A walk by the sea (61)

When it was over, she stood up with the rest of them, blindly clapping for the man she dearly loved. She watched his haggard face from behind the shelter of someone standing in front of her, his not so much humble, but rather resigned gestures of gratitude. Where was the proud, resolute Joshua, who had glorious plans for re-building his career, who was all smiles and tenderness? The person she saw standing on the small stage was slightly stooping, unshaven albeit dressed elegantly, and he exuded an air of bitter aloffness, as if to defy the whims of fame. The instinctive impression she got that he was there because someone made him, not because of his own choice made her stomach even tighter from the sympathy she felt for him.

-Excuse me for a minute –Andrew told her and disappeared just as Joshua stepped behind the curtains and was gone.

Mary sat down again; her legs were not holding her. She was glad Andrew was not there to see her in her ragged emotional state, but Joshua’s absence made her endlessly miserable. It had taken all her effort to stay calm and sit through the brief performance without falling apart. Andrew was obviously oblivious to what he had triggered in her… but she knew he only wanted the best for her, the blessed soul. She was grateful to him, despite the increasing anxiety and restlessness that threatened to rise and fall over her like giant waves against which she knew she had no power.

What to do now? Acknowledge his presence in the same state, the same city, and simply move on? Take his miraculous re-appearance for granted and accept the fact that she would leave within a short time, never to see him again? Or search for him and-

She closed her eyes to resuscitate her love for him, to feel his blessed presence that stirred up so many memories. She wanted to leave the fancy hall behind, she longed to be out on the beach where he had, after all, been that night. It was him she saw. How could she have doubted it? Did she see him? Maybe he did… and walked past her, ignoring her like she had asked him to. Oh, if only she could take those words back… take everything she had told him back… make it unhappen.

Her throat was so dry she was hardly able to swallow. Pouring herself some champagne, she downed it in one gulp, praying for dizziness to soften her emotions. They were screaming inisde her, pummelling inside her skull to be free. For an agonizingly beautiful moment she envisaged his arms around her once again, his heart beating under hers, a sense of Paradise floating in the air. There would be no lies, no pain, no doubt, no regret. Just him, and her, for as long as fate would let them be together.

-I’m sorry I left like that, I wanted to catch Mr Morgan before he left the venue –Andrew returned and sat down beside her. –Is everything alright?

She nodded and a frantic heartbeat set the rhythm of her emotions. The sweet fancy of something impossible was drowned by the sudden facts she could hardly grasp.

-What do you mean? –she asked Andrew with a face impassable as stone.

-He’s wonderfully talented and judging by the look on his face, he’s also legally maltreated –Andrew said, finishing his own champagne, watching the other guests slowly get up and leave. –I wanted to make sure he got a better offer.

-Better than what?

-I know people in the music industry and I’m willing to pay for setting him free from whatever trap he’s got himself into.

She hid her hands under the table, clasping her fingers together to stop the shaking that would spread to her whole body very soon. It was too much. Could it be she would see him soon?

-You look terribly pale –Andrew leaned closer, stroking her cold cheek. –Was this a bad idea…?

-No, it was wonderful… he was wonderful –Mary said, trying to stop the shaking of her limbs. She said it. He was wonderful… an understatement, a painful censoring of her true feelings- but it was the closest she was able to get under the given circumstances.

-I never heard him before but my niece sang odes and hymns about him –Andrew smiled. –I had to give this guy a chance, Bonnie made me promise I would.

Mary smiled wanly, her heart overflowing with emotions she wanted to share with someone. Seeing Joshua was something so unexpected she could still not believe it. She remembered Sara’s arrival the next day and before long she was counting the hours and minutes.


She found it impossible to sleep. Time was slowly crawling, so slowly it was painful. She longed it to be Friday morning, to be able to share her secret with someone who understood her, and Sara was the only person she could trust.

Her exhibition was also keeping her awake. Andrew’s praising words did not blind her own judgement; she knew some of her works were decent and a few people might derive pleasant moments from looking at them, but she did have her doubts about their ’exceptional evocative quality and depth’ as Andrew so generously put it. She had tossed those words and her own qualms about the exhibition for many days now: they were always lurking at the back of her head, despite or perhaps as a result of the turmoil she had recently experienced. There was no helping it: even at the threshold of existential misery she could still not banish the thoughts that had led to her alienation from Joseph in the first place. Her mind, her heart, her whole being knew for certain she had lost the love of her son forever, and that she was the only one to blame- and yet, in Andrew’s compassionate embrace, pulled back from the abyss, she let herself float on the tremulous hope her art had always brought on wings of multi-coloured fancies and impossible, improbable and inexplicable truths she was ready to accept as more fathomable than what was assigned as real by society.

If only she could be certain that there was someone, just one person who understood her unconditionally. Andrew was silencing his own doubts in the commendable effort to face and appease the emotional war raging inside her; she accepted his help, for that force which is stronger than any other, the instinct to survive was making her helpless and dependant on him. But she knew just as inexorably that there was no forgiveness for what she had done… No god, no human, no son could ever forgive her negligence, her self-importance of long, ineffaceable years that followed her existence like an obnoxious birthmark. Whenever a painting reached her own standards, whenever she was able to express her inner struggles, the joy she felt at the justification of her selfishness and the pain that ruthlessly came without fail to remind her of what she had sacrificed fought to overcome her first. Thus, painting was an eternal and exhausting battle for her peace of mind.

Sitting on the edge of her bed, she was faced with the dreadful possibility of not being well received the next day. She could well be losing that last glimmer of hope, the stingy confirmation that she had not wasted her life, had not given up what other people would have killed for in vain. She shook helplessly, alone and helpless against her fears, until finally she became breathless with fear and hastily dressing, she slipped out of the flat, her soft steps veiled by the thick silence of the night.

She knew where she was going before the idea of getting out of bed struck her: the city was asleep and she felt distant from everything, all of life, all of humanity, all the notions she had never accepted and that now rejected her mercilessly. She knew she had no family, she knew that real love was never meant for her, only a tantalizing glimpse of it, to see what she may have had if only…

The ocean was vastly stretching out ahead of her, dark and gloomy, scarcely lit by a moody, greyish moon. Waves fought with each other to eventually dissolve into one another, brothers and sisters, all parts of eternity: why resist her true nature when in the end she knew where it would lead her? There was no changing herself, not at a ripe old age as hers; wailing for chances lost and missed would not bring her any more peace than resigning herself to the unchangeable. Bearing the loss of Joseph, of Jeffrey, of a life she could have called normal would only be accentuated by the recurring regret and remorse. It was over, over and done with. She lost them, they were gone forever, there was no bringing them back, just as any wave, all the waves that met were forever lost, dissolving into one another to create something infinitely larger than before.

Mary closed her eyes, feeling the rocking of the water reach her across the cold, salty air. Loss and pain against hope and a blurry desire to have, hold, cherish, love, feel- an entanglement of emotions that was threatening to overcome her frail body. Yes, she lay defeated in the face of her past crimes but then why was a strange, tingling sensation crawling up her legs, a timid wish to take a deep breath, cleanse her soul, leave the past behind, growing stronger and stronger, like the roaring sound of waves in her deafened ears, like the soft, cool drops of water splashed on her closed eyelids?

Warmth reached her, the improbable warmth of a human presence at her back. She stood with her eyes closed, feeling that warmth, thanking the ocean, the God that may exist, after all, letting her imagination soar and letting herself believe it was Joshua standing there, like a divine mirage, a godsend to heal her wounds, help her live, help her love-

The sound that settled in her soul was not the crashing of a wave, nor the somnorous shriek of a seagull, but a coarse, muffled breath of someone who, like herself, was struggling to return from hell.