Goaded into “Fifty Years”

Recently one of my friends took to goading me to write something different to my “usual Iron-Age shit” as he called it and seeing as I have hit a bit of a block with regard to the overall plot of Three Spears that I am currently working on, I though I would try something different.  I remember, ages ago, reading As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner and being amazed at the multiple points of view he had the various characters express.  There are only two characters in my story here  but I thought I would try the Point of View approach and write the same story from two different standpoints. So here goes with the first.

Fifty Years

Vedilla was the type of city you could spend half your life looking for, and the student felt particularly satisfied that he had managed to come across it so early in his life, especially at this period in early spring when the orange trees had lost last year’s fruit and tentatively give out the scent of their new blossoms. Just big enough to get lost in, he enjoyed his semi-aimless wanderings through the labyrinth of streets and the transition from sunny plaza to shadowy and narrow alleys where, if he stretched out both arms, his fingers would graze the crumbling pink and white plaster of the walls on either side.

He had come with the idea of teaching English, but now all thoughts of work had faded from his mind under the gentle mañana atmosphere of the town and only the idea of finding an apartment remained. It was while he was searching for a street in the old and tangled Jewish quarter and kept, instead, ending up in Calle De Fernando Nunez that he met Anita. At first he thought she was a native and in his hesitant Spanish he asked her for directions to a nearby street where he hoped to find an apartment he had been told about. Slightly annoyed that she answered in a soft American accent, he was soon glad of an opportunity to speak English again after what now seemed an interminable period of having only spoken in broken Spanish.

Having a glass of tinto together, she told him she was studying at the small university and, what, for him, was more important, the small apartment opposite hers would be available in two days time. Leaving to go to a lecture, she gave him her address and the name of the landlady, while he sat on, indolent and falsely secure, watching and smelling this foreign town.

He was still there, two and a half hours later, absorbed in watching two dogs playfully scuffle, when she returned and for the first time she registered on his mind as a girl. Small, dark haired and tanned, with a curious patch of pale scar tissue high on her left arm, she struck him, not as being especially attractive, but rather as the way all girls should be.

Sitting on, they talked of their studies; he had taken his degree in Medieval Literature last autumn while she had one more year to go in Medieval European. It became too dark for them to see one and other and when she left to go back to her apartment, he again remained on, absorbed in the calm warmth of the spring night.

Wakening up the next morning in his pension with a particularly vicious hangover from too much tinto, he remembered little of the previous night and it was not until he was checking his money that he found the piece of paper with her address written on it. Getting lost in the winding streets as usual and ending up in the ubiquitous Fernando Nunez, he took a taxi directly to her apartment. She seemed more physically attractive, this third time meeting her, when he found her sun bathing on the roof of the apartment building and for the first time he felt drawn to her, not as two foreigners in a strange town but as two people towards one and other.

The landlady was fat, complacent and annoyingly vague in her manner. Most surprisingly of all, she seemed to be singularly unimpressed by the offer of an immediate down payment of one week’s rent, which was all the cash the student had on him at the time. Instead there were nebulous excuses – maybe her sister was coming to stay next week and in that case she would need the apartment for her. Besides this, there was an attractive, retired colonel who had shown an interest in it. It was the utmost the student could do to refrain himself from throttling her by her fat, mottled neck. In the end, using Anita as a translator, he exerted a promise from her that she would give him definite news, one way or the other, in three days time.

The day passed in a pleasantly indolent fashion. He lay on the flat roof with Anita and talked laconically about what he had hoped to do here in Vedillia. In fact, it all seemed an absurd and pretentious pipe dream now that he heard himself, for the first time, speaking his proposed plans out loud. However nothing mattered now; he was in the sun in Vedillia, the winter was behind him, the trees were putting out their fragile orange blossoms, the wine and tobacco were ridiculously cheap with what he had been accustomed to pay, and he had a vast contentment as he lay beside a girl who attracted him, not just physically but mentally as well.

Naturally he stayed for lunch – a light mixed salad but more than sufficient – but it came as quite a shock when she told him about her boyfriend – he was touring France and Germany – and how worried she was because he hadn’t written to tell her where and how he was.

Of course he was stupid not to have imagined some such thing before, but after all, when he had met her, he had no designs of any kind about her and his plans had not included her in the least, except that she might prove an aid in the seemingly impossible task of getting an apartment.

Lying there in the sun, smoking, he felt, ridiculously so, he knew, slightly cheated and almost used to a certain extent. Exhaling a deep lungful of smoke, he finally managed to more or less dismiss it from his mind but he was unable to fully regain the contentment of mind he had had only a few moments before.

Later that afternoon, some of her friends, also Americans, called over and again he was surprised. Somehow, the idea of her having friends in this quiet, old town had never occurred to him. Perhaps it was because he was so alone and completely unattached himself that he had come to see everyone in terms of his own situation. Nevertheless, sitting there, the sinking sun flashing on the green copper dome of the cathedral and lighting up, now and then, a window in some house in distant barrios, he extracted a grim amusement from the searching questions thrown casually at, not only him but also Anita, as to what he was doing in Vedillia, how long he would be staying and when was Matt – Anita’s boyfriend – coming home? It was a relief when they left, pleasant as it was to talk to them. He remained on, unable to take any initiative action, content again to just lie there and idle his time away. It was only when Anita mentioned something about eating that he was able to break out of his indolence and suggest eating out.

It was amazing, once they began to talk, how many similarities there were between them. That night, over dinner of fried fish in a noisy little restaurant, they discovered they had studied similar subjects, they were both the youngest in their families – he was exactly fourteen months older to the day that she was born – they both liked the same authors and music while they disliked snails and huge cities like London and New York and people who smiled or laughed the whole time.

He had never known a night to have passed so pleasantly or quickly before and when she suggested, on her doorstep as he was saying goodnight, that he come up for a night cap, he readily agreed. On the way up the dark stairs, he had a vague dread that her boyfriend might have returned from his travels and be there, waiting for her. The apartment, however, was empty and chilly and they sat, huddled in cold, leatherette armchairs with rugs around their shoulders, sipping gin and tonics. They talked for hours, at times falling silent, enjoying each other’s presence.

Lighting a match for an imaginary cigarette, the student shrugged off the rug and stood up to go but it took him nearly another half hour to actually leave. If it hadn’t been for the mention of Matt, earlier on in the day, he felt sure he would have stayed the night as a natural growth to their fast blooming relationship. Now, however, he felt on shaky ground – not that he and his passion had changed but he was unable to gauge exactly how she felt about him and he was too embarrassed to ask. He lingered on in a clumsy fashion and it was only when she began to yawn – although still without saying anything – that he took an awkward leave.

Cursing himself, Matt and her, but most of all his own stupidity, the student took a taxi back to his pension – he hadn’t dared to walk in case he found himself face to face with Fernando Nunez again. In bed later that night, he decided to stay away from her until he had to go back to see about the apartment. Even then, he knew that he was just postponing the issue.

The next morning, for the first time since he had arrived in Vedillia, he was bored. Not in the mood for wandering around with no definite aim, he found it impossible to sit in the cafés and just watch the world pass by, as he had become accustomed to doing. Unlike the previous morning when he could not remember much of the night before, everything this time had stayed vivid and he could not forget her green eyes, her long sensitive fingers, and her way of talking. In desperation he bought a local paper and scanned the small adds looking for another apartment. The afternoon was spent hunting the addresses down but in the end he had to admit that he had seen nothing suitable.

The next day was similar only worse and he decided to get drunk. He was at the self-pitying stage when, in one of the numerous little bars in the old quarter of the town, he bumped into some of the Americans he had met at Anita’s apartment. They guardedly greeted him but became warmer when they realised that he was by himself. They discussed generalities, including the difficulties of renting an apartment until one girl mentioned how lucky Anita and Matt had been in finding theirs. The conversation lagged and then drifted on to personalities – as it always does among foreigners in a closed community – and he began to feel a complete outsider, not knowing any of the people mentioned. Noticing this, perhaps, the same girl started to talk to him about Anita and Matt, telling him, with a confidential smile, that they were the best of all and were devoted to each other. Shortly afterwards, making some excuse, he left and went to another bar and finished off his drinking bout alone. That night he slept badly and woke with a taste in his mouth.

At least today there would be some sort of development as he had an appointment with the landlady at 4:00pm. He made an effort not to call at Anita’s apartment first and, in a bad mood, he went to see the landlady. A child with a dirty face and a torn vest opened the door and stared, pop-eyed and uncomprehendingly, at him. He waited on the doorstep for ten minutes and when no one else came, he went around the corner to the bar, feeling like a fool. Three hours later, after repeatedly calling on the landlady and meeting only the idiot child, he finally gave in and went to her apartment. Hot and flushed, he explained the situation when she opened the door and listened sympathetically. Inviting him in, she gave him iced lemon tea and promised to call on the landlady with him after she had had a shower.

Left alone in the small sitting room, he wandered out to the flat roof and gazed morosely over the darkening town. He had never before felt so attracted to a person – and a place – before and the thought that he mightn’t be able to achieve either annoyed and depressed him. So engrossed was he in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the soft pad of her bare feet on the roof behind him and he jumped when she ran her hand through his hair. He turned and faced her and her green eyes glowed in the dark, bewitching him.

Stepping into a pair of sandals, she led him down the dark stairs to the street and over to the landlady’s house. This time the landlady herself answered the door, a squat, gross form, the dirty-faced child clinging to her black skirts. She seemed surprised to see him and broke into a torrent of Spanish, speaking quickly and excitedly. He stood wearily on the step, not bothering to make the effort to understand the words, knowing that the apartment was no longer available. Anita did all the talking but in the end the landlady shrugged her fat shoulders and shut the door in their faces, leaving the child, now whimpering, with them.

Wordlessly, they went around the corner to the bar and ordered tinto. She reached out and squeezed his hand and told him she was really sorry. Suddenly, it made no difference to him whether he had got the apartment or not. Recklessly he ordered champagne and they sat in a dark alcove – she had blown out the candle – sipping it and whispering. Forgetting the apartment, forgetting Matt, he leaned slowly over and kissed her gently, then again and then again, feeling her warmth soothing and comforting him.

Buying more champagne, they went, hand in hand, back to her apartment where she cooked him dinner. This time they sat on the couch together, sharing the one rug, eating, drinking and smiling at each other.

The next morning, she didn’t go to her lectures and they lay in bed, content with each other, not talking, except with their hands. They were eventually interrupted by a knock on the door. Again, it was her American friends calling with an invitation to a party that night. Embarrassed, he came out of the bedroom, tucking his shirt into his jeans, prepared to brazen out their stares and curiosity. Anita, except for a momentary blush, acted as if nothing untoward had happened and they all went out onto the flat roof to drink coffee. Trying to act casually towards her, he was almost shocked when she shoved her bare foot up the leg of his shorts, ignoring the others.

The party that night was a fiasco. He naturally had been invited as well, but only out of politeness. Throughout the night he got the impression that he was on display to as many people as possible who could later testify to his corrupting presence and to Anita’s infidelity when the absent Matt returned. Not knowing anyone and not wanting to at this stage, he stayed close to Anita, holding her hand. Leaving her for a moment to go to the bathroom, he returned to hear someone ask her whether her heart was in Germany or still here in Vedillia. Anita laughed and said something about it being wherever Matt was, wherever that was.

Later that night, in bed, they talked about it and she told him she really did love Matt but by nature she was also unfaithful. Hurt, he didn’t reply but a second later, propping her elbows on his chest, she kissed him and told him she didn’t mean it that way. Frankly he had dazzled her and eclipsed Matt but both of them must know that eclipses generally don’t last too long. Becoming excited and metaphorical he replied that although he might be just a station on her way, sometimes a station became a terminus. Smiling, she said she hoped he would but seeing as he had no job and no apartment, it seemed unlikely that he would be remaining much longer in Vedillia. Knowing that he would have to be content with that and realising for the first time not only his but also her position, he said that there was always hope and that maybe in fifty year’s time.

Waking early the next morning he found her already awake and watching him, her green eyes cloudy and opaque. Smiling good morning, she reached out her hand to play with his hair, her eyes clearing as if by magic. Almost content to lie there, he licked his finger and drew 50 on her bare, brown stomach and watched her eyes cloud over again. Regretting it immediately, he kissed her and she whispered, sooner than that, in his ear.

Going back to his pension to collet his bags and pay his bill, he realized with a sinking feeling that he had far less money that he thought he had had. Even going home overland, he could still only afford, at the most, another three days in Vedillia. Back in the apartment, lying on the sunny roof with Anita, his eyes shut, he told her that he would have to leave on Thursday. Expecting her to say something, he was hurt when there was no reply. She touched his arm and he opened his eyes and saw her pointing into the sky. Squinting into the sun, he saw the white vaporising of a jet being crossed by another going in the opposite direction. Although they felt no breeze on the sheltered rooftop, in less than two minutes the contrails had dispersed and vanished completely. Reaching for one another, they clung silently and in the quiet, their hearts beat loudly. He couldn’t help himself and whispered, fifty years, and heard her sob and was then surprised to hear himself sob as well.

Shouldering his backpack, he stood in the hall, not knowing what to say, as awkward as he had been that first night, which now seemed so long ago. Facing each other, neither of them spoke, saying goodbye for fifty years with their eyes and hands. In the almost heavy silence, they both heard a key turn in the lock of the hall door and Matt, tired, dirty and bearded, walked in. Frozen with shock – and fear – the student stood there while Anita hesitated between them and then turned towards Matt, who was standing bewildered. Almost in a dream, he walked through the open hall door, whispering, maybe in fifty years, but he could only hear the sound of Matt’s voice.

 

Feel free to leave a comment or a question and I will post the second “version” of the same story from Anita’s viewpoint later this week.  Thanks and Cheerio – S

 

 

 

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Author: serkeen

I am Irish, currently living in West Australia. I have a degree in Old & Middle English, Lang & Lit and, despite having worked in Kuwait, Italy, Malaysia, USA, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong over the last 40 years, I have a strong interest in Ireland’s ancient pre-history and the heroes of its Celtic past as recorded in the 12th and late 14th century collection of manuscripts, collectively known as The Ulster Cycle. I enjoy writing historical novels, firmly grounded in a well-researched background, providing a fresh and exciting look into times long gone. I have an empathy with the historical period and I draw upon my experiences of that area and the original documents. I hope, by providing enough historical “realia” to hook you into a hitherto unknown – or barely glimpsed - historical period.

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