By Paul Riches
She sits down.
“Henry, it has come time we had a talk. A long delayed talk. And I know part of that is my fault, but we shall try and muddle through this now. So let me talk. Please.”
She sighs, slowly moving her hands over each other again and again, eyes cast down, seeming so very small in her chair. After a few seconds, her gaze darts back up, full of purpose and pain.
“You were burying your uncle all those decades ago. He had passed away and you had to come across the ocean to England to settle his affairs. That final night, or at least it was supposed to be your final night in our town, was when we met.”
A smile spreads across her face. Slight tears settle at the bottom of her eyes. She exhales quickly and breathes in slowly.
“You were so charming, with that fresh faced brightness and neatly combed hair. The first word that came to mind, a word I had seen in some magazine, was… sophisticated. It felt so right, just looking at you and thinking sophisticated. That corner store had never seen someone like you before, I was sure of that in all the time I had gone there, and I was the lucky one to find you.”
A nervous hand wipes a tear before it crosses her cheek downward.
“My Mama was so surprised that shy little me got up the courage to even talk to you.” She laughs, bringing a stream of tears down from the other eye. Her tongue dully burns from the salty water as it lands in her mouth. She clears her throat, but neglects to wipe her crying away. “I was surprised by my brazenness as well. But I did it! I did it! I chatted up this sophisticated stranger!” She raises her arms in triumph, all for a victory long ago. “We talked and talked and exchanged names and life stories and such not.” Her eyes are half shut in memory, a muted smile underneath, hands still reaching towards the ceiling.
“I thought you had a wonderful name and it just rolled off my tongue.” She purses her lips together. “Henry.” She repeats again, slowly. “Henry.” She breathes out, letting her chest fall, followed closely behind by her arms. “Henry.”
“When you said my name, I felt giddy. It had never sounded like that before, with that slight Canadian accent and the you of your voice making it sound oh so special and nice.” She closes her eyes completely and lets one word flow out, quietly and with little fanfare. “Barbara.” It hits empty air. She tries again. “Barbara.” She shakes her head gently. “I just can’t do it the same way as you, Henry. I just can’t. Not even after all this time, all these decades.” Barbara’s eyes open, looking hurt and far away.
“By the time we finished all of our goings on, I asked you if you would like to go get some ice cream, for that was a favourite of mine.” Barbara smiles, her hands now resting on her lap, holding each other, fingers entwined. “But you said you didn’t like ice cream. It was too sweet or something. So instead you walked me home.” Her fingers tense, causing a pain that makes her face wince. “Other than that, it was a perfect evening with a perfect gentleman.”
“And that began our romance and our life. My parents thought you were wonderful and noble and everything fine. Within months, just shy of my twentieth birthday, we wed.” Barbara’s face lights up with those long ago pleasant thoughts. “We barely finished our honeymoon when you whisked us off to go live in your native Canada.” Barbara thumps her hands against her lap, resulting in a sigh.
“That is when… that is when I realized that you are not always a good person. Sometimes you are mean. Sometimes you were distant. Sometimes you are just… not… nice Henry.” Barbara spits out the last few words, her eyes ablaze with anger, her head stiffening.
“My father, my father knew something was up. He was all set to come over here to Toronto and rescue me from you. Bring me back home and make everything right again.” Barbara lets the pain flip out, bringing a charge to the air. “I know you never knew that, because I never told you. But I said no to my father.” Her determination slams from her body and she finishes by holding her chin high. “I was married now and that was that.” Some tears betray her confidence.
“Things did get better, at least for me. We had our beautiful daughters. Joyce came along in ’67, giving my life purpose. Judy and Janice followed over the years.” Barbara’s eyes are clearer and more focused now. “And that was probably one of the few times you were supportive Henry, when we almost lost Janice. Those fretful days, waiting to hear what would happen, would she survive, would my child… our child… live?” Tears mingle with a smile. “Funny how you finally stepped up to the plate? Only took you a few years.”
“After that, you slowly drifted away again, into your quietness, your little world of you. By the time the girls were all in school, it was all back to the status quo Henry.” Barbara shifts her feet, matching the movement of her hands. “Thankfully SummerFall Junior School has so many volunteering opportunities. You have no clue how many things I did there Henry, no clue at all.” The sternness of her tone shows her displeasure. “I was important. I was wanted. I even won awards, which made our children so happy and proud.” She glances to the side, letting her secret go out for the first time ever.
“They never knew Henry. They never knew of how things really were between us. I did my utmost to keep the peace and maintain some dignity in our home.” Her eyes stay the course, taking in everything to her one side. “That was my duty. Even keeping from them those other women you went with.” Barbara’s eyes dart back, full of force, and chill everything with anger. “You always were sloppy. And keeping that hidden is just like everything else you did.” Barbara exhales years of humiliation. “Sloppy.”
Barbara shifts around uncomfortably in her chair, arms and legs moving like they have a mind of their own. Her face is the only immobile part of her, with millions of thoughts crossing her features, fighting for space. A moment of clarity hits her eyes and several deep breaths later a calm demeanor slowly envelops her being. “Well, now you know that I knew.” Barbara keeps the hostile stare going. “I knew.”
Seconds pass by, with Barbara slowly lessening her anger, eyes fluttering away the pain with every careful soothing blink. Pulling crumpled tissues from her pocket, she pats down her face, desperately trying to absorb the hurt. A sigh comes loose as she finishes, giving her renewed purpose.
“It is a funny thing with you, after the kids were all grown up and moved on, that your more… undesirable qualities started diminishing. You became livable on some days.” Barbara states flatly, a hint of a smile peeking out towards the end. “I never understood what happened or why, maybe it was the new lack of responsibilities plaguing you, or maybe you just decided to care again. I don’t know.” She smiles fully and looks down a bit, a spark in her eyes glowing. “It was good to have the sophisticated Henry from long ago back. Even if it was only for a tiny bit.” A laugh erupts from Barbara, bringing an energy to her body. “On the good days, I was actually happy!”
She settles back down, letting the sound of her joyfulness echo off the walls. “Things have been well, or almost well, for years now. You relaxed. I relaxed. The children got married and had children of their own. We even talked about heading off to England for a holiday.” She says each word with an unheard sigh, rattling off her list with no real enthusiasm. “My parents are long gone, so seeing my father who you lived to hate, was never an issue.” Barbara’s eyes seem heavy. “But that trip was never to be, was it?”
Barbara goes quiet, in voice and movement. Still as if time has snapped.
In one swift and sure motion, Barbara’s hands leaps from her lap, all to nestle against her cheeks, cupping her face. “I have met someone. His name is Peter.” Her voice sounds automatic.
“I was out and about, doing errands and such while heading home. I stopped by that corner store, the one you never liked Henry, which is probably why I went there, and was looking for a specific something. The grandchildren keep going on and on and emailing me and so forth about some book with some man with a trident on the cover. So I figured I would try it out for myself.”
Barbara giggles, sounding like some younger version of herself. “I was in line. He was in line. We both had the book in our hands. And I was feeling oh so brazen again, so I went for it and said hello. The next thing we knew, the two of us were talking and talking and exchanging names and such.” She giggles again, leaning forward a bit. “I was so lucky to find Peter.” Another giggle escapes. “And I fully believe he feels lucky to have found me as well.” A fourth giggle slips out. “Imagine meeting someone because of a book? My sister would have loved that.”
Barbara moves her hands forward, even so gently off her face, and cups them together in the air in front of her. She smiles widely and lets the tears rain down. “By the time we finished chatting away, I asked Peter if he would like to go for ice cream.”
“He said yes.” Her voice rises in jubilation. “He said yes!”
Barbara’s triumph radiates.
“So then we went for ice cream.”
Barbara’s hands begin smoothly sliding against each, before finally settling into an entwined joining of fingers.
“Turns out Peter loves ice cream. Totally and completely loves it. Every flavour and type!” She exclaims. “Not to sweet for him!”
She pauses for a second or so. “You probably wondered where I was that night. Or maybe you don’t care. You probably wondered who has been calling for the last few weeks. Or maybe you didn’t care.”
Barbara pulls her fingers apart, very slowly, very carefully. Then she places them back on her lap, landing with absolute grace. Her voice speaks the words rehearsed so often lately. “I have stuck by you. I have stuck by you all this time. Sacrificed my happiness. Sacrificed my life. All for a foolish little man whom I mistakenly thought was sophisticated.”
She turns her head to an angle and interrupts herself. “The only good and beautiful part of us is my three daughters. That’s it.”
Barbara straightens out her posture and mentally resumes her speech.
“You are no longer a part of me Henry. You haven’t been for a very long time, but now it shall be official. My life will be my own. Goodbye Henry. It will be Barbara and Peter from now on.”
She flips out a defiant look.
“And we will get ice cream if we so wish it.”
Barbara stands up and adjusts herself. Tissues appear again and slowly help rebuild her face and composure. Several deep breaths fill her with new energy. She walks from the chair and strides directly across the room.
Barbara puts back on the mantelpiece the urn.
So Then We Went For Ice Cream is Copyright 2015 to Paul Riches
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First published on Friday, February 6 2015