DANCING AUTUMN LEAVES
This must be my last letter. Not because of impending disease or death. That would be so much easier to tell you. It would bring our friendship to a natural, inevitable end sweetened with the promise of a common faith.
Your friendship and your letters over these last 50 years have been my rock. My rudder, helping me navigate my way safely through this ragged and tragically beautiful life. My other pen friends have faded away over the years. Some died and I am sure some simply found my ramblings boring and ceased correspondence. You are the only survivor.
I have just re-read my first paragraphs. A maritime past still colours my words. But I digress. And, you will soon understand why as this is where the pain begins.
My past, so full of secrets and regrets, still haunts me. Your soothing responses to by troubles over the years have helped me bare the pain. I now tremble at the thought of your reaction for I must now reveal my most shameful deed. Something I can no longer put off as time runs fast and thin.
I now reach into the blackest part of my past to recall the action of a selfish and callow youth. A youth full of pride, flooded by tidal waves of egocentric ‘Getting and Spending’, blind to the need to seek his inner, more noble qualities. The things that give life meaning.
There should be no secrets between friends, between kindred spirits so here is my last and greatest regret. It has festered in my flesh for so long it must be lanced. The poison yearns to flow.
One of my first port of calls, as an Apprentice Shipwright, was a thriving seaport full of the garish attractions that cling like rancid barnacles to maritime men. Shipmates tried to convince me to join them in the fleshpots and bars that lined the waterfront. My father had filled me with venal descriptions of the consequences of such sojourns so I found it easy to decline the invitation. Instead I headed for a small village a few miles inland. A friend had described the place as an Eden, a place of solace and peace where one could re-invigorate the soul. After weeks of living in crowded conditions with personal space limited to the confines of a hammock this did sound inviting. But, there was an ulterior motive.
I submerged this ulterior motive below my conscious thought. In those early days I did try to live an honourable life. I had read that Greek and Roman youths were brought up to believe the Gods were far to busy with lofty tasks to be interested, or intercede, in our fate. These youths were encouraged to develop a personal philosophy to live by. To me, to sin then tell God you’re sorry lacked integrity. So, limited by the scarcity of Ancient Tutors, I developed my own simple ethos; ‘Don’t do anything you could not tell your Mother’.
But other forces, overpowering carnal senses that lurked deep within, were already confidently organising and celebrating my downfall. Such is the nature and sad fate of young men.
I arrived in this ‘Garden of Eden’ about midday. The bus stopped right in front of a Diner which I boldly entered encouraged by the confident appetites of youth.
I saw her immediately. She was bending over an elderly woman speaking in a raised voice. Other diners carried on eating accepting this shouted conversation as normal. “No Mrs Gleeson the chillies not too spicy…” Her eyes, attracted to the movement of my entry found mine. A stiff beehive hairdo and heavily lined eyes, as was the fashion In those days, did little to mask her youth and radiance. She dropped her eyes releasing me to breath once more and continued. “If you don’t like it I will take it back and get you a sandwich”. Mrs Gleeson seemed happy with this. The girl bent over and kissed her on the forehead. Again, the other diners seemed oblivious to this, seemingly, over affectionate behaviour from a waitress.
I moved to the counter and sat on a raised stool, burying myself in foreign choices, afraid to even glance at the girl for fear of gawking. “Well, decided yet?” I looked up. Laughing green eyes framed by strawberry blond hair appraised me steadily. “Your lips were moving as you read. Do you need help?” I felt the rising colour tingle my scalp and rush to my face. The goddess laughed. “That was easy. You look cute when you blush.” She seemed to struggle to control herself. “Sorry, that was mean. Your lips weren’t moving. The specials of the day are…”. “Ch…Ch…illi. I will have the Chilli.” I managed to stammer. She smiled, took the menu from my hand and started to pour coffee into a cup that magically appeared before me. “Good choice!”
She turned away, leaving me to bathe in glib but hungrily devoured flattery.
The following hours are hazy. I do remember three desserts ordered in a desperate attempt to delay my parting. I furtively watched her when she was not looking my way. The lunch time crowd diminished. To my dismay I saw my Angel preparing to leave. She brushed by me as she put on her coat. I was engulfed in the heady aroma of flowers. A young girl’s perfume. The scent of spring.
She turned, “You want to go for a walk? I always end my shift with a walk… need to get the smell of cooking out of my clothes.” I looked at her gobsmacked. I did not think she had really noticed me other than raising her eyebrows when I ordered my third portion of pecan pie and cream. “ Yes please… that would be nice.” I fumbled in my pocket to find a confusing array of foreign money. She moved closer and selected the right amount, laying it on the counter. I felt giddy with delight as she brushed my hand.
We walked out into a brisk Autumn day. A stiff breeze swirled bright coloured leaves around our feet as we strolled. I had never felt so alive. I have never been so alive since.
My dearest Peter, sorry Peta (after all these years I still confuse the gender spelling of your name) you were so much more than your photo. I held and treasured that photo portraying someone to be loved and admired but seemingly unattainable. All such doubts were transformed to dust as you took my arm and snuggled into me, bracing against that cool wind.
As I managed to relax and feel comfortable, walking by your side, I tried to decipher my reasons for not revealing myself as your pen-friend. I think I was afraid it would upset the equilibrium of our developing relationship. I did not want to endanger those precious, fragile moments. Instead I silently plotted using my knowledge of your hopes and dreams and weaving them into words. As we grew closer my spirit soared. I never wanted that day to end.
When you later wrote to tell me you were with child I wanted to explain my duplicity. The only honourable way to do that was to depict myself as a monster of deception who used his intimate awareness of you to compromise and seduce. So I chose the easier role of comforting friend. When you later divulged that you had found a good man who had offered to look after you and our baby I was relieved. But, it was relief of the anaesthetised,only numbing the pain.
We are both alone now. Our only comfort is our son. When he came to Australia on business I told you I was unable to meet him. I did go and see him though. And, just like that young man sitting in the diner so many years ago, I stole furtive glances. He turned suddenly and our eyes met. I briefly saw your eyes and fair complexion before averting my gaze to the ground afraid closer examination would reveal shadows of my self. But, just as it had on that chilly Autumn day, my spirit soared.
So my darling this is goodbye. But know this, if I had been able. If I had been more mature and capable of expressing my feelings and revealing my underlying tenets I would have. The thought of our relationship, bound by marriage, makes me ache with cherished longing, and loss.
I pray daily to those ancient, indifferent, gods that my last thoughts will be of you and dancing Autumn leaves.