FIRST LOVE - LAST LOVE
Available in the short story collection, Time Away
"If anything should happen to me" Harry used to say, "I should like to think you would not be alone."
That was Harry, Beverley reflected. She would have said; 'If I die you must marry again.' In their thirty years together Harry had seldom said things straight out or used one word where six would do.
She sighed; somehow she didnít think he would have approved of her answering that advert in the lonely-hearts column of the local paper.
"Ah well!" She said aloud; "Whatís done is done!" Although he had been gone more than a year, and he had said - - But he wouldnít have expected her to take his words so literally.
Holding an answering letter in her hand she wondered what had come over her.
Deep down she knew nothing had 'come over her' It hadn't been anything 'out there' but the emptiness and loneliness inside, almost worse than the shock of Harryís sudden death.
With fingers that trembled slightly she tore the letter open.
It was hand-written, that was nice and personal, and the writing was firm and strong. No spelling mistakes, and he didn't beat about the bush. He wanted to meet her in two days time, to see if they 'clicked'. Eminently practical, yet vaguely dashing.
He suggested the fountain in the centre of the shopping mall writing; "We had better have some way of recognising each other. I shall wear a rose bud in my lapel and just to make sure Iíll have a copy of the local paper in my left hand. I guess just the paper will do for you. Iím sure Iíll know you!" It was signed 'Bill', no surname.
The name sent her memory spiralling down the years to her first love, another Bill, who had kissed her behind the oleanders in the schoolyard and sworn he would love her forever. But he moved out of the district and after a few letters they drifted apart.
In the next two days she didnít know, as they say, whether she was Arthur or Martha. What should she wear? Should she go? Suppose he was some sort of a - crook? (She kept the word rapist out of her mind) Bill was a name with a safe sort of ring to it. And one never forgot one's first love.
She bought a new pants suit. She had never worn red before; Harry didn't like it.
She was in the Mall ten minutes early, her copy of the local paper stuffed in her handbag. She would get it out if she liked the look of him. If she didn't - well she would just disappear into the shopping crowds.
No one hovered near the fountain; the only person not bustling somewhere was a man around her age looking in one of the shops. He had no flower in his lapel or paper in his hand.
The minutes ticked past, she caught him looking at her; She turned away, to look in a window but her eyes were focused on the people mirrored there. No one with a buttonhole and a paper. He wasnt coming. What a let down.
"Bev! - Beverley Selford - isnít it?" She turned to face the man she had noticed before and time rolled back.
"Bill Patterson!" With recognition old memories flooded back and she forgot to look for someone with a buttonhole and a newspaper. Her own paper was still in her bag.
"I heard about Harry. I'm sorry." He said. "My wife died too last year."
"Oh - Iím sorry to hear that." But her heart lifted even as she spoke.
"Have you time for a cup of coffee?"He asked her. "Youíre not - meeting anyone - or anything?"
"No, - and yes - Iíd love a coffee!"
In the litterbin a rosebud wilted beside a discarded newspaper.
© Louise Pakeman.