Standing Afar


“The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.”

Italo Calvino

‘Are we forever going to stand on this bridge, mum?’ Jimmy asked, indignation ringing in hs voice.

‘Are we going to stand on this bridge forever?’ I corrected him automatically. My eight year old son’s grammar was a constant source of painful reprimand in our lives but he took it as sportingly as any happy-go-lucky, wouldn’t-give-a-damn about this world eight-year-old was supposed to.

‘And I don’t know how long we are going to stand here, except that your father was supposed to be here to pick you up nearly forty minutes ago but he’s not!’

Jimmy could sense the hurt and anger in my voice. It was one year after the divorce and yet I was nowhere done being over that mess. Sometimes I did not think I would ever be over it. Maybe I could get a head-start if, for example, we hadn’t hauled a little boy over the coals with us. And if, to make up for all that, I didn’t have to endure fortnightly glimpses of my ex-husband, accompanied with petty small talk and false how-do-you-dos while on the inside, I wanted to kick off my heels and watch them bounce off the top of his head.

No, things weren’t good in that sense. And dating new men was another area in which I met frequent failure. But that was probably not because of my baggage. Quite contrarily, I think it had to do with the fact that I wrote a very bitter personal column in a very famous paper. And yes, women loved me. Which man wouldn’t be intimidated by something like that, eh?

So yes, basically things sucked in my love life. But yay me, I had an extremely cheeky eight year old on my hands.

‘Dad’s not always the one who is late’, Jimmy was mumbling under his breath as he bounced his basketball on the concrete. ‘And you shouldn’t think he has a lotta nice stuff to say about you either. And so, its like, I just don’t get you guys. Neither of you!’

Okay, my son was finally coming clear of some issues he’d been harbouring for a while. I couldn’t decide what brought on this sudden confession and I sure as hell didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing that he was bringing this up. Time to schedule a visit to my shrink, maybe?

I sighed and tried to be the good mother. The motherly woman I knew was buried deep within me. ‘Well honey, see things are hard now but they’ll get better. And okay, so I won’t say bad things about your dad anymore. And I will ask him not to either. Is that better?’

‘No its not better coz I know you’ll still be thinking them.’ He said and turned away.

I gave up and continued to poise with my hands over the bridge, the wind in my hair. I looked at the setting sun and the falling autumn leaves. How ironic that here I was, in a movie-like setting and the only man I was sure to see was the ONE man I would rather not! I could feel my latest column bubbling beneath my writer surface.

‘There’s daddy’ Jimmy yelled and pointed.

‘Don’t point at people’ I corrected before I could stop myself, then bit my lower lip as my son glared at me in a manner that made me think of the man he half-came from.

I looked up and there he was walking towards us:Chris. I could not deny that at forty, he looked just as gorgeous to me as he had at twenty-five, but then that was the problem! He was still as witty, with the same tongue-in-cheek humour, the same sarcastic eyes and the same ironic, crooked smile that broke my heart.

NOT good for me, I chided myself and then forced a smile as he approached us.

‘There’s my champ!’ he said to Jimmy and dropped down to his knees so he was level with the boy. ‘How’s your basketball coming along? Wanna practice over the weekend?’

‘Sure dad, that’d be great!’

So yes, I couldn’t deny Jimmy probably enjoyed being with his dad more than he enjoyed being with me. And I couldn’t change that, no matter how many video games and ice-cream and ninja toys I bought for my son.

Chris rose and with an easy-to-understand effort, he said to me, ‘So what are you going to do on your weekend off?’

‘Oh you know me, Chinese take-outs and some books on my i-pad’ I replied, trying to keep alive the non-existent nonchalance. ‘What have you planned out?’

‘Well Jimmy and I are going to do some fun things, but first I need to drop by at the studio. I am so sorry I kept you waiting but its been a long day and I still have a little work left to do. So I am going to let Angela watch him for a while.’

Angela was Chris’s hot, hot secretary. Yeah and she had been for like, three years now. You can imagine the fights we had had.

But that was all in the past now, wasn’t it?

‘Right, well…next time a heads-up will be useful’ I said curtly, turned on my heels and walked off.

So yeah, I knew I wasn’t the best mom, I told myself a couple of hours later as I walked back to my apartment with a Chinese take-away tucked under one arm and a large shopping bag in the other. But I wasn’t a bad mom either because my son was turning out okay! He wasn’t going to be a gentleman, I suppose, but then nobody would if they spent as much time with Chris as my son had to. And girls these days didn’t like gentlemen anyway, did they?

I turned a corner and almost ran into Chris!

‘You’re here?’ I couldn’t help screaming. ‘Where is my son? Its almost eleven, Chris! You’re still doing your ‘errands’? Are you sure that was all you were doing?’

‘Hey, calm down Jennifer’ he said in a deep, steady voice that took me by alarm.

He hadn’t used that voice around me in like, two years at least.

‘Jimmy’s fine. Angela took him home. I came out to pick some dinner.’ He held up a paperbag and waved it in front of me.

‘Oh’ I said, taken aback by the sudden difference in him. ‘So are you and her…?’

‘Angela and me?’ he said, sounding surprised. ‘No, it was never like that Jenny. We were friends only. I knew you never believed me, but there always was just one woman for me.’

‘Oh’ I said again.

‘Walk you to your block?’ he offered his arm and I took it. ‘Now I know you’re worried about Jimmy but he loves Angela. She’s sporty and fun and he enjoys being around her.’

‘As do you, I am sure’ I replied, bitter resentment kicking in.

‘Not so much Jenny.  I am more of a fan of the cheeky sarcasm’ he said, in that smooth, steady voice again. I smiled

He stopped and turned to face me. I turned towards him too, feeling uneasy in a good kind of way.

‘Honestly, she’s fun, but…’

‘But..?’ I asked breathlessly.

‘But you’re the one for me. You still are and you always will be’.

He was leaning in so I could smell his cologne and feel his breath on my skin. I leaned in too and felt his lips brush lightly against mine, his free hand was in the small of my back and mine were on his chest. We moved closer and then we kissed. It was sweet and fresh and drama-free and anger-free.

‘I’ll see you around’, he smiled and turned away and walked off without looking back. I watched him disappear around the bend and felt something bubbling inside of me.

Was there another way for us, after all?

I sighed and my hand went up to my lips as I imagined our kiss from ten seconds ago. I was standing stupidly in the middle of an empty sidewalk and smiling at nothing, I realised!

I turned and started to walk, a distinct skip in my step. Suddenly there was nothing in my head for this week’s bitterness column!

My phone rang.

‘Hello? Is this Jennifer?’ the female voice on the other end sounded distraught.

‘Yes, this is she.’ I replied, alert immediately.

‘Its Angela, Jennifer. I work with your husband. I think- I think you need to be here immediately.’

‘What’s wrong? Here? Where’s here? ’

She told me.

She also gave me an address at the other side of town and I took a cab.

I approached the scene cautiously, my heart in my mouth. It felt incredible beyond belief, like a nightmare in my head. I saw my son run towards me, tears in his eyes. Angela stood a little ways away, looking hot as ever, I noted.

A paramedic made his way towards me. ‘you must be Jennifer Taylor? I am so sorry about this. It was just a simple accident while crossing the road. The driver was drunk, there was little we could do when we got here.’

‘But you must be mistaken’, I said , turning to him in a daze. ‘I saw him, I met him.’

Angela came forward. ‘I know you did. I am sorry. He met you and then dropped Jimmy off with me and went to do some-‘

‘No, no! I met him fifteen seconds before you called. This is some other guy. It has to be.’

‘No Jennifer, look!’

Angela pulled me past the crowd that had gathered around.

There was a very dangerous car turned at a very disproportionate angle. And in the middle of the road, marked off with little orange traffic cones was a pool of blood. And lying in the pool of blood, Chris.

‘But-I-this-‘ I was thinking words but they weren’t coming out. And then I felt something. I turned and watched a shadow standing beyond the lights, beyond the traffic and noise and the people. And as I watched, it disappeared.

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