On a Sunday Morning

by Jennifer Bryce

On a Sunday morning a man and a woman stood in a book shop. There was a glimmer of recognition between them. Not appearance so much as ways of moving; the way he held up a book and flicked through the pages, the way she peered a little myopically at the titles. They glanced discreetly at each other. Then they realised.

‘Oh, it’s you!’

‘It can’t be!’

Next month would have been their fortieth anniversary.

‘Your hair’s different,’ he said.

‘Grey,’ she answered.

They chatted a bit: Do you live around here? Are you still teaching?

Without asking, each looked to see if the other was accompanied by a partner. Each seemed to be alone.

‘Would you like to have coffee?’ he asked.

They walked down the street together. People might have thought them a couple, making those assumptions you do – a man and a woman walking together on a Sunday morning.

They sat at a table for two at the back of a cafe and ordered a latte and a long black. She remembered that he used to prefer tea.

‘This street has changed a lot,’ she said, alluding to the days when they were dating, working together as ushers at the Film Festival.

He knew what she meant and agreed.

Then there was a long exchange about friends and families; parents had died, sisters married, and then, having peeled away the layers of polite convention, they talked, very tentatively, of themselves.

She wanted to say, ‘I couldn’t contemplate having children after losing Anna.’ But she didn’t want to become emotional. So she said, ‘I climbed the career ladder.’

How strange, he thought, remembering her insistence upon a traditional white wedding, a diamond ring and the carefully posed photographs – all burned now.

And she didn’t tell him that the reason she gave up teaching was not a desire to do research, but because she couldn’t bear to be close to children of the age that Anna would have been.

‘Maybe we could go for a walk,’ she said, as she finished her second coffee.

They paid separately. He touched her as he guided her out of the café. They walked along the Esplanade. Sunday market stallholders were sheltering from the wind under canvas awnings, colourful scarves billowed, tourists peered at jewellery, and gaudy paintings of the bay swung wildly on flimsy hooks. The man and the woman made their way down to the beach – the wind-borne sand stinging their faces – and they looked towards the old pier, renovated now, where  on a foggy April evening they had once kissed before going to a screening of Alphaville. They didn’t mention it. But they both remembered. As they wandered along the sand-covered path they talked of other things: Did you get to Sweden – you always wanted to go there? Have you got around to reading Proust yet? Do you still play tennis?

They didn’t mention the counselling sessions or the day when, seething with rage, she had smashed his treasured chess trophy. Over thirty-six years the man and the woman had often thought, ‘what if . . .’.

They walked through an area recently landscaped with coastal native plants.

‘I’d better be going.’

‘Okay,’ she said.

He touched her hand lightly. ‘It’s been nice seeing you.’

‘Yes, it has,’ she said.

He turned and headed back.

She sat on a rustic wooden bench and looked out to sea where yachts were buffeted by the wind.