It’s my wedding anniversary today. September is full of anniversaries: I first got chatting online to my hubbie at the beginning of the month, we met for the first time on 12th and, two years later, got married on 16th.
We each joke that we bought our spouse online for a bargain £16.99 (neither of us actually remembers how much) because we met through an online dating site. I joined because I was trying to shake off a persistent ex. Hubbie? Well, I think he was just playing around.
Apparently I stood out because I was polite. When there were several online conversations going on at once even my 80wpm typing speed would struggle, and I dismissed his first attempt at hello with an apology and a ‘maybe later’. Well, thankfully he came back.
Our first date was memorable, too. It was the day after my friend’s wedding and we met in a pub I used to work in as I drove back from the venue. Hubbie dropped his keys down a drain and I had to drive him home for a spare, thus breaking all the online dating first date rules!
The year we got married was a momentous year for all sorts of reasons. We went to five or six weddings that year – it seemed to be the year for all our friends to get married. Ours was one of the last, so there was lots of pinching ideas and lots of stressing that we hadn’t done this or that.
It was also the year my father died suddenly, my hubbie was out of work, I graduated from my MA course, we moved house, and we went on our honeymoon to NZ on Boxing Day (where I spent three weeks not realising I was suffering from depression, just thinking I was going mad and didn’t want to be married.)
We survived it all and, on balance (with one exception) it was a good year. This week seems the right time to be sharing my poems about Dad. I may also share the short story I wrote about my online dating experience, although I’d like to publish a collection of short stories at some point, and that would be the main one, so maybe I’ll hang on to it, just in case.
Postcards from an English Summer – JulyThe white marquee lies moored amidst a fleet of tiny tents parading gifts and crafts. I penetrate inside the hallowed gloom, where village pride is wrapped up in the wares. Fresh runner beans lie prone in pristine rows, positioned with precise and loving care. Resplendent dahlia blooms in vivid hues await the judge’s eye with stately poise. A dozen different fragrances lay siege, each vying with the earthy scent of veg and sweet delicious smell of cakes and jam, as anxious faces seek out their rosettes. The clink of teacups almost masks the sound of children running races, egg and spoon. Their giggles, yells of joy and cries of woe discordant here within the quiet hall. Immersed amid the happy families, nostalgia wraps me in its snug cocoon. I search the crowd but know that you’re not here, my sense of loss is like a distant song.
_______________________________________________________________________________Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: ________________________________________________________________________________
Claire lay back in the pool and watched the sun disappearing through the trees. Giant sails blocked out most of the sky, although she could just see glimpses of pink from the setting sun in the gaps around the edges. The heat seeped into her tired muscles and forced her to relax.
Bethan swam languidly up to where she lay, and propped her chin on her crossed arms so she could watch the people walking past.
“So, was this worth it then? Lovely, isn’t it? I can’t remember the last time I had a bath.”
“I wondered what the smell was.” Claire smiled to show she was joking: after the conversation in Warehouse, she felt more fearful of offending her friend.
“Ha ha,” Bethan responded, flipping over to face the same direction as Claire.
“Sorry. Yes, it’s lovely. Far less eggy than the last hot pool I lay in. Less mucky, too.”
“Let me guess, Hot Water Beach?”
“Yes. Seems a long time ago now. I don’t suppose it was, really.” Claire swished her legs through the water, deliberating whether she had the energy for a swim.
“Travelling does strange things to time.” Bethan sounded thoughtful, and Claire wondered if she was thinking of her own journey. Aside from the information that she’d spent two years in America, Bethan had shared little about her personal life.
She was about to ask how long Bethan planned to stay in New Zealand, when she sensed the girl stiffen. Looking over, she saw her gaze fixed on something across the pool. Her face drained of colour and Claire wondered if she was going to faint.
“Are you okay?”
Bethan didn’t seem to hear her. Unsure what to do, Claire hovered near her shoulder, ready to offer support if required. After a moment or two, Bethan’s face lost its rigidity and she took a deep breath. She turned towards Claire and seemed surprised to see her so close.
“Sorry, were you saying something?”
“Nothing important. Are you alright? You look like you saw a ghost.”
Bethan laughed and her voice shook. “I thought I had.”
Claire raised her eyebrows in query, and Bethan shook her head.
Although her mind clamoured with curious questions, Claire closed her lips tight and tried to respect her friend’s need for silence.
After a while, Bethan spoke quietly. “I saw someone who looked like my husband: shocked me for a moment”
Claire’s eyes widened. She’d taken Bethan for someone in their very early twenties, not a married woman. She glanced at her friend’s hand, but already knew she didn’t wear a ring. She’d never mentioned a husband waiting for her at home. Again she wanted to ask questions, but something stopped her.
Her reticence was unnecessary, as Bethan answered her unspoken queries anyway.
“No, I don’t wear a ring. We’re not married anymore. Yes I was a young bride. Your stereotypical Thai bride, I suppose. I married a man to get to America. In the beginning, anyway. But I loved him, oh so very much.”
Claire’s mind churned. She pictured Bethan with some old man, like couples she’d seen sometimes in town, and the thought made her uncomfortable. Bethan seemed to sense her emotions: Claire guessed she’d heard all the comments and criticism before and had her defence memorised.
“Yes, he was older, old enough to be my dad. But he had a young spirit. He was sexy, too. We had fun.” Her voice broke.
“What happened?” Claire didn’t want to ask but was finally unable to keep quiet.
“He had cancer. I didn’t know straight away. He never mentioned it in his letters and phone calls. I think he wanted to see if I would come for him, not because I thought I’d inherit his money when he died.”
“Did he? Die?” Claire wished the words unsaid, shocked at her lack of tact, but Bethan merely nodded.
“After only one year. And then the family came, although they never visited before, not once. Wouldn’t even come to the wedding. Like vultures they were. They contested the will; said ours was a sham marriage. I didn’t want to fight it. He’d saved some money no one knew about, so I left them to their law suit and their petty jealousy and I did what he asked me to do. I started travelling, seeing the places he never saw. Doing things like kayaking with seals and hiking on glaciers.”
Claire drifted in the hot water and thought about everything Bethan had said. To have experienced so much, at such a young age. Moving across the world to marry a near-stranger. Losing a beloved husband to illness, then being left to fight the relatives. No wonder Bethan seemed older than her years at times. She ached with empathy for her friend.
“You must miss him.”
They floated together in silence, listening to giggling groups and murmuring couples, splashing water and the call of birds in the trees. The sky grew dark around them, until it was time to leave.
“Thank you.” Bethan’s voice croaked with lack of use.
“What for?” Claire turned, surprised.
“For not judging me. For letting me grieve in silence.”
“Who am I to judge? What do I know of what true love is? I can’t imagine moving a hundred miles for anyone I’ve met so far, never mind half way round the world, away from my country and my family. How do you ever know it’s worth it?”
“When you finally meet him, the question won’t even occur to you.”
Her words should have sounded smug, but they didn’t. Instead they gave Claire hope.
Hooking her arm through Bethan’s, the girls headed out to get dry.