Alice thought she had an ironclad will, a crush proof armour that provided no way in for anyone or anything. That had been true of her once but now it seemed feeble, what had she been thinking taking up with him again?
To be honest the idea was a little ugly. Alice is of a certain age, and as we all know time cannot defy gravity, at best it absorbs it, then re-contours it in a south like manner. Time is a jaw-dropping experience and the passage of it shapes all things for better, or worse. While time is of the essence, everybody knows you can seize it, but you can’t freeze it.
What goes south stays in the south. It does so, not because it knows what’s on the itinerary, but because DNA said so. It continues to unravel without an inkling as to what it’s doing or why. A bit like Alice.
They say age is an awful trade for experience, still, age is not a question it’s an answer, the answer. Ageing is the given natural - that is until you reach your destination. So, isn’t it our good fortune that none of this is a problem in relationships? You see relationships all happen in a different place, not in the real world but in the ephemeral realm, (that’s in a higher transitory space to you and I). You think you don’t got one? Sounds like gobbledygook to you and me, but believe me this is where it happens, in a place so beautifully, staggeringly and stubbornly short sighted that it defies belief.
Alice had been fine as she was until he came along reminding her she had aged and was alone. Somewhere, somehow her bright youthfulness had passed on in a fleeting whisper leaving her only memories to hang onto. She had lost the passion of that adolescent, the one who had delighted at the little things in life, though she still possessed that funny unconventional attractiveness, as I will call it. What it should be called is hard to define, so for instance will have to do.
For instance, her mother, also being named Alice, shows she followed in that interesting tradition of lineage. By naming your child a clone from the start they should become one shouldn't they? This wasn’t true of young Alice. Mother Alice was articulate, had artistry, sophistication and social presence, whereas Alice did not. Mother Alice was class without money, a milliner who worked magic in fashionable Bond Street.
“Alice!” her mother called, running behind Alice, who walked out the garden gate heading to school. “Darling” mother said as she removed the hanger dangling from her hood, trying to save embarrassment. “Didn’t you notice?” She looked at her daughter strangely. Perhaps young Alice was preoccupied, a bit clumsy, she'd grow out of it. Young Alice went to school in a hand crafted bonnet, Fair Isle, you had to admire mother Alice's knitting skills.
"This way Alice, pearl this way, plain, pearl, plain, pearl. That's backwards Alice, and inside out". The genesis of an annoying habit had its seeds in knitting lessons, that habit of singing when the red, red robin, comes, bob, bob, bobbing along, Alice sang under her breath whenever put under pressure.
For instance over, Alice now older had that feeling, one she couldn’t help, like the one that comes when the nest is empty, or that feeling when someone or something is missing. She thought there must have been some omission if this is all there is, and wondered where all the years had gone. Seeing him, Matt, reminded her she was lonely, like she'd been living in a wilderness.
Alice like so many of us had watched life play and studied it from every angle, she even helped others get through it. She after all ran her own successful counselling practice. Still for all this she looked for the slight of hand, the one that made her miss the trick every time, because as good as she was at helping others undo the knots, she herself always ended up in tangles. Alice’s perennial instinct was that she’d been fobbed off, she’d got the cameo role, the one where you play the fool and everybody knows it. Now he was back around, he longed to remind her of what could have been, what still could be.... age and experience, really, it was going to take more than her own reasoning could provide to avoid a head on crash.
This new chapter had started when she felt a change was needed, the practice took so much time and energy, so that summer Alice promised herself a break. Leaving the familiar route behind she met up with old friends. It had been a long time coming and so long since she had taken time to herself that she’d lost sight of it. Unfortunately that’s how life can be. With your nose pressed hard to the window of life, carrying the weight of responsibilities becomes second nature. So much so that you just carry the bags, until one day you notice you’re not even window shopping, the store's closed down. Someone told you about the receivers sale, but you passed it by on your destination to nowhere.
She had ignored being starved of life, the slow listless fatigue that sticks to your ribs when you have nothing left to give, it hung on her like an unspoken apology. You could see it in how she responded to everything with the same bland disinterest, far too busy polishing a turd that would never shine. A holiday might have helped but not all holidays are good she remembered, after the last disaster in fact, she might avoid them for good.
Life had made her pessimistic, a bit broken, with a bank account to match, empty. On spiritual empty. How unsociable she'd become is really unsurprising, her insight after all belonged to everybody and everything else, not herself, and life had been a hard deal. She wasn't a natural pessimist and she wasn’t thick skinned either, quite the opposite, sensitive. It’s just that mishaps seemed to follow her and it shaped her. She could laugh at adversity, that manic kind of WTF knee jerk reaction, she had it, but as calamity didn't want to be controlled she had to learn humility and patience. It made her mild, mild on the outside with an iron core built to withstand incoming missiles. Trouble is, there it is, right there, she wouldn't see them, Alice is a dreamer.
After decades, unnoticed decades of absorption in the business of marriage, work and children and the fickle twists and turns of fate, her passion ran to a trickle, then to a stop where it now hid under her skin. Doubtless, when she tried a new life plan, a new start, that had only gotten her into deeper waters swimming with the sharks.
Twists and turns, we all get them, well no matter, Alice did put a face on it and set about tracing old friends. She hated social media, had the lowest opinions of it, though no one could deny the power it had to remake what time had lost or undone. Nothing wrong with looking for friends that life had perhaps smiled on, it’s nice to see the smile and you never know it might rub off. That of course was the point of it, she needed to remake something out of the chaos she’d gotten into, and who has ever suffocated in the unknown?
There was something better, she knew it, if she could only overcome herself, open up a bit and keep out of trouble. As an older woman, matured more experienced and apparently worldly wise, she didn’t have to act anymore did she. It's not as if she needed to hide it and pretend everything was great, especially not with old friends. She had learned things in life, how to survive, how to care, how to get by, how to love, how to loose and yet now she had lost all love for herself. Deep inside she’d engraved something on her heart, it was incised so severely that it had almost stopped it beating, who could she trust? Now it’s clear that no one could own that heart again.
“Hold your glass over” Christa said pouring in a generous portion of red wine up to the brim. They were all a bit tipsy by now giggling about how Brendan Mallory had mangled his member in his fly zip in the boys room at school.
“OMG” Jules laughed “it was a bleeding nightmare, the first time I’d ever seen one and it was hanging off”. They laughed raucously at the exaggeration.
“So that’s why you decided to become a nurse is it Jules?” said Alice throwing her head back laughing.
Here they were back together the famous three, it had been five but Jennifer, since she had become a preachers wife, declined Christa’s invitation. Alice couldn’t quite get her head around Jules’ explanation but it seemed like, without pointing fingers, that Jules was the cause. “We did used to talk at one time” Jules explained “but it seems she’s offended by my psychic abilities. You know my mum had them don’t you”. No question about it, they all remembered her, an Irish immigrant, short, round, friendly and unassuming, but she could put the fear of God into you in a moment, by talking to the departed just over your shoulder. “Well, Jennifer thinks I’m in touch with the devil and wants nothing to do with it” she said looking offended.
Miriam was also missing on account that she had recently lost her husband and was in grief, so it was just the three of them. “Remember Leslie Crowfield, well, he’s my postman now” Christa said “and Matt Denby, I saw him in Windsor the other day”. Alice gave a brief flicker.
“We've been in contact” Alice said, self conscious under their watchful gaze. Alice rolled her eyes “email, tells me his schedule”. Matt she considered to be a friend, a very old and boring friend, there had been a romance once, a long time ago now in the 70′s. He’d wanted to put a ring on her finger then, but that was then, in the past, they had left it behind.
Ever since she'd hooked up with the girls again, they'd kept in touch, but this weekend was special. She knew this by the fluffy white bath sheets Christa had folded on the beds, and by their warm hugs at the coach station. Matt on the other hand, that contact was infrequent, his business life shut the door on that. He was married and business regularly took him off all over Europe and beyond but never around her way. They were figuratively speaking like two butt prints in the sand of time, left behind on their last romp in fools paradise, a paradise forgotten.
Nothing more was said as the evening moved on. It was what was left unsaid as usual that was interesting.
“Have you seen her” Matt had asked Christa in Windsor.
“No, but we are planning to get together” she replied.
Christa had exchanged all the usual niceties in which she found he was separated, there was no reason for her to think further on it, wasn’t everyone? Christa didn't mention it to Alice.
“Seance anyone” Jules asked getting into her spiritual receptor pose.
Well perhaps Matt appeared to have everything he ever wanted, but in spite of that something was missing, and he was certain of what that was. He was sure Alice would still be attracted to him. He wanted Alice again. Matt is not the sort of person who’s used to getting less than what he's aiming for. He had a fantasy and what’s more he wanted it made real.
Fantasies, they look fine in the movies, they’re still okay as a hope, a dream, but put them to paper and they start to look a bit shabby. Alice opened yahoo. ‘Alice, I’d like to see more of you, what do you think?’ he asked unexpectedly. Alice frowned at the mail box, then she churned it for a few days, what for she asked herself? ‘Matt’, she replied ‘How does that work, binoculars or google earth? Like, I live in Wales? I’m not sure Matt, its a bit … strange, you want to be my weird friend?’
The ownership clause on her heart pulled uncomfortably, she couldn’t unmake it and she suspected he wanted something more. ‘It works, it can work Alice, I’m going to be around a lot more, I’m free, getting a divorce, no pressure just give it a chance?’. So that’s how it started, the hook, where’s the harm?, but if you follow later on down the line, Alice wondered how she’d landed there.