OUT OF BODY, OUT OF MIND
She blew out the candle and slipped into bed hoping not to wake him, but his body turned instinctively towards her and they folded around one another, breath on breath, melting. Perhaps somewhere deep in his subconscious he would sense her feelings. And far within her own mind, the touch triggered some distant secret lever she had never suspected was there and she began to feel something else. The earlier warmth had continued to grow as it filled her yet its calm wave had not after all reached its peak and turned to ebb. It continued to flow on and build and rise up until now it overcame her in a tidal flood that submerged every thought she had so carefully nurtured of this day.
Ellie caught her breath, at first fighting the loss of control, until it came through with a sob and a rush of tears despite herself. She found herself now on an entirely different level, rising above herself. Yes, she had known love before, its passion and caring, and no matter that it had always ended as all things do, no matter that she had never quite been able to make it last – some fault in her emotional design, perhaps – for she had still known more good times than many do. Yet now… she was touching something beyond imagination. She realised that for the first time she truly loved another person more than herself. At this point it was as though her spirit eased itself free of her, to drift up over the bed and sense its oneness with all that is.
“What is it?” Neil murmured, still more than half asleep. But her reply could not be heard. In any case, there are no words to describe what is beyond comprehension.
But none of these thoughts would be of any help at all in twelve hours’ time. Absolutely nothing could have prepared her for what was to happen.
Ellie was up first on Sunday morning. She hadn’t slept much but that didn’t matter as the feelings of the previous day had stayed with her while she lay back calmly, one arm across him, watching the thin shafts of light from passing cars filter through a chink in the curtains and trace their patterns above her head, picking out the ceiling relief. Her body was alive with this new and subtle energy and she neither needed rest nor wanted to be unconscious. No-one should sleep through the best moments of their lives.
Most of the night she had just bathed in the whole experience, although every so often the left brain had intruded for a few moments to wonder what all this would mean for them, for their future. Surely now, after all the uncertainty… She had loved him from the first moment they’d met by chance at the health club two years before – at least, she had sensed that they belonged together – when she wandered into the wrong class and stood there, embarrassed, as their eyes met. She hadn’t been surprised when he called her a couple of days later to invite her to join the class anyway, and her confession that she hadn’t done any serious exercise for years brought only a delighted laugh and an invitation for dinner.
They were a couple before the coffee arrived. And before he told her that he was married. It didn’t matter…
WHEN THIS IS OVER
when this is over
and the dark night flies in the face of our dreams
when nothing we know
is the way that it seems now…
will the candle still burn
will your body still turn on to me
will it be
when this is over
and the shadows have fled from the marketplace
where souls are sold
for a handful of warm embraces…
will that be the end
will I still call you ‘lover’ and ‘friend’
will you be
when this is over
and we finally see why it had to be…
will our spirits accept
and in the final release
who will pick up the pieces
THIS COULD BE THE LAST TIME
…here was where I was meant to be and all I was waiting for was that someone who belonged.
I’d be sailing back slowly to the harbour in the evening and imagining her waiting at home for me. She didn’t have to be all that beautiful, I had no illusions about myself, but she was kind and gentle and we were made for each other. After a while I could see her clearly in my mind, the Slavic cheekbones, long dark hair and hazel eyes. Ha, even the unshaved legs! I got to looking for her as I walked around the Old Town in Dubrovnik, sure she must be just around the corner one day. I never told anyone else, even Boris. Perhaps if I had he would’ve put me straight.
So I’d been there about five years when I got the painting. Christ, I didn’t even buy it, there was this young street artist I got to know a bit, the hippy sort but a nice guy. Never had two kuna to rub together of course so I used to give him a free ride from time to time over to one of the islands for the day. And one day he just gave me the painting as a sort of payment I suppose. I’d told him I didn’t want anything but he insisted that he’d done this one for me and no-one else because I’d been kind to him. It was a weird moment, he said I’d “understand later”.
I took a quick look and there she was, my woman with the dark hair and hazel eyes except this girl was younger, maybe mid-twenties. It was a beautiful picture anyway and I was touched. I could feel that strange excitement in my guts, too, you know, like when you know something really important is happening. So I tried to ask Josef – that’s the artist – who she was and what he meant about me understanding later, but he was already on the quay and shuffling off. He just called over his shoulder, “Ništa ne mari” – ‘It doesn’t matter’ or something like that. I shouted after him to at least tell me her name because I suppose I thought she must be a real person he knew because the picture was so lifelike. He stopped and turned round for a moment as though he was considering it, but then he shrugged and wandered off and I never saw him again. Later, someone told me he’d gone south.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking now, it was just a picture like hundreds of others you see on calendars or advertising hoardings at the side of the road. But this one started burning holes in my head. It haunted me...
The woods were more dense and dark than I’d expected and I was just thinking I might be getting a bit lost when I heard the music, just faintly at first, an accordion and some voices laughing and singing. Maybe I could get some food or a hot drink so I headed that way and before long I came out into this clearing. There was a small house on the other side, a whitewashed stone cottage with lamps at the windows and an old wooden door with a crucifix for a knocker. There was a nice stream running past it into the trees and down the hill towards the sea. You’d never see this place from the shore. You’d never know until you were there.
Something about it was making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I could still hear the voices and the music but there was no sign of life anywhere about, no-one to be seen through the windows even though I walked all the way round. And I was wide awake by now and still thinking that maybe I could get a drink so I went up to the door. Then it was like someone had turned a switch. Just as I reached for the crucifix, everything went silent and my hand stopped in mid-air like it had a mind of its own. And very slowly, the door opened by itself.
I’m not sure how to say this… Well, very simply, it’s just that standing there half in shadow was Maria, or whoever she was. The absolute image, except that this girl in front of me was no more than about seven or eight years old. I tried to speak, introduce myself, but somehow I couldn’t, the words wouldn’t come, and she just looked me right in the eyes and smiled. Then I thought I could feel someone behind me and turned round but there was no-one there and when I turned back the door was closed and the place was in darkness. I walked all round again but it was deserted. And I just felt cold...