I was in love for the first time. It felt liberating. I chased seagulls down beaches with wildly flapping arms and repeatedly sang his name out to sea. His smiling eyes encouraged me to behave like a loony.
He loved me too and told me so a thousand times after we met. A chance meeting at a mutual friend’s house warming do.
‘You don't have to keep saying it. I know, I know......in here’. I covered my heart with my hands. Our bodies lay bound together across mattresses, sand or grass. Sometimes naked, often part clad. Always ravenous for each other. When heavy breathing subsided we were lost in the oneness of intimacy. Incredible while at the same time utterly believable. Laughter at the heap we had made with our abandoned passion.
We were free. Free to express ourselves, free to learn from one another, free just to be. Uncontrollable urges to run naked into foamy waves lapping up to our chests. Errant seabirds swooping low over our love nest with us shivering inside it. Teeth chattering and us hysterical. He lit me up when he laughed at my antics. Held me tight while I took extra long drags on his cigarette to keep warm. A year of unadulterated pleasure. We were kids let out to play, no hiding behind facades. Innocently passing the time.
‘Leave her. You belong to me’. Spontaneous words spoken in excitement. I would feel no shame or guilt if he did. I would never smother him as she had. We held hands tighter, made love more often, spoke less after they separated.
‘Now you're free to marry me’. I reminded him after another year passed. He smiled nervously and chain smoked. I blinked tears away pretending not to notice.
‘I'm only joking’, I reassured him. He sighed deeply. ‘I love you’, I cried out to sea, nestled in the dunes.
‘Me too’, minimal words, spoken more to himself than me. Not the gushing stream I'd stemmed the flow of. Flies zipped, knickers pulled on. Too chilly for reckless lovemaking. Rushed now. Childlike innocence stifled. Rushed now. No space or time for soul mates. Over in a flash like I'm some free and easy floosie.
Kisses snatched, then home to the flat. My rented rooms above the book shop. Kettle on. Standing about waiting for it to boil. Tea on the agenda with no race to the bedroom as before.
‘Move in with me’. He gulped, agreed and soon swallowed up half the space. The bookshop suffered downstairs. Closed for days on end while we clung together limply on the settee.
‘Don't cry. She'll come round’. I cradled his head stifling self reproach. ‘She'll let you see them eventually. Anyway, you've still got me’. Silence. Lighthearted banter pretending not to notice his inconsolable face.
Long walks down to the harbour. First him, then me. Thinking time. Hugs like long lost friends on our return.
‘I'm sure it must be normal, in cases like this’. Appointment made to see my doctor. Viagra prescribed and a mild sleeping pill. Not sure how that works.
Saturdays, then whole weekends with the children. He's a lot happier. Some hasty sex in bed with the light off. I dust the flat and sort the shop out. Move sections about for the sake of it.
‘Can I meet them? They'll love my kids corner. Plenty of Dr.Seuss, Roald Dahl, Harry Potter’. Not yet, his body language informs me.
New territory this. Feels strange. He's giving me more freedom daily and I feel lost. Lost within shelves of geography, cookery, history. Not much comfort there anymore. Is that what we are now? History? I still cling to the history we have together.
‘Bring them for lunch. I'll stay out of the way’. He nods. So much relief on his face. Overhead they bang about. Like wild banchees shrieking and squealing. Huge belly laughs from him. He sounds like he's on all fours. A good dad getting stuck in. I wish I could see it for myself. On their way out, they spot me serving a customer. I smile at them. They stare back at me, wide eyed. Tomato soup moustaches. Pretty little blonde girls.
‘Better this way, just in.......’ Just in case he goes back to her. I know it's coming.
Now we both toss and turn. I smell his roll ups at all hours. My stomach burns and knots and I sit for hours on end with a blanket round my shoulders. He's like a dog needing to be let out.
Love means never having to say you're sorry. Love means having to say you're sorry every day. Token expressions I've heard bandied about for years. Well, we've nothing to apologise for. We've had our moment. Grabbed it willingly. An explosion of sublime happiness.
‘You're free to go, you know’ Reassurance written all over his face. A face I used to love and could hold in my hands from morn till night. I am going to miss that face. I help him pack his belongings and give him a final hug on the landing.
I open wide every window when he's gone. The wind blows in and carries him away. Tobacco, manly sweat, aftermath of spicy food he's loved to cook. It's as if he never existed. Space back. All mine. I roll my sleeves up and clean the appartment. I forget to wear rubber gloves so my hands come out red raw and steaming. The smell of fresh laundry and bleach have returned. I shower and open the shop.
Just two customers all afternoon. I nod off to the sound of light rain on the shop window and my romantic fiction slides to the floor. I haven't cried for ages. I feel too tired to cry. The clock ticks behind the counter. A sense of hope rises within me. Down hearted but free to choose my way again. The clock ticks on. Suddenly, I have all the time in the world.
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