A short story inspired by someone I don’t deserve.
‘Son, you’ve a face that only a mother could love.’ That’s what she used to tell me, anyway. Mother wasn’t being unkind, just honest. I suppose she didn’t want to set me up for a fall. Maybe it was her way of saying that she did love me, though I’d have preferred just to hear it. When expectations are set low like that, you can live within their parameters quite happily. As long as you don’t presume anything above yourself, it’s hard for life to disappoint.
I never fell, not until I met you, then my heart fell like a stone; heavy, fast and furious. It still shocks me to think of it, because you were not my kind. I’m a lady’s man – or at least I thought I was. That’s where I’d have looked, until you. And then, there you were. Your hair was dark, pitch black and so glossy I could almost see my reflection in it. You approached me first, brazen over-exuberant with the confidence of youth. I hadn’t expected it, but then I hadn’t expected any of it. You were so young, so new.
That’s all gone now. Tempered by the years, you are more cautious, you’ve learnt that not everyone is worth knowing. We both have. That night you planted your flag on me and placed me at the centre of your world. You decided to love me; ugly face and all.
For all these years we’ve kept each other close. You are my defendant, even when I don’t need defending. Oh, how grand love can be when it’s done right. Do we do it right? I doubt it. I’ve never been shown how; I am like a blind man grappling in the dark trying to work out the lay of the land. I take you for granted. I get irritated when you seem to need me too much, days can pass when I hardly give you a second glance. I have all these decades-worth of flaws that you must try and smooth out of me. I have learnt they can puncture love if I’m not careful.
They say opposites attract and that’s true of us. You always prefer a walk to my more sedentary tendencies, you are bold whereas I am timid, you are popular and enjoy company whereas I am happy in our solitary confinement. Our interests are poles apart, in fact the only common denominator we have is that we enjoy spending time together. We are each other’s favourite pastime. And that has been enough to sustain us all these years.
You have such faith in me, in my work. When I torment myself with self-doubt you only have to look at me and I see your conviction; your stupid, uncomplicated, dedicated belief in me. Sometimes the pedestal that you have me on angers me. To be adored is a precarious state to live in; one can only disappoint. It’s the fall my mother tried to save me from. Why have you always thought so highly of me? Forgiven me so readily, believe that I am so deserving of your love, when I am not. I am not. I could never be. I am impatient, and selfish. I take you for granted, I scold and rage at you. If I could only be half the person you think I am.
I need you to know, that I know, I don’t deserve your love. I never have. A single part of it is greater than the whole of me. I want you to know before it’s too late because I cannot believe that it’s almost over; that you, that we, are now so old. It’s true then, that love makes time grow wings and fly because it seems like yesterday when we first met. And yet here we are; both of us greying, our skin slack and lacking the plumpness of youth, our edges sharper somehow. Me with a bad foot, you with a sore leg. But at least we’re still together. Always together. We’ve made it through whatever life has thrown at us. We’ve kept our unwritten promises to love and care for each other till death us do part. To have found one another amongst a sea of billions. Some people live a lifetime without finding what we’ve got. We’re the lucky ones. You are the truth I accidently uncovered, but had always known existed.
Even after all these years when you look at me with those hazel brown eyes, something slackens inside me. I can feel my threads unravel and I can’t help but love you back. You make me want to try harder, be better. Sometimes my mind fast-forwards to the inevitable day when you will leave me. And I feel my heart constrict at the thought and all my breath gets caught in the upper part of my chest and I swallow to try and get rid of the feeling, but it doesn’t go away. And my heart pulses fast and hard so I feel it reverberate in my chest. Everything becomes physical – the actual thought of you dying, of me having to say good-bye, having to put you in the cold damp earth has an immediate physical affect. The thought of life without you is impossible. Without your goodness, without your love to soften me up I will be horrible; mean and cantankerous. No one else will want to speak to me and I will not want to speak to anyone else. I will be alone.
I only ever give these imaginings air for a moment and then I banish them. I shake my head to physically dislodge them because I cannot face it. I cannot face the truth that, one day, death will separate us. People will avoid me, they will suspect me, they will put down their heads and walk past me. I will be alone. More alone that I have ever known. What will become of me when I am just an ugly old man, instead of an old man with his dog. My best friend. My love.