It's right what people say: one day we'll be remembering this and we'll have a laugh.
It had all been said!
By me, by her, by the other one. Only I didn't twig. I was, so to say, so uncool.
Grandchildren and great-grandchildren are making a bedlam out of the appartment, my children are shouting even louder to make them be quiet – oxymoron – and inside I hurt at the recent news of Cooper's passing away. "We're getting old" he'd said, only sixty-two years ago. He'd said a lot of funny things, that's true, but I was the punster of the department, could easily match him. Yet, significant words slipped me by.
I remember them all.
I enter Luce's shop. She's not in sight. I call her name. I get no answer. I call again. She comes out from the back-room. Says she'd been stock-taking.
Then she asks me: "What do you want, Heck?"
I didn't twig. Not the normal way to address a customer, even less so a friend of the family. Family, for argument's sake, we never got involved in the baby industry – although Tessa always subsidized us, ha-ha, a good one! And, foolish me, I answered "to buy some flowers". No, dammit, instead of beating around the bush and not-so-slyly trying to extract answers to my questions, ludicrously embarrassing myself all the while, I should have answered right away "I want me and Rachel to be happy". We'd been living very happily up to that moment, we'd deviated a little and I wanted it to be back to normal, back to "happy"-mode again.
But I didn't give that answer immediately. I mumbled. I mumbled my indecision, my desperation. My doom. Served me well.
And the next one, what was it? "What does she like?". What she likes? Are you pulling my leg? You'd decorated the whole church and the pavilion with lilies, white mostly, you'd brought us a bunch of lilies at that dinner and I'd told you, foolish me, that Rachel would flip. Ha-ha, she did flip, sides I mean, ha-ha, I'd slap my knee if I knew it wouldn't hurt like hell, damned rheumatisms, I'd slap myself for being such a berk, I'd slap you… No, I wouldn't, I believe I've never been a violent man. My only act of disobedience was giving up my plum job. Years later Rachel had told me how brave she thought I was to follow my heart. No, I wasn't brave, brave people fight. Yet, I wouldn't fight with her. Or with you. So, where does that leave us?
And, to top it all, I asked, naively, but in true concern, "How did you find Rachel?". I was asking the wrong person. It was the other way around. Rachel found Luce, as sure as Philip found Nathaniel and with as much diligence as Stanley's when looking for Livingstone. But even so, what kind of an answer did I expect? "I found Rachel, oh, so sweet!"? Perhaps, "I found Rachel by pure chance, one minute she wasn't there and suddenly she turns up at the door of my shop"? Or even "How did I find her? Well, I haven't had the chance to taste her… yet!"? Funster me!
And as I was leaving, Luce had said as an afterthought "you should ask her". "Bless you" was my response, but, bless my soul, ha-ha, how was I to know that all those bits of dialogue were pieces of a puzzle that had to be put in the correct sequence? Consequently, I didn't catch on! A judgement upon me for having accused Rachel of being uncool for having not guessed that Luce was gay.
Ha-ha, now I remember another one: "You see? A woman after my own heart!" Well, she wasn't exactly after your heart, quite the converse, I'd say. I must own up, I'd supplied the needed – or wasn't it? – argument: a soulmate-for-life-type. And I'd asked her if she'd fancy escorting my wife to the football match… Ha-ha, "if she'd fancy my wife!"… Wait, a better one: "if she'd fancy courting my wife", ha-ha-ha, I'm gonna die laughing… Sooner or later, I'm gonna die… laughing, ha-ha-ha… Later I found out, from a third party, that the particular evening that she went out with Luce was where it all took a certain turn. That evening at the guys'-night-out I was happily singing country songs, like "Stand By Your Man" and "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man". I'd like to dedicate these songs, posthumously, the first one to Rachel, the second one to Luce, exchanging the last word of the title for the other sex. Ha-ha-ha…
Ha-ha… Yeah, right…
Luce had said: "Nothing! My phone just rang and…"
Your phone just rang and you called back, understandable, caller-ID-display is a common feature… Caller-ID, huh? And, prithee, who was the caller?
I'd slap my face, but for said rheumatisms. The phone-call, indeed. I was so busy trying to excuse myself for having to do that asshole's, Rob's, bidding, that I didn't immediately realise that Luce's call was, well, unsolicited. But heaven-sent, too. I worked long hours, had to sacrifice lots of my free time, all this was taking its toll on Rachel and suddenly an amiable character steps into the picture and my wife can have some good company. And I was… in good company, ha-ha, thinking that entrusting my wife to the chaperonage of a professed lesbian would be safe. He-he, that's exactly what I'd wished her on hanging up, "Be safe". And what about me? And who was the initial caller, again?
In the Top Five certainly belongs "Are you stalking us?". Hell, no, far from that. But it was Rachel that sought Luce out, it was she that'd made that pivotal phone-call, now I see, and it was her that took every pain to not let Luce leave her life. That'd make Rach the stalker. Then again, in reality no-one was stalking no-one. But Fate. Wow, I'll write it in my diary. I would, on the double, but for said rheumatisms…
No, no, the best one yet was my response to Luce's disclosure that she was gay. Ha-ha, I remember saying "Mmm. Lovely. Well done!". "Well done? No, thank you, I take it rare. Ha-ha, am I not something, trying to make a joke on my way to the gallows?". No, shallow humour wasn't going to save the day. Bitter humour, that was Ned's way. He kept joking till the last moment, him and his fucking candles. My world was crumbling down, I finally realised what exactly was going on and he'd go on joking about the candles! Was he doing it on purpose? He'd never really liked me and that was mutual, nor did Tessa like me, I believe, and I think only Henrietta really did. Because I was funny, I wonder?
And what about you, my once-but-not-future wife, my soulmate-for-a-finite-number-of-years? It's true, I didn't fight hell to hold you, I moved aside, my supreme act of self-respect, yes, that was brave, I think. And you? You'd admitted you'd gone crazy, but that it'd been over, that you wouldn't leave me, that I was your best friend. You even covered me with the blanket. Yeah, "you got me covered!", as Americans say in irony. And I kept a stiff upper lip, well, two stiff lips, and I was ready to put up with it, to the last moment and then I saw your face reflecting the sudden devastation that went inside you as soon as 'H' told you about Luce's departure. I finally twigged!
Water under the bridge, now. Seriously, I shouldn't be hooked on the past, I'll have to mind my future now, besides, I'm only ninety-two!
But the past is hooked on me, how about this? Would I wish I'd suffer from Alzheimer's? No. Memory is only selective when you have the luxury of choices. But now I don't have such a thing. And it's not absolutely right what people say, about remembering the past and having a laugh. They just mean, here, now, at the end of the line, we can be excused or self-purged for cooking up our own interpretations, our own renderings of what had happened.
The past is past, is long past. Now, I have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I've lived a full life and now I can rest. But why am I so restless? Because of Coop's death reminding me of my own mortality? Or is there something more?
Is there something that's managed to escape me through those long years? Things better forgotten, wounds better left untended? Something totally wrong?
What if there is?
In due time it'll come to me. Or it may not. And time is all I have now… or have not!
Maria enters the by-room and looks at me as if surprised at me playing truant on my birthday.
"Darling, come. The cake's ready set and the candles are dripping wax all over it" she says.
Here we go again!
I stand laboriously up, reach for my cane. I smile at her and take her offered hand.
"You're such a nice guy" she tells me.
"But so uncool!" I think.
I enter the living-room. There must be at least thirty-five people in there. And a lot of shadows. Rachel's eleven years dead, Luce more than fifteen. But I'm not. That's why I still feel this little sting inside, every now and then, mostly when I am before a birthday cake!
Ha-ha, that, too, was a good one!
Ha-ha… Yeah, right…