Each year, on the same day, at the same time, they met. Mostly it was small talk, weather, kids, grandkids, books and plays. Sometimes about politics and the events of the day. Never about their love for each other.
He crossed the city by bus. It was the 23X now, but back then it was the 4. They revamped public transport a few times since then. He used the window of the bus to check that his tie was as straight as straight could be. He tested a smile, but kept his lips closed to hide how many teeth he’d lost. He wondered why he looked so much older than he felt.
Finally the bus came to their meeting place. It was a small bench at the side of the road. A square patch of grass, with a flower bed and a majestic sycamore tree shaded both the bench and the footpath behind it. Their meeting place changed over the years, but for the last fifteen it had been this bench. They’d sit in silence, and eventually venture to the café across the road, where they’d have have a cup of tea, a scone, and a chat. It was his favourite day of the year. He loved this place. He alighted from the bus but froze when he saw the change.
The bench was gone, the tree felled, the flowers paved over. In their stead were three charging points for those new electric cars his grandnephew was always harping on about. The road was
It had been sixty-two years since he met the love of his life. Both of them at a dance with someone else at the time. They talked, laughed, and drank. He was bowled over by their quick wit, and kind eyes. But it was his Other Half’s ability to dance that attracted him most. They agreed to meet again in the same dancehall a week later. He walked his date home that night, and he was pretty sure they kissed, but all these years later it was hard to remember whether he did meet her again. Time had taken her name away.
For a while he met the Other Half weekly, but they didn’t dance together once. It wasn’t an option. He would have loved to. To touch them, to be touched by them… But it could never happen. Never did.
A car pulled into the space in front of him and stirred him from his reverie. Two women stepped out, around the same age as his niece, and one plugged in the car. A year ago she would’ve been trampling the lilies and green carnations. He gave them a silent nod and touched his flat cap. They crossed the road to the café, one carrying a white tote bag. He looked at his watch and noticed that his Other Half should be here.
They had been meeting in places other than the dancehall for ten years. Sometimes he brought a fine woman as a date, sometimes the Other Half brought their own dates. They were nearly always together, but they never went anywhere… together. Eventually, his Other Half met someone else and got married. He was happy for them. He was. Or at least that’s what he told the Other Half.
A couple walked past, noting the electric car. “Isn’t it great for the environment?” said one, as the other smiled at him, an ice-cream cone in her hand. It reminded him of walking along Bray beach with his Other Half, on a rare day they had together.
“…Dance with me?” he asked the Other Half. They stopped in their tracks, the ice-cream he had bought them oozing down their hand and between their fingers. There was a brass band playing a waltz on a bandstand, and many couples were dancing together, fingers intertwined, sun highlighting their smiles.
“I would love nothing more. You know that.”
“Well, we could go somewhere that no-one else could see. Get a record, and do a foxtrot!” he laughed, but he wasn’t joking.
“Why ruin today by saying things like that? I’m married. I have two young daughters that need me.” The Other Half turned and looked him in the eye. It struck him that he always forgot much shorter the Other Half was.
“I know,” he said to the love of his life, “Maybe another time.”
As always when he sat at this spot, he started to well up at what might have been. He himself never married, he couldn’t bring himself to lie to some poor woman and pretend to love her. To lie to himself.
One of the women who had parked the electric car had come back from the café. He looked up at her. She had an oddly familiar face. She had a kind and precarious glint in her eye.
“I’m sorry, are you Paddy Quinn?”
“I am yeah… Who’s asking?”
“My name is Patricia Lamb? Darren Lamb was my father.”
His heart began to race.
“Are you waiting for my father?”
“I am. But hang on, was. You said was.”
“I did. I’m afraid he passed away seven months ago.”
She began to explain that the Other Half died peacefully, that he had a will, that the will said to meet a Paddy Quinn at a particular time and place, outside a particular café and –
“- to give you these.”
She handed the bag over and he looked inside. Inside were an old pair, his old pair of dancing shoes.
“Were you and my father close?”
“Not as much as we’d’ve liked.”