This story is by Jan Buchanan-Medina and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
THE FALL OF LOVE
In summer the big sitting room of the big house echoes with the sounds of three generations and three families’ laughter and living.
In Fall, as now, the sounds of summer slumber, muffled by the sighing of leaves as they begin their metamorphosis.
The big sitting room of the big house is silent now, sheltering one occupant who sits quietly on a chair in the corner as her memory wanders back over the years. It was in this very room that she had first experienced the touch of a man. That shy young man who fifty years ago had brought her to the house, shown her off to his father and mother and then had asked permission to spend a few hours with her in the big sitting room.
She remembers how his voice had faltered, how he had blushed and how his body had trembled when he first took her into his arms. She could even now feel his hesitation and once again she shivered as she felt his breath tremulous upon her neck. His body had trembled, yes, but his hands had been strong and certain.
Memory is sad, even when the memories are sweetest – in fact the sweetest memories are often the saddest of all. They take you by surprise and you suddenly feel that rush of heat and longing and, if you are lucky, you grow dizzy with the fragrance of a remembered moment.
Yes, his hands, so beautiful. So strong. Their fragrance had lingered on her body long after the warmth of his first caress.
She sighed as a sudden draft unsettled the particles dancing in the burnished light of the late afternoon. Those beautiful hands, once so in control, now were swollen and twisted by a fast-creeping arthritis.
I love you still, she whispered into the bruised air. I love you today as much as I have ever loved you. We knew nothing of life and yet we discovered it together and lived it like princes. We had nothing, but we had each other. And we had music.
It was true, she had known nothing of the pleasures of music until that day she had fallen into his arms, and listened breathless as the sweet notes tumbled upon each other and realised that she could feel what he felt.
She remembered how haltingly he had spoken about everything else in his life – except music. How his eyes came alive and his beautiful hands became animated as he talked about the latest recordings of a favourite work.
He worked in a specialized music store and he had customers from all over the world who insisted on dealing exclusively with him. Once, he had received a personal invitation to participate in a music symposium in Barcelona from the President of the organising committee who turned out to be one of his clients. The invitation was accompanied by air tickets and he had accepted. They had enjoyed the symposium – he had taken an additional three weeks annual leave and altogether it was the most memorable time of their lives.
They had strolled along the banks of the Tago in the grounds of the summer palace in Aranjuez, every phrase of the concierto caressing their souls. They heard the clip clopping of the grey dappled stallions pulling the carriage that carried queens and princesses around the spacious grounds, under the canopy of huge trees. He had held her close to his heart and admired how delicately the moonlight silvered the slowly moving river.
He had told her how Roman soldiers in short tunics and studded leather cuirasses had stood in that very same place on just such a night as that, praying to their war gods, their figures swaying, Janus-like reflected in the slow-moving current, just hours before the call to battle was sounded. He described how rich Moors had ravished beautiful maidens not from their own tribes. Maidens captured in assaults upon Iberian settlements. Maidens who were shapely and desirable and haughty, who were humiliated by having to dance and sing for their captors while they leered at them from fringed cushions. Maidens who were crudely used and left unmarriageable.
He had eaten fresas con nata, the summer specialty of Aranjuez, at the little kiosk opposite the palace and had marvelled at the incongruity of the vulgar French neo-classical fountain at the entrance to the gardens. What should you expect, he had muttered, the French worshipped that little Corsican bandit who had allowed his soldiers to take target practice on other people’s treasures, even on the face of the Sphinx. They had walked the long avenue down to the Casa del Labrador, their senses abandoned to the concierto that paid such elegant homage to the city.
They had travelled south and seen huge truck camps of perhaps 300 vehicles and had been told that these were “official” gypsy sites. His heart had shrunk as he contemplated the depressing huddle of dusty trucks and he wondered if any gypsy from such a place could ever again find fire in his soul. He tried to imagine the sultry Candela watching as her lover Carmelo invoked with fire and dance the spirit of her dead gypsy lover, in order to release her from the spell that his violent death had cast upon her.
But the smell of diesel exorcised even the haunting cante jondo of Love, the Magician.
They lost themselves by day in hot, dry, suffocating Andalucia, acrid with the smell of poverty. They watched as weary groups of dark-skinned men wearing dusty suits straggled past. They carried cardboard cases tied with string and crammed full with North African tinned and dried food for the journey, their suits the only clothing they had for the long trek north in search of work. The lucky ones would obtain a permiso, find work and lodging and send money home. Until they outstayed their licences and were moved on.
He had held her close and told her that thirteen hundred years ago, these people’s ancestors had arrived in splendour to occupy, educate and civilise the Iberian peninsula. They filled wonderful cities with fine architecture and sophisticated plumbing, seduced the Spanish heart to an appreciation of music, art and elegant poetry. Now, they were but rejects of their own history – shadows cast across the soul of a land they once had conquered.
By night, as the purple dusk insinuated itself into their lives, he was less sad and held her again in his arms and they made love to each other to the gentle strains of Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Each sensuous chord releasing a flood of passion. They rested, exhausted by the effort of making such exquisite music together in a hot climate.
Startled, he was suddenly jolted into the realisation that the lazy summers had now passed and he was entering the Fall of his life. He had just attended his retirement farewell party. He felt tired and a little irritated. He had made that same journey fifty years by forty-eight weeks by five days a week. Overall, he had enjoyed his working life, but this celebration had reminded him that he knew nothing about his workmates. They knew nothing about him. They simply pretended a comradely intimacy.
They had said flattering things about him and he now carried home a handsome gold carriage clock engraved with a phrase of thanks from the company and the date, September 1966, and his veined and aged wrist now sported a handsome gold watch. The last movement of a lifetime of service to the listening public.
Strange, he thought, nothing and no one has ever been more important to me than music. Music has been my most faithful companion. While others have survived tempestuous marriages and bitter divorces, while I have watched my brothers’ children grow and have their own children, I have never felt envious. Music has been my most faithful love.
His wrists and hands were aching. He turned into his gateway and rubbed his hands to ease the pain while he waited for the housekeeper to open the door “Oh welcome home sir, how was the party?” “Fine, fine, thank you. I’ll take my sherry in the big sitting room.”
He sat the handsome clock on the hall table as he passed. His knuckles and fingers were aching badly. He undid the buttons and removed his coat with difficulty. Tears of pain and frustration came hot to his eyes. He went to the corner where she was sitting, he held out his arms and picked her up, clutching her close to his chest.
“Oh my dearest, my love” he said, clumsily plucking at her with aching fingers. How will you and I ever make love again? He sat down with the beautiful guitar across his knee, he stroked the polished wood and caressed her strings and he let his tears fall helplessly onto her waiting body.