No 3 - 1987
Ways To Leave Your Lover: Exit 29
You wanted to watch me drive away - what a dumb thing to say!They had met during the last five minutes of an Eric Rohmer movie. Since he has been teaching film, Vincent has got out of the habit of seeing movies all the way, through. Unless you include slow motion on the Steenbeck, in reverse. He had sneaked in at the back, gone down to where his friends, Howard and Dorothy, were sitting, their usual seats on the front row. In the pale slow movement of the light, all he had clearly seen were her barrettes, white in the dark curls of her hair.
This is Kelly, Dorothy had said in the aisle. She’s coming with us.
Howard and Dorothy were recently vegan and they were all going to a new vegetarian restaurant for dinner. Afterwards a leaving party for a colleague of Howard’s who was moving onto finer things in the world of arts administration. They had danced all four of them (trying to shake down the tofu sauce) and Vincent had tried to engage Kelly in conversation but without success.
‘She’s not at her best,’ Dorothy had said at the bar. ‘This man she’s been seeing - I think they’ve just split up. ’
There had always been men and usually they had been good men, but, always, too, there had been this one thing missing. Challenged, Kelly could not have said, precisely, what that was.
A month later Vincent had asked Howard for her phone number and called: she had not know who he was.
They had been going out intermittently for some weeks before she invited him out to her cottage. Kelly worked as a designer for a television company with studios in the city and she had bought the cottage as soon as she had been taken onto the permanent payroll. Out at the edge of a small village, it was close enough to the motorway to enable Kelly to be at work within forty minutes. She had her car to visit friends, the telephone, neighbours who took in the milk, watered her plants whenever she went away. Her diary was a mass of notes and sketches, names and numbers and blank spaces.
Vincent stood in the middle of the room, looking round. ‘When did you move in?’ he said.
‘Oh, three years ago.’
He had expected her to say three weeks.
The first time they had made love, there in that downstairs room, the main problem had been finding enough space to lie down.
A few nights before their first christmas, she went with him to the Italian restaurant she knew he liked to think of as ‘theirs, even though there had been a period of her life when she had eaten there every Friday or Saturday evening with the man who had then been her lover. Vincent had been in high spirits; he had held her hand as they walked, encouraging her to sing along to all the songs they could remember from Oklahoma. (He was preparing a course on the American Musical.)
After the wine, he had ordered brandy and asked her if it wasn’t about time she moved in with him, made a pact to spend weekends in the city at the very least.
Kelly had taken a breath and told him she wasn’t going to see him any more: it was over.
She had driven back up the motorway feeling happier than she had for months. It was as if something had been squeezing her too tight, preventing her from breathing freely. She stopped the car outside the cottage and sat there, listening to the tape in the cassette player. The rise and fall of the land allowed her to see the headlights of Vincent’s car some time before she heard its engine.
He parked behind her, got out and walked a little way down the lane; as he stood close by the hedge he recognised the sound of Linda Ronstadt’s voice without being able to make out any of the words. He heard the click of the car door and didn’t turn around, even when he could sense her close beside him.
‘I’m not being fair to you.’
‘Surely that’s for me to decide?’
‘It’s my guilt, not yours.’
Kelly had spent a year in Canada. The winter had been a seamless blue, and cold. There had been a man, two: both had wanted to marry her, even the one who had been married already.
‘I just want to carry on seeing you.’ Vincent said. ‘That’s all.’
In the dark he knew she was smiling but he had to guess at the small smile that creased the corners of her eyes. She knew he was lying.
‘I love you’, he said, never sure, then, if it was true.
‘Well, I don’t love you.
He didn’t see her for a long time after that.
‘You ever hear from Kelly?’ his son, Jack, asked. They were in the middle of the Cleveland Way, a week’s walking, sixteen miles a day.
Vincent chose a small ceramic pot, shades of blue, an irregular top that slotted down, exactly, into place. On their way back at the end of the week they made a detour and left it on Kelly’s window ledge, without a note.
Soon after that Vincent and Jack went to a country music concert and at the first bars of Let it Be Me, Jack, as if to make up for Kelly’s absence, rested his head on his father’s shoulder, delicately.
It was on a Sunday morning that Vincent finally drove out there. Kelly opened the door almost at his knock and stepped back inside. She was standing in blue, beside the ironing board: sheets, shirts, underwear in haphazard piles and clutches were everywhere. Vincent looked into her eyes and he knew he was seeing exactly, no, all that he had ever wanted to see.
‘I thought we could go for a walk?’
‘Just as far as the wood.’
He took off his glasses and suddenly, startlingly, his eyes to Kelly were the exact denim blue of his jeans. She turned towards the mirror, sliding a barrette into her hair. It was no more than a quarter of a mile to the beginning of the wood, but she insisted that they drove that far.
When she got out of the car the heat of the metal made it almost impossible to touch. One of Vincent’s hands curved about her face. His mouth moved, open, across her neck. She knew that she wanted him as much as ever and she knew that was never enough.
‘Seeing you back there ...’
‘Walking in and seeing you ... ’
He looked at her then and again she caught herself wondering who it was that he saw.
‘You know that I love …’
‘I know you’re in love with being in love.’ She stopped her finger to his mouth. ‘No more now.’
He sighed as if it were a sound he’d been practising. ‘You’d better go then.’
‘How about you?’
Vincent shook his head. ‘I want to watch you drive away.’
‘Vincent!’ she laughed. ‘What a dumb thing to say!’
He didn’t move.
Kelly got back into her car and switched on the engine, easing it into gear. Vincent watched as it pulled slowly up a short incline then turned right where the road ended, following a track down past one edge of the wood. Above the darker line of hedgerow, the roof gleamed with late summer light. Where the track divided, the car stopped for a moment and Vincent’s breath caught fast and held. Then it turned away again, slow across the sliding distance and out of sight.
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