DAWN AND DUSK
They were called Dawn and Des, but there was a certain inevitability about them being nicknamed (affectionately, of course, their friends hastened to reassure themselves) Dawn and Dusk. At one point it had been considered very original and witty. They knew about it, of course, and didn’t seem to mind, though most people went through the motions of not saying “Dusk” to their faces.
The nickname had turned into a constant, but that did not mean there were not shifting sands and conflicting nuances. The simple interpretation was that Dawn was sunny and “bubbly” (and at what point resembling the results of an over-lavish application of bath oil became a virtue is one of those minor unsolved mysteries) and that Des, though a thoroughly nice chap was, well, a tad morose, and she must get fed up with him at times. Even their appearance seemed to mirror their nicknames – she was small, just a little plump, and had curly strawberry-blonde hair, whereas he was tall and had a thick, but rather dull head of dark brown hair. But there were also whispers and not always whispers that at times you could wish she wasn’t quite so ruddy bubbly, and if he had turned a bit quiet and moody, well, you could see why.
Both were well-respected in their jobs – he was an electrician, and she was a doctor’s receptionist – though there were still voices that, of course, were not unkind, that remarked that there was a certain irony to an electrician sometimes being known as a “sparky”. Dusk – er, Des – did a good job for a fair price, and was on time and cleaned up after himself, but “sparky” was not the adjective that would first come to mind. Nor did Dawn in any way, shape, or form, resemble the dragon lady receptionist beloved of sitcoms, though she was more than capable of dealing with the stroppy, if needs must.
Well, folk, whoever folk might be, said that opposites attract. And there’s a certain comfort in a truism being apparently proven to be true.
The way they met conformed reassuringly to the cliché, too. They had been on holiday, staying at the same hotel in Austria. But there’s a twist to this. They discovered over the coffee and cakes in the lounge of the Bergblick – and the hotel did, indeed, have a quite magnificent view of the mountains – that they only lived a couple of streets away from each other, and the town was quite small. There was a very good chance their paths had already crossed, somewhere prosaic like the post office queue or the deli counter at Sainsburys. Well, it wasn’t on a par with those dramatic tales about the twins separated at birth finding each other by chance, and it certainly wouldn’t have triggered their mutual attraction by itself, but it undeniably helped. Everyone at the hotel was very taken with the story. Dawn spoke fairly fluent German, but hadn’t known the word for coincidence, and they were both rather pleased to find out that it was Zusammentreffen – meeting together. Well, in their case it could hardly have been more appropriate. Though neither of them was especially impulsive (although some people thought Dawn was, and she didn’t mind) they both knew by the end of the holiday that it was going to be much more than a holiday romance, and that they didn’t need wonderful mountain vistas and rides in horsedrawn carriages and fairytale castles – not that these things weren’t very nice!
They didn’t get a special license and go straight from the airport departure lounge to the church or registry office, but didn’t see any point to a long engagement either. Family on both sides were happy about it. The future parents-in-law hit it off at once, and though they all loved their offspring dearly (Des was an only child, and though Dawn did have an older brother there was a big age difference and though they were quite close, he often seemed more like a young uncle) agreed that they would be good for each other. Des might liven Dawn up a bit - she really was a bit too solemn for a young woman and Dawn might be a steadying influence on Des, who had a heart of gold, but didn’t always take things seriously enough when it was called for. It was more than time for him to set up his own business.
Their wedding was what people call simple but nice. They spent their honeymoon – well, where else could it be? – at the Bergblick where they were treated like a mixture between celebrities and members of the family, but – as the manager Herr Forster made sure – their privacy was respected.
When they lost the baby, everyone agreed it was a terrible shame, but (and people, who weren’t mean people, DID say things like that, even though they knew they shouldn’t) it was only at 16 weeks, and she was young and healthy so they would have many more chances. But there were a couple of things that Dawn (and now Des) knew that even their closest friends didn’t. The big age-gap between Dawn and Michael had never been planned – her mother had lost two babies inbetween, so there was undeniably a family tendency, and Dawn would think that, no matter how much the doctor assured her otherwise, and that in this instance it was almost certainly NOT genetic. But though that was undeniably worrying, it didn’t haunt Dawn nearly as much as the other thing. She had decided it really was time she stopped being so straitlaced and old before her time, and to do something spontaneous. When she went on one of those “team-building” weekends from the logistics firm where she was working at the time, instead of doing so reluctantly and just getting through it (they weren’t actually compulsory, of course, but especially since that new boss had arrived, they might as well have been) she would throw herself into it heart and soul. After all, soon she would have to start being more sensible – and for the happiest of reasons. So to her colleagues’ surprise, she actually volunteered for that abseiling afternoon. She would not have gone so far as to say she found it enjoyable, but it was by no means as awful as she would have thought. She could well imagine that somewhere with a decent view instead of the local leisure centre, it might well have been exhilarating.
It was one of those freak accidents – the safety equipment had been checked only recently, and a subsequent check proved it was fine. But as it had said on the disclaimer they had all signed and few of them had read, it was a potentially dangerous activity, though mishaps were remarkably rare. Her rope swung at a strange angle, and she missed one of the footholds, and landed awkwardly. Her apparent injuries were fairly minor – a slightly sprained ankle that a couple of days rest would cure, and a few bruises. Crash-helmet wearing had been rigidly enforced, and there was not the slightest hint of concussion – not even a headache. The first-aiders asked if there was anything else they should know about, and with the very slightest of pauses she said, no.
She thought she had got away with it until two days later, at home, when she knew exactly what was happening, and though Des rushed her to hospital, they BOTH knew it was pointless.
Through her sobs, and guilt-ridden, she told Des about the accident. He hugged her and said, “Love you didn’t fall on your tummy or anything – it was just a coincidence! I’m sure any doctor would tell you the same!”
And they would have, and they did. But that did not mean she had to believe them.
Dawn discovered what many people before her had, but that does not make it any more bearable – you can, eventually, come to terms with grief and make a fresh start, and time does heal. But guilt is another matter entirely.
Though their friends and family were sorry they were going, they agreed it probably was a good idea when Des was offered the chance to set up a franchise in a town about 50 miles away. Though they hoped to buy their own home eventually, they were currently renting, so that wasn’t too complicated. “It will be a fresh start,” Des’s father said, when the parental quartet met up for a drink. “And it’s not as if they’re going to the other end of the country.”
Dawn found a job, too. She was used to reception work, and had glowing references – she said she bet some of it was either because the firm were glad to get rid of such a miseryguts or that they still felt bad about the accident. Neither was true, but her loved ones knew it would probably be futile to try to persuade her. But whilst they thought her getting a job after the move and not “brooding at home” (how many of them dwelt on the original meaning of the word “brooding”?) they weren’t at all sure that her working in a doctor’s surgery was a good idea. True, the Hillcrest Practice didn’t have a maternity clinic, but obviously pregnant women would come in, as would babies and children. It could “go either way” as Dawn’s mother put it. They don’t understand, Dawn thought, for although nobody said it directly to her face she knew what people were thinking. “They’re other people’s babies,” she said to Dan, “Not mine.”
Dawn remembered reading somewhere – though if memory served, the advice actually concerned job interviews – that eventually, faking something could become real. She had her doubts, but decided to reinvent herself as bubby Dawn, the life and soul of the (usually) hypothetical party with her curly hair and chatty manner.
Well, other people might have believed it, but Dawn never did, not really, though there were moments when it almost, in passing, ceased to be a part she was playing. But she couldn’t keep it up at home. She often sat down, ran her hands through her curly hair, and then sobbed. Or, what was worse, just sat there, sunk into her own world. Des, who would have done anything to help, felt increasingly helpless, and grew increasingly careworn. Nobody would have guessed that in his “old” home town he was thought of as a happy go lucky sort of chap, with a taste for terrible puns and cheerfully over-estimating his prowess on the dance floor.
Dad-dancing, some folk called it. He had thought that was so funny once
He knew there was nothing very original about suggesting a holiday, when the time come that they had both been in their “new” jobs long enough to be owed some leave. “If you like,” she said, flicking through the pages of a book she wasn’t reading whilst the TV was showing a programme she wasn’t watching.
“Perhaps we could go back to the Bergblick.”
“Oh yes?” she roused from her lethargy with a tired, vehement remark question that needed no answer. “And have Herr Forster showing us the photos of his Enkelkinder?” It was true that Herr Forster did dote on his little grandchildren, Felix and Franziska, but he didn’t ram them down people’s throats. When Des had made that remark during their honeymoon, Dawn had laughed and said nobody was suggesting he was a cannibal!
“You said you were okay about other people’s children!” he protested.
“Oh, don’t turn my words round on me!”
They were both arguing and talking about IT and had done neither for weeks.
“Sorry,” Dawn muttered. “I know it’s not easy for you, either!”
Des just muttered, in turn, “Okay,” but he was thinking no, it’s not okay. I love Dawn with my heart and soul, but I’m sick of being the “either” and of being the “as well”. I’m sick of her playing Little Ms Sunshine when she’s with others and having everyone think I’m the morose one, the moody one, the one who acts as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Well, I DO have a great leaden weight on my shoulders.
In principle, of course, they both subscribed to the notion that every couple argues and that arguments clear the air, but though the former is undeniably true, the latter isn’t always the case. They can thicken and pollute the air, and they need to be seen through and let the strongest of winds blow to have any hope of clearing and cleaning. Dawn and Des did not let that wind blow. They battened down the hatches again and suffocating silence descended. Not absolute silence. They did not make a point of “not speaking to each other” that evening, and exchanged formalities and banalities, and even wished each other goodnight. Neither retreated to the spare room or asked the other to. It may have been better if they had.
For once, at work the next day, Dawn was not what Des had scathingly called “Little Ms Sunshine”. She was polite with the patients, and did not complain when someone spilt their coffee all over the floor, and was as efficient as ever. For many people, her conduct and mien would have been entirely normal and attracted no attention whatsoever. But Dawn was not supposed to be like that. Dawn was supposed to be bubbly and chatty, and even though her colleagues sometimes admitted it got on their nerves a bit, the absence of it was still unsettling. The general consensus was to “let her get on with it” and it would have its time, but the practise nurse Alma tended to be a bit of a dog with a bone. She, too, was generally popular and very good at her job, but appeared to be blissfully unaware that behind her back patients had been known to say that they wished she’d just bandage their arm or give them their flu jab and not be so obsessed with their “wellbeing”. It tipped over into nosiness at times!
Dawn, too, was tempted to tell her to mind her own business, but just said tersely, “Des and I had a bit of a row. And no, you can’t help. We’ll be fine.”
WELL! Dawn of all people had snubbed someone, and even if Alma did look disconcertingly like a wounded puppy, perhaps she had it coming! But that was just the sub-plot. Though not everyone had met Des, and those who had knew his reputation for being rock solid but gloomy, “Dawn and Dusk” were generally acknowledged as the item of items. There was something that made the most cynical feel betrayed about them having a row, though it was tinted with something between relief and Schadenfreude that they were, apparently, human too, and had their tiffs. In her own mind, Dawn never used the word “tiff”. That was a lightweight word, a trivial word, almost an affectionate word. This, although only a few angry words had been exchanged, and they were quiet, was something far deeper and darker, and Dawn felt as if tendrils in her had been uprooted.
Des was doing a rewiring job for Mrs Palmer at The Pines. It was the first time he had done a job for her, but he came with glowing recommendations, coupled with a warning that “he keeps himself to himself”. Well, Mrs Palmer wondered why people said that. He kept up a stream of chatter, though not enough to become irritating, and had a lovely smile.
Or did he? Mrs Palmer was one of those deceptively fluffy old ladies. She didn’t aspire to be the town’s answer to Miss Marple, and could imagine nothing more horrible than finding a body, but she still saw more than she let on, most of the time. I don’t think those folk were lying, she thought. I don’t even think they got the wrong impression, as such. And I don’t think he’s nearly as cheery as he’s making out. That smile doesn’t reach his eyes.
This is how I used to be most of the time, thought Des, working efficiently but on autopilot. And fair enough, I was a bit immature, and I can see it could be a bit annoying, but it never used to be a false impression.
I shouldn’t have been so mean to Alma, thought Dawn. Not that it seems to have had much permanent effect on her. She means well. But I’d had enough of her. Like I’ve had enough of this cheery chap-ess stuff. For God’s sake! Why should I pretend to be more outgoing after losing the baby than I was before? One thing’s for certain – it isn’t coping with it. Not that I will ever cope with it. She had got into the habit of automatically adding such disclaimers, to assuage her conscience, though it had exactly the opposite effect.
The town still had an old-fashioned Travel Agent, whose closure had been predicted for years, but still seemed, if not exactly to flourish, then to muddle through. Dawn was pretty sure the last time she had used a travel agent rather than booking online was to get brochures to cut pictures out of for a school project! And today, she’d had no intention of calling in. But a brochure in the window caught her eye. It specialised in River Cruises. Des still spoke warmly of the boating trips he’d been on with his late grandfather. And some of the breaks were only a few days. Perhaps they could manage that. She picked up the brochure.
Neither she nor Des apologised, but it felt as if they had. They agreed on a short Rhine cruise to the Netherlands and Germany.
It would solve nothing, at any rate not simply and quickly. They went into it with open eyes. But perhaps it would be a start.
And at least they would be with people who had never known them as Dawn and Dusk – and hadn’t known them before their roles reversed. They would just be two people on holiday who could be solemn or merry as they pleased.