I fell in love for the first time when I was ninety-three years old.
Ridiculous as it may sound, it’s true. I met the woman I fell in love with, Molly, in hospital, in the cardiac critical care ward, where we were both being held after undergoing heart attacks, which we’d successfully, putatively recovered from.
At visiting time it was always like a circus, with Molly’s huge jolly family crowding around her bed, having to be cajoled away when it was over, and not a single visitor for me. Although we were of similar ages, we were very different people: Molly’s husband had died twenty years ago, and during their long happy marriage they’d had six sons, and now she had grandchildren, great grandchildren, even great great grandchildren galore, and her huge, nice, boisterous family was the bedrock of her life..
I had been an only child, never married and didn’t have a single relative in the world, and my life had stagnated into that of a lonely curmudgeonly bachelor.
But in the hours we’d been beside each other we’d talked and talked and talked. Shared all kinds of amazing secrets, so that even though I’d only ever managed to touch her hand occasionally, and had never had any physical interaction with her at all, our minds chimed in tandem. We seemed to know each other inside out, as if we’d known each other forever. We talked about how our lives might have been different if we’d met when we were younger and had been able to be a loving couple, how happy we might have been. She told me that when we got out of hospital that she was determined that we’d find a way of being together, of spending our last years together. She promised she’d find a way, and I agreed enthusiastically, wondering if she’d agree to move into my cottage and pondering on the changes I could make there.
My ninety-four years on earth? I’ve been a schoolmaster at the same all-boys school all my working life, and during retirement all I’ve ever done is play golf occasionally, go on lonely walking holidays, read classical texts in Greek and Latin and watch TV. When I was younger I had had girlfriends but nothing ever led anywhere. Nor did I have inclinations towards my own sex, I’ve always been keen on women, it’s just that I’ve never had any luck, or maybe I always lacked the confidence to take the initiative with girls, and then, all of a sudden, it was too late for me, and I became ‘the old schoolmaster who had never married’, an object of pity.
But in talking to Molly, and learning about her experiences of being brought up on a farm in a village outside Dublin and then travelling to London with her family, I felt as if I’d entered into her life, was even, in a strange way, almost part of it. We entered into daydreams, scenarios where we were young together, had met and fallen in love and been happily married for years and years. She’d confided that although her husband, Richard, had been a good man and a decent husband they had never really been in love, it was more a marriage of friendship and practicalities.
But now my tentative foray into normal human happiness was over. Molly had died yesterday, and paradoxically, I had recovered enough to be sent home when it was the last place in the world I wanted to go. To my lonely little cottage in the countryside, where I had initially been so glad to find peace and quiet away from the city, but discovered too late that it was not unlike the peace and quiet of the grave.
As I sat down on the sofa in my scruffy living room, I envisaged Molly’s funeral—the huge family event, the eulogies, the words of the priest, and how utterly lonely I would be, the funny looking little old stooping man at the back of the church that nobody knew, who occasional kind young men and women might smile at, or offer a hand to shake out of pity. While the people who really knew and loved Molly would be an intrinsic part of the service, taking centre stage. They wouldn’t know that inside that little old man was another man, a man with a heart like a lion who could roar, but whom no one would ever hear.
I wept for a long time, feeling more utterly bereft that I’ve felt in my life. And I think I slept. What else was there for me to do?
The ring on the doorbell woke me up.
Still feeling bleary and confused from sleep, I was surprised to see a beautiful young dark-haired woman on my doorstep. Her lovely bright eyes were what I noticed most. And I could smell freshly-mown grass, fields and trees, that wafted around her.
“Hello Michael,” she said urgently, in her lovely Irish accent. “How are you?”
I stared back at her, confused.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“You know who I am!” she said forcefully. “Of course you know who I am!”
“But I don’t –—
And then she pulled me into her arms and kissed me, and I was lost in that amazing kiss, and I felt as if I was going mad.
I had to be going mad.
Eventually she pulled away.
“Sorry Michael.” She was crying now, tears falling down her cheeks. “But I have to go. I don’t want to, but They tell me I have to leave now. But I promise you that we’ll meet again. I promise you Michael that we’ll be together again very soon.”
“I don’t understand. . .” My heart was racing, obviously doing it no good at all after my recent heart attack, but I didn’t care.
“Sorry Michael, I love you,” she shouted to me, as she walked backwards away from me. “They tell me I have to go now. But I promise. . .”
And then she was gone.
Still feeling shaken and disturbed by the experience I tottered back into my hallway in a daze. On the wall I happened to glance at the Scrying mirror – a silly old black-surfaced mirror that had no reflection. I’d bought it in an antique shop on holiday years ago, and the shop owner had told me some nonsense about it being used by clairvoyants, about it having supernatural qualities. And in the mirror’s surface I saw myself. Only I wasn’t me, I was someone else—the man I had been in my twenties whom I’d almost forgotten. The clean-shaven man with lots of black hair, no spectacles or raggedy white beard, no paunch, but taller, handsome, upstanding, with broad shoulders. The image was there for an instant and then it was gone.
I came back into the living room, realising that this must have been some kind of dream.
Yet I knew it wasn’t a dream.
“I promise that we’ll meet up again very soon,” the amazing woman in my waking dream had told me.
I’ve managed to dictate this memoir into my phone as I’m waiting for the ambulance to arrive, and I am hoping someone will write it up for me. Because, you see, I’ve got those chest pains again that I had before my last heart attack and it’s getting hard to breathe.
I’ve left the front door open. I can hear footsteps coming towards me, the reassuring voices of paramedics, but it’s getting even harder to breathe now.
And yet I’m not afraid of what’s going to happen.
I’m not afraid at all.
For the first time in years I feel happy. . .