The way we were
As a couple struggle to celebrate their 10th anniversary, shadows of the past come dancing into the present
Some would call it a cold and unforgiving evening, but not me. I marvel at the bleakness as I sit by the paint-chipped white window, looking out into endless laps of sea. The pale blue water changes colour each time the clouds fidget with the evening sun, or the lighthouse on the cliff torches the surging tide. Even the fairy lights, strung to lampposts across the beach, shimmy to the breeze that’s just started. In the next hour, my app predicts heavy rain, thunder and hail.
I turn towards the bar now as Trevor continues to wait his turn. Was he always this patient, allowing every stranger to cut the queue? I wonder, thrumming my fingers on the table, the gold band knocking the wood as a reminder of the decade gone past.
On cue, loud, full-throated laughter interrupts my thoughts. A young woman sits at the table ahead of me holding one hand up like a stop sign, while the other grips her stomach. Tears stain the rouge on her cheeks as she laughs, as the young man seated across her, his back turned to me, continues to speak. There’s a naivety on their faces that I can’t help but capture with a dose of nostalgia. When had we last laughed that way?
“OK, now you tell me a joke.” The young man prods, a hand reaching for the inking, some Greek lettering, on the nape of his neck.
“I… can’t…” she says, barely able to string a sentence together.
“You claim to be a writer.”
‘I… can’t… just… tell… you a joke,” she says, still laughing.
He turns serious, “How will you write a joke if you can’t tell it?” “I write obituaries!” “I bet people are less likely to skip past them if you make them smile,” he says, without missing a beat. She nods and I catch myself copying the motion. “Will you dance with me?” the young man asks. “Here?” she replies, scanning the sedate, seated crowd gathered in the pub.
“Why not?” he asks, oblivious to her discomfort. “Because no one is dancing.”
He holds his hand out now and waits as she hesitates. Moments later, they’re dancing in abandon, young and carefree, silhouettes snatched against the windows, daring the gloom outside to dampen their spirit.
Immediately, I feel my eyes moisten and I turn away, slurping on the remnants of ice that once buoyed in my vodka martini. I should have had a refill on the table by now, but Trevor has his eye on the 24in screen and not the bar, providing easy access to every queue-scammer. We really should have gone to the hotel bar, but Trevor insisted we come here. “For old times’ sake and new beginnings,” he had said, in lieu of our 10th anniversary tomorrow. I didn’t want to celebrate it, but he had insisted.
I hang my jacket on the chair now, to stake my claim on the table and head to the loo.
There, I find the same young woman by the sink. Only this time, her face is ashen, her lipstick smudged and her shoulders shake, ever so slightly, as she struggles to choke back her sobs. I want to tell her that surely he hadn’t meant what he said, that it’s going to be alright, but I can’t move. Also, I don’t need to. She unclips her hair, snaps her clutch open and dabs Ruby Woo onto her lips. She walks away before I can say a word, an air of confidence in the click of her heels. I look into the mirror and at the fine lines creeping around my eyes. It’s time.
Outside, Trevor is sharing football trivia with the bartender. Next to him, my drink lies ready. He looks surprised when I grab it, assuring him there’s no need to rush back. I need every extra second now to settle my racing heart. The young woman is sitting alone at the table now, scanning the room distractedly. Her gaze rests on a plaid shirt at the bar and as she smiles invitingly, the man makes his way to her. There’s no sign of the young man from before. This man listens, as she talks nonstop, even laughs. Only this time, her laugh is forced. As they hurry through drink after drink, I want to warn her she’ll regret this. Obviously, I can’t. Soon, she’s on her feet, unsteady, and the man lends her an arm as they head to the exit.
Just then, two martinis are placed in front of me and Trevor sits down, grinning. “The only way to beat that queue is by getting more drinks all at once,” he says. I nod, still undecided how to begin. “This guy, Tom,” he continues, “suggested we check out the local shipwreck museum where you can barter for items retrieved from the sea.” He has no idea. “How cool is that?” “Will you dance with me?” I ask, taking him by surprise.
Her face is ashen, lipstick smudged, and she chokes back sobs
He stares at me for a minute, “Because no one is dancing…”
“That’s no excuse…” I say, my voice finally steady, ready for whatever happens next.
“Unless…” he says, and pauses, as I raise a brow. “You tell me a joke.”
This time, I stand and hold out my hand, and without any hesitation he follows my lead. I gently rest my head on his shoulder, just next to the Greek inking of my initials on his neck.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” I say, as a bit of my Ruby Woo smudges on his collar. Outside, a burst of thunder, the storm finally arrived. I feel his body tense, his hands drop from my waist and I realise that this may be the last time I’ll ever breathe in his woody musk. Blinking back tears, I clear my throat. This is my mistake to own up to, after all these years. But his hands wrap around my body, taking me by surprise. I try to step away, knowing this will only make it harder, but he pulls me closer. “There’s something I need to tell you,” I whisper.
“I know… I always knew,” he says.
I catch my breath, as snatches of conversation flash back. Trevor bringing up that silly fight at the pub over and over, me crying in the loo and promising to show him my worth, drinking far too much, that night, and then trying to erase that night for the next 10 years. Old times’ sake, new beginnings – it’s all starting to make sense.
“I’m sorry…” I mumble, unsure of what’s coming next.
“I knew that too,” he says and tightens his hold around me. There will be questions asked, justifiably, and some tough answers given, but, for now, as the silhouettes begin to dance, the gloom appears to be lifted outside and a spray of sunshine burning into the night.