best smile he could, and she smiled knowingly back.
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