The days were getting shorter. The village seemed abandoned, even near the village square where all the benches would always be occupied by the younger generation. There were five benches around the square. Each nicely accompanied by antique street lights. The grass behind the benches always looked bright green, but now snow had made its way to cover it. When we were younger we would always meet here, the second bench on the right. As I was staring to the bench, I was interrupted by a voice.
“Hello Linda, how are you?”
“Very well Michael, thank you. Just very cold, but you too I can see. You seem to be wearing an interesting scarf today?”
“Thought I would brave the cold with something more cheerful. Can’t remember really where I got it from.”
“It looks like someone has knitted it for you. That person must like you, putting all this effort in making it. Nicely done, I must say.”
Michael looked at his scarf and looked confused.
“Thank you. When I find out how it got in my wardrobe, I will ask them to make you one as well.”
“That is really nice Michael, but no need to do that. I don’t think I have room in my wardrobe anyway. Is there anything in specific I can help you with today?”
“I need that shampoo you gave me last week.”
“Have you used all of it already?” I said very surprisingly. Realising my voice might have raised its volume too much, I started whispering, thinking that could repair the damage. “I hope you don’t mind me saying but it’s not exactly like you have that much hair anymore.”
He looked up, touched his head and smiled uncomfortably. He stroke my shoulder in a tender way to show he didn’t take any offence in what I had said.
Trying to make the atmosphere between us less serious, he replied “I think my cat has been secretly using it as well. That would explain why I keep hearing the shower at night.” We both smiled and he carried on. ”Here is the list of the other shopping I need. Would you be able to help me? I keep forgetting where everything is located in this shop. It looks like you guys change it every day.”
I helped him and after gathering all of his shopping, I said goodbye to Michael. “Poor him…” I told myself. I realised he would probably be back the day after tomorrow as he would always do. I smiled at this thought and carried on with my duties.
Since I divorced my husband twelve years ago, I didn’t really have much of a life. I attended the weekly bridge meetings on Tuesdays and had a bottle of Chardonnay every Friday. The rest of my days I would work and read. Reading helped me think about other people’s lives. One week I could live in romantic Paris and the other singing on a bridge in San Francisco. That is what books do to me, they make me relive my exciting past, but at the same time realise my boring future.
I have a son Patrick who moved to China with his girlfriend five years ago. They met at university studying engineering and both found a job in the same company after. I miss him, but we do what people call Skype every two weeks. I miss his hugs, which is one of the deficiencies of Skype. That’s exactly why I don’t like technology. They make you believe they have invented life, but when you look at it, it’s missing numerous important aspects of relationships. Well, that is my personal opinion. Maybe I just lack patience. It will probably be possible in 500 years time, but then again, I won’t be around anymore.
Two days after our last encounter, Michael visited the shop again. I was working at the till when I saw him approaching.
“Could I have two packages of those cigarettes, please?” A woman interrupted my gaze.
“Sure, this brand or those?” She pointed at the ones she needed.
“You know, last time I paid too much. I don’t think it was you, but the blonde one over there.” The woman continued.
“I am very sorry for that madam. Next time you notice these kind of things, please come back immediately so we can rectify everything. I am afraid I can’t do anything about that now.” I think she noticed my tone sounded fairly cynical.
The woman sighed, took her bags and left the shop with an even louder sigh.
“She looks like a happy person.” Michael said.
I was still looking at the woman (secretly hoping she would slip on the snow leaving the store), when he addressed me.
“She always complains Michael. Last week it was because we were playing a song that she didn’t like. Some people are just not easy to please. ”
“Would you like to come for dinner at my place tomorrow?” he suddenly asked.
I didn’t know how to respond to it so I pretended my knee was itching, while hoping to stretch time. “Do you think that is a good idea? They don’t like us going out with customers.”
“Aren’t you old enough to make your own decisions by now?”
The next day I dressed myself up for dinner. I hadn’t been on a date in twelve years, so looking for a dress took me all the way to the back of my closet, reaching the dusty parts of it. I saw the dress that I had worn for Patrick’s graduation and gave it a try, while hoping it would still fit. That worked surprisingly well. It was a simple dress, but because the bright red colour, it looked amazing.
Knocking on the door, I was feeling a kind of nervousness I had never felt before.
“Michael? Are you there?”
Knocking harder and harder, I started getting worried as he didn’t respond to my call. I had a look through the window whilst hoping I would see him alive and well, when I saw him on his sofa. From what I could tell he was sleeping. I started tapping the window when he moved.
Opening the door he looked up and said “Sorry, Linda, what are you doing here?”
Not really knowing how to reply to that, I couldn’t say anything else than “You invited me for dinner…”
The expression on his face turned from being confused to very angry, followed by him slamming the door. There I was, stood outside in my nice bright red dress.
Not knowing how to deal with this situation, I left. Feeling sad I could not help but think how he must feel. Passing the village square, I had a seat on the second bench to the right.
I opened my wallet and I looked at a picture I always carry with me. I recalled my first kiss on this bench. I was fourteen and had just got braces. I looked horrible and thought no one would ever lay their lips on mine, but then he did. I suddenly heard footsteps and turned around. There he was. Had he been following me? He must feel bad about what just had happened. If he still remembered. I know he couldn’t help it. I knew him better than he knew himself.
“Michael, what are you doing here?”
The guilty look on his face was obvious. Although I am sure he forgot by now what he was supposed to be feeling guilty about. “I am sorry. I must have forgotten.”
“I know, that happens, don’t worry.”
To break the sudden silence, he commented me on my scarf:
“That is a nice scarf you have there. Did you knit it yourself?”
Trying to act normal, I replied “Yes Michael I did. When I was younger I used to knit constantly. I made some beautiful scarfs for my husband and son back in those days.”
Shaking from the cold, Michael suddenly saw my hands moving. He noticed the picture and attempted to grab it. Wanting to protect him I tried stopping him, but not being the youngest person anymore, he was able to take it from me.
“Why am I on this picture with you?” he asked astonishingly.
While both of us stared at the picture, I recollected the holiday in Italy very well. I was expecting Patrick and we were enjoying our last trip as a couple. We had rented a little villa by the coast. In the mornings we took nice strolls on the beach and in the evenings he would cook the most luscious meals. Between that, we would sleep and play board games. Seeing as it was just the two of us, we decided to ask one of the locals to take a picture of us. He probably wasn’t the best person to ask, having had a very ancient look, but seemed a good choice at the moment. (Well, the only one to be honest.) He attempted to take one, but then dropped the camera. Surprisingly enough, we were still in the photograph. It was the only picture we had from that holiday, but ever since I kept it with me.
I hesitated briefly, but then decided to tell him the truth “Michael, you were once my beautiful husband.”
An awkward silence fell upon us as he kept gazing at the picture.
“But… That can’t be true, I don’t remember this.” he unexpectedly broke the silence after a while.
The nurse had told me to be honest to him when he would ask questions, but that I had experienced over the past years, was the hardest part.
“We were… Something happened to you a few years ago.”
Even though I had made an attempt to explain this to him already in the past, I couldn’t find the best way to clarify the situation. I pretended my knee was itching to win some time when he looked up and asked me:
“Are you working tomorrow? I need some of that shampoo you gave me last week.”
Realising he had forgotten already what we were discussing, a part of me was relieved.
I went home and drank my bottle of Chardonnay as I would always do on a Friday.