Yesterday I received the dreaded letter from the organisers of the short story competition I entered a few months ago. They thanked me for entering, advised me I hadn't won anything and encouraged me to develop my writing. It was just your standard rejection letter.
I promised I would post the story here once I knew the results, so here it is:
“I don’t think there were violins,” she said “but there were definitely sparks. The sexual chemistry was quite strong between us, do you remember?” Her head tilted to one side as the recollection of that initial shock between them took hold.
She continued to fold his clothes. His suit had been dry cleaned the previous day. She took it out of the plastic wrapping and examined it for any oddities. Sometimes the cleaners left marks but today it was perfect. She removed the little bits of paper they had left pinned to the waistband and the collar.
“It was all in the eyes. I think I drowned in your eyes that day. They were so deep and so brown.” She paused to look in his eyes again then turned her attention back to his clothes. She had just ironed his shirt and proceeded to fold it in exactly the way he liked it. He was so fussy about his shirts. She hated folding his tops that way, sleeves to the back, the sides brought in and then the whole garment halved. It was the way his ex girlfriend had folded his clothes so many years ago and the process always brought back bad memories. She turned to the wardrobe and took a clean, white singlet off the top of the pile on his shelf and rested it on his shirt.
“You know, I still get shaky when I think of the day we met. It was in that tavern, what was the name? The one on the corner of the highway, it looked almost Spanish in design. We had just started going there every Sunday session. Never mind, the name will come to me. I had gone there with Bill. You were with what’s her name, the blonde one? I never got to know her really; probably because you and I ended up leaving together. That caused a fuss, didn’t it? Anyway, I was sitting on the table and I had on my favourite skirt. It was summer and very warm. I think I had a singlet top on. I usually did wear a singlet top with that skirt. The table was made of long wooden planks with unsanded ends and when I kicked my leg back against the edge it scraped against my calf. You saw me jump and came over. Do you remember?” she didn’t look up and her hand stroked the lapel of the jacket she was about to lie out.
His silence was becoming familiar and it didn’t seem to distract her or stop her telling the tale, although she paused to turn to the wardrobe where she found his favourite black belt and a matching tie.
“I knew we would end up in bed as soon as our hands touched.” A longer pause followed. She held her hands out in front of her. For a moment she saw them as they had once been smooth, brown and unwrinkled. She wondered at them now, loose skin, wrinkles and prominent veins. The transition had gone unnoticed for so long that she couldn’t remember when they had changed. But they were the same hands that had felt his electric touch that day, so many years ago. A shiver went down her spine as she thought of it. She let her hands fall slowly down her body, caressing the hips, once so slim her hip bones had jutted out. She had been so proud of those bones. Now they were nowhere to be seen or felt.
She thought about the skirt she had worn that day. It was her favourite skirt, made of soft free flowing blue cotton cut on the bias so the full skirt moved around her calves as she walked. It was floral, tight waisted and fitted from the waist to her hips, with a cream lace inset that ran unevenly about a foot above the hem, giving glimpses of her honey brown legs. She sighed. The days of tanning her body were long gone, as were the days when she had been proud of it. Old age was not fun.
“You know” she said, sitting down on the chair next to the window “the kids would be horrified if they knew how much we enjoyed sex and how often we ‘did it’.” It became difficult for her to keep a straight face. Her smile widened until it cracked the lines around her eyes. She laughed out loud and covered her mouth with her hand, an action remaining from her teenage years. The kids might be adults now with children of their own but to her they would always remain kids.
“It seems pretty amazing the two of us would bring such prudes into the world. My God we weren’t prudish at all, were we?” Her head slipped a fraction to one side as her memories took her on a journey in time. “Once they stopped being babies we had to be so quiet. I think I was forever sticking my head in the pillow!” She chuckled. “I miss those days.”
For a moment she forgot her age and tried to curl one leg under her as she had done so many times in the past. But something cracked and something else refused to move and she had to get up instead and pace a bit to get the blood flowing again. Maybe she would take up yoga or Pilates? She missed the flexibility of her youth. She had practically never sat properly in a chair; perhaps only around her parents. Her sitting place of choice had always been the floor but she often had to make do with curling herself unconventionally on a chair or perching on a table.
“And dance,” she paused “do you remember how we danced? There was one time in the nightclub at that place along the coast. They were playing techno and they had one of those dance floors with the coloured squares. We had just stopped in for a few drinks and we ended up on the dance floor showing the locals how to move. God we could move in those days. I loved techno then. It was so wild.” She thought for a second about jumping up and down to illustrate her point but decided it was probably safer to reminisce about the moves she used to make rather than demonstrate them. “Of course it was disco when we first met.” Her favourite disco music from the time began to jumble in her head and she felt disorientated for a second. “I wore black ‘Grease’ pants.” The past appeared to be punctuated with fashion statements and music but that made sense to her. “We had records then, vinyl they call them now. I wonder where we put our old ones.” Again she looked at him without expecting an answer. She was not disappointed.
She stooped slowly, picked up his shoes and put them near the pile of clothes on the bed. Then she opened his sock drawer and stood for a moment deciding which pair he should wear. “You never did have any fashion sense did you?” she tossed the rhetorical question at him. “If it wasn’t for me you would have worn odd socks and strange shirts.” She smiled again thankful that today’s memories were all happy ones. “Remember that awful shirt you had on when we first met? It was bright red with white buttons. Lord only knows where you had bought it, some Op shop probably. It didn’t take me long to get rid of it.” She picked up a pair of black socks with white diamond shapes down the sides and threw them onto the pile of clothes. They landed, rolled and stayed. She grinned.
The hollow sound of footsteps coming down the hallway seized her attention. They stopped for a brief but lonely moment outside the bedroom door. She caught her breath, steadied herself by looking into his eyes and waited. There was a soft knock at the door.
“Mum? Are you alright?”
It was her eldest son. She could picture his lofty frame leaning in toward the door. It must be difficult for someone so tall to be so quiet. The other two would probably be downstairs with their wives and the grandchildren. She had vaguely heard ‘shushing’ sounds as the women had tried to silence their offspring.
“Mum, the men from the funeral place are here. They’ve come for the clothes.”
She touched his cheek for the last time through the cold glass of the photo frame. She placed the photo on the pile of his clothes. The last clothes he would ever wear. His eyes looked as if they were following her movements. She lifted the photo to her face and searched his eyes for something, perhaps one last spark. Then she kissed his lips, rubbed her lipstick off the glass and set the photo down again. She was ready.
“You can come in sweetheart.” She said and then realised her words hadn’t made a sound. She cleared her throat. “Come in.”