More Than You Think (Three Stories)

Before we left, various chums were saying goodbye and a young woman came up to wish me a nice time and say they’d miss us. She’s in her early teens, cheerful, slim, very fashionable. We are part of the same community, but several weeks may pass between hello’s. I felt proud that she’d noticed I was going and that she cared enough to break orbit.

When I was small, my mother had a friend that we would visit at least once a week. There were no toys, so my little sister and I would track the twirling stems on the Turkish rug, then hop from flower to flower. Mum’s friend would bake little madeline mountains, snowy with coconut, topped with a glace cherry that always felt like a chewy decadence. As I grew up she became my friend too, a steadying, calming hand of perspective and humour.  In the changing allegiances and heightened betrayals of my youth, she and I were as we always had been. I visited her in hospital, I don’t remember why she went in but she caught a grotesque superbug which ate away at her. She lay in an off corridor room. No longer vigorous, but dainty. We chatted and after a while I said how grateful I was to her, how I had needed her and how much she had helped me. She looked at me astonished and said “Have I?”

A new friend, in her sixties is showing us a cine film of herself as a teenager. It’s of a wedding, she’s a bridesmaid. Suddenly on the screen appears another friend we know from London. I used to go to her house every week for eggs, chips, beans and buttered plastic bread. I would spend the evening with her and her daughter. Her husband liked to talk, I found this interfered with my liking to talk, so although he was kind and intelligent, I was never crestfallen when he toddled off early to bed. In time we left London. In time the husband died. But there he is on the screen with his wife and they are young and good looking and in their smartest clothes and her arm is through his and she’s holding her own hand, so the two of them are linked and I want to cry for a man I haven’t thought of in ten years. All this time I loved him and I had no idea.

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