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The Morning Post

A story about renewing lost love affairs

By Wilkie StewartPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 7 min read
The Morning Post
Photo by John Fornander on Unsplash

She pushed the barrow across the lawn, her smock billowing, the breeze stirring the leaves again, making a mockery of her afternoon's work. Gertrude did not notice the trail behind her. Her thoughts were on the poem in her head. Did that word fit there? She whispered a line aloud, feeling the rhythm of the phrase on her tongue, the punctuation between her teeth.

A hoot was followed by the rush of steps, and a flash of hair was streaking across the garden and into her arms. "Aunt Gertie! I have a spot, look!" the girl said pushing her nose forward.

"My, that is a prize specimen, Sally darling," Gertrude said. "Now come inside and I'll get you a glass of milk."

Jonathan was taking off his driving gloves in the hallway. "No post Gertie?" he asked looking at the empty hall table.

"Nothing for you Jonathan," she said. "Do you want some tea?"

"God no!" he said. "I need a scotch. The traffic in the city was frightful. It took an age to get along Bond Street.”

"Uncle Jonathan said some bad words," Sally said, her voice low.

"I bet he did," Gertrude grinned at the solemn face of the child.

There had been post, a letter which she had quickly read and burned. He was on his way home, at last.

They ate the salad alfresco. Sally was talking but Gertrude wasn't listening. She let Jonathan answer all the questions.

She was thinking of Gilbert. His long shape. His flattened, boxer-like nose. His minty breath on her neck. To think he would be back in England soon, his overseas posting over, a new London position already lined up. They could resume where they had left off. That's what his letter had said. How had he put it? Perhaps they could play some tennis in the afternoons to catch up?

"What was that darling?" she asked Sally who was staring at her. Jonathan had disappeared.

"I wanted to know if you liked poodles. My friend Elizabeth has a new poodle called Tiger."

"Tiger? Are you sure darling? It seems an awfully strange name for a dog."

"You should see it," the child said. "It's an awfully strange poodle."

After settling Sally in bed, Gertrude joined Jonathan in the living room where he had a dry sherry already poured for her.

"You're in a funny mood," he said.

"Am I?" she said. "I'm just busy up here darling. Thinking things through."

"You don't mind Sally staying do you, Gertie?" he said. "It's such a help to Bella. And I adore having her here."

His widowed sister was probably in a heap somewhere, drunk as a dray-man. "No of course not, Jonathan," she said "but you should see about a boarding school. It might do Annabelle good if the girl was away for longer periods."

He scowled. They had touched on this subject before. Children was not a subject she cared to discuss for long. There was a path she never intended to go down.

"Oh never mind that, darling," she said. "You'll sort it out I'm sure. Let me see this butterfly book you bought. Sally has been raving about it."

The restaurant had been fashionable in April but its modern glass fittings were looking tired now it was Autumn. Gilbert had wanted to meet somewhere more private but Gertrude had dissuaded him. "Let's hide in plain sight, darling," she told him on the telephone. "We are cousins after all."

He was leaner than she remembered, almost gaunt, with a skin colour that was too brown for an Englishman, but she supposed in Africa it was hard to keep out of the sun. She must look like a ghost to him.

She sipped at her French onion soup. He pulled apart a lobster entree with elegance. "How is the work coming along?" he asked.

"You know me, never satisfied," she said and then coloured slightly, while his smile deepened. "How did you survive out there so long without the tennis? I hope your backhand hasn't suffered?"

"My backhand is fine I can assure you," he said. "And there were other distractions in Tangiers. The French Empire is very like the British, you know, lots of men doing their bit for King and country while their bored wives try to stay out of the heat."

"The last I heard the French don't have a King anymore. They chopped his head off. Is that why you came back?" It was her turn to smile.

"No, I have a new job with the Ministry. Very hush hush. They are no longer so concerned with Franco." He pushed aside his plate, signalled to the waiter for more wine.

She had monk fish with seasonal vegetables for the main course. He also had fish but complained the lemon sole with dill was bland after a year of spicy dishes.

"We must all seem a little bland here, darling," she said. He lit her cigarette as they waited for the final course.

"You could never be bland, Gertrude. I know you too well. You may have a cool exterior but there's something wild in there, just dying to get out." He sipped his wine. "Those women in Tangiers were all frustrated and tired. Not one of them had your fire."

"Not one? It didn't stop you trying them all then?" she said, almost under her breath.

"And you were playing the saint all this time, I suppose, with your butterfly collector. Doesn't he ever catch you in his net once in a while? Pin you on the bed like one of his specimens, inspect your markings?"

She ate her sorbet in silence. He had gone too far mentioning Jonathan. She had never mentioned his wife when he still had one. It was bad form. She sensed that this was a foolish idea. Unlike the weekend on the coast before he had left. How exciting it had been to register as Mr and Mrs Brown. To spend the afternoons in bed, the evenings at dinner, the nights asleep in each other's arms.

As they collected their coats he said "I've booked a room at the Astoria, darling. Perhaps we can work on my backhand some more?"

In the cold air she looked at his face as he scanned the street for a taxi. The neon light of the restaurant sign cast green patterns on his skin. She shivered. "You know, Gilbert, the wine seems to have given me a headache. I think I'll catch the 9:50 home."

His eyes narrowed momentarily but then his expression broadened into a grin. "Of course darling, that was presumptuous of me. Another time perhaps."

The taxi pulled away from the kerb leaving him on the street. She looked back to wave but he was already walking in the other direction.

By Girl with red hat on Unsplash

The tennis court gallery was full. The players were lean young women in white but despite being billed in the top ranks, Gertrude found their athleticism wanting, their desire to win lacking inspiration.

Jonathan was reading a magazine rather than following the play, only looking up when murmurs from the crowd suggested a rally was coming to a conclusion or a game-point was at stake. Otherwise he was lost in the world of The British Entomologist.

A poem began to form in her head. A desire to be anonymous in a sea of faces. The first set was won but Gertrude cared little which of the players was leading. She glanced around the crowd. At the next break, she nudged Jonathan, edged her way along the row and up the steps to the exit. He followed leaving a trail of bumped knees and dropped order-of-play pamphlets in his wake.

Gertrude waited on the path. "I thought you wanted to see that match?" Jonathan asked catching up with her and pulling on his jacket.

"My heart wasn't in it darling." She bent down to pick up the magazine he had dropped.

"Wasn't that your cousin, Gilbert, across the court?" he asked. "I spotted him on the way out. Did you see?"

"No, I didn't see him," she said.

“He was with a young girl," Jonathan said. "She was very pretty. When did he get back, do you know?"

She hadn't heard from Gilbert since the aborted night at the restaurant. Her hunch was proving correct - one refusal and it was the end. Her pride was bashed but there would be other men. And she still had Jonathan.

"Are you alright?" he said.

"Yes I'm fine," she said. "Too much going on upstairs."

"You and your poems. You always blame them for everything."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I can never read you, Gertie, guess at what you are thinking. If I ask how you are, if you are unhappy, you say you are preoccupied but that's not true is it? You’re hiding behind it. Not wanting to say what's on your mind."

A long rally point was won in the match behind them. Cheers and applause filled the London air.

"Didn't you tell Sally the other day that if she couldn't say something nice, she should say nothing at all?" She smiled, took his arm. "Let's go somewhere together, Jonathan. Just the two of us. No poems. No butterflies. Somewhere quiet where we can watch the sea from our hotel room, and feed each other chocolate and pastries."

He smiled back, and despite the public place, she was pulled into an embrace and kissed on the lips.

Short Story

About the Creator

Wilkie Stewart

Writer of strange little tales living in Glasgow, Scotland. A former IT professional who loves literary fiction, poetry, Eurovision, art-house film, post-crossing, and comics. Walks daily with his camera when he can. @werewegian1 on Twitter

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    Wilkie StewartWritten by Wilkie Stewart

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