Where We Met

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They had met in the reading room of the British Library. One blue set of eyes met with another set of gray and the rest, as they say, is history.

She was probably a little older than him, and she was half way through her doctorate in Greek Civilization (and its impact on social structures). He was a mathematician who was studying for his masters, but who had always wanted to write books for children.

They had spent months not talking, and there were months of stolen looks and of conscious ignoring. An outsider might have thought that their behavior was more that of a teenage couple.

What had finally broken the ice was when he knocked a book on to the hallowed floor of the reading room, causing a resounding ripple wave of noise to circulate. This made her jump and she let out a little scream. Only a little one mind, but enough to cause murmurs of disapproval growing as a wave in the opposite direction.

He had mouthed the word, ‘sorry’ to her and she’d constructed a little smile on her face, as if to say, it was fine.

Later that day, they literally bumped into each other when she was returning from the café and he was off for a breath of fresh air.

“Sorry about that…you know….earlier….the noise,” he said, but was thinking how much easier things were in your head. How much simpler it was to imagine situations without the actual physicality of the other person standing right in front of you.

She thought he seemed kind, and cute and was hoping he would ask her for a coffee, or something, anything – even although she had just drunk a large latte.

And he did ask her, and that was also, as they say, history.

They spent several months of courting, always in between their hectic studying. It wasn’t until all of that was complete that they decide to get married.

There wasn’t much money between them and so they managed to rent a small studio apartment on the Holloway Road. He took several jobs, one of which was cleaning at the British Library during the night. He would come home, sleep for three hours and then rush off to work in a small company in the east of London.

They tried for children but it seemed that they wouldn’t be blessed, and in a way, it would have been hard for all three of them to live in such a small space.

“Perhaps next year,” he would tell her, then kiss her.

The third anniversary of their meeting in the British Library (to be more accurate, the first time they actually spoke – as neither of them could agree when they had first noticed each other) was going to be in ten days and he had something very special up his sleeve.

It had taken a lot of planning but it helped where he worked. The bosses at the Library weren’t too happy about cleaners messing about with stuff, but still he managed it.

Either life is random or it is not. Perhaps when your time is up, it is up, or maybe it is just a freak incident after all. Either way, the morning of the day of the end was just like any other.

He got up and walked down Holloway Road towards the Tube station. Perhaps if he had known this was his last day, he would have looked more closely at the little things: the faces of people, the flowers in a window, or the child who smiled at him. We are never so lucky to have that luxury, so when he crossed the road, there was a million things on his mind other than the London bus which killed him.

She remembered the young police woman who came to the door. She had a sergeant with her. The woman had asked her to sit and she sat down and watched their lips move. The person who stood up a few hours later as the room was growing dark was never going to be the same person again.

She was too torn to even cry. Her heart had been broken into a million pieces.

A week later, a week of tablets, relations, more tablets, not sleeping, tears, and drink, a letter arrived.

It was from him. An anniversary card to say how much he loved her and how much he looked forward to growing old with her. For a moment she had almost forgotten he was gone. It was like that every morning, a few seconds of happiness before the reality kicked her in the face.

At the end of the card (and after all his kisses) was a book reference, one from the British Library.

That morning she went to the library and requested the book, there was nothing special about it, except she suddenly remembered it was the book he had knocked from the table all that time ago. In the back of the book was a card, in his writing which said, ‘I love you’.

On the other side of the card was another reference for another book, the one she had been reading the day he had said ‘sorry’ for the first time.

And on this card, he told a small story of his life before and after meeting her. There was another book reference at the end this card. In all he had left messages in twenty books and together they made up a story of his life with her.

She sat there, in the reading room, too scared to cry and trying hard to breathe. It was – she thought – better to have loved and lost, than to have never known him.

She walked up Euston Road, and the sunshine bleached her heart a little. If life was random, she decided, then anything was possible. And she smiled at that.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Boy Who Loved To Handstand

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Charlie lived in grey house which stood in a grey street which weaved its way through a grey town. He wasn’t an unhappy kid – on the contrary, Charlie saw the world both as beautiful and crazy all at the same time.

But where Charlie was alone was in the way he looked at the world. He knew that there was more to life than all this greyness, the question was where to find it.

His grey school room was taught over by a grey teacher who had once shown something other than grey from her eyes but as Charlie didn’t have a word for it, he decided he must have imagined it.
One day Charlie was busy drawing an elephant, (on a piece of paper, not actually drawing on an elephant as that would have been stupid) with his tongue hanging out of his mouth and as he scribbled hard, his pencil shot out of his hand and under his desk.

When Charlie leaned down to get his pencil, two strange things happened. One – all the blood rushed to his head and made him feel really dizzy. Two – the world seemed to take on something other than  grey, he still had no idea what it was but for the first time Charlie could see the world in colours.

He sat upright just a bit too quickly and nearly made himself sick – but there it was, the world was back to being grey.
Charlie decided to keep this secret to himself and run all the way home. When he got to his bedroom, he had one last look out in the hall, in case the family were nearby then he went into his room and did a handstand against the wall. Sure enough the world became colourful again, so much nicer than the grey one.

So every chance he could get, Charlie would stand on his hands and enjoy the way he looked at the world. Okay, so no one else looked at the world the way Charlie did, but he didn’t care, in fact he loved being the only one who knew the secret.

One day, when he felt like a walk, Charlie went down to the river and when no one was looking, he stood on his hands and the world seemed right again. That was until a large shadow was cast across his face – he hoped it wasn’t the kids from the other street, he knew they’d never understand but it wasn’t them. Instead, it was a young girl and what was more surprising was the fact that her face was the right way up.

Charlie was used to seeing a beautiful world but with people the wrong way round.

You see, the pretty young girl loved to see the world the same way as Charlie did, she loved to stand on her hands too and that made Charlie happy.

The two of them could share the beautiful world now. He wasn’t alone.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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That Gregory Peck Incident

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She’d been living in the city long enough to remember to call an elevator – the lift, and the place where she was standing right now was a bookshop not a store.

London was a million miles away from northern Virginia but home was where God had placed her whereas this big city was her current choice in life.

She had been born in the town of Herndon, right under the flight path to Dulles airport. That was when the place was little more than an oversized village, but now each of the towns had grown to touch the next  until there were buildings all the way to the Potomac river and into Washington itself.

Nancy had never really seen D.C. as a city, to her it was just another small town where everyone knew everyone else. She had worked in administration at William and Mary College in Williamsburg but when her mother remarried and moved out, Nancy needed more money and took a job at Georgetown University. It was a bit more traveling but boy was it worth it.

Although Washington had always been on her doorstep, it was only when she started working there that she appreciated how beautiful the place was. Her father had been employed in the tax offices on Pennsylvania Avenue and at weekends the last thing he wanted to do was take the family back into the city. So for a long time she remained ignorant of what it had to offer.

Her father was many years older than her mother and died when Nancy was still relatively young. Eventually her mother married another government official and moved a few miles away to Great Falls, a more upmarket estate on the edge of the Potomac. Nancy very rarely visited her mother until her second husband also passed away and then she found herself visiting on a weekly basis.

Nancy and her mother grew closer during those years, walking in the Great Falls Park everyday and watching the great and the good of Washington riding their horses through the woods. When her mother began to lose her battle with ill-health, Nancy sold own her flat and moved in with her. She eventually gave up her job to nurse her mother full-time and over the next three and a half years she did so, until her mother quietly passed away.

Nancy found herself with no family to speak of, no partner, no job and very few friends who weren’t married – in fact nothing but a huge empty house overlooking a river. It was then that the idea came to her to sell up and travel the world. There would be enough money from the sale to keep her comfortable for a few years.

What she didn’t expect was to arrive at her first stop on the itinerary and stay there.

Eighteen months she had been in London and now she was employed at a branch of a well-known American magazine. Someone she had known at Georgetown had recommended her, one quick interview and the job was hers.

The work was hard, the hours were long and initially, to Nancy, it seemed that the city was indifferent to most. Unlike D.C. she felt that no one really knew anyone in London or for that matter really cared whether they did or not.

She had rented a decent sized apartment   (or flat as she now called it) just off of Kensington High Street. Her wages as a personal assistant would have never covered the cost of her living there alone, so until she decided what her next move was, she subsidized the rent with her own savings.

The folks in the office were mostly from back home and would socialize on occasion; the 4th of July, Christmas holidays, Hanukkah and New Years. She had hooked up with a couple of boyfriends but nothing to make her stay. If she was being honest with herself, she had been already thinking of moving on to Paris or to Prague. She had been to check out both places over several weekends and liked what she saw. Air travel within Europe was so cheap these days that almost anywhere was within easy and inexpensive reach.

Her office was in a prestigious building on Piccadilly which meant at lunchtime she could take in art galleries, sunbathe in Trafalgar Square, see the movers and shakers in Downing Street, or just take a wander through the West End and people watch.

She’d developed an odd little hobby, one that she would most definitely keep to herself. In D.C. there were never that many interesting buildings with elevators, at least not ones which were open to the public. So when she came to London she was fascinated with riding in lifts, something she had loved since she was a kid.  Nancy felt that if something was meant to be then it would happen, so when she discovered an interesting building with a lift, she would take it and get out on the top floor.

It always led her to some adventure or another but she was wary that one day it might get her into trouble – it never did; she played ‘Elevator Lottery’ and she always won.

On this particular day she was in her favorite bookshop, at the far end of Piccadilly, looking at nothing in particular yet at the same time watching the British at leisure. She noticed something she had never seen before – a lift over in a dark corner of the shop. There was no point in resisting as she was determined to find out what on the floors above.

She pressed the call button and when the doors opened, she stepped inside discovering it was empty. She then selected the highest number – ten – and pressed it. Sometimes it was nothing more than the administration floor full of accountants and managers and on those occasions she would make her excuses and take the stairs down. Even under these circumstances she would find forgotten floors.

The doors opened at the top and delivered her into the most charming of tea rooms, one that was open to the public but, by the looks of it, was a well-kept secret. This was a place for those who knew. The tables by the window had the most marvelous views of Westminster , Pall Mall and the parks.

Some sat at tables reading their latest purchases, some wrote on computers, some talked to lovers while holding hands. Nancy couldn’t understand why in all the months she had been working in London no one had told her of this place. Perhaps if you stumbled upon the tea rooms it was because you felt it was meant and there was no need to make its existence widely known to those who were not so deserving of such a prize.

Nancy took the last table for two beside the window and ordered a pot of Earl Grey tea and two scones. These arrived at her table very quickly and were delivered with a glass of water which she appreciated. She looked around the room and saw contentment on the faces of her fellow tea drinkers and made a mental note that she too would keep this place a secret.  As she bit into the crumbling scone she realized just how British she was becoming.

“May I?”

His question pulled her away from her thoughts.

Her eyes met a well dressed man in his twenties, who had a kind face and who was looking around as if to say, this is the last seat in the room.  It wasn’t of course but it was easier to join another single soul than push into a table of three or four.

“Of course, please sit.”

He pulled the other chair from under the table and sat.

“You’re American?”

“Virginian.”

“How splendid, I’ve been there, a wonderful State.”

He passed his hand above her cup and took in the aroma, “Earl Grey?”

“Mmm”

“Waiter, same please.”

She had loved the first scone but didn’t dare lift the second until his also had arrived. People couldn’t help it and were usually unaware of it but when only one person was eating, the other one at the table normally watched as their companion ate every mouthful. It was what we humans did.

When his tea and scones arrived they both got stuck in.  Nancy told that him this was all part of her world tour, that was if she ever left London. He told her that his name was Alfred and that he worked in public relations.

“Sometimes I just walk away for a shirt while, when it all gets too much. I find this a nice place to think, to get things clear in my head.” He said.

She smiled and felt as if she recognized his face, perhaps from television but was too afraid to mention it.

When they had finished their tea, he asked if she would like a walk or as he put it ‘a perambulation’ which she laughed at and he seemed to enjoy.  They walked down Lower Regent Street and across Pall Mall, down the stairs and into St James’ Park.

By this time the sun was shining and the park was awash with wild life, they sat on the grass and watched the world going by.

“I never get a chance like this.”

“What to sit in the park?” asked Nancy.

“I suppose, I am always busy and if not, someone always finds something for me to do.”

And talking of working , Nancy suddenly realized that she had to get back to work.

“If you must” he said, sadly.

“Oh, I must, I must.” And she wished him well giving him a kiss on both cheeks. Yes she was becoming European.

“Perhaps if you are ever in the tea room again, we might meet.”

“Perhaps” said Nancy.

And with that Nancy walked back towards Piccadilly even though she was sure he was still staring .

As she was perambulating  up Lower Regent Street, she realized that she did indeed hope she would meet him again in that secret tea room.

Twice a week she went back for several weeks but he never turned up.

Then one afternoon, as she sat down for her usual Earl Grey and scones, she started reading an early evening newspaper that had been left on the table and there he was in a photo on the front page.

Prince Alfred off to Afghanistan, it continued, the Queen’s grandson is off to fight for his country…..

Now there was a story to tell one day.

She took the stairs back down to the ground floor and went to the film section where she bought a copy of Roman Holiday – that one where Gregory Peck plays an American journalist who runs into a beautiful girl who happens to be a princess.

That night she poured a glass of wine, watched the movie and felt, for the first time in a very long time, that everything was going to be okay.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

 

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A Kind of Love

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Every year it was the same thing; was it going to be a big Valentine’s card (looks too needy)? A small Valentine’s card (looks too cheap) or a bunch of flowers?  She picked a large card and the most expensive flowers – if you wanted to make an impact you had to spend large. It would impress everyone and keep her Mum off her back.

“Who are these to go to, madam?”
She felt embarrassed saying it, so she’d written it down and then quickly slid the card across the counter.
The flower woman picked it up and read it aloud.
“Miss Sophie Breckstaw, 19, the Gardens. Any message?” The woman asked and Sophie wondered if perhaps, the woman knew.

So what if she did, there were bigger crimes in this world than sending yourself a Valentine. Okay it was sad but hey, if it kept her mother thinking there was someone waiting in the wings to taker her daughter away, it was money well spent.

She laughed as she stepped on to the street. Another year, another stupid lonely year. Nothing changes.
The following morning she opened her eyes to February the 14th. It was a blue sunny sky that had a hint of winter laced through it. She loved those kind of days. Where you came home from a walk and felt that you had experienced something.
She planned to be out when the flowers and card arrived so they would be left at her door. That way, the neighbours wouldn’t think that she was just an old maid waiting on an obsession with cats to kick-in.

Sophie was only 32, for goodness sake, but thinking back on it – several hundred years ago – that was probably a lifetime of living. There was possibly a time when 32 was the mark of an elderly woman. God, she felt depressed.
She decided she’d go to the library (where else?) – She’d hidden in there as an obese teenager (the bullies never went to the library) and she still found the place comforting. It was her church, her sanctuary.

She caught her reflection in a window and liked what she saw (well, kind of) – she was now the proud owner of a very svelte body and (almost) thought her face looked presentable. Sophie never usually saw the admiring glances she got from men and some woman. In her head she was still that ugly child, still fat and still unworthy. The trauma that school kids inflict on other school kids takes some people a lifetime to get over (if ever). Bullies may never achieve anything great in their lives, except for the fact that they live on in nightmares.

The library was full of old men, old women, the unemployed and Sophie – the……..well, she wasn’t quite sure where she fitted in. She was between jobs at the moment and had applied for a job in a bookshop just around the corner from the library.
“Miss Breckstaw,” whispered the librarian (the one with the wonky eye) to Sophie as she came through the door.
“That book you ordered, has arrived.”
“Which one?” Asked Sophie.
“Let me see, ‘Cosmic Ordering for Beginners’”.
“Oh that one, if I’d been any good I suppose I should have ordered it from the Universe, myself.”
Judging by the expression on the Librarian-with-the-wonky eye’s face, this was truly an irony-free zone.

So she was desperate enough to ask the universe for a job and why not, eh? Life was nuts, life was really nuts. It was only the stupid, social climbers who thought that life began and ended with the right schools, right jobs, and in saying the right things.

Just wait until the aliens landed, that would put a fly in the ointment. Still, the stupid middle-class folks that Sophie knew would probably try to social climb with little green men. It wasn’t enough for those folks to live a life, they had to go whizzing to their grave with fashionable clothes on.

Sophie thought that maybe she might (just might) be jealous of the people she despised. Okay not despised, but generally they got on her nerves.  If Sophie had been offered a pill which took away all her doubts, made her shallow and superficial, and therefore only unhappy, when her furniture got out of date – would she take it?
Probably, yes, she thought while sitting in the public library making a good job of impersonating the saddest human being alive. Maybe she wasn’t impersonating, maybe, in fact, she was the saddest person.

Still, here she was – she’d made her bed (through inaction and inactivity) and she would have to like it.
She decided that as she was too lazy to read a proper book, that she’d read a Dan Brown instead. She perambulated (today’s big word from her ‘one word a day makes your brain bigger’ book) over to the popular section. Usually the homeless, the drunks and the mentally challenged sat over there but she was willing to risk it to get a nice book, one that would drown her problems for the afternoon.

Sometimes, only sometimes mind you, she would fall asleep at the table and wake to find that the homeless, drunks, and mentally challenged were all looking at her in a disapproving manner. Some even ‘tutted’ and that didn’t help the way she felt about herself and so on those days she would go home and drink a bottle of wine, then cry at all the television adverts. She’d normally waken at 3am on the same seat and with her eyes glued together – it had passed through her mind more than once that maybe little people glued her eyes shut when Sophie was sleeping and drooling after a few glasses of wine.

It was as she was walking towards the popular book section, that Sophie was sure a man, who looked in his thirties (but was probably more thirty plus twenty – knowing her luck) had looked at her. It was one of those looks, where you know that there was a connection but you don’t know why you know that.

She didn’t look around, but she could feel him staring at her. Then again, Sophie sometimes went on these little fantastical trips where she was sure a stranger was having an affair with her, in their head. Problem was, it always turned out to be only in her head and not the stranger’s – so she now tended to take these so-called ‘connections’ with a pinch of salt.
She skipped the Dan Brown section and went straight for the weightier writers. Sophie thought that if he was watching, then this would look more impressive – still she’d normally got that wrong too. She’d found that when you tried to make an impression – no one was really noticing, and yet there could be someone she wasn’t aware of, drinking in her every movement. Life was very strange.

On the way back to her table, carrying ‘1001 Questions about Carpets’ (to be honest it had looked more intellectual but she hadn’t bothered to read the title) that she felt his eyes were staring into to her again. Did we all have a sixth-sense? Probably not, but still he did seem interested.

She lifted her books to move a little closer to him but when she got there, he was gone. Wrong again, she thought. She knew where this would lead, just like time in the Dragoon Arms Pub, where she’d go night after night hoping to run into a man she’d caught looking at her, and each night she would ignore him, and laugh loudly at nothing in particular. This did look super creepy as she wasn’t actually drinking with anyone. Anyway there were weeks sometimes that went by and he wasn’t in the pub, and then one night the guy would turn up and Sophie wanted to say, ‘how dare you leave me sitting here night after night, don’t you know that we have an imaginary relationship?’  – Still, saying that would have made her even creepier.

So back at the library, she decided to call it a day. She put on her old woollen hat and walked out into the rain. She decide that she would take the bus home, rather than walking, after all it was St Valentine’s day.
There he was, standing at the bus stop – did he know she sometimes she took this bus, or was it all in her head? She stood next to him and was sure she could feel him staring at her. ‘Maybe I am completely insane’, thought Sophie just as he turned and said something about the weather to her.

Instead of saying something back to him, Sophie grinned like a serial killer – she couldn’t help it, he’d caught her off guard.
When the bus arrived, he waved her on first (he’s a gentleman), then she sat on a seat which could take two, but he sat in the seat in front.

As Sophie’s stop came up, she stood very slowly, hoping he would stand too – but he didn’t. She could see, as she stepped off the bus that the flowers and card were sitting at her front door.
Sophie walked away from the bus stop in the opposite direction from her house, hoping that the bus would take her latest fantasy man away and he wouldn’t see the flowers.
Just then Mister Secombe, her next door neighbour, shouted on her:
“Where are you off to?” He called.

Sophie had to turn, make some stupid excuse and then walk up to her door.
“I wasn’t sure to whether to take in the flowers and card, or not. You’ve got an admirer,” said, Mister Secombe.
Sophie gave another stupid grin and then turned to see the bus hadn’t moved off and HE was watching her and the flowers.
So she did what she always did in these circumstances – panic. She picked up the card and flowers and threw them into Mister Secombe’s arms, shouting:
“Stop sending me these things, you know that you and I aren’t having a relationship.”

Then she looked to see if HE was watching but to her disappointment, the bus had gone.
Mister Secombe was completely bemused and wondered if maybe his neighbour was a bit touched in the head.

He was just about to tell her that the flowers and card weren’t from him, but Sophie had already slammed the door shut.

Still waste not, want not, thought Mister Secombe and he took the flowers inside as he had a very good idea of what he could do with them. It was one of his better thoughts and because of that, he whistled all the way to the cellar.
But that, dear readers, is a story for next time.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Top photo: http://weird-kitty.deviantart.com/art/Love-98730557

 

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Three Thousand Miles of Heaven

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They had first gone there when the world was a more complicated place and their lives were just plain and simple. Everything they wanted or needed, seemed easier to get back then.

They had married in a small church in Big Indian, a town snuggled in the beautiful Catskill Mountains. When Tony had suggested that they go on a honeymoon, he had been thinking more of the Poconos – not the journey that Helen had suggested: to ride a Trailways’ bus from New York, to Chicago and then on to Los Angeles.

This was the 1970s and cheap flights were a thing for future times. As for going by train, well the American rail system had seen better days. So the bus seemed the best solution – it was cheap, even if it was going to take them three days – not that it mattered, they were on honeymoon. That was enough.

They had managed to have forty-eight glorious hours on the West coast before it was time to return. They had sat on the beach on their second night there and promised themselves they would return, one day. No matter what.

Within a week of them arriving back home, Tony was on his way to Vietnam. It had been the reason they had married so soon and so quickly. Tony had picked a low number in the college draft and was told to report for training immediately.

There was no two ways about it – war had changed Tony, like it had for many young men and women over the years. Tony had seen and felt many things that would stay unreported in a lonely area of his brain, only to be taken out and re-lived when Helen was fast asleep and he could shed a few quiet tears.

He had seen buddies, ones who had told Tony of the lives they were going to have when they got back to Philly, or San Fran or a million other towns and cities, and yet Tony had seen many of those guys return in body bags.

So one night before they faced the Vietcong in a final push upstream, Tony promised himself that if he managed to make it back home, then he and Helen would move out West and make a life there.
And they had.

Tony had got employment with a big computer company, and it had given them a comfortable life in California. They had raised three kids, two girls and a boy, and each of them had married and had given Tony and Helen a total of ten grandchildren.

Their boy had joined the army and had been stationed overseas. The two girls had moved to the north, one to San Jose, and the other to Sacramento.

When the doctor told Helen about the spread of the disease, he had advised her to put all those important things in her life, in order. One was to tell Tony – something that had taken her almost seven days to get around to doing. Helen felt that there would be life before the illness and life after – and when the story came out nothing would ever be the same again.

Tony didn’t cry when he heard the news, instead he just picked up the basketball that always lay out in the yard and he shot a few hoops. When Helen took to her bed that evening, he went to the chair on the back porch – one he kept for all the private thoughts in his head – and he wept – he cried for Helen, for his buddies, and in some ways for himself.

In the morning, he tried to shine as bright as the California sun, but for those who knew Tony, they would have seen that his eyes were a little duller.

They spent the next couple of days living as if the news had never broken between the two of them, but every time Helen looked away at something, Tony would try to drink in her face, and smell and laughter, and try to keep them locked in his head for the cold days that lay ahead when she would no longer be around.

It was on the following Saturday, that Tony suggested they have another honeymoon and asked Helen where they should go.
“Home,” she said.
“But you are home,” Tony had replied.
“No, back to the Catskills. I want to watch the sun going down behind Overlook Mountain,” then she smiled at him and his heart broke.

She didn’t want to fly, the trains were still troublesome, and she felt that maybe the bus would be too difficult to ride, what with her illness and all. So she suggested they drive back home along the route the Trailways bus had taken them to LA all those years before.

“We can just take our time,” she told Tony.  They both knew she wasn’t coming back from the Catskills – that would be the end of the road.

Tony closed up their home – he would decide what to do with it later, that kind of thinking was for another time.

Helen packed all the clothes she needed and by the Monday morning they set off to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Tony got them a room in one of the smartest hotels in Vegas and that night, Helen went down and gambled for the first and last time in her life. She started out with a hundred bucks and by the time she had played cards and roulette, she was three hundred dollars up. She put a hundred bucks in a charity box and with the two hundred other, she bought a couple of bottles of good champagne. She and Tony sat by the window the whole night and watched the sun come up over the desert. Neither of them spoke, they just drank, and watched the wonders of the world, and then fell asleep.

In the old days, the bus would have gone straight to Cedar City, but instead, Helen asked Tony to take her on a detour to Flagstaff and then on to the Grand Canyon. It had always been on her bucket list and what with the kids and her job, they had never found the time.

The sight was breath-taking – literally – she almost choked at the wonder of the Canyon, then Helen took a deep intake of air and shouted, ‘I love you, Tony with all my heart and soul’ at the top of her voice. A couple next to them applauded her and she smiled back.

It was another day or so before they made Salt Lake City. They checked into a motel and then went for a walk. On Sycamore Avenue, Helen led Tony by the hand to one of those burger joints. It had been years since she had taken the kids to one of those places. Helen and Tony had the biggest burgers with fries and cheese, and when they were finished, Helen cleared away the trash, and hopped up on the table. She asked Tony to join her – and when they were both on the top, she started to dance and Tony quickly joined in.

“I’ve seen it in the movies,” she told Tony. “And I always wanted to do it.”
On the morning they crossed into Wyoming, the sky was azure blue and the wind was fresh. It was one of those days when Helen wanted to hold on to life until the end of time, itself.

In Laramie, Tony arranged for Helen and him to go riding. She’d been on horses as a kid but had lost her way somewhere down the line. It was the greatest feeling in the world, riding horse back and she and Tony felt like they were very first cowboys. Why had she left it so long?

In Cheyenne they had gone skinny dipping in the motel pool and when the manager told them there had been complaints, Helen walked naked from the pool back to her room. In the room, Helen and Tony laughed until their sides were almost bursting.

A couple of days later they made Omaha, Nebraska, and at the bar that evening, the two of them pretended that they were strangers to each other, ones who had just met for the very first time. A tall man with a strange eye tried to pick up Helen that night, which flattered her and annoyed Tony – a little.

They reached the Windy City a day or so later. Helen wanted to go to the top of the Sears Tower, but the following morning she was so ill that Tony had taken her to hospital.

She wasn’t getting any better and the doctor advised her to take several days rest, and then to fly back to New York. That night Helen asked Tony to take her out of the hospital (regardless of the doctors). So Tony dressed up in a white coat, put Helen in a wheelchair, and pushed her right out of the place. The two of them felt like kids again.

They drove around Lake Erie. It had always been a special place for Helen as a child. On vacation, her grandparents, and parents would rent a little cabin near the lake. She asked Tony to drive her to the cabin, but it wasn’t there anymore, it had been replaced by a large hotel and some cheap looking houses.

They stayed the night in the hotel which was someway between Cleveland and Erie, and she sat watching the dawn while Tony was still asleep. It was the same view she had sat watching in her grandmother’s arms all those years before.

She really didn’t feel so good but kept it hidden all through breakfast. It was just as they were heading into New York State, that she asked Tony to hurry the journey up. She felt that there wasn’t so much time.

When they drove through the woods of the Catskills, she let out a sigh. She had been waiting years to exhale this way.  Helen rolled down the window and breathed in a large fix of her cherished mountain air.

This was the place that had made her, and this was the land that would see her at rest. She had made it at last.
She was home.

bobby stevenson 2015

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