by Noel Denvir
Something unusual happened to me as I was walking home from work the other day. I’ve taken to going on foot recently because I need to lose a bit of weight and fitten up a bit. I can also save one hundred euros a month.
Another unexpected benefit is that I seem to have more time than before, even though the journey takes a good twenty minutes longer.
Anyway, there was this girl walking about ten yards in front of me and she looked familiar, but it was a type of sepia-tinted familiarity that tells you that this is a person you haven’t seen in a very long time. Even her clothes seemed to belong to another decade, as if she were like some sort of temporal refugee.
I decided to put my new pedestrian skills to the test and quickened my pace so that I could sneak a glance at her as I passed.
Now, you must understand I didn’t believe for one minute it would actually be Denise, just someone who looked like her.
Ever since the days when we used to be lovers, I have always maintained a strong affection for her and other women who look like her.
My “types” have been a series of Denises over the years.
The trouble was that I got to know her too well. I remember I used to wish that I had never seen her before and that I could start all over again.
But, life goes forward, doesn’t it?
Within fifty yards or so, I’d drawn level with her. She was, and always had been, a slow walker. The resemblance was uncanny. The lank, brown shoulder-length hair, the slightly humped posture, her long Arabic nose.
She’d always hated her nose, but I loved it. I told her that it made her look very French and erotic. I liked kissing it, feeling it, even sucking it.
“Don’t be disgusting, you’re supposed to blow it, not suck it,” she once said to me, way back then.
The girl I was following looked around at me and spoke my name, but not as a question.
“Denise?” I asked. Definitely a question.
She smiled. “I was wondering when I’d run into you.”
Okay, no great puzzle here. Being an honest, upright citizen, I wouldn’t be too hard to find. I also have an unusual surname which doesn’t take up pages in a telephone directory, so a person could easily trace me, but only through a telephone number or an address, and not my new footpath route to and from work.
“Oh, well, I’ve only started to walk along this route recently.”
“Ah,” she nodded, “that explains it ’cos I always walk. The chances of meeting someone are much greater if you walk. Vehicles are anti-social in this way, aren’t they?”
I pretended to think about this for a few seconds and then smiled in agreement.
It was one of those typical mini-observations that Denise was so good at: why are car stickers oval-shaped? That sort of thing.
In retrospect, the reason, I suppose, that I didn’t question the improbability of this meeting was that I was enjoying it so much.
She looked well, beautiful, in her early twenties. The fact that she should have been older seemed an irrelevant detail and I certainly wasn’t going to spoil this exquisite encounter by questioning her on the matter of her death the previous year. She was here and I was talking to her.
“So, Denise, what are you doing here?”
“I got a job for one of the big insurance companies.”
Something briefly puzzled me.
“How’s your German?”
“Perfect... erm... as good as my English, and yours?”
“Oh don’t ask. It’s good, but it’ll never be perfect.”
“Well, you know that women are better at languages.”
I asked her how long she’d been here.
“Oh I don’t know. Ever since I came here I suppose!”
I then moved into strange territory:
“Look... um... I was sorry to hear about... em... what happened to you. I felt very, you know, guilty.”
“Well,” I said, drawing the word out and grimacing, “if we’d stayed together...”
She raised her head to the sky.
“Every man’s soul’s his own.”
“Nice line,” I said.
“Shakespeare,” she replied mock professorially.
I had to be careful here and not say something condescending like, “Oh, you like Shakespeare, do you?” The difference in our educations had always been something that she was unjustifiably humbled by.
“I must remember that one,” I improvised.
“I’ve been getting into Shakespeare since I... arrived. A sort of homesickness.”
I was puzzled. “Homesickness?”
“Well... for the language... not for my old life.”
Oh no indeed, Denise, you couldn’t possibly miss your previous “life,” married to an aggressive drunk. It now seemed the time to ask that question.
“Why did you marry him?”
“I didn’t have anybody else. He loved me the way that I loved you.”
I looked away, embarrassed. She continued fluently in sentences that seemed to have been long thought out.
“I wasn’t getting any younger and I felt sorry for him. I felt together we could heal each other — two losers. But it turned out to be the blind leading the blind.”
“He hit you, didn’t he?”
Her tone of recital didn’t change. “More a violent tugging at my sleeve, trying to shake some sense into me. He was completely exasperated.”
“I didn’t love him. I had never loved him and I never would. He was haunted by you.”
“Haunted by me?” I gave one of my strained smiles. “I’d always found the idea of meeting him frightening.”
“He was terrified that you would come back and take me away.”
I buried the sentence — “This could never have happened” — and planted a fresh question. “How did it... end?”
She seemed almost uninterested in this surreal question. She shrugged and said, “Oh, alcohol, sleeping pills,” she was actually counting these on her fingers, “cigarettes, weak constitution, and I didn’t care anymore and so I prayed and prayed. You know I’ve always been religious.”
Oh yes, I knew this. She never let me make love to her. The idea of intercourse before marriage was totally taboo and, yet this way she could have had me.
She could have gotten pregnant and I would have stayed.
She frowned as if recalling some old reasoning. “I thought in some way that, if I died, I would be reunited with my father, or with you.”
“But I have a wife and kids now. It would be...”
She waved the end of this away. “No, no, that’s not why I’m here. I’m no longer the person I used to be. This is my new life. My prayers have been answered.”
I began to feel a little frightened. “So... who are you... here?”
“I don’t know now, ’cos this is just a short visit. At this moment, I’m Denise. The person I have become has always lived here. I’ll return to that life shortly.”
I nodded instead of truthfully shaking my head. “Will I see you again?” I meant this.
“Maybe. You know how it is with some people, you run into them every day, even on holidays, and then there are others who live right around the corner and you don’t see them for months on end. The timing isn’t right.”
She pulled a worried expression and touched the side of her head, “Ich glaube, daß es jetzt Zeit ist.”
I was startled. “Time? Time to go you mean?”
“Es war schön dich wieder zu sehen... em...” She didn’t know my name.
I told her and she nodded with a smile.
“Right, Denise, I’ll see you, around, I suppose.”
She didn’t understand this. “Wie, bitte?”
“Bye... em... Tschüss.”
She replied the same.
I watched her walk away. The slow pace, the shoulders too high, leaning forward into a new future. She turned the corner and was gone.
Only one passerby seemed to notice my sudden sighs as the tears blurred my vision and ran down my cheeks.
Copyright © 2009 by Noel Denvir