The land of might have been can be paved with regrets and lost opportunities, of choices made and their consequences. On the other hand it can be a place dreamers and ditherers can inhabit and never be forced to face reality. For dreamers a love story incorporates adventure and impulse. They don’t subscribe to others’ warnings it is irresponsible and unsustainable.
That afternoon when it all began they didn’t go to the press conference in the end. The casual conversation deepened and darted over many topics and they continued to talk until with a shock they realised the exhibition halls were closing for the day. He gave her his card and after a week of hesitating she called him half expecting he wouldn’t remember her. But he appeared delighted to hear her voice and suggested tea at the Wardolf. It was an afternoon of wonders stepping out of the gloomy winter’s afternoon into a world of warmth and light and music. The white clothed tables were laden with plates of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and cake stands displaying delicate pastries and cakes. When they danced they moved together as if they entered an ageless experience of mystery and romance, as if they had already danced together many times before. So that when the orchestra played ‘Dancing in the Dark, their final tune, and they stood outside in the now softly falling snow, they seemed to be waking from a dream.
It was really lovely, ‘she said.
‘Wasn’t it? I’ll call you.’
Several afternoons like these followed with, in between, phone calls from his office until she began to set aside her fear that each meeting was a dream and believe it might be real.
Each time she longed for him to kiss her and for several evenings seated in the taxi which dropped him off at Waterloo station and took her on to Victoria she sensed he might but no.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow,’ he’d say.
Their first kiss was a week before Christmas. It was the same as when they danced, a timeless connection that, when they drew apart, brought tears to her eyes.
‘There is something I have to tell you,’ he said at their next meeting, ‘I’m married.’
‘I think I knew,’ she said.
‘And it doesn’t make any difference?’
‘No.’ It was too late for that. ‘
‘That’s a relief, I’m so glad.’
When she arrived home, to her little suburban house, she would do what she always did: pour herself a nightcap, late as it might be and turn the evening’s events into a mythical past so that she could love it and dream about it alone. She had an idea this was strange that she couldn’t share the natural enjoyment of normal people. It was her guilty secret and she feared being found out
In spring they met in Amsterdam where their hotel room had a slanting ceiling and a soft downy quilt. They strolled in the red district and drank jenever in brown bars when they were not making love. He cried into her neck on one occasion and told her what a prude his wife had always been, making him ashamed about sex.
‘You’re different, you let yourself go. Laura is so cold.’
He cried again and she soothed him like a child. ‘Shhh, you have me now.’
They went to Portugal where they won a competition dancing the wicked Lambada. Venice was next; it was on his return from Venice his wife told him she had gone through his pockets where he’d carelessly left receipts and ticket stubs. Laura knew her name. He was to cease seeing her or…
‘I can’t I can’t stop seeing you,’ he told her on the phone, late from the office when everyone else had gone home. ‘We’ll just have to be more careful.’
But Laura tracked them down, calling hotels until she found the one where they were staying. She turned up at the house, wild haired, glaring through the window to where they sat having dinner.
‘I’ll have to go out and speak to her,’ he said.
‘If you go with her, don’t bother to come back,’ she said.
There was an altercation in the street, a car drove off and he returned.
She was ashamed that she had almost hoped he would leave, the situation was becoming messy, consequences would have to be faced. He didn’t call for a while and she returned to her secret ‘vice’ where remembering counted far more than possessing. Possession seemed disappointing and banal.
When he eventually called her to tell her he had come to a decision, some tenacious spirit took hold of her. Laura would not win. She would fight for him.
‘I want to leave her and be with you,’ he said.
They had a joyous reunion at the Tower hotel, they took a room and he buried himself in her, saying her name. She told herself, but this is what it has all been leading up to, isn’t it? Surely, it could not have continued in abstraction?
Momentum quicken, he consulted a solicitor. One afternoon he told her they were going for a drive. They toured a commuter town of large houses with paved drives and high hedges.
‘A place like this,’ he said, then catching her puzzled expression: ‘we’ll have to live somewhere not too far for me to travel to work.’
She glimpsed their future, she running one of these houses, organising her life around his. No more her secret retreats into memory and fable for there would be no need of assignations and illicit trips. No more the solitude of her suburban home and reverie. It would be all ‘out in the open’ and the light, she sensed, too bright.
He caught her eye. He understood. He said as he had said once before ‘You’re really a party girl, aren’t you?’
How could she explain?
When he lost his nerve, afraid of Laura’s wily stranglehold on his money, of his professional reputation, his absence gradually gave way to her memory of him.
For dreamers the past counts far more than the present and if a future proposes they are inclined to shy away, preferring the land of might have been. That is what she came to believe.ENDS