Thursday, 23 January 2014

Should I give up now?

As anyone who  is following my blog knows, I'm doing a creative writing module with the Open University. For my second assignment I had to write a short story of no more than 2,200 words. For better or worse, here it is!

Return to Russell Square
Rain was falling heavily as he approached the elegant Victorian building of the Russell hotel in Russell Square. A sharp pain pierced his heart when a memory of the first time he’d been here jumped into his head. Slowly he pushed open the large wooden doors and approached the reception. George the concierge hurried forward to relieve him of his wet coat and umbrella.
            ‘Thanks George, it’s good to see you.’
            ‘And you sir. Are you staying with us today?’
            ‘No, I’m just meeting someone.’
            ‘Very well sir. Let me know if you need anything?’
Simon slipped him a ten pound note and headed in the direction of the lounge. George looked after him, a concerned expression on his face. There was something different about him. He’d always thought that he looked a bit like Pierce Brosnan, with his dark hair and eyes. But today he seemed to have aged considerably since the last time he was here.
As Simon entered the lounge there was a subdued feel to the atmosphere. It was busy but the sounds of people’s voices were lost in the high vaulted ceiling. He spotted her sitting in an armchair by the window. Rubbing his sweaty hands on his trousers he felt his heart rate quicken. The rain had stopped and the afternoon sun cast a glow on her auburn hair as she sat looking out the window. He watched her for a moment wondering what she was thinking but decided that it was that it was probably better if he didn’t know. He took a deep breath and approached her.
            ‘Hi Elise, thanks for agreeing to meet me.’
She looked up, her head cocked to one side, her eyes narrowed.
            ‘I almost didn’t come! It’s been twenty five years Simon. Why now? Why after all this time?’
‘May I sit down?
She nodded then resumed staring out the window. There was a momentary silence during which he studied her, noticing the fine lines around her blue eyes and the sprinkling of grey in her hair.
‘You’re looking well. You’ve hardly changed at all although there’s something different.’ He studied her for a moment. ‘I know! You’re not wearing glasses!’
            ‘Contacts!’ she snapped, ‘look I didn’t come here for a chat. You wanted to tell me something, so get on with it!’ she retorted.
He slumped back in his chair, running his hands through his thinning, brindled hair.
            ‘Now you’re here I don’t know where to begin. I guess it’s too late to say sorry.’
            ‘Sorry!’ she hissed. ‘Sorry for what? I needed you and you let me down! You’re right sorry doesn’t even come close.’
He was prevented from answering by the arrival of a young Romanian waitress. She asked them if they would like to order anything. They both shook their heads and sensing the tension between them she hurried away.
            ‘Have you been happy Elise? Has your life worked out?’
She smiled tightly. ‘Yes I’ve been happy but it took me a long time. Anyway, why do you care? You didn’t then!’
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand angrily dashing away the tears that threatened to fall. He leaned forward as if to wipe her eyes.
            ‘Don’t!’ She cried, pushing his hand away, ‘you lost any right to touch me twenty five years ago.’
He sat back, his hands dropping to his side. She was right; it wasn’t his place to comfort her anymore. They sat in silence once more memories of the past haunting their thoughts. They had been happy once. He’d had a promising career with the Nat West bank and she was happy in her job as a Personal Assistant, her only ambition to be a mum. They’d been so happy when they found out that she was pregnant. The day their daughter was born he’d felt invincible. She had been tired but radiant that day and for the next few years they were really happy. He looked at her now, her heart shaped face trembling as she chewed her lower lip.
            ‘Did you marry again, have kids? He asked in a hushed tone.
            ‘Why? Would that make you feel better? Excuse what you did?
            ‘No, but despite my faults I did want you to be happy.’
‘Oh so that’s why you slept with my friend, to make me happy!
They stared at each other, her eyes blazing, his clouding as the enormity of how badly he’d hurt her began to sink in.
            ‘You’re right. I don’t deserve to be here. I’ll go. Thanks for at least coming.’ He started to rise but froze at her next words.
            ‘She would have been thirty this year.’ She mumbled.
He sat down heavily, the colour draining from his face. Suddenly he felt much older than his sixty years, the feeling of loss that he’d been suppressing for the last twenty five years threatened to engulf him. He closed his eyes and all he could see was the tiny white coffin as it glided out of sight behind the red velvet curtain and his shoulders began to shake.
Startled, she stared at him and a flicker of compassion briefly pierced her defences. He looked tired and much thinner than she remembered and there was a yellowish tinge to his face. Then her thoughts returned to the time when her world had fallen apart. She could vividly recall the day the doctors had told them that their beautiful little girl had cancer. They’d been a team then, determined to fight this together She’d screamed and shouted and bargained with God. But in the end the cancer had won. Then he’d betrayed her in the worst way possible.
‘I don’t know what you want from me? I have a husband and two beautiful kids. I’ve moved on!  Why bring it all back now?’
He slowly nodded his head. His shoulders slumped as he covered his face with his hands. She was right! He didn’t deserve to be forgiven, to finally find peace.
            ‘You know what Simon? I’m tired, tired of carrying around all this anger. Maybe I should be thanking you.’
He looked up startled.
            ‘I know!’ she laughed mirthlessly. ‘It probably doesn’t make sense to you. But if we’d stayed together I wouldn’t have met Phil and I wouldn’t have adopted Adam and Sam. They’re the reason I was able to pull myself out of the pit and start living again. What about you, did you marry her?’
            ‘No it didn’t work out. She said I was “too damaged”, so I never tried again. I had a few casual flings, but there was never anyone serious. I could do with a drink! Would you like one?’
            ‘Just water thanks. Drink always was your answer!’
His mouth twisted into a grimace as he emitted a mirthless laugh.
            ‘I did give up for a while but there’s not much point now. I’ll go to the bar’
She watched him as he weaved his way around the tables. The combination of his tall frame and his evident weight loss lending him an air of fragility she’d never seen before. What did he mean by that remark? He was probably just trying to win her sympathy. He was always good at that. Well not this time. She looked at her watch. She’d told Phil that she wouldn’t be long but not who she was meeting. She smiled thinking of Phil and the boys. After her daughter had died she had wanted to die too. Then one day she’d walked into her accountant’s office and met this shy, gentle widower. There was a vulnerability about him that had slowly started to penetrate the shell she’d placed around her heart and meeting his two sons had shown her that she could love again. Looking at Simon she realised that what she’d said earlier about him doing her a favour was true. Perhaps it really was time to forgive him.
            ‘I said yes to ice and lemon, is that OK?’
Startled she knocked the glass coffee table spilling the drinks he’d placed on it.
            ‘Shit! I’m sorry. I was miles away.’
            ‘You always did swear when you were stressed.’
            ‘Only when I’m around you,’ she spluttered.
The young Romanian waitress hurried over with a cloth. They both appeared to be extremely interested as she carefully wiped the table and replaced the round paper coasters. They thanked her and said that, “no they didn’t want the drinks topped up.” As she walked back to the bar she smiled happy that they seemed to be getting on better. Probably just a lover’s tiff! She saw a lot of that around here.
Elise took a sip of her water, realising how dry her mouth had become. ‘What did you mean when you said that it didn’t matter now?’
He shrugged, ‘nothing really, forget it. Do you remember the last time we were here?
            ‘How could I forget? It was our fourth wedding anniversary and we’d come up to London to see a show. I don’t really remember which one, but I remember our night in the hotel and nine months later she was born.’
            ‘Can you still not say her name?’
            ‘Not in public, I never know how I’m going to react. I speak to her all the time though. Not out loud, but in my head.’
            ‘I come here every year on her birthday.’ He hesitated. ‘I have cancer, six months the doctors reckon; a year if I’m lucky,’ he said, the words tumbling out of his mouth.
She stared at him and shivered as if someone had just walked across her grave. She felt the tight knot that had once been her constant companion once more taking hold of her stomach.
            ‘How long have you known?’ she asked gently, her eyes softening with compassion.
            For sure? Not long. But I’ve felt that something wasn’t right for a long time. I just ignored it. I was scared I guess. Stupid thing is they reckon if they’d caught it earlier they could have done something.’
            ‘But you’re only sixty, that’s nothing these days!’
He said nothing. Inside he’d felt dead for a long time. Since their divorce he’d ploughed himself into his work and partied hard, living the clichéd life of a single man. It hadn’t been what he wanted, but he’d had his chance at happiness and blown it. The doctors had warned him of what might happen if he didn’t stop drinking so hard. He’d tried but too late. He decided to be honest with her it was the least he could do.
            ‘Don’t be sorry for me, it’s my own fault. But now you know why I wanted to see you. I don’t expect you to forgive me I just wanted one last chance to tell you that I really am sorry.’
A silence fell between them. She studied her perfectly manicured hands wondering when they had become so wrinkled. He stared at her; a sad expression on his face as thoughts of all that he’d thrown away crowded his head.
After what seemed like an eternity she looked across at him. Instead of the confident young man she’d fallen in love with almost forty years ago she saw a broken, middle aged man and despite herself she felt a surge of compassion.
            ‘I should know more than most when something like this happens it puts everything else into perspective. Just tell me one thing, why did you do it? Have the affair I mean?’
            ‘I needed comfort. I was hurting too and you’d retreated into your own private world where I couldn’t reach you. It really didn’t mean anything. I still loved you. I’ve regretted it every day of my life.’
            ‘I’ve often wondered what Chloe would have thought of what happened to us’
            ‘Hey! You’ve done it! You’ve said her name!’
A slow smile spread across her face. ‘I have, haven’t I and it doesn’t seem to hurt so much somehow.’
 Now she was crying but her shoulders relaxed as the tension drained from her face and body. He was also smiling and experiencing a lightness he hadn’t felt in years. She hadn’t actually said that she was willing to forgive him, but somehow he just knew that she had.
She drained her glass of water and placing it on the table she looked at him a concerned expression on her face.
            ‘What are you going to do? How will you manage?
            ‘Don’t worry about me! Money’s no object. I’ve rented a cottage near St Ives; I think that I’ll find peace by the sea. There’s a local hospice there that’s agreed to take me in when the time comes.’
Leaning forward she kissed him on his forehead.
‘Look after yourself and thanks’
            ‘Thanks for what?’
            ‘I didn’t know it but I needed to forgive you. I’ll never forget but at least now I can let go.’

The young Romanian waitress appeared and proceeded to remove their empty glasses. This time she grinned as she walked away. They’d definitely made up, that was good. She wondered if they’d booked a room or did people their age do that sort of thing. 

Hope you like it! 


  1. Brilliant Isabel. I lovesloved the twists in the story. Also liked that you gave the reader clues rather than spoonfeed them. For example, St Ives by the seaside; not the one in Cornwall.
    Keep up your mission.

  2. Fantastic - I liked it from the first line because I stayed at a hotel in Russell Square when I came to London with a friend to see 'Spamalot' - and then I discovered the two main characters had done something similar, too :-)

    You said 'be gentle on you' - I'm much gentler on my characters than you are! :-) In my stories the characters get an even break. These two really went through hell.

    That's why it's good... because the cathartic moment when she says 'Chloe' isn't trivial. They exit purgatory tortured, damaged and him barely alive (this is how cruel you are to your characters :-) but, finally, healed.

    Nice work, P

  3. Thanks Peter! We were told that our story had to have some sort of conflict and a twist at the end, hence the ending! I can write happy endings, Lancelot and Isabel ended up together didn't they? Unfortunately I don't think the open university are ready for the Invisible Dragon! :)