John stood there, greeted every mourner with a clasp of both of his thick, gnarled hands and a short phrase or two. He looked smaller than she remembered, but there was still that measure of majesty to him. A divinity that he would reject at every turn. His blonde hair had gone white, then had been shaved down to stubble and he had cultivated a thin scrub of white beard. The skin at his throat sagged whenever he swallowed and there was a papery fragility to the skin around his eyes. His eyes met with hers and the corners of his mouth flickered upward.
His hands clasped hers and her breath caught in her throat at this, the first contact in forever.
‘John, I’m so sorry for your loss.’
He gave a short nod, and had she imagined that he clasped her hand a little harder than he had with anyone else? No, she had not and he smiled.
“We didn’t lose her. When you lose something you can’t find it. I know exactly where my wife is.”
Sentiments like that fuelled the flame that she held within her breast for him. His decency, his certainty. All those years watching how he carried himself, and the looks, sips that fed her imagination. Iain was a good man, quiet but as the years had gone on, his gentility had curdled into a weakness that had been the death of their marriage. Tepid on every level, even his semen lacked the effort to impregnate her and yet he had the temerity to leave her. Not like John and Miriam. Fifty years and even to the end, he had tended to her, having his sons take over the company that he had built up with sweat and determination.
A short illness, it was said. Miriam had been planning to compete in a half marathon. She had still sparkled with a febrile mature sexual energy that made younger men’s eyes mist over. A Mrs Robinson but married to a guy that you knew kept her in line. Then, suddenly, stomach pains, listlessness and finally the house, once open to all, closed up to allow them a last few days together.
Harriet looked at him, burning with need, fighting the urge to tell him all that she had carried within her. All those years, filling their familial prescriptions, from the occasional vitamin supplement and course of antibiotics, painkillers for injuries then as the years bit deep the statins and the SSRIs. Part of their family, without credit but with an unearned intimacy that earned her a grand insight into the bureaucracy of desire within a familial setting.
Knowledge, in the right hands, that could make the simple act of a cup of coffee along the running trail on a Sunday morning, an act of devotion.
Harriet had time, John would not be the man that she fell in love with if he would not mourn for the woman he’d taken to prom all those years ago. Harriet thought of her father, his eyes blazing with contempt, knowing that Iain’s dad was going to invest in the drugstore and wanting her to toe the line, do the decent thing. She had waited all this time, what would a few weeks, a few months matter?
No one begrudges two lonely older people getting together at all, Harriet said to herself.
As she moved along the line, looking at the floral arrangements without seeing them, part of her still stood in the worn hallway of her teenage home, watching John walk away with his hands in his pockets, part of her heart going with him.
It would all work out, she told herself, it had so far.