A Modern Romance

She pored over his advert just once more to remind herself, although she’d looked at it so many times she knew it off by heart. Tall, athletic build, a teacher. He was good looking. There was no getting away from it. Made you wonder why he needed to advertise but then these days it was what everyone did, apparently. And he seemed to like her.

She always looked forward to his emails. They came every evening, without fail, filled with tales of the average school day. Enough to make you glad you weren’t at school yourself anymore. He had to deal with bullying by text, with girls who should have known better sending daft pictures of themselves to boys, the sort of photos that would make you want to die if your Mum and Dad saw them, the sort that ended up posted on Facebook for half the world to see.

After a while, she’d begun to wonder whether he was married. During that first month or two, when they never managed to meet, when dates were cancelled at the last minute, trains missed, emergencies suddenly came up, she’d had to ask herself what was going on. She’d accused him in an email in the end. Said it was strange how they’d never spoken, let alone met.

He sent flowers the next day. Beautiful flowers, not some tacky arrangement full of chrysanthemums. Coffin flowers, her Mum always called them. No, these were special – lillies and alliums interspersed with eucalyptus. Unusual, just like her, he said. And he’d phoned that night. She’d been startled at first. Thrown by his voice, which wasn’t what she’d expected. Not the sort of voice you’d imagine commanding the respect of a room full of teenagers. But once they got chatting, she forgot all about it. He seemed to understand her so perfectly. He felt like her best friend at the end of that first call. She’d congratulated herself. It felt like they already knew each other so well and they hadn’t even met.

So how had she let nine months pass without that meeting actually happening? His excuses had always seemed so plausible: the demands of the school timetable, weekend rugby trips, weekend field trips, the school skiing trip. Then his mother fell ill and he’d been sending weekends with her in Shropshire. She’d stopped talking to her friends about it. She couldn’t take the disbelieving looks, the sighs, the impatience when she’d had to confirm that yes, another week had passed and still they hadn’t met.

She had the emails though. And the late-night conversations, so romantic that she couldn’t believe how lucky she was. They’d even talked about marriage, about the number of children they’d have, where they might live. It was the perfect relationship, text book in every way except one.

One lunchtime, emboldened after a couple of glasses of wine for her birthday lunch and egged on by her friends, she’d called the school. He’d sent her beautiful flowers that morning, fat-bloomed peonies, palest pink, wrapped in cerise tissue and cellophane, raffia-tied. She should thank him, she reasoned. She’d tried his mobile – he hadn’t picked up.

The woman who answered the school phone had a crisp, no-nonsense voice. ‘St. Brides Upper School. How may I help you?’

She’d stumbled a little over his name. ‘Reynolds,’ the woman had replied. ‘Miss Reynolds. Let me see, she must have left here about a year ago.’

‘No, Mr. Reynolds. Mr. Thomas Reynolds. He teaches sport. And geography.’

‘I think you mean Humanities,’ the woman said. ‘Hmmm. I’m afraid we don’t have anyone of that name here. Are you sure you have the right school?’

She’d paused, puzzled. Her alcohol-fogged brain couldn’t compute this. Her friends were looking away, wry anxious smiles on their faces. She tried again. ‘Thomas Reynolds. About 37. From Shropshire originally.’

The reply was firm. ‘The only Reynolds we’ve employed in recent years was Miss Teresa Reynolds. She was about 37 and she taught humanities. And sport, come to think of it. But no Thomas Reynolds, I’m afraid.’ There was a decisive click and the line went dead.

Her friends stepped in then. They’d taken her home, sat with her while she veered between horror, disbelief, embarrassment, despair. Her plans evaporated, her whole future changed. They’d swung into action, googled, tracked, uncovered, phoned. Teresa Reynolds was, in fact, her Thomas. And someone else’s Terence, and someone else’s Tony. She’d been duped, deceived by a fake photograph and the anonymity of the internet, by her own desperate wish to believe. She’d just played a romantic game of consequences, with no winners.

The police had investigated whether there was a fraud case to answer and someone had tipped off the journalists. They’d hounded her for her story, asking her whether, after her experience, there was one piece of advice she could offer to anyone else who found themselves in her position. She considered. ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is’? But then what about those who had advised her to ‘seize the day’, that ‘life wasn’t a dress rehearsal’? In the end, she settled for the one thing she’d chosen to keep her sane, that she chanted like a mantra every day when it all felt too much. ‘Don’t look back, look forward.’

This is my (late this week – very sorry…) entry for the Thanet Creative Writers competition

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What stops me writing?

I’d thought things were going pretty well, to be honest. We’d been seeing rather lot of each other, in more ways than one, ever since our eyes had met across a crowded room. Well, crowded bar. He was a bit different from my usual type. Older and more ordinary I suppose. He looked out of place there, standing next to the super-groomed, gym-fit boys. I always wanted to break into song when I saw that crowd. You know the one: ‘Tall and tanned and young and lovely…’ Beside them he looked a bit rumpled, dishevelled even, nursing a glass of red. Another thing that made him stand out.

I was just working up the nerve to go over, to see whether I could get a bit of a chat going, when he looked up from his glass and our eyes locked. I swear, it was like a physical blow. A jolt of electricity. If it wasn’t so damn dark in there you’d have seen my blush from the moon.

Before I’d had time to compose myself, think of some witty remark as an introduction, he was on his way over.

‘Is it always like this in here?’ He had to shout to make himself heard over the racket. The Latino girls next to me were shrieking with laughter about something. I didn’t like to look in case it had something to do with me. And the DJ had turned up the volume on one of those tired disco classics.

‘Yeah, pretty much. On Fridays especially.’ God, that was a scintillating start – our first conversation.

He grinned. I had a bit of a shock. He hadn’t had his teeth fixed – very old school. But I liked the sound of what came next.

‘Shall we get out of here?’

We didn’t hang about. Quick drink at the pub next door where we could actually talk a bit. I had to ignore the usual crew around the bar, rolling their eyes and making lewd gestures behind his back.

We spent the whole of that weekend together. Not just in bed round at my place. We went out, too. And not just the usual places. On Saturday we went to the National Gallery and the ICA, then we walked through St James’s Park. We sat on a bench and watched families feeding the ducks, then we bought wine and spent a fortune at the deli and went back to mine. On Sunday, we took the tube to Richmond Park and walked some more. I didn’t like to mention to him that I was ruining my new Louboutin trainers, the ones with the gold lettering on the ankle. I’d only bought them the week before.

He seemed to really know his way around there. Said he only lived a couple of miles away and liked to get on his bike and cycle there in the mornings, as soon as they opened the gates, before the crowds descended. While the sun was still rising and the mist dispersing in the autumn, or while the grass was still white over with frost in the winter, the deer standing out against the frosty landscape, their breath hanging in the air. He was like a painter with words, a poet. He said he worked in the arts – maybe that explained it.

We walked past White Lodge. ‘Did you train there?’ He was serious.

‘Nah. Up north. Wolverhampton. Then Birmingham.’

He’d been to see me perform. I’d started the job after we met. Third from the end, chorus of Les Mis. He was polite about it afterwards, even enthusiastic, but I could tell it wasn’t his cup of tea. More likely to find him at the National, I reckon.

It was only six weeks, and counting, when it happened. We were having a pub lunch in Richmond, after our usual Sunday morning Richmond Park walk. (I’d even invested in some walking boots. Horrid clumsy things. No style.) We were talking about maybe going away for a week in the summer, and having a debate about where. I favoured a bit of sun, the Italian lakes maybe, or what about somewhere more exotic? He said Sweden, or even Iceland?

I noticed that he’d gone a bit quiet. I thought maybe he was upset when I’d refused dessert. ‘Watching my figure,’ I’d said, giving him a look. I’d been teasing him the previous night about not taking care of himself, about his bit of a belly. He’d been impatient.

‘Pointless vanity’, he’d said. Maybe the dessert comment had been a bit tactless? It looked fantastic when it arrived, it has to be said, but I could hardly ask for a share now that I’d gone on about it, could I?

I noticed that his eyes kept sliding away from me when I talked. He was looking over his shoulder at someone or something. It was a bit unnerving. I was facing the wall, he was facing into the room. There wasn’t even a mirror to help me get a sense of what might be happening behind me. I wanted to bob my head back into his line of sight, make some joke about it.

I didn’t dare ask him who or what he was looking at, so I got up to go to the Gents. I scanned the room behind me to see who could have caught his eye. No-one obvious; they were all couples and families. A waiter? It seemed unlikely: I could only see waitresses in any case. Young girls, looked like students. All very slim and gorgeous. Didn’t look as though a morsel of the Sunday lunch they were serving had ever passed their lips.

When I got back to the table he had gone. I tried hard not to look surprised, or upset. Were the people sitting on either side looking at me? Were they feeling sorry for me? I felt too self-conscious to turn around to see whether I could spot him. I got my phone out and pretended to be absorbed in my messages and Facebook. Time was passing. Should I call him to find out where he’d gone?

I felt a hand on my shoulder. ‘I’d like you to meet someone.’

I turned, half stood up. He had his arm around the shoulder of one of the young girls that worked there. Long hair, dark eyes. I couldn’t quite take it in.

‘My daughter, Ellie.’ That figured. She looked a lot like him.

‘She’s just finished her shift. I haven’t seen her in a while. I’m going to walk her home and catch up on her news. Maybe pop in and say ‘hi’ to her Mum. Do you mind?’

There wasn’t a lot I could say, except ‘Pleased to meet you,’ ‘No, you go right ahead,’ and ‘Lovely food.’ That kind of thing. Polite pleasantries. Putting a brave face on it.

I never saw him again. I walked in Richmond Park a few times. Thought I might see him on his bike, or walking the dog with his family. I promised myself I wouldn’t text or call him, or have a rant. I half thought he might write and explain himself. For a week or two I looked for a letter on the mat every morning.

What stops me writing? I don’t know his address. Tourists, that’s what I call men like him. They’re the worst. The boots? I took them to the charity shop.

This is my entry for the Thanet Creative Writers competition.

Peacock

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Sweet-wrapper bright,
there you were.
Glimpsed out of the corner of my eye,
a brilliant jewel against sun-warmed brick.

The morning after
an evening of drink-stoked bitterness
and a night in separate sleepless beds,
he’d shared a breakfast of recriminations with me.

I cleared the wardrobe
of all the things I’d kept
from smaller, happier times,
while you rested there, two storeys high.

I hadn’t thought to look for an omen,
but if I had you would have been it.
If I had wings I would join you,
I would fly.

This is my latest entry for the Thanet Creative Writers competition

March ramblings

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The blackthorn that was so beautiful at that start of the month has been surpassed by all the other blossom appearing early after the unseasonably warm and dry weather. This month seemed to be not so much about rambling, more about sitting at my desk and editing. Or gardening. When I wasn’t fighting weeds in the borders and lawn I did manage my first visit to the Salutation Gardens in Sandwich, where I coveted an unusual daffodil (Rip van Winkle?) and learned to appreciate how much colour can be generated by a border of shrubs. A sunny Mother’s Day took me to Goodnestone again, where the magnolia was in full flower. At home, the violas bounced back beautifully after the winter frost.

There were blue skies in Deal, too, where I escaped the brisk sea breeze and walked along Middle Street, where I once saw a church that doesn’t actually exist…

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