The Long Goodbye
Ruth lay on her side in bed listening to the sound of a shower running. The physical pleasure of last night’s love-making with David had been replaced by an overwhelming sense of guilt. Dafid had left but Neil remained and now there was the Frenchman with his promise of undying love to contend with. Ruth’s emotions were running riot.
Ruth dismissed the thought of joining David in the shower and got out of bed pulling her dressing gown on then tying it fast. She stopped to look in the mirror, fiddling with her hair as she did, then went to the kitchen. She felt tired. She felt confused. Her split with Dafid had been inevitable. Their marriage had fallen apart long before but had still been painful. Not being in love with someone didn’t mean you no longer loved that person. She and Dafid had shared so much it was practically impossible not to feel something for him. She suspected she always would.
Neil’s sudden attention had followed too soon after her marriage break-up. She had always had a soft spot for Neil. His interest in her had never been made secret. Every time there had been band practise a tiny spark of something, some unseen quantity, some invisible signal had emanated from him. In truth she had liked his undisguised infatuation even though she never encouraged it. If others had seen through the smiles and looks of admiration they had said nothing. Of course Cybil had known for she was Ruth’s best friend and would never say anything to anyone, not even her beloved Cyril. Others may have guessed but said nothing, not even Mille Meade.
David was a dream. He belonged in her mind as a fleeting fantasy. He was the man she had met by chance whilst holidaying in France. Their time together was a memory, a delightful one but a memory all the same. The reality of the situation ran at odds with the dream. In the dream she, Ruth, would leave Fekenham and move to France. She and David would marry and settle there, in Paris or Antibes or one of David’s other homes. The dream was beautiful but it conflicted with her love of Fekenham. She realised that now. She could no more leave Fekenham than fly to the moon.
She busied herself in the kitchen putting coffee on and preparing toast. The clatter of cutlery gave her a feeling of normality. It was, after all the events of the last two years, the one thing she craved. The mundane may be mind-numbing at times but its very nature also gives comfort. She needed that security now. She needed that more than thoughts of running away to some distant idyll. Placing two mugs on to her kitchen table she watched as David strolled toward her with a towel wrapped around his waist. There was no denying how attractive he was but that was not enough. Not in the real world. Not in her world.
“Good morning,” he said with a twinkle in his eye and with the faintest trace of an accent His voice made her want to dissolve into a puddle on the floor. She resisted the urge to run to him, tear away the towel and kiss him all over. She told herself it was the dream talking. And although the time for dreams had far from passed, she didn’t want that dream she wanted another.
“I don’t have croissants,” she announced. She thought her voice sounded too curt. She hadn’t meant to sound that way.
“Toast and English marmalade is fine,” His response was too quick. It was as if he had sensed a change in Ruth and had prepared himself for it. He sat down at the kitchen table smiling at Ruth.
“Coffee?” Ruth asked raising an eyebrow.
Ruth poured his first then poured a mug for herself. She fidgeted in her chair. Her hand fiddled with the sleeve of her robe. If he saw her display of nerves he ignored it. They both sat in silence sipping coffee from their mugs. He smiled at her again as he picked up the jar of marmalade.
“Tawny Orange,” he declared. “I love the names of English Marmalade. Where is Tiptree?”
Even now he made her want to laugh, the way he pronounced Tip Tree.
“It’s in Essex.”
“Yes. Like Wessex but without the W.”
He laughed, that deep, sultry, Mediterranean laugh that sounded like the rush of warm waters on white sand.
“England is a land of sex. You have Wessex and Essex and Sussex!”
“And Middlesex,” Ruth added.
“Sex and middle do not go together well. It suggests middle of the road, unexciting, pedestrian. Last night was beautiful, no?”
Ruth felt her face flush. She hoped he hadn’t seen the crimson blush stain her neck and face.
“David,” she started the sentence then stopped, not knowing what to say or how to say it.
She looked at him now to see the way he was watching her, observing her movements, her facial expression and the way she had laid her hands out on the table in front of her palms down.
“It was beautiful David. It was another wonderful night to match the one we shared in France.”
“But?” he interjected knowing what was coming.
“But it cannot continue. These moments, these two shared intimacies are our time together. They have been two of the most memorable moments of my life but they can only ever exist in the time they happened. They have no future. They are memories trapped in amber that we both can fondly recall in private for ever more.”
He looked hard at her as though hoping that by staring at her he might break through her resolve. She no longer fidgeted on the chair or fiddled with her robe. She was looking at him now with tenderness, affection but also with determination. He cast his eyes down then sighed.
“I understand,” he said. “I shall not try and dissuade you even though my heart says I should.” He stood up smiling that warm smile.
“I shall dress then leave.”
“Have your breakfast first,” Ruth suggested wanting, in a very selfish way, to have him stay just a little longer.
“It is best, for both of us, if I go now.”
He turned on his heel and went to her bedroom. Ruth studied his back as he walked away from her, lean but muscled, the same back she had clawed at last night as passion had taken her,. She bit into her toast more for something to do, and to prevent her tears falling, than anything else. Then she collected the plates and mugs then placed them in the sink. It was something to do, something to take her mind off the obvious conclusion to such a long goodbye; and then came a knock at the door.
She crossed the floor on silent feet thinking it might be Maurice Tinkercuss with the day’s milk. Why he should have been knocking escaped her. She opened the door clutching her dressing gown to her.
“Hello,” said Neil, “may I come in?”
She looked at him open mouthed. As much as she wanted to see him, to talk to him, to explain things, she so wished he hadn’t called on her at this precise moment in time. Then David appeared behind her. Dressed and looking handsome. Neil saw him and his eyes turned dark then his face flushed.
“I see I have come at an inconvenient time. Sorry.”
He turned and left leaving both Ruth and David watching him as he walked away.
“Was that not the butcher?” asked David.
“Yes,” replied Ruth, “yes, it was.”
“What a lucky man. How I envy him. You should go to him. Go to him now and explain.”
“But what should I say?”
“Tell him the truth. If he loves you as I do he will understand and he will forgive.”
Ruth turned toward David then kissed him on the cheek.
“Thank you,” she said before she ran after Neil.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.