Today, I went to see, after driving so near, so many times. A slight detour, a dent in the route home, via Weobley.
Late afternoon. The village, with its timber-framed houses, was eerily quiet. I had the oddest feeling, as if dangling above everything, held in a giant’s pinch.
That curious detachment of mine. Again.
There it was, where the main road in bends everso slightly left – a private house now, thick net curtains eyelidding the window. The only relic of its days as The Old Forge Craft Shop & Tearoom was a sign, tucked away in the porch: Lipton’s Tea. Bobbing my head, peering to see it, hurriedly. Didn’t want anyone to spy me hovering outside their door.
Keep walking, keep walking – there’s the old stone wall of the garden out back, into which – I think? – the teashop spilled.
I only recall sitting inside with you, at the too-small, skirted tables, china cups clattering on their saucers each time one of us bashed a table leg with a knee. Our order was always the same: ham & cheese toasties, and a slice of cake, one of the homemade ones squatting beneath their glass domes.
It was like turning the pages of a picture book, wandering those streets after so many years. Oh yes, the church is down there, and that tiny garage with the rusting pump outside.
Was it always this still, so quiet you could almost hear a clock ticking in a stranger’s front room?
And those two old houses across the street, their time-scavenged windows framing only blackness within – how could two such beautiful buildings be left to decay?
A thud somewhere, as I landed back in myself, a soft thud, in my belly I suppose, the clunk of a bell rope, ringing a sorrowing little chime behind my eyes.
It’s not as if I didn’t know you weren’t perfect.
Prickly, on-edge, defensive. Battened down. Until you opened up. Never suffering fools.
But god how you made me laugh!
It’s not as if I didn’t know I wasn’t perfect.
It was just easier to stick a label over your faults, and pick, pick, pick away at it. Damn, that label would not peel off. Always the sticky residue, greyed with all my resentments.
I think, at times, we were both a little lonely.
But how I loved, really loved, our trips out together, in your British Racing Green German car, along roads so familiar I felt cradled by the motion and the hedgerows.
That other tearoom, in Bourton in November, remember? Of course you do. A large pot of tea for two, and four teacakes, please. We liked to visit in winter, when the waiters were unhurried, and we could sit wherever we liked, and tuck into teacakes the size of side plates, and the lights were dim and the tables were all dark brown, and we were happy.
Not all ghosts are the remnants of dead people. Ours are very much alive, Will O’ The Wisps, a trail of the most perfect, perfect little lights.
Yes, we had some perfect times.
I’m not sure I should have gone back to Weobley.
The remembering isn’t a thought. It is a thing, a something, a what? Not a hollow, that is a no-thing… No, it is the snug little slot in a velvet-lined ring box, where I keep you, tucked away. Yes. I wriggle in, curl up tiny, burrow, and there you are – the sweat on you, that scent peculiar to you that built over a warm day. The curve of the muscles of your upper arms, the roughness of nascent hair growth on your shaved head, your almond-shaped eyes.
You dozing in your slippery leather chair, our only child, weeks fragile, asleep on you. I never could get comfortable on that chair, no matter how much I shuffled.
But what good does it do, remembering.
What was once joined – sort of – is now separate. And I no longer miss you.
Just – us. At our best. At our softest. At our safest. Living our unspectacular, imperfect life, jewelled with moments of such contentment.
I think, well I can’t be sure, because my memory stores them like exhibits in a cabinet of curiosities, untarnished – I think I have not experienced their like since.
Not in quite the same way.
If only we could have lived our days in tearooms. Tearooms, and furniture stores, where we never, ever disagreed.
I guess this is my no-longer-in-love letter to you.
I guess I just need to say…
Sorry for not being honest with you, although I never lied to you, either. Not in any dramatic way.
Sorry, about the long silences, the cracking and creaking of the ice, the yelling at each other in the street, the paling of your face and the setting of your jaw.
And my damned detachment.
For being unhappy, and not really knowing why – no, not true – for lacking the courage to tell you why.
I see now, how easy it is, to love a person in the past tense. In the present… Well. That can be hard.
I see, now, that my love for you, once tethered and bound, gave up the fight.
Still it sits, not quite knowing what to do with itself, not quite understanding how – in a certain way, at least – time keeps hurtling forward, without ever going anywhere at all.