MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
Gentle Face by Christine Catalano

Table of Contents

Fiction


Making Memories

Vanessa Horn

The view from the hotel window was breath-taking. A sky of the blue you’d normally only find on an artist’s palette; nestled somewhere between Pale Lapis and Duck Egg. Sandy beaches edged with frilly waves that tantalised and teased with foamy fingers. Spectacular. Yet... Sophie found it difficult to fully appreciate the beauty in front of her, observing it only distractedly. Superficially. Maybe she’d value it more in retrospect. With luck.

She’d surprised herself when she’d chosen one of the more expensive rooms when booking. As she’d phoned the receptionist, she’d been aware that both her voice and hands were trembling, betraying the significance she was placing on this short but poignant holiday. As a result, choosing one of the best rooms in the hotel seemed appropriate. She’d thought – and it was a bold thing to articulate, even if it was only in her mind’s voice – it would add to the occasion. Accentuate it. However, that was in the earlier hours of anticipation. Now, conversely, she reflected that this awe-inspiring outlook would probably just serve as an element of compensation; a pink marshmallow cushioning of the disappointment.

So, for the moment, Sophie stared right through the scenery: across the golden sands, past the softly lapping sea and far out to the open sky where seagulls soared and screeched to their hearts content. None of it was enough – nowhere near enough – to counteract the fact that Alex wasn’t here with her to share it with her. No. She took a deep breath, trying to focus purely on the view - nothing else. Don’t overthink, Soph. No reproaches, no recriminations, no accusations. But it didn’t work; the sea taunted her with the shades of blue that reflected Alex’s cobalt eyes; eyes fringed with long dark lashes that swept his cheeks like a slender brush tickling a newly-stretched canvas. Even the sky betrayed her with its purity - a purity that she and Alex had once owned. Fleetingly...

Sophie exhaled; a sigh of submission. Completely surrendered to her contemplations. This holiday – well, a mini-break she supposed you’d call it, really – was supposed to be an attempt for the two of them to meet on neutral grounds to talk: really talk. Her idea. She’d hoped that, away from other people, they could spend some time getting to know each other again, finding similarities, common ground, that sort of thing. To begin to reform their relationship. Although sounding reserved at the end of the phone, Alex had eventually agreed to her plan, and they had met up yesterday morning in the hotel foyer. Despite having spent days trying not to build up her hopes too much, Sophie had felt a momentary pang at the lack of physical contact between them as they’d greeted each other; yes, they had both been polite enough, but she had hoped for more of a... connection: some sort of thread that they could work on strengthening. Over time, of course.

However, it hadn’t happened yet. Reticence had cloaked both of them with its taciturn shield throughout the whole of the first day, rendering them respectful but distant. Even when Sophie had tentatively approached what could only be described as the elephant in the room, trying to lead up to giving Alex reasons – explanations – she’d been cut short with a “Please - not now; I’m... I’m not ready.” And she’d dared not say anything further, for fear of losing him completely.

An early night in separate rooms had concluded what had been, Sophie now admitted, an exhausting few hours. She’d only hoped that this morning would bring a fresh beginning – an understanding of sorts between the two of them. Anything, even the merest of communications, would be welcome; just something that could be built upon. A new day; a new start. However, directly after breakfast this morning, Alex had said he needed to go for a walk – alone – to clear his head; had hurried from the hotel without looking back: a blur of fluorescent green t-shirt striding across the sands. Distant.

So she’d waited. Sat by the window and stared out, unseeingly. She wasn’t sure whether he’d come back or not; there’d seemed to be a finality in his steps and now even the footprints he’d imprinted were now gone – sand-spread by excited families with buckets, spades and brightly-coloured towels. Erased. Maybe it had all been too heavy for him; perhaps at this very moment he was marching into the train station to buy a one-way ticket Away From Her, leaving his scant belongings in his room like seagull-abandoned chip wrappers on the beach. Maybe.

She glanced at her watch: eleven fifteen. It had been over three hours since he’d left; surely if he was coming back he would have done so by now? She blinked resolutely as the idyllic scene before her threatened to blur into an Impressionist watercolour; she tried to focus instead on the increasing number of beach visitors, who were pleasing tradition by sunbathing, eating ice-cream and – mostly the younger members – paddling in the warm sea. Happy families with shared bonds. Perhaps that was why Alex and she had no chance of rebuilding their relationship; the lack of a solid foundation between the two of them was preventing it with its deficiency of shared secrets. Anecdotes. Jokes. Yet she’d thought... well, she’d hoped that they could, perhaps, create their own reminiscences; begin a collection of memories that could be savoured and cherished in years to come.

A disloyal tear suddenly leaked from her eye and slid rapidly down her cheek. Annoyed, Sophie swiped it away. There was no point in getting upset yet again; surely she had cried all the tears that could be wept over the years? And more still. All of her past actions had placed Alex’s best intentions at heart – at least that’s what everyone had said at the time – but now, in hindsight, she obviously wished she’d done things differently. She’d been young, though; anxious, frightened... the solution had been presented to her as the only solution. She knew better now, of course. There had been other options; options that would have ensured the two of them could´ve stayed together. So she couldn’t blame him for feeling resentful – she’d have probably felt the same in his position – but she’d hoped and trusted that his compassion, or even just his curiosity, might help him let her back into his life. But it was a huge ask; she knew that with certainty.

Twelve thirty. Four and a half hours. It had been far too long for just an ordinary stroll along the beach, hadn’t it? Even for the most adventurous of walkers. Did that mean, then, that it was time to concede; time to admit that her greatest wish was not going to happen? To go back to her safe, ordered life, finally giving up hope? Sophie took a deep breath and then bowed her head in indecision.

Slowly – reluctantly – she rose from the padded window seat, her heart still urging her to focus on the view outside even as her common sense told her to move away: to pack up and leave. Now upright, she slowly began to turn away, but as she did so, something in the distance caught her eye: a bright colour; someone dressed in green - fluorescent green! Holding her breath, she pressed her palms against the windowpane and watched as the tiny figure grew closer. Closer. Eventually, she was able to make out the familiar figure of Alex striding towards the hotel: towards her. He was smiling. At her?

Her heart hammering like the pulsating throb of a nightclub, Sophie fumbled with the window opening, needing to get rid of the glass pane between herself and Alex: to play her own part in bridging the gap. Eventually, she managed to prise it open, flinging the sash up with a lack of inhibition, admitting the shrieks of the distant seagulls and the indistinct babble of holidaymakers chatting and laughing. Fresh air flooded the room, causing her to blink rapidly. Breezed out of her melancholy thoughts, she felt a small smile of hope nudge her mouth into an upward position. It stayed put as she continued to gaze at the figure that was Alex.

She waited and watched as he continued to pace towards her. He evaded stripy windbreakers, zig-zagged through half-baked sun-worshippers and stepped over half-built sandcastles. Small children paused in their constructions to stare at the tall, determined young man who was seemingly on a private mission of his own. Finally, Alex was within a few metres of Sophie’s window. He stopped and turned his face up towards her. His cheeks were flushed and his expression was exposed; more so than she’d ever seen before. She strained her ears to catch his voice and was just able to make out the one word she had, for eighteen years, been waiting for; the one word she had heard and caressed in her every dream, prizing it above and beyond all others. “Mum.”





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