Under the Clock – Amy

Amy stared without seeing as the conductor inspected her return ticket – she’d not expected  to use it quite so soon. It had been a heart wrenching moment when she’d caught sight of that chap with Jenny under the clock. From the back he’d looked just like Des, stopping her in her tracks as the past suddenly seemed to materialise before her eyes. It had taken a moment or two to realise that this was someone entirely different. In fact she recognised him as the guy who’d been around when Jenny had been producing that play two or three months ago. What was his name? Ethan, that was it. She wasn’t in any way surprised that they seemed to have finally got it together and realised that it probably answered her recent feeling that Jenny had been somehow distracted. She’d slipped away, no doubt she’d hear all about it soon enough.

But that moment under the clock had really shaken her. She’d not thought about Des for years, had managed to put the whole sordid affair out of her mind. Now she couldn’t shake off the image or the memories that came flooding back of how they used to meet at that very spot. She a rather naive 20 year old, he not so old really, maybe 30-ish, the age she was now. Nothing wrong in what they were doing he’d said, it was just… Well people get the wrong idea when a professor and a student fell in love so best to wait until you graduate Amy, you see that don’t you?

And of course, like a fool she’d agreed. She was in love, she’d have agreed to anything. She didn’t see the clandestine afternoons at the Central Hotel as something furtive or sleazy, but instead lived for the moment when they they would be free to be together properly. They’d get married, have lots of children, live happily ever after… Her eyes smarted as she remembered. She took her book from her bag and tried to read but the words swam before her eyes. Her usual ploy of staying frantically busy just wasn’t working today.

Today she couldn’t dismiss the memory of that moment 10 years ago when a tall woman in a striking red coat had walked right up to her as she approached their usual rendezvous point under the clock. A tall woman who had come up close and hissed in her face, “How dare you! There’s no point looking for him, you little bitch, he’ll not be coming today, or ever!” She’d thought she was going to faint as she struggled to make sense of the barrage of words that followed, hearing them as if they were coming from far away. “Bastard. Bitch. Whore. Wife and 3 children. How COULD he?” Making any kind of reply was impossible in the face of the torrent of fury and hatred. What could she say anyway? “I didn’t know”, “I’m sorry”…?

Any shuddered as she remembered those eyes boring into her as she backed away and managed to stumble to a seat where she sat entirely still for what seemed like an eternity until the pain in the pit of her stomach abated and she felt she could stand up without falling over.

She’d lost the baby that night. Maybe it was just as well.

Thank God, the train had finally arrived at her station. She gathered her things and prepared to step back into her life of perpetual motion.

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Perfect Moments

Looking at old photos can be a bittersweet experience. There are often very mixed sentiments involved in remembering those captured moments. Perhaps because it’s painful to look back at a time that is lost and regretted. Or because the smiles were just for the camera and were hiding some personal turmoil. The pictures can only record a single moment, but looking at them can sometimes stir up a whole complicated set of emotions. I suppose its inevitable that as you get older you are increasingly remembering people that are no longer with us or a self that that seems long gone.

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A moment full of hopes and dreams from our wedding in 1974. Both sets of parent and Father Gerry Hughes, have since passed away, as has our marriage. But it’s a lovely memory nonetheless, and one I can look back on with fondness.

But you can’t keep looking back at the past and blaming yourself for the way things turned out, the if-only’s. I confess that sometimes that tendency is there in me. And then I have to remind myself that the only way to heal is to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and understand that you did the best you could at the time. It’s human to get waylaid by wishing that things could have been different. The trick is to remember that our history is what makes us the people we are today, inevitably older, but hopefully wiser and more tolerant too.

So, while there will always be a few ghosts along the way when we delve into our past, there are also, happily, some moments of perfect joy. Moments which encompass so much more than just the image, but all the emotions associated with it. For me, many of those moments centre around my children and grandchildren, from the instant I first held them in my arms to all the small childhood tragedies and triumphs along the way, when yet another little bit of your heart is captured and gladly given away.

One such instance comes from decades ago, a sunny day at the beach when we’d packed the children into the car for an impromptu picnic, not something we did all that often. It was when we were living in Holland near the border with Germany, so the beach was one on the banks of the River Rhine – there are sandy beaches along its length just at that point. Anyway, the children had run down to the water’s edge and were splashing each other, jumping in and out of the spray.  I have an idea they were wearing those plastic sandals called jellies – or maybe they were just wearing their good sandals!

It was such a lovely day, bright and hot, and I closed my eyes for a moment, breathing deep. I opened them to see the image that has stayed with me all these years – the sunlight sparkling on the water, a heat haze over the wet sand and my four children visible through it as they played on the shore maybe 40 metres away, the sound of their squeals of laughter floating towards me. All wasn’t well with our marriage at this point and I don’t have a photograph, but this was a perfect moment out of time which nothing has ever been able to spoil.

These moment, these tender moments of the heart, I think come much closer to our true memories than any camera can ever capture. Sometimes you look at a photograph and although you know you were there – the proof is laid out in front of you – you can’t actually recall how it felt to be there, how YOU felt. Or you know that the photographer has failed to record the real all-singing, all-dancing you but instead has brutally chosen the moment when you are looking uncomfortable in a badly chosen outfit or were squinting at the sun.

All in all I prefer to close my eyes and explore the inner pictures which are much clearer, much nearer to who I really am and how I remember things. Often those moments aren’t the ones that are imperfectly captured on film, but are instead indelibly imprinted on my heart and remembered with infinite tenderness.

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