I’ve had a few.
What about love?
That never lasts long.
Are you certain about that?
No, but I know regret lasts forever.
Maybe your love was too perfect to be true?
That’s possible, but what’s your point?
You should’ve told her how you felt.
You make it sound so simple.
We’d only known each other for three weeks before we started living together.
I fell in love with Madeline without thinking it through and I think she just she went along with it.
It was like two lost pieces of a jigsaw when we came together. We completed each others broken lives and restored our faith again. I know that’s how I felt about it. My previous long-term relationship had left me cynical and jaded, however, I hadn’t given up on life at that point.
We met at a time in our lives when we were both recovering from failed marriages.
Madeline had divorced her husband five years ago and wasn’t looking for another relationship. He had moved out of the family home and she had custody of their son. Maddy explained the marriage was fraught, and her husband was always desperate for money. She survived on her earnings as a part-time property conveyancer. The work was patchy, but paid the mortgage in his absence.
At the time of our first encounter, I was emerging from a domestic meltdown and separation. My portrait photography business was my passion and kept me distracted and gainfully occupied. The year we met, I was running an independent high street studio and looking for more custom. I recall the exact day for many reasons, however I remember it was a rainy Saturday afternoon. I had a stall exhibiting my work at the local school’s Christmas fair.
One hundred families attended the event, and I’d handed out plenty of flyers. When Maddy appeared, I was talking to a young lad. She bent down to address him and asked him to point to his favourite picture. I like the one with the dog, Mummy. Hmm, she said, stroking his head. It looks like Alice. The lad grinned, and Maddy turned her head in my direction. She blinked and there was a flash of light behind her eyes.
During those first moments, we couldn’t avert our gaze. It was as though we were performing a mysterious dance together; entwined and yet an unbearable distance apart. Madeline’s dark brown eyes drew me into her soul. It felt like free-falling down a deep well and learning to fly. The lad tugged at Maddy’s arm and asked how we knew each other. What’s that, Bobby? She said. Didn’t you hear me, Mummy? Sorry, love, she said, No I’ve never seen him before. The young boy’s face lit up with a knowing smile. Reading the situation beyond his years, he made his excuses and left us to talk.
I introduced myself as the photographer and asked if she liked what she saw. She smiled and complimented me on my photography. I explained the rules of the competition and the prize. Madeleine said she’d think about. It’s free to enter, I said, and offered her a pen and a clipboard. She asked if there was any obligation. No, of course not, I said, laughing. I explained that only a few parents had entered the competition, and therefore she could win the prize. She said, I bet you say that to all the Mums. Chuckling, I assured Maddy I was genuine and handed her my business card. Accepting it, she tested the embossed surface between her thumb and forefinger. These are impressive, she said. Are they expensive? They’re Moo cards. I thought I spotted their quality, she said, nodding. Nothing but the best, I said, offering her my clipboard, and showing where to scribble down her contact details.
It’s always good to offer a deal when you’re promoting yourself. I had a special Christmas package that sounded fantastic. My flyer announced a competition to win a free family photo shoot and an A4 print with a choice of a quality hand finished wood, metal or black frame. Most of the offers are used to gather email addresses for future sales. If anyone is interested in my photography, they might take a break and think about it. However, most clients consider going large when they see their beautiful images blown up on a giant canvas, and that’s where the money’s made.
The fact is, everyone wins the competition; it’s a lost leader. Page number one of how to establish a customer base is, get contact names and numbers and develop tempting offers to generate future business. Everyone receives a call and comes to the studio with their family.
I’d invited four lucky prize-winners for their family photography experience before I contacted Madeline. They’d all agreed to attend, so it was a busy start for the new year in the studio. When I called Maddy, she sounded harassed and short-tempered on the phone. She said she was busy and told me she’d think about it. I said I’d pencil in a booking and she could confirm the day before or at her earliest convenience. She agreed and ended the call, wasting no time on pleasantries.
Business was picking up when Madeline left a message saying she couldn’t make her appointment. She had family issues that prevented her from attending and suggested donating her prize to some other fortunate family.
Maddy explained her son, Bobby, had a virus, and was housebound.
I offered to visit her home.
I was persuasive.
We agreed on a date in mid-January.
The festive period passed by and I visited Maddy’s home as arranged. Bobby opened the door when I arrived. Hello there, young fella, I said. Are you ready for your photo shoot? My mother’s busy upstairs just now. Oh, really? I frowned, assuming she’d changed her mind. Maybe she could call me and rearrange, I said, preparing to leave. Bobby called after me. Hey, Mister Cameraman, he said. You’ve got it all wrong. I turned to face him and a scuffle of paws and excited snuffles greeted me. You must be Alice? I said, squatting down to meet the enthusiastic young bulldog. You’re a good-looking one, I said, ruffling her lean neck and chin with both hands. She floored me in her excitement and, leaping forward, licked my entire face with her rough tongue.
Bobby asked me to follow him and offered to carry my lights to their reception room.
Hey. Let’s get some shots in your garden with Alice. Bobby smiled and led me to the back door and out to a stretch of unkempt meadowland. Perfect! I said. Let’s get Alice’s favourite toy and get some action shots. Yeah! Come on Alice! Bobby was a natural, and my camera loved his pet, too. We had a fabulous time chasing around, leaping between trees and kicking piles of golden leaves.
Maddy emerged after about half an hour. Sorry to be so slow, she said, looking serene and relaxed. She drifted through the pale brown grass in a flowing white dress, a knitted shawl draped over her shoulders and short silver wellies. It looks like you’ve all started without me. Come on, Mummy, Bobby said, laughing. We haven’t got all day.
So the delay was a test to see how her son reacted to you?
I think she’d been listening to our chatter and had gauged my character from the ongoing exchange and joyful banter. The fact is, I know how to amuse children and I enjoy goofing around. I was always a hands-on father and enjoyed my guys’ playful moments. My marriage was fraught with imminent disaster, but I put on a brave face for my children’s sake.
Anyway, I guess I was the warm-up act, in a way. The shoot went well, and I captured natural moments of joy and a perfect set of pictures.
So, that’s when it all started?
Seven years passed like a speeding juggernaut. We had a wonderful life together despite our cultural differences. We brushed any misunderstandings to one side, and laughed them away. It was terrifying because it was so perfect. It felt like we’d always been together. We may have met in a previous life or on a distant planet. Even though we were born thousands of miles apart, we enjoyed the same music and books, and shared a love of cooking.
From the beginning, Maddy told me her heart was in shards after her marriage had failed. She wasn’t looking for more torment, and love wasn’t on her agenda. I wasn’t looking for love either, but when it happened, it hit me like a tsunami. Isn’t it funny how life happens when you least expect it?
But you’re on your own again?
She wanted more than I could give her.
You mean she wanted a commitment?
I was reluctant to get married again.
Did you believe it would fall apart?
I couldn’t go through it again.
It might have worked out.
I’ll never know now.
So what happened?
I ran out of time.