More archived material – this one from 2016 and re-worked a little..
I recollect her gloves. They first drew my attention to her. That afternoon at the City Library, she placed them side by side on her desk, arranged with such neat precision they might have been elements of a ritual, pointing towards me across the centre divider between our respective spaces, in perfect alignment with the upper left-hand corner of her book. They were black gloves, of course. She could have countenanced no other colour.
Easily distracted, my eyes wandered further from the dry meat of my Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ to her hands – and I saw how long they were, the fingers how sensitive – how the veins within them were no more than a grey trace and how they were suited so, to her porcelain flesh, to the white, neat blouse with its delicate lace trim, to the gentle curve of her shoulders, to her neck’s ennobled grace, to the close- wound curls of her auburn hair.
And then I remember her face: those eyes of startling pale blue, her pert, upturned nose and the prim set of her mouth, so determined yet so ready to drift into a wisp of a smile when she caught my stare – and how I curled with embarrassment as I buried my nose back into my book, only to feel I must make some gesture to excuse my gaucheness. I raised Edward Gibbons’ weighty tome to the vertical so she could see its title, giving one of those eyes-to-the-ceiling expressions which conveyed (or so I hoped) my boredom with its cumbersome prose.
In return, she exhibited the object of her own studies, Dostoyevsky, with a little twist of her lips that meant the same. We shared a smile. I fell in love.
It wasn’t much, that moment; yet in the obligation of study and the hushed discipline of a library it was all we had, and enough to fill my young mind with dreams. She did not remain long at the mercy of ‘Crime and Punishment’. I heard, rather than saw her rise, slip her chair back almost noiselessly, find perfect balance on precise feet and move away. Only then did I dare to look up and watch her departure, instantly regretting my shyness. Why had I not spoken – just some little pleasantry to pierce the silence?
I gazed after her, indulging my wasted fantasies in the neatness of her short, clipped steps and formal, green-suited style, until distance consumed her. I heard the brief rush of the street as she slipped out through the library doors. Then I looked down, and saw the glove! It was twisted, not neatly posed as when she laid it upon her desk. In the story I invented for her she made to pick up both gloves as she departed, but retained just one of the pair. Fanning a spark of hope, I snatched it up and ran in pursuit – past desk and alarmed librarian, down echoing stone steps and back into the city crowds of which she could be no more than a tiny part. A part I would not see, or ever find.
I looked. Oh, yes, I looked. I searched the street that day, I searched the streets every day. I returned to the library at the same time every afternoon for a month, every week for a year. And every day I brought that glove, and every day was the same. She never returned.
Once I saw her – or so I thought. Upon my route to lectures in the North Bailey I had to take the riverside walk, and a little above the weir where the water is at its widest and deepest, there is a green-painted bridge of Victorian iron, a doughty testament to nineteenth-century engineering. Was hers the figure standing there, by the rail at the centre of the span – and was she looking towards me? Although I ran, by the time I reached the place there was no sign of her. I was mistaken, betrayed by my wishful heart.
Years would pass. I would, at last, consign that little glove to an upper drawer and every once in a while expose it, and remember. But after all, I was just nineteen that day in the library. She of my memory was probably older than I, had a life somewhere: perhaps a husband and children. Every now and then I could persuade myself the fleeting engagement of our eyes had meant as much to her as to me, that she was out there somewhere, dreaming as I dreamed. Of course, it could not be so, yet it was the matter of many a sleepless night.
Here I must explain a little about myself. I am reticent by nature, a savagely introverted soul with a disinclination to trust; a deficit of character I put down to the knowledge I am an adopted child, with all the internalised uncertainties that brings. My adoptive family kept this from me until my fifteenth birthday, and it scarcely rocked my world until I mistakenly shared the information with my then-girlfriend, who promptly revised her opinion of me on the basis that she ‘no longer knew who she was going out with’. Thereafter I was wary of forming relationships. I am, still.
I think I was twenty-five or twenty-six when I at last decided I must try to trace my birth mother and father. Who had rejected me before I had a voice for my defence? Of course, it would be difficult. Agencies are careful to protect the details of those who, by choice or circumstance, offer their children for adoption, and it was made plain to me that my success would depend upon the wishes of my natural parents. I signed several forms, made a number of pledges, and waited.
This was in the late summer of that year. I had work in another city at the time. I suppose I was surprised that my request was resolved so quickly, because I had aimed to be back in my home town before word came. After only three weeks I received a call from the Agency: could I make an appointment as soon as possible? I did so, and I will not forget my nervousness as I made the long drive to keep it.
The woman who faced me across her desk was kind, I think. Her work must have made her so, must it not? Yet to me she seemed harshly spoken; her words were clipped at the final consonant and sharp, incisive to my eager ears.
“You cannot always expect a request such as yours to be successful. I’m afraid in this case…”
“They don’t want to meet me?”
“There is only one traceable parent, your mother. You cannot make contact with her because she died many years ago. However we were able to trace her sister, and she has no wish to communicate with you. She wants to make that very clear.” The woman reached into a drawer by her right knee, producing a large manila envelope, with the words ‘For Kevin’ scrawled upon it in faded biro. “Kevin was the name your mother gave to you. Her sister has retained this in her possession ever since your mother’s death, in case you ever wished to make contact. I advise you to take it home and examine it at your leisure. We can be of no further help.”
Cutting the seal of that envelope took courage. It contained a letter I shall not share with you, a confession of such sadness and loss it must remain hidden forever. I will tell you, though, of the newspaper clipping, of the article with the photograph at its side, about a bereft young woman who leapt from the iron bridge above the weir at her life’s end, and I will tell you that the picture was familiar to me. The face that stared back at me from the photograph was that of the girl I had seen in the library all those years before.
The envelope also contained, neatly wrapped, one black glove.
© Frederick Anderson 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.