Friday, 1 August 2014

Shadow

   


      Hello. I am Mishca. I am an old woman who used to be a writer. Today I am dying. Faster than the distasteful flowers my niece had delivered to my bed at the hospital. I am on my deathbed thinking about the men I knew and remorse. This will be my last story.
      Of course there was I time I was young and desirable; with a small horde of immature men and boys vying for the attention of a petulant and proud child-woman of twenty, whose head was bursting with quirky notions and taboo dreams, under a mane of golden brown hair. Mishca at twenty was well-read and artistic, she walked with a gentle sway and a poorly disguised arrogance that made her irresistible. I say Mishca at twenty, and not 'I', because she is a only a picture ripped from a dormant past. I am the dying Mishca with her tar-grey lungs, chapped lips and conservative ideas. The two ought not be confused.
       Last morning, I dragged a painful leg to the only window i found, fumbling to push it open. I say fumbling, my thin veined arms are quite clumsy now. I remember sneering when my parents complained, years ago, about deteriorating vision and arthritis. Now I know. Anyway, so that is when I heard someone call out my name, and I turned around carefully, ready to tell him off for wanting the windows shut. And I looked, inhaled, felt a wave of memories swamp my failing mind; it was Viktor.
I first met Viktor when I was nineteen, he hinted that I ate too much and I was outraged. But we found a solace in our conversation that was quenching in so many ways, we became fast friends, we became the best of friends.
       When a month later in a wretched looking cafe that played sleazy songs, he said he loved me, I threw my head back and laughed. Our affair was comforting, the love letters were sincere and the kisses were sweet. In the heat of our physical encounters, I almost did say that I loved him too, and enjoyed a whiff of the tenderness. We did talk, debate, discover our dreams and make plans, endlessly. Viktor would touch my cheekbones and talk me out of my selfish miseries until my features softened and I was happy, bathed in my personal Clair de lune.
     And then on a December afternoon, wrapped in my purple scarf, I walked into Anton. We were on a broad rickety bridge, a parched river fluttering under us. Somewhere, Debussy's notes caressed the cold air. He had that insatiable look about him, the smell of forbidden chocolates and inexplicable thrill. He was quintessentially charming, I could not push him away and throw my head back in laughter at his bold advances. In a ecstatic whirl I was rising in feelings that I did not know of, and I did not want it to stop. Yet I kept it from Viktor then, perhaps I was afraid of his coldness. Perhaps the clandestine nature of it aroused me. When our bodies met, I was taken to the point of delicious insanity, any detailing of which will now result in a distorted form of pornography. While Anton was my delight in nakedness, both of mind and body, we could not count the number of ways we were alike. Before spring fell, we were hopelessly in love, and I snipped Viktor out of my life with a promise of letters and damp eyelashes. Later I went on to marry Anton and we smothered each other with the happiness of our new found world, but that is a different story, full of private jokes.
       I see that Viktor is dying, faster than me. I last met him a sixty years ago, the tacky lampshades casting shadows on his fallen face in that cafe when I told him I loved someone. I love that word, tacky. The shadows had done well to camouflage his pain, and I only had the sweetness and dregs of guilt left when he held the door open for me. There, my friend had been wrapped up and stuffed in the back of my failing mind, I had written no stories about him. And just like that, I see him now, his eyes still softened the same way as he looked at me.
      We small talk from our respective beds, he seems genuinely pleased to know of my marriage, and genuinely aghast to learn of Anton's surrender to a heart disease. He asks about my illness, 'We are all dying', he says, to which I say 'I'd drink to that, but it would kill me sooner'. We talk about the towns we once lived in and our convoluted plans. He tells me about his frivolous relationships with several accomplished, amusing women, i half listen, meditating on the shadows cast by the hideous lampshades in that dingy cafe. Feeling a remorse delayed only by a few decades. I let it seep down my dying body, concentrating on the pain.
       Later at night I wake up, wondering if I had been asleep at all. Viktor coughs noisily beside me. Quietly, I ask him if he's okay. He laughs softly, the way he used to, and breaks into another fit of coughs. I try to move without hurting my vertebrae. Silence.
'Say Mishca, did you ever love me?'
The shadows dance across our faces. I am grateful.
'I did. I did love you.'
I can almost hear him smiling. I smile too. We both smile and listen to the night. There is nothing left to say.
       This morning the bed is empty. He died a few hours ago. It is ten o' seven on a Tuesday morning and I am writing a long impending story about a dear friend.

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