by H.St Vincent Beechey

 

‘Stop it, Charlie, we really must be serious for a moment.’ Helena brought us down to earth.

We were in her room where we had retired to consider the problem posed by Bonnie’s imminent arrival in Ireland. I had promised to be at Shannon airport at fourteen hundred hours on Saturday-it was now Friday evening!

‘Now let us first define the problem,’ she said in a practical tone. ‘No, not that problem. Just sit still over there.’ And she sat at the far side of the coffee table. She put on a pair of round spectacles that made her look like an owl, spread out a sketch pad, and picked up a pen. ‘Tell me how you see the problem.’

‘Bonnie will arrive tomorrow afternoon. I am supposed to meet her.’

‘Okay’ said Helena, drawing a decision box. ‘You can either be there or not. Which shall it be?’

‘Well I couldn’t just not turn up-oh well, I could I suppose, but it would be too cruel. And besides, she would probably report me as a missing person.’

‘Right’ said Helena, and ticked a Yes line. ‘Why is meeting her a problem?’

‘Because she’ll have expectations. She will want to turn back the clock – to before Fritz. She will want to run my life and whisk me all over the place. And take me away from you!’

‘While we are on the subject,’ Helena said dryly, ‘Don’t you think it’s time you found out what I think about the issue? Shouldn’t you find out what I am feeling before you start drastic alterations to your lifestyle? We only met yesterday.’

‘Well?’ I said.

‘You are a very attractive man, Charlie. You were absolutely wonderful today, I don’t know how I would have coped without you, you were there for me. You didn’t talk too much when I needed to be quiet. I like you, Charlie, I really do, but all this talk about dealing with Bonnie…it has got me confused.’

‘But don’t you see?’ I insisted, ‘I want to stay with you, or have you stay with me. I love you, damn it.’

‘Now just hold on a minute. What do you mean, Love? It sounds like infatuation to me. For all I know you are on the rebound. Besides, I only buried my husband today-well you know what I mean – my final goodbyes. Don’t you think you are a bit premature? And think of poor Bonnie, coming here all repentant, expecting you to take her back.’

I was contrite. I find emotional entanglements confusing. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘How do you feel about me? Don’t tell me you don’t feel the magic too.’ I was suddenly aghast. It had never occurred to me that my feelings weren’t fully reciprocated.

‘Well, I think…’

‘I said how do you feel, not think. You women are supposed to talk about feelings. Here am I, trying to talk your language, and now you are tricking me with mine.’ I grumbled.

‘Okay,’ she said, ‘You want feelings…?

‘One, I feel gratitude.

‘Two, I feel I like you. I like your humour. I like the fact that you are non-threatening. I have the suspicion that you are chock-full of the normal sexist male prejudices, but you haven’t a trace of the macho aggression that makes such views dangerous. As I said, Charlie, I like you. BUT…’

‘But?’ I queried. I had a sudden sinking feeling.

‘But there are a few negatives, mainly concerning me. I feel doubt.

‘I’m sure you are sincere, as far as trying to be truthful about your feelings for me. It is my feelings for you, or for any man for that matter. I am a widow. It has been nearly a year now, and I am still mourning my husband. Especially today. Today was supposed to be the day to close the door on the past. Well, it didn’t. That business with the ashes has opened it right up again. I even began to feel guilty about our kisses last night, as chaste as they were.’ Her eyes filled with tears. ‘Sorry, Charlie,’ and she felt blindly for a stupid little handkerchief.

‘Here,’ I said. ‘Use mine,’ and I walked ’round the table to give it to her. While I was there I gave her a brotherly hug. Brotherly I thought to myself ruefully. She clasped me for a moment. When she let go I returned to my side of the table. It seemed the right thing to do.

‘There,’ she said, ‘I told you that you are a nice man. You nice people are the hardest ones to deal with.’

‘But what about Bonnie?’ I said, desperately trying to get the ship back on course.

Helena finished wiping her eyes and perched her glasses on her nose again.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘We have already decided that you are to meet Bonnie tomorrow. How you deal with that meeting is entirely up to you. You are a kind man so I’m sure you will handle it gently. Who knows, perhaps your meeting will turn the clock back for you. I know she hurt your feelings dreadfully, but you are the forgiving sort. Admit it now, when you phoned her the other day you had half decided to let bygones be bygones.’

‘But I hadn’t met you then. I have been waiting all my life for you.’

‘We shall see about that.’ And then she busied herself with her notepad as though she hadn’t really meant to say it. ‘The best thing is for me to tell you my plans and then you can decide what you want to do.’

I nodded. ‘Fire away, I’ve never even asked you how long you are staying.’

‘I booked in for a week.’ Helena was businesslike again. ‘I arrived on Wednesday, the day before you. After that, I intend to travel North along the coast. I have planned to spend a month in Ireland. I’ll give you a copy of my itinerary. And’ she smiled, ‘I’ll give you my e-mail address. I haven’t got a digital phone, but I’ve got my notebook and modem. I can plug into the local phone network, I’m sure.’

‘You’ve got your computer?’ I said, distracted. ‘Can I see it. I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.’

She laughed out loud. ‘Only an innocent like you, Charlie, would come out with a remark like that.’

It took a minute for the penny to drop.

‘Why Charlie,’ she said, ‘You are blushing.

And so we sorted out the problem. All it needed was good planning!

 

© Copyright H.St V.Beechey October 1996

 

Next Episode: Good Arrangement

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