When We Last Met
EDYTHE ANSTEY HANEN
He sits on the wrought iron bench in the evening light. A blue shirt under a white linen jacket. Leather sandals, a panama hat, and dark sunglasses. He is surrounded by mariachis playing the old ranchera song “Cielito Lindo”: Sing, don’t cry because singing, pretty little sky, makes hearts grow happy. The last of the Mexican sun grazes the rose-coloured spires of the parish church. A flock of white-faced Ibis fills the sky, the birds winging their way west toward the lake, as they do every evening.
He must be at least eighty now but I know it’s him. King Henry II in the body of Peter O’Toole. He sits exactly the way he sat on his throne fifty years ago in the movie Becket. Long legs splayed, angled to accommodate the small space between the bench and the mariachis, head tilted, resting on one arm. A small, amused smile.
I can hardly contain the rush of words that fills me. I want to slide into the space between him and the much younger woman he is with and say those words: How cold it was when we last met on the shores of France. And I want him to remove his sunglasses, smile in perfect remembrance, and quote back to me: Funny, it’s nearly always been cold, except at the beginning when we were friends.
I want to tell him about that summer night fifty years ago. And the ways in which it changed my life forever.
Marjorie and I were connected at the heart from the first time we met. Just girls then, soft-eyed and dreamy, still in our teens. It was a time of unrest—1965—the early days of protest songs and love-ins. Bob Dylan was the new god. My own small act of defiance was in a hidden beaded bracelet and patchouli oil under my wrist. But the rebellion that was stirring inside my heart was just beginning.
Marjorie and I were student nurses, working through our geriatrics rotation at Shaughnessy Hospital, a physical rehabilitation facility for war veterans. Frank was twenty-one, not much older than us, an air force cadet at Camp Borden. He’d been paralyzed in a car accident on the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway in Quebec then transferred to B.C. to be near family.