It was peculiar, that of all the tedious loci I frequented on my various errands and excursions, this particular event took place against such a fittingly romantic backdrop. Not on a commuter train, not out in the grey forest, not amid the rush of the city centre, but here, on the promenade, in the late afternoon of a surprisingly mild winter day.
The sun hung low in the sky, drenching the yellow tenements that sat behind the walkway in deep amber warmth, and the chatter of lovers, families, and friends danced merrily on the light southerly wind. And there I ambled, alone, taking in the reviving heat of the long absent rays, and thinking to myself about very little, alternating my gaze between easy smiles, and the flat blue sea.
Yet from this relaxed mundanity I was sharply dragged, by an acute rush of blood from head to heart, as a familiar figure approached from the steep path leading down between the tenements to the prom. There she stood, an old flame that I had imagined extinguished once again began to burn within me, and I absentmindedly thanked the handrail for supporting me.
Rose. I had heard from a friend two years ago that she had returned from afar, and it surprised me that our paths had not crossed sooner, but that did nothing to deviate the swirling melange of possibility that presented itself. I looked down at my clothes to see how I looked, but when I looked back up our eyes unexpectedly locked.
The deep hazel dizzied me, but I could not look away, and I felt physically drawn towards her, even though she was maybe thirty metres away. I paced forwards, my eyes still fixed firmly in her gaze, until I clashed with the tatty duffle coat of an elderly gentlemen in front of me. Our connection was broken, but when I looked back she was smiling down at her feet.
I used this moment as an opportunity to swiftly reconnoitre what had now become her promenade. I immediately recognised the faded green coat her mother used to wear, and the large round spectacles that enlarged her sister’s small eyes, and her father’s broad shoulders. There was a fifth figure, who I presumed to be her little brother, despite his fair hair apparently fading to the gentle auburn that the females of the family shared.
It had been almost half a decade since I had last seen her, but I saw something in her eyes that I could not let go of. At first it was a heartbreak, a loneliness, a longing, but then a comfort, a warmth, longing once more.
“Should I go over?” I thought. The eye contact made, there was now a decision that needed making. Go over and see what happens, or let her know that I walked on deliberately. Feigning ignorance had left the room, and now left at the war table were only two options.
“What would happen if I went over?” I thought. “We’d greet each other, then what? Would it be a rekindling of the home fires, or simply another awkward to and fro. If her family weren’t there it would be easier. I’d simply go and say hello. Or were they in fact making it easier. Would my appearance be simply the return of a family friend? We had grown close during the two years Rose and I had shared, so maybe they would be pleased to see me?”
“And if I didn’t go over? That would be it I suppose. An infantile dismissal of etiquette in favour of self preservation. A lid on the what ifs, but a jilt on common decency.”
I looked out at the calm sea, once more inexplicably drawn towards her, and I made my decision. I agreed on a course of action less out of conviction, but rather out of a necessity to rid my tired mind of the dilemma. I would go over and say hello, and if she did not engage, I would simply smile politely and leave. Nothing could go wrong, theoretically.
I looked back from the sea towards her direction, my eyes darting frantically around, desperately hunting the connection they had found earlier to no avail. I focused my mind, calmed myself, and looked back to where she had been earlier, then advancing my gaze ten or so steps. And there she was, her eyes rooted into the pavement, pacing a few uncomfortable steps ahead of her family.
She turned back to encourage them to increase the speed of their lilting stroll, before returning to her determined stride. What had I seen in her eyes? How did I feel so connected if she was really so reticent? Perhaps she was conflicted in that short period too? Maybe she had seen me and pleasantly reminisced, only to then remember the realities of the present?
She was probably right. Assuming that was what she was thinking. We may never again be as happy as we were back then, so why bother trying? We should not fall back. We must carry on. We must keep moving.
For all this resolution, though, I am struggling to rid myself of this memory.
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