Sunday, 17 June 2012

Dawn (a short story)

Writing a blog for five years has brought many joys, not least, becoming part of a like-minded community which, albeit virtual, shares many of my views and with whom I can discuss pretty much everything.

Now that sense of fulfillment has been enhanced by the publication of my first ever work of fiction in a British newspaper. Dawn started life as a draft on this very blog a couple of years ago and it was your feedback, fellow bloggers and readers, that encouraged me to work on it more and submit it earlier this year to The Voice's "Your Tale" section. You can read the first draft here and the final copy appears below. Credit for the beautiful photo accompanying my story goes to Helena Smith, the author of the "Eat Hackney" blog and a great photographer. Let's hope this is not the last time Helena and I collaborate on a project together. Many thanks. Your feedback will be very welcomed.

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Is he asleep?” he asks.

Of course, she snaps. But should there be an 'of course'? After all, many a night she has been up until the small hours consoling her husband after a fit. It's not the convulsions she fears, she’s got used to those; it's the aftermath, his sense of disorientation. Her voice softens. "Yes, he is asleep, sorry".

"You don't have to say sorry. It's not easy. I understand."
"Do you?"
"Well, I try. I know it's difficult to put myself in your place."
"I wonder if anyone could put themselves in my place. I wonder if even I want to be in my place".

Silence. The unsayable is usually followed by quietness. This is not what she came here for, however. She saw the balcony light on, heard the soft, mellow notes of Miles Davis’s A Kind of Blue playing and knew he was out there. She found him with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other one.

Their eyes kiss. It's a lingering, embracing kiss, the type they know they’ll never be able to replicate with their lips.

"How bad is he?" He offers her a puff of his cigarette and pushes the glass of wine towards her. He sounds worried, but maybe he just wants to break the uncomfortable silence. There are good days and bad days, she replies, lately we've had a good run. But you can never be certain. He will die very soon. Of that we're all sure. The tumour is too advanced. Hence the holidays. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, oncologist, surgeon. A whole new vocabulary I never expected to learn. She pauses and looks outside the balcony. The surrounding Andalusian landscape reminds her of the time when she wanted to learn Arabic.

He looks at her. From where he is sitting, he can just make out her naked body underneath her camisole. The full moon outlines her fine features: her wrinkled face, her strong shoulders; the result of many a lap in her local swimming pool. He looks at her curly black hair, set against the paleness of her skin. White streaks already crowd her mane. He looks at her breasts, pointing slightly downwards, as if trying to tickle her rounded, protruding belly; the carrier of three beautiful children. His eyes keep travelling southwards to her legs. Her negligee is ankle-length, but still he is able to see her well-shaped, veiny legs and her strong thighs. Even the incipient cellulite sits well on her body.

He catches her catching him looking at her. He feels embarrassed but doesn't blush. His dark skin won't let him.

"It's OK. It doesn't hurt to look". She smiles. "Is your wife asleep, too?"

He nods. “She had a terrible headache last night”, he says. As usual, he thinks. His eyes focus on the whitewashed Spanish village near their cortijo, now bathed in a silver light in this early-morning darkness. He remembers the walk the four of them took two days ago around the town's tree-filled square and cobbled streets. Her husband was really looking forward to it. He was in high spirits, there had been a gap in his verbal glitches; maybe the treatment was working after all. He kept talking the whole time, emphasising each points with his hands.

He remembers the walk well. He also remembers his wife. They held hands at first like two adolescents in love, until they began to argue. It was over some petty issue. As it's the norm these days. And then the hands went their own separate ways, like their owners. Sometimes his current situation reminds him of a driver leaving the windshield wipers on when the rain ends. That screeching sound that diverts the driver’s attention from the traffic for a split second before the wipers are switched off. That's how his relationship feels at the moment. But he can't bring himself to halt the wipers.

"Things are not going very well for you either, are they?" her voice is calm.
"No, you could say that a tumour is also killing my relationship".
"I think you're wrong. I fell out of love with him before he was diagnosed. His condition has just made things... more difficult"
"You mean, to leave him?"
"Yes. Who would like to be thought of as the bitch who dumped her husband when the going got tough?"
"Then, there's no hope for me? For us?"

He's never gone this far before. He realises now that their conversation up to this moment has been mere background music for their feelings.

Their eyes are not kissing anymore; their lips are. Like in the movies. Her nightgown comes off, his trousers are removed. His face is stroked and his nipples pinched. Her body is journeyed upon. Like in the movies. Gasping noises and muffled laughter are heard. Thrusts, abandon and elation are felt. Like in the movies.

Except that...

That doesn't happen.

As Davis, Coltrane et al launch into All Blues, she takes a long puff of his cigarette and another swig of his wine. He is still leaning against the door frame on his chair. She is sitting down on the floor now. They’re both immobile, but their mouths do not remain motionless. There are many words pouring forth at great speed, trying to make sense of the lack of a plan B. He married for life, but his relationship is floundering He doesn’t blame his wife; he is just as guilty as she is. But it’s painful to bear witness to your own life heading for a car-crash scenario in slow motion. There are their two kids to consider for starters. And then, there’s you. He comes clear. It’s been building up slowly, but surely. She nods. He continues. It was your humour, our conversations, your maturity, your confidence. Nothing to do with my body, then, she replies. Oh no, I didn’t mean that, he laughs. I know, she responds, staring at him like a mother who’s just caught her teenage son hiding a top-shelf magazine under his bed. It’s her turn now. I loved and then un-loved, she says. He was… is… wonderful. He’s always supported my teaching career, despite, or on top of, rather, his own successful one. Always on hand to take care of the kids whenever I was marking or staying behind, regardless of whether he had a film to review or not. But there was no romance. I can’t remember who killed it first, but I was ready to leave when he was diagnosed. Would you have left him for me? He asks, anxiously. Would you have left your wife for me? She retorts.

His silence is seized by her to press on, unchallenged. I, too, fell for you many years ago. Same reasons you gave, plus your body, she smiles. I always saw you as more than a friend. Whenever you discussed your difficult upbringing, the black child adopted by two successful, white, middle-class academics, I listened. I sympathised with your search for an identity. I have utmost respect for your work as a travel writer, especially because there aren’t many authors in that field who look like you. Through our conversations I felt an intimacy developing between us.

She suddenly changes her tone: I’m at my wits' end. I recently wrote to the Guardian’s Family Supplement’s ‘A letter to…’ I addressed my correspondence “to my husband’s tumour”. Just leave him, alone, I begged, leave us alone, leave ME alone!

He is crying in silence. Strangled sobs that punctuate her narration. As dawn breaks, the bonus track, Flamenco Sketches, kicks in. The nascent sun spreads its orange carpet over the Alpujarras mountains. Their eyes may be bloodshot but they are still locked in a long, lingering kiss.

© 2012

Next Post: "Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music", to be published on Sunday 24th June at 10am (GMT)

6 comments:

  1. It so happens that, after a fitful night, I am up at dawn and reading your story. Dawn has promise, usually. Just how that promise plays out is not like the movies. Your characters are caught in a poignant moment in which they are not even sure what they would like that promise to be. In this, they are stand-ins for most of us, who commonly have to make decisions on impartial data and conflicted feelings. Congratulations on creating a story with such depth of both feeling and thought. Double congratulations for having gotten it published.

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  2. Thanks for the kind words Mario, and hope it's the start of a fiction-writing strand to your career!

    Helena

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  3. It's a beautiful piece and I'm not surprised it was published. You should submit much more work and even write a book you are such a good writer.

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  4. This resonated so strongly with me because I had a friend whose wife did leave him specifically because he had a brain tumour. He died a year or so ago. Your beautifully written story brought the issues back to life.

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  5. Congratulations on being published! I can see why. That's a beautiful image of eyes kissing but not more. The feeling of longing and unrequited love is intense. I do hope you keep writing more stories.

    If you want a suggestion, maybe work some descriptive prose into the dialogue so we know who is talking without changing fonts. It would flow better if the two, exposition and dialogue, were more integrated. But of course that is a choice of style.

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  6. Many thanks for your wonderful comments. They 're very welcomed.

    Greetings from London.

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