Scenes in Search of a Novel
*funny how these strange things pop into my head while studying…now if I could only get my plotting in order…*
Let’s call the girl Andrea, and the guy Jim. Andrea and Jim were in a romantic relationship, and were close enough to the altar to get married – until Jim met his ex-girlfriend, and, in a drunken stupor, had sex with her. Worse still, he has gotten his ex-girlfriend pregnant, and he is obligated, by tradition, to marry her.
He breaks the news to Andrea one day. She bows her head, and, wordless, walks away. Jim tries to catch up with her, tries to reason with her, tries to convince her that he loves her still. But it is too late. Andrea feels the betrayal keenly, and she walks out of Jim’s life. In a few weeks, she leaves the country in search of a better life – or, perhaps, another life.
In the meantime, Jim marries his ex-girlfriend. She turns out to be far less cordial and nice as he once thought her to be. When their daughter is born, she also turns out be an abusive mother. She is also the daughter of powerful people, so Jim is almost powerless – until he gets the idea of smuggling his daughter out of the country, so that they can have their own life away from the now raving, quite dangerous mother.
Jim finds Andrea once more, and, hungry, almost penniless, and nearly destitute, he begs her to take him and his three-year old daughter in. Andrea has always been the open and giving one: she cannot stomach the thought of leaving her former flame and his daughter out in the cold, especially after they have spent all their money and traveled miles in order to escape danger. She takes them in.
Slowly, Andrea and Jim grow close again. Andrea is teaching at a nearby school; she is still single, and she seems happy. Jim, now in hiding, finds out more about the love he has lost, the same love that he again wants to have. Andrea, however, is hesitant to give anything of herself. After all, one betrayal is enough to slay a heart – one broken heart is enough to last a lifetime.
Our scene occurs on Andrea’s porch one balmy summer night. Jim is in charge of keeping the house clean while Andrea is out, and he is resting on the porch steps after a long day of fixing the plumbing, and after a quiet dinner. Andrea enters the scene. The porch door opens momentarily, admitting the sound of soft music coming from the upstairs bedroom, where Jim’s daughter sleeps.
“She’s ok,” Andrea says, almost lifelessly, “Just needed three stories to get her to bed.”
Jim laughs softly (he’s no longer a boy now, and everything seems measured, calculated), “Thank you,” he is reluctant to pour out anything more, and Andrea winces at his hesitation, “You – would have made a good mom, if you don’t mind my saying.”
Andrea is wordless. She sits gingerly on the porch steps, near her former flame, and Jim catches her eyes; he sees them glisten, sparkle in the warm light of the summer moon. He knows that he can ask her any question now, and she will promptly open her heart. He takes his chance.
“Drea,” it’s his old nickname for her, and she winces once again, perhaps in memory, or in pain, “Thank you-”
“It’s ok,” she cuts him off abruptly.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me – for us,” Jim continues nevertheless, giving a nod in the direction of the upstairs bedroom, “Thank you.”
Andrea simply nods.
“I wish-” for the first time, Jim feels his true feelings pouring out, and his voice gains resonance, a definite echo, “I wish things were different – you know -”
“She’d be our daughter, and you’d take care of her, and we’d be seated her together, you know – just us.”
Jim wants to say more, but he sees the glistening layer threatening to fold into tears. He cannot speak: after all, the circumstances were once under his control, and all this is his fault. He can only wish-
“Drea,” the name rolls off his tongue smoothly, as though he is fantasizing that she is truly his wife, “Drea, why did you take us in? After all I did, why did you still take us in?”
Andrea swallows hard at the question. Her eyes seem to dry up; her body seems to be weaker, more graceful than Jim remembers. She turns to him, looks him in the eyes, and speaks confidently.
“Do you remember,” she begins, then pauses, as though wishing to impart a very important lesson to a man who must learn life all over again, “Do you remember what happened on the day you told me everything?”
Jim nods. He knows it is not his place to reply.
“We were at a cafe,” Andrea speaks clearly, voice free from any weight or pain of memory, “I was talking a mile a minute about a book I had read. I didn’t notice that you weren’t really listening – until you took my hand and said everything. You looked into my eyes, like this; and your hands were warm. They were growing warmer, I know, because my hands were growing cold.
“I stood up. I didn’t say anything to you. I didn’t cry – and I’ve never cried since then. I’ve never cried for anything. I’ve never shed a tear for anything. After that day, I showed a bright face, but I never smiled again.
“On that day, I stood up. I turned around. You followed me, but I didn’t speak a word to you. I simply walked on and on and on. I reached home simply by walking. I wasn’t tired. I was only – different.”
Jim listens, but there is a mild crease on his forehead. He doesn’t know what Andrea means.
“On that day,” she resumes, knowing that he needs more explanation, “What did I say to you? After your story, what did I say to you?”
“Nothing,” Jim replies quietly, “You said nothing.”
“That’s right,” Andrea nods once, bites her lower lip; Jim knows she’s staving off the tears that she never shed, “I turned away – I walked away – and I said nothing. That’s why I took you in, you and your daughter.
“I took you in because I never said goodbye.”
The silence that follows feels like years, but in truth, it is only moments. Andrea stands up slowly and walks into the house. Jim sits on the porch steps still, staring at where Andrea once sat. It is not his place to speak, or to cry.
Neither is it his place to hope.