The first letter was a wonderful surprise. It arrived ten days after I’d said goodbye to the Englishman and twelve days after I’d met him at the Embassy cocktail party. When I found the blue oblong air mail envelope on my doormat, I nearly screamed. I held it in my hand for just a moment. It was thick and silky, and I recognised the handwriting immediately. The first sentences took my breath away.
‘It rained when we sailed from Helsinki and the weather seemed to echo my mood. I am sure I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. I miss you so much.’
The Englishman was a poet. I read the pages over and over. Then I carefully folded the three full sheets of writing back into the envelope and held it against my chest. I hadn’t been dreaming. He was real and he missed me as much as I missed him.
My life since he’d left had been far from poetic. When, on the same night I’d parted with the Englishman, I opened the door to my flat, it looked empty. There were no lights on. I inhaled deeply. I had another night to dream about the Englishman before having to confront my boyfriend. I jumped when I heard him call my name. He was sitting in the dark on my bed.
At first my fiancé was quiet. As his silence grew, my talking increased. I tried to explain. ‘It’s as if I’d known this stranger all my life, I didn’t go to the cocktail party in order to meet some-one. It was just an accident.’
‘Accident?’ After the silent shock came his anger. My boyfriend, who’d I’ve known for four years to be a calm, controlled man, started to shout at me.
‘But you went to see him again!’ he bellowed. ‘You’re no better than those girls who hang around ports, prostituting themselves to sailors. How much did he pay for you?’
‘We didn’t do anything!’
‘Oh yeah? You expect me to believe you!’
I’d never seen my fiancé like this. In spite of the love for guns, he was not a violent man. He was a lot older than me, and I guess that had been his attraction. When the boys at school and University drank too much and hardly remembered what they’d done with you the morning after, my fiancé would cook a wonderful meal, or take me for long walks in the forest, or read me poems. He was never in a hurry and he never did anything without considering the consequences. And he’d never said a cross word to me. Until now.
‘You know he’ll have a girl like you in every port.’
I felt sick. Tears were running down my face. We were still sitting on my bed, fully clothed.
‘And what do you know about him – nothing! I bet you’ll never set your eyes on him again.’
I sobbed. I couldn’t look at him.
Suddenly his tone changed, ‘So what are you going to do?’
I looked at the brown eyes. It was as if the man I known so well was back again. ‘I don’t know.’
We were both silent for a long time. I could hear a lonely car somewhere in the distance. I wished I was in it, I wished I was anywhere else but here.
My fiancé put his arm over my shoulders. ‘Let’s get into bed.’ He was pleading now.
I nodded. It was late. I grabbed my nightie and went into the bathroom. I needed to be alone. In his fury my fiancé had expressed all the worries I had. What did I know about the Englishman? He was only 18 days older than me. He didn’t have a girlfriend, but he’d been writing to someone who he’d been seeing before. I hated her already. He was, tall, dark and handsome. He loved books and believed that character is fate. He told me to read Thomas Hardy. His lips tasted of the cigarettes he smoked and mint. He laughed a lot and when he did his eyes sparkled. He looked at me as if he wanted to wrap me up and protect me and devour me at the same time.
As I sat on the loo seat, shivering in my thin nightie, I realised I’d never felt this before. This was love. The stuff I’d read about in books since I was a teenager, and before. This was how Ryan O’Neal felt about Ali McGraw in ‘Love Story’, and Barbara Streisand about Robert Redford in ‘The Way We Were’. I grinned. I had wanted to pose the same question to the Englishman that Katie did to Hubbell, ‘Do you smile ALL the time?’ I sighed and flushed the empty loo and ran the water for a second or two. I didn’t want my fiancé to think I was doing what I was doing in there – daydreaming about the Englishman.
My fiancé was in bed already. When I lay beside him, he turned his face close to mine. I knew what he wanted. ‘I’m really tired,’ I said as gently as I could and turned my back to him. For a moment I could feel his body tense. He was lying on his back and from his breathing I knew he had his eyes open. I curled myself into a ball and forced my eyes shut. I felt his body move and press against mine. I remained motionless until I could hear his breathing steady and knew he was asleep.