Day five has been one of work, of chatting with Joze, of greeting another couple coming to visit the apartment and of thinking about this next post. Things will be easier soon, as far as this blog is concerned. I'll be on a roll. But it's important to me to document what happened over the past few years and to do that now, before the real job begins of telling you how a new life feels.
This part is difficult, for many reasons. I haven't told you about my life. Not really. I have been chatting about this and that in sporadic blog posts while more profound things were happening. Now is the time to write about them without my usual need to make light of everything. I realise that I'm going to write about someone else's actions without giving you their side of things, but I will. I have to out of fairness. So keep reading and all will be revealed.
Twas New Year's Eve...
After talking to Tatiana and her husband in the hallway we went into the living room and joined in the festivities. It was a full table and I remember very clearly that Tatiana sat next to me. It felt like the opera that never was, sitting next to each other with a chorus of food and children and farmers and booze, the libretto written in Slovenian and Russian. For me, I couldn't imagine anything better. But then something better did happen. Matea arrived and told me he was ringing the bells in the church for New Year. I asked if I could go and he said of course. And Tatiana asked if she could go too, and no opera has been written to match it.
When I wrote The Refreshment Room at Milford Junction I made it all about the bells and the fireworks and New Year, but really it was about doing something wonderful in the company of someone wonderful. We were a select group of slightly drunken explorers in that church, finding our way through the darkness and up a tight little wooden staircase to the belfry. My surprise at being in a house full of people with Tatiana now became amazement that I was with her and only five or six other people in a place I never thought I'd see. The bells are huge and loud and they make you feel insignificant. The floor shakes. The walls shake. People are herded together.
As the clock struck midnight Matea opened a bottle of bubbly and handed us plastic cups. He filled them and then, time-zones aside, he did what every man in the world was doing at that moment. He was going to try to kiss the most beautiful woman in the room. He kissed her on her left cheek, and then on her right cheek, and when he went for the real kiss she froze in polite horror. Inwardly I smiled at her reaction and looked to the floor, while Matea wandered off, bottle in hand, with a "Well, I tried!" sense of disappointment. I liked her stoic resistance.
And when I looked up, she was looking at me. The bells were ringing and the sky was full of fireworks and everyone was cheering and wishing each other happy new year and all I knew was that the only person who had any affect on me was standing there, looking at me as if wondering what might happen next...
...and I knew exactly what to do. It was a blinding moment of absolute clarity, and I mean total and absolute clarity, quite unlike me. If I tried to kiss her I would be another Matea, another drunk man on New Year's Eve trying to steal something he could blame on the occasion. There would be no opera. There would be nothing. Ever. And for some reason I cannot explain, I knew the risk was far too great.
So I looked at her and hoped it said that I want to, but I'm not going to, and eventually she said, "I think it's time to go."
We found her daughter and the three of us set off down the tiny staircase and through the dark church. On the road back we linked arms and I sang Auld Lang Syne. We broke formation and stopped singing as we neared the farmhouse, where I stood outside with some others and watched Tatiana disappear inside the house. I went in to see if she was okay but couldn't find her. Soon afterwards the family had bundled up their things and gone home, unseen by me.
It was nearing five am when I got home and I couldn't sleep. The next day I couldn't concentrate on anything except that look, and found myself going for long walks in the snow just to prevent some kind of insanity. I walked for miles. What did it mean? Nothing. Why? She was drunk. What should I do? Nothing. But I'm going mad! Tough. Did she want me to kiss her, or was she simply wondering why I invited her to the opera? I...don't....know! She was probably just drunk and in one of the most romantic settings ever. So I walked some more. For days on end. In the snow.
I wrote the Refreshment Room at Milford Junction on January 2nd, after two days of thinking of nothing but one brief encounter. You may or may not know that the film Brief Encounter is set largely in the refreshment room at Milford Junction. I watched the film over and over again because I turn to Rachmaninoff in times of crisis (his second piano concerto is used for the film music) and poor Celia Johnson is utterly miserable and confused over just such a situation. She says:
"This can’t last. This misery can’t last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. There’ll come a time in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. No, no, I don’t want that time to come ever. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days."
Poor Celia. And so terribly terribly English. But my heart went out to her.
The only view from my apartment was the church, looking directly at the window where Tatiana had turned my world upside down. Brief Encounter became the theme to my life and it came out in the blog post. Honestly, I have no reason to lie to you, I was turned inside out by one look.
After four days of madness I walked a few miles up into the mountains where I knew that Don would be sitting alone amid a pile of books and I needed to talk to someone. He gave me dinner and said that I'd had a very pleasant evening, and that was that. Enjoy the memory and then get on with life. I agreed.
Tatiana had been given New Year's Eve off and had been drinking, so I was sure she wouldn't even remember looking at me, but I was on the verge of joining the circus or the French Foreign Legion. I had to do something other than walking for miles in the snow all day.
After a week I was no better, but had done very well in not trying to communicate with her. On our first cow-shed meeting I had asked her if her husband knew where I could learn to paraglide and so she had written to me with contact info, ending the email with Best Regards, her name and phone number. It was 100% business of course, but I was in possession of her email address, her phone number and I even knew where she lived. I cursed the modern world for giving us so many ways to communicate. We now have a whole orchard of forbidden fruit from which to pluck.
And then one night, around 1am, I decided to watch a film that contained no romance, no Rachmaninoff, no Celia Johnson looking sad. I would go back to a normal life! Half way through the film, quite without thinking about it, as if the Gods took control over me and were worried that I might screw up all their hard work by watching something light-hearted, I got up and typed, "I hope you're okay. I was wondering if you still wanted to read my novel? I thought I'd write because I'm finding it hard to sleep these days."
I didn't think about it. I didn't plan it. I didn't agonize over it. I just got up and did it and sat back down again.
I went to bed thinking...what did I just do?
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things