This story is by Sean Richardson and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ivan strode across the stone bridge, over the old moat that now held a beautifully manicured lawn. He paused and stared into the deep green below, the answer remained elusive. The vows he had taken all those years ago; he’d been convinced they were forever.
Those nights he laid staring at the ceiling asking for help, for guidance, had only left him confused. The devotion he’d made to another had come back to taunt him.
His eyes trained on couples below holding hands, he pictured himself walking on the same path hand in hand. The possibilities of the days ahead filled his mind, if only he had the courage to leave the love behind he’d once told himself he never would. The early bell rang, it’s deep boom fixed his decision. He walked into the capital through the arch of medieval stone, his shoes clacked on the cobbles. Through the leather he felt the stones – worn smooth through the history of many who had walked these streets before him. He remained sure-footed as he hurriedly strode forward, the uneven path would not throw him off his destiny.
Voices echoed off the buildings as he walked the narrow road into Mdina, the old silent city. Past a doorway, the smell of fresh coffee and baked bread carried on the breeze but he had no time to stop and have a coffee, though he could taste it. He was no architect but each time he saw the baroque architecture of the magnificent facade of the Cathedral of St Paul, he’d let his eyes soak in the view across the piazza. The light brown or cream stone, he was never quite sure of the colour; it looked like vanilla yoghurt to his untrained eyes. Across the square the intricate but bland coloured walls were broken by the tall, dark wooden doorways that lead visitors into the Cathedral.
Amplified voices broke the serenity as the square filled with the slowly swelling crowds. His eyes caught her long dark hair, a slight shiver crept across his skin as he walked from the sun of the square into the patches of shade thrown by the walls, the light breeze sent a chill into his chest. That is what he loved about this time of year; warm sun punctuated by a sharp breeze. Fall last year was burnt into his memory, it was the first time he had laid eyes on her. In the sudden quiet, it was just his breathing and his thoughts as he turned past the old buildings and hurried down the narrow laneway.
The laneway brought him out alongside the square, the exit directed his gaze to Katerina in the foreground, framed by the cathedral behind. She was busy setting up the stall. He slowed to give himself time to breath her into his being. His feet suddenly felt uncertain on the smooth stones, his heart unsure how he would or could approach her.
The weeks and months had gone by since he first saw her; simple words spoken here and there, another awkward conversation welled in his gut. People buzzed around her, reacting to her directions to set up the stall and be ready for the visitors.
“Hurry, hurry!!!” her hands clapped to emphasise the urgency to her helpers, her enthusiasm and vibrant chatter brought a cheerful aura to all around, dragging Ivan into her orbit.
Voices deep in discussion swirled about Ivan. He scanned around her, again no-one, not a single male was paying her any attention, their eyes were elsewhere, the fools! He gasped to take a breath as he drew closer to take up his position near the cathedral entrance, alongside her stall.
The smile lit up her face, her hazel eyes met his. The instant their gaze locked, the guilt started again reminding him he’d given his heart and soul to another, devoted his love many years ago. Now Ivan had convinced himself he could transfer his love to Katerina. He had told himself he could fall in love as deeply as he had the first time and he could devote himself to another. The potential for joy and happiness were within his reach, if he could break the ties that bound him to his first love. A love that had now dimmed to a duty.
He saw lips moving, but the sound did not register, wishing him good morning as he took his position, just far enough away that he didn’t need to talk to her but close enough to feel the warmth she radiated. Her snugly fitted, deep blue dress, with white spots danced over her curves as she worked to set out the goods on the table. From the corner of his eye, he followed those white spots; the guilt hit him again and he wrestled with the hope of future happiness.
Voices in a vacuum greeted him. Several times he wiped his palms to dry the clamminess as well-wishers’ hands reached out to bid him good morning. In the vortex of workers, she was a centre of stillness, a calmness. His legs dragged concrete feet as he tried a few steps towards her before someone else commanded her attention. Today would be the next move forward, that he had resolved this morning. People walked between him and Katerina, they were like ants haphazardly going about their business, but his eyes never left her. The urgency building, three steps and he would be there.
The silence enveloped him again as she spoke, the ruby red lips moving, discussing the weather, the heat of summer gone and what a relief that fall was here; the sweat on his shirt built as she talked and he responded. Suddenly they were alone, the crowd had scurried away. He was about to ask; the guilt stopped him. It would be an innocent question he told himself, in slow motion she smiled at him again, his heart pounded harder.
The words sat at the back of his throat, they wouldn’t come, his swollen tongue wouldn’t move. A deep breath, he asked about her mother and her sister, the words came smoothly enough.
Her head turned distracted by the question of how much was the – whatever it was – he wished the silly old woman would leave them alone. He snuck another look at her dress, her white low heels peeped beneath the deep blue dress, she was always so elegant.
Her hands gave over the change, dismissing the old woman. He gulped, lips dry, his mouth a desert. This time, the words started to come; then voices were hushed to silence. The clang of the bell. Their eyes locked one last time, he watched those beautiful lips move again. Filling his view, he ached, how he wanted to touch them, his lips on hers.
“Father Ivan, it’s almost time for mass shouldn’t you be getting prepared?”