8 Feb

It doesn’t seem to matter how old I get,” grumbled Maurice, “I still find myself haunted by Alice.”
“You should have worked her out of your system decades ago,” hissed Monica. “For heaven’s sake, you married me a half a century ago and even back then it worried me that you were hopelessly obsessed with her.”
“Her perfume,” sighed Maurice. “Her fragrance … the way it filled the air, the way it swept over me…”
“I tried the same stuff and it didn’t seem to do much for you,” sniffed Monica.
“It was more than the perfume, it was all of her…” breathed Maurice
“But she soon left you in the lurch, smell or no smell” reminded Monica. “There you were like anyone’s fool sitting on that cracked pew at the front of the church waiting … and waiting, and waiting and waiting, and she never came!”
“We were getting married!” said Maurice sadly. “We’d walked out together, Alice and me. Every Sunday, down that lane that led into the Vale, past the crumbling old mills and across country, going the long way through sunny days, taking in the fresh air of our bright lives together! And we’d hold hands…”
“You never hold my hands!”
“I used to. Don’t be unfair. But we’re not young any more.”
“Age has nothing to do with it!” sniffed Monica. “It’s as if you hated me.”
“Anyway, I was not much more than a kid, and neither was she. Yet we did things together, things we wouldn’t have wanted our parents to know anything about.”
“You mean you stole her virginity?” There was a hint of spite in Monica’s voice, spite tinged with regret. But then the greater part of a lifetime had passed by and this man of hers was still occasionally obsessed by Alice despite the great chasm of years.
“We never did that!” protested Maurice. “It was the sixties and lasses were still obsessed by saving it for marriage. And lads, too. The last thing we wanted was a baby, not back then, not in those ultra-conservative days! But we did other stuff. Like young folks do. And it was still stuff that would have appalled our parents.”
“So what was it about Alice that you can’t shake off even though you’re supposed to love me?” she asked, bitterly.
“I waited and waited in the church. It was quiet at first so you might have heard a golden ring drop onto the stone floor if someone was careless enough to drop one, then it got to people humming in conversation, and I knew what they were saying … she’s left him, in the lurch, he’s not good enough for her, she’s had second thoughts, the poor lad thought he had everything and he’s got nothing… I wanted the ground to open up, the stone flags of the cold church to slide to one side and let me drop down, down, down into the underworld…”
“Because she didn’t come?”Monica knew the story, knew it so well, and in a way her elderly heart still bled for Maurice, even after half a century and even though she hated the very memory of Alice.
“I was sitting there I knew something was very, very wrong…” he sighed. “But you know all this, don’t you?”
“You don’t have to…” murmured Monica, trying to sound understanding but failing. “I know the memories still hurt you, and I don’t blame you for having them … Alice was special to you, I’ve always known that and I guess I’ve always known I’d be playing second fiddle if I married you, but I did. I wed you because I loved you, Maurice, and I still do. Don’t you forget that in your ramblings about what didn’t happen…”
“She was dead, Monica!”
Suddenly he was weeping. Suddenly his memories became converted into salty tears and he was shedding them, almost howling like he had when, as a child, he’d been beaten for something he hadn’t done.
“She’d always wanted to ride to church in that carriage,” he sobbed, “horse-drawn and romantic … and there she was in her bridal gown, pure white, pure like she was, and with her veil just so, a small bouquet in her hands, her face … I didn’t see it back then, how could I, being in church and sitting on that pew as I was but I can still picture it … her face all pink and her smile like the smile of an angel… and the horse bolted when that fire engine hurtled past like a red and ringing demon, bolted, scared for its own life, and the carriage was turned over and she fell, my Alice fell, dead, mutilated in that instant, beyond life…”
“I was sorry then and I still am,” sighed Monica. “I was with her, remember? In that gilded carriage? I was a bridesmaid, don’t forget, but I barely had a scratch, but she was killed outright and along with the driver. And her father: he was there too. He died days afterwards…”
“I know, and you’re so kind. But somehow Alice is still with me. She has been on and off ever since…”
“Come on. Let’s do what we haven’t done in years and go for a quiet drink,” suggested Monica. “It’s good that you still remember her. It means her living was worth while even though her life was cut so terribly short.”
“No,” he said, suddenly. “Her father, before he died, said something I’ll never forget…”
“I know,” she said, suddenly sharply. “And you should … forget it, I mean, he was raving, it didn’t make any sense, not then and not now … “
“Go with the girl… that’s what he said. Go with the girl…”
“I know. He wanted you to wed Alice. Alice who died. He was raving, you know he was, he didn’t know she was dead…”
“No Monica, it was you. He meant I was to court you and marry you. As punishment.”
She paled. “Punishment?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes,” he choked, “as punishment for me daring to love an angel. So he sent me you, a daughter of the devil, as a torment, to hate….”
© Peter Rogerson 08.02.16


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