Where are you now?

Imagination can be a terrible affliction. When you were gone, I lost my way for a bit. I used to look for you in every imaginable place. I would look in a crowd, always searching faces, often seeing your way of walking, your little swaying motion when you wandered ahead of me on our little shopping trips. I’ve been in trouble more than once for tapping a young lady on the shoulder only to have to apologise because it was not you.

My imagination runs ahead of my brain. I run these little scenarios, just fantasies, you understand. Once a dream brushed reality. My heart quickened from a canter to a gallop when I thought I saw you standing before me, holding out your arms to clutch me…my throat forcing your name through my lips. Heart thumping, stiffened and silent, I realised I was dreaming, and my eyes soaked my pillow. My body ached in the silence of my empty room, as desire left me.

My eyes flitted from face to face as I searched the crowds in the city streets. I searched the beaches, studying the half-naked girls lying in the sand. I used to ask them if they knew you, and begin to tell them of your beauty. But they soon told me, “Leave me alone, nut-job! I don’t know your freaking girl, OK?” I would apologise and wander on, always searching.

Touching my lips with my fingertips I would dream that it was your breathless kiss I was savouring. I once sat in a café and I talked to an empty chair, and felt your presence close to me, whispering, “Do not despair.” Then I realized someone sat across the table from me.

“I said not to despair,” a woman said. Her back was to a late setting sun and her features were not seen clearly. “You looked so sad I had to come and talk to you. Who was she?”

“My wife,” I answered.

“And what was your wife’s name?” she asked.

“Myra. Who are you?” I asked, not really caring what it was.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m Kitty. I hope I haven’t intruded. I tend to crash in without really thinking about what I’m doing. But, your grieving…it can’t continue, you know.  Endless grief consumes a person.”

I lifted my eyes to her face and moved my chair so that I could see her clearly.

“I’m Mark. Would you like a coffee?” I asked.

“I would like that,” she said.

The waitress brought my order to the table.

“You seem to know about grief, Kitty. What’s your story?”

And she talked to me at that table, told me the oldest story in the world of love found and love lost as her man found another woman.

“I lost my wife to cancer,” I said, realising that today was the first time I had spoken its foul name.

We talked like old friends for a long time before she said she had to go. I watched her walk away. She wore jeans with the knees torn in the current fashion, a shirt I assumed was red as I could see only the collar above the shapeless coat that hung from her shoulders to her knees. She wore sandals and later, as I lay in my bed, I recalled the pink toenails with the lightning strike symbol lying diagonally, picked out in green.

That night I slept right through until my alarm clock began its infernal racket. After breakfast I wandered along the beach, speaking to no one but not as aimlessly as before. I sat on the dry sand watching the waves roll in. I was feeling at peace with the world. It puzzled me because I didn’t know why.

Just then a little dog of indeterminate breed, pushed his nose into my lower back. His nose was cold, and I jumped up. He barked, just once!

Kitty strolled up to me. “Hello,” she said. “I didn’t know you came here.”

“I live just a few streets back from the beach,” I said. “I come here as often as I can.”

“Mind if I join you?” she asked.

“No, not at all!” I said. The dog was sniffing my ankles and I ruffled the back of his neck. Immediately, he rolled over to show me his tummy and I did what was required, and tickled it.

Kitty had removed her sarong and sat on it and partly on my towel. She wore a tiny bikini and I averted my eyes from her lovely figure.

“I love it here in the warm sun, don’t you? I guess you do,” she answered her own question.

I’m 180 cm tall in my socks and, since my job requires it, I have an athletic body. My skin is deeply tanned and my muscles show the results of heavy lifting.

“What do you do for a living, Mark?” Kitty asked.

“I’m with the armed services,” I said.

“A soldier?” she asked.

“I used to be a soldier, but I was seconded to a special branch of the armed services. I’m sorry I cannot tell you more than that,” I said. “What about yourself? How do you make a living?”

“I’m a solicitor on vacation,” she said. “I’ve got another two weeks and then it’s back to the law courts.”

“I thought solicitors filled out bits of paper and barristers did all the spruiking,” I said rather rudely I thought after I’d spoken. I immediately apologised.

“People often forget that barristers come from the ranks of solicitors. I’m at a stage in my career where I apprentice myself to a barrister and learn how one day I’ll be able to lord it over some other solicitor who wants to pass the exam for the bar.”

Kitty stretched out on her back and placed the wide-brimmed hat to shade her face. We talked for at least an hour before deciding to have a quick dip in the surf. The waves were breaking beautifully and we were able to ride several of them into the beach. As we left the surf my eyes were drawn to her nipples outlined against the thin fabric of her costume. She wrapped herself in her sarong and asked if I would like a coffee.

“Sure,” I said.

“My flat’s nearby,” she said. “Come and have a coffee at my place.”

Kitty’s flat turned out to be a three bedroom apartment that was lavishly, but simply furnished. She rose in my estimation when she showed me around and I could see that she, not an indoor decorator, was the person responsible for this “oasis of excellence” as I called it.

“I’ll put the kettle on, Mark, and you make the coffee. I’m going to have a quick shower and get rid of some sand.”

While she was away I looked around the kitchen. I was surprised that she did not have one of the more updated coffee machines. However, when the kettle boiled, I found a tin of instant coffee and poured the hot water into two mugs.

Kitty came into the kitchen dressed in a simple summer dress.

“I hope you like instant coffee,” she said, “I have never got used to these lattes and all the other stuff. I keep it pretty simple.”

“Most times when I’m out on a job we’re lucky to get any drinkable coffee at all. I’m very happy with instant.”

Kitty cut up a lamington and put the pieces on two plates. Of course, the damn coconut went straight to my wind pipe and I had a huge coughing fit. I stopped coughing to find Kitty with her hand on my shoulder apologizing for the blessed lamington.

As I wiped the tears from my eyes we both saw the funny side and broke into laughter.

Hours later, the sun had lost much of its force, we returned to the beach. I spread two of her towels and then went into the surf. It seemed natural to be holding her hand as the breakers carried us into the sand.

Our towels were where we left them and as we sat, side by side, I asked her about her dog.

She looked puzzled. “I don’t have a dog,” she said.

“The one whose tummy I tickled this morning.”

“Oh, I thought that was your dog,” she said. “How curious!”

She lay on her stomach on the towel and undid the straps on her bikini. “Would you put some sunscreen on my shoulders, please?” she said.

It was the first time I had really touched her, and as I spread the screen on her shoulders I was amazed that I was getting an erection for the first time in the many months since Myra was well enough to make love.

“Spread it a little further, please Mark,” Kitty said, interrupting my thoughts. “You’ve been smearing that sunscreen in the one place for quite a while.”

“Oh, sorry!” I apologized.

I was careful when I lay on my stomach beside her. I closed my eyes.

Next minute Kitty sat up as I dozed and began coating my back as I had done with hers.

“That feels nice,” I said, as she continued to rub the liquid into my skin.

“Roll over,” she said, “and I’ll put some on your chest.”

By this time I was feeling more comfortable. I rolled over and looked at my companion. She had removed her top and watched me as I surveyed her naked breasts. “Lovely!” was all I said. Then closed my eyes and dozed.

Dozing was the last thing I wanted to do but it was the only way I could think of to control the hormones raging through my body. Having finished protecting my skin, she proceeded to cover her own, and then lay beside me. Hours later, I asked if she liked to dance and so, we began the night at one of the clubs in the local area. She truly did like to dance, and was soon teaching me moves that I had never tried before.

I took her home and, as she kissed me at her door, I said I would like to see her next day. We agreed to meet at our usual spot on the beach. I did not turn up.

It was three weeks later that I kept our appointment. I had my arm in a sling when I sat on the sand beside her. She had removed her top and was lying, soaking up the sun.

“I’m surprised you have the temerity to turn up,” she said. Her speech was curt, and she was obviously angry. “I thought we had something going,” she snapped.

“I was called away,” I answered.

“And you couldn’t tell me you were going?”

“No, I couldn’t,” I said quietly. “It was my job.”

She sat up, and began to cover her body with her sarong. The bikini top lay, neglected, on the sand. She was about to make some remark, when she noticed my sling.

“What have you done to your arm?” she asked, the first sign that there might be something less trivial than she had thought. “You’ve broken something?”

“We were called out the night we went to the Club. There was trouble in the Gulf and we had to fly in. A terrorist took a pot-shot at me, and the bullet hit my arm. We managed to get the man we wanted, but my mates were shot up worse than I was. We were receiving heavy fire but got everybody on board a helicopter, and flew away to safety. I can’t tell you any more than that.”

Tears streaming down her face, she kissed me.

“I’m such a selfish pig. I should have known there’d be a very good reason.”

“Have they given you more leave?” she asked.

“Yes, I have six weeks before I need to show my face.”

“Let’s go to my flat,” she said.

The moment she closed the door she was kissing me. She undid the buttons on my shirt and ran her hands through the hair on my chest. She took off all her clothes and mine and we made love (carefully) for the first time. As I lay sated and relaxed beside her, the last shackles binding me to a past love receded into the distance.  I thought I glimpsed a smile on Myra’s face as it appeared and then disappeared into history.