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Thread: A Reminder

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    A Reminder

    (My first attempt at writing in around 15 years, criticism welcome, but please be constructive. I know it's not great, but I wrote it very quickly just to get over the initial apprehension.)

    I didnít cry when I first heard of Helenaís passing. I calmly thanked the doctor for calling, replaced the receiver and returned to the living room to finish my crossword over a cup of tepid, black coffee. Later that evening, after the news, I brushed my teeth and fell into bed, sleeping the whole night through as if nothing had changed. It was several days before I truly understood what it all meant. The full weight of the realisation finally struck me one Sunday afternoon as I was walking along Simonís Street, past the boarded up shops and long vacated homes. It was a route we had walked countless times together, utterly unchanged in so many years, a forgotten region in the bustling, chaotic city we had once called home.
    This time however something was different. I couldnít place it at first. I was only dimly aware of the sensation, lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, a vague sense of discomfort, of unfamiliarity. I was almost at Jacobís house before I realised what was wrong.
    The black, wrought iron lamp posts along the full length of Simonís Street had been replaced with the modern, plastic-looking grey ones now found throughout most of the city. They had been badly in need of maintenance for some time, paint cracked and peeling, rust filling the exposed sections. I really hadnít expected them to be completely replaced though. The new ones were immaculate, but I couldnít imagine anyone judging them to be preferable to the old ones refurbished. It was such a trivial detail and yet, for some reason, it stopped me in my tracks.
    I wasnít initially sure why I found it so distressing. It was something akin to a feeling of betrayal, a deep, powerful sorrow, arising from nowhere and utterly overpowering me. I leant against the rough brick wall of Hamiltonís Butcherís, long since out of business, and tried to compose myself. The feeling would not leave me though, instead it intensified, transforming from sadness to a kind of unfocused rage. After all these years, why was it now suddenly so imperative to begin assimilating this quiet corner into the homogeneous aesthetic of the greater borough? It was so arbitrary, so unthinking somehow. I hadnít consciously registered it until that moment, but the street was a part of my identity. It was the setting for so much of my shared history with Helena, a living monument to our past. It may seem childish, absurd even, but I felt as though something sacred had been desecrated in some way.
    The very inexplicable nature of my reaction only appeared to be an additional layer of insult. Not only had I been wronged in such a petty, capricious way, but I would be completely powerless to share my pain with anyone else for fear of ridicule. I could see myself vainly attempting to convince Jacob that this was in fact a personal attack. Some council official, some cruelly indifferent robot, had a signed some piece of paper at the request of some meddling busybody and the physical manifestation of my past had been casually doctored. I could see Jacobís puzzled face, trying to empathise, at a loss to comfort me. Eventually I would give in and he would smile sympathetically. He would realise that I was going through Ďa difficult timeí and needed Ďsupportí. He would put his hand on my shoulder, offer me drink and transition easily and comfortably into understanding friend mode. He would slip upstairs to call Sarah and she would leave work early to come over. They would both patiently listen to me attempt to speak through flowing tears, all the while secretly wondering how long it would take for my obviously broken mind to heal.
    So instead I turned away from his house and walked quickly back the way I had come, stifling sobs and drawing stares from the teenagers who had gathered outside Patelís Newsagent. No requests for cigarettes or cheap cider today, just whispers and furtive pointing. I made it inside my hallway and closed the door behind me before finally crumpling into a blubbering heap on the carpet. I howled and I wailed, rocking back and forth in foetal position. The pain seemed to be emanating from the centre of my chest, from the absolute core of my body, of my soul. The phone must have rung several times throughout the night. Probably Jacob, wondering why I had missed our weekly chess night, but I didnít move from where I lay to answer it.
    Over the following weeks, I didnít leave the house. I abandoned shaving and showering and only ate what could be consumed cold from the cupboards. Jacob, at least I assume it was Jacob, phoned almost constantly for a few days, followed by several more days of knocking at my door. I lay in bed, head buried in my pillow until he left. Eventually, Iím not sure after how long, he stopped coming round and I was truly alone. I wept often; I slept rarely and to no particular schedule. When I awoke it was invariably from dreams in which she and I were together, sometimes sharing our thoughts over supper, sometimes arguing fiercely the way we did so much towards the end, occasionally making love. Each time, on waking, my heart was broken anew and yet I still longed for sleep to bring her to me.
    The weeks turned into months and finally I realised how foolish I had been. Eventually, I built up the courage to tentatively knock on Jacobís door. Sarah answered. She seemed genuinely overjoyed to see me. I sat with her and Jacob for hours, drinking tea and laughing about times past. When Sarah left, Jacob retreated briefly to the kitchen and emerged with his battered chessboard along with a bottle of single malt scotch and two tumblers. We spoke a great deal of Helena over our many games that night. How much we both missed her, how we wished she could have been there to roll her eyes at our worn out jokes and overlooked checkmates. (She was always by far the best player of the three of us.) I started to apologise for my behaviour but, tears forming in his eyes, he raised his hand to show that there was no need. Of course he was as heartbroken as I was. How could I ever have thought otherwise? Long after midnight, I thanked Jacob for his understanding and hospitality and left for my home. It was a clear night, cool and breezy, but I felt warmed by good scotch and good company. I walked home under the neon glow of hideous street lights, smiling all the way.
    I will turn 79 this year, Helena would have been 71. She was only 19 at the time we were first introduced. We enjoyed 5 years of marriage and suffered through an additional 10. I no longer torture myself wishing I could have given her the child she had wanted. I realise now that that wasnít what drove us apart. I could have done so much more, but then she and Jacob would never have married and Sarah would never have existed. She has grown so like her mother, itís hard to look at her sometimes.
    For a time, I felt tormented by my dreams of Helena, but as they become less frequent, they are increasingly a source of great happiness to me, a place where I get to relive all those fleeting, joyful little moments in my life which I never truly appreciated at the time; A private joke, a shared triumph, and occasionally, when Iím very lucky, a first stolen kiss, outside Hamiltonís butcher shop on Simonís Street.

  2. #2
    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    I really enjoyed this although I feel the end was a little hurried and misplaced. Still I think you captured the depressive self absorbed state yearning for yesteryear wonderfully.
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

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    I really enjoyed it, very well written.

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    You are right, the ending was tacked on at the last minute, just to bring it to a close. I'll try to have a clear idea of where the story is going before starting the next one. Thank you so much for your feedback!

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    Thank you very much Cptnfut, I can't tell you what a boost to my confidence it is that you enjoyed it.

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