2011 NZWC Short Story Competition Winning Entry

Regrets - by Aaron Ure



Journal  11am 22/02/2010.

     ‘Hell found me’. Nope I don’t like that title.

     ‘Hell will find you’. No, not that either.

     After narrowing it down and refining time and time again, I keep coming back to that one thought ‘Hell found me.’ I am tired of it buzzing around my cerebral vacuum.  It has stalked me from the moment I saw him. In my bloody town and at my church.

     From his untimely arrival, my journal has become a serious novel. So little time has passed since I saw him and yet there are more entries now than in the last two years. Before his return, life had become settled and divinely routine. Each day was well ordered and timed out to avoid too many hours alone thinking, reminiscing, debating. Have I made the right decision? A single glimpse brought back every second of our lives together, like needles reopening every wound.

     Three years ago I had told him, ‘No more, I can’t do this anymore’.

     I was going to leave that night and return to the church that raised me, chastised me and poured guilt over me at every mass.

     I still see the look of total disbelief on his face, as if I had just shipwrecked his life on the way to the Promised Land. He stood there in his washed out denim, crisp white T-shirt. The Cashmere scarf I had brought him casually draped over his shoulders. A little god to most but a sizeable G for me. As the tears welled in his beautiful brown eyes I saw my reflection clearly, and I felt like a monster.

     That final sight has never left me. For three years, his memory has challenged my every idle thought and chastened my dreams, causing sin to spill into my sheets time and again.

     His body, so young and tender, matching my every move as we danced. The electric charge as we touched, at first sparking excitement then energising passion. The afterglow and my head on his chest as it gently rose and fell, as my hands caressed and held him. Yes, the title was right after all, Hell has found me. Only I can call it hell, no one else will understand.

 

     They will see a mild, shorter man with a wry smile and engaging eyes.

      I will see three years of heartache standing in front of me.

     They will embrace his hand and shoulder as a friend and brother.

      I will stand back for fear of losing my sobriety.

     They will exchange civilities and invite him to stay awhile.

      I will cry for release from my torment with every moment he chooses to stay.

     They will sit beside him in the pew, smiling at the potential new disciple.

      I will burn with rage and jealous desire as they sit so close.

     Hell has found me, and I will know no reprieve. 

     As if this is not enough, he now makes his way towards me, smiling, disarming, melting me.

     “Markus, it is great to see you again. How have you been?” His voice chimes, as if no time had passed between us.

     “Thomas, it has been a while.” My hand reaches out for his, I feel my heart stumble. Then that spark as our flesh meets, igniting dormant passion. “I hope you have a pleasant stay,” is all I can manage before I turn to leave, again.

     Thank God that’s over. At home amidst my statues and candles I feel a dawning comfort from the turmoil brewing inside of me.  I pace the house in a fog, shuffling in and out of every room scheming, planning how not to fall apart. 

     Somewhere in the back of my mind I am aware of bells ringing. Assuming it is my inbuilt alarm system on full tilt, I dismiss it repeatedly. At last it stops. I slump to the hall floor to find a moment’s reprieve; some breathing space. I hear soft footsteps come to the front door. There’s a small knock, then a hand presses against the glass, before fading away into the afternoon light. A note has been slipped beneath the door jamb.

     Note to self, repair the gap under the door I had had my eyes glued to the hand at the window.

     The note was restrained. We need to talk. I will be at the Beat café at three.

     It wasn’t signed, but it didn’t need a signature. Bile rose to my mouth. I could not hide any longer. I had to face him if I were ever to be free.

     2:30pm.

     OK. Standing in front of the mirror practising my, ’No thanks I am truly happy” speech is a waste of time Thirty-five minutes of wasted time, to be exact. I look fantastic though. I have chosen a light tan ensemble of ¾ quarter shorts, muslin top with a light knit jersey arranged over my shoulders and tied loosely at mid-chest. I look relaxed and happy, content in everything except my own skin. The outward appearance is dashing, yet underneath I am a mess.

     Walking up to the café, I note the pavements inundated with local parishioners going about their lives. A tip of a hat here, a wave of the hand there, all smiling and unaware of my mounting fears. All very frightening to me as my mind raced through scenario after scenario of what might go wrong in such a public setting.

     Time stands still as my eyes alight on the tender face of love. I drop my head to the side. I blush. Dear god, here I go again, the giddy school-girl off for a secret rendezvous.

     Composing myself as I arrive at the table out front of the café. I am back in adult mode.

     “Thomas,” I say, lightly, my voice without a tremble. “Are you keeping well?”

     “As well as can be expected, old friend. Are you OK to talk here?”

     The note of caution and concern in his voice worries me. Thomas is not one given to caution. He is more the gush and overflow sort of guy, emotional and truly out there. This change in his approach is unexpected. I sit back deeper in my chair, studying him. Though still gorgeous as ever, Thomas has lost weight and is paler than I remember. He is obviously still physically strong and yet somehow inwardly frailer.

     Waiting a moment before answering, I acknowledge this is an OK place to talk, and we enter into conversations I do not expect.

     “Two coffees please. One white with raw sugar, Marcus will have his black, strong and as hot as you can make it. ” Turning, he manages a weak smile, “Some things you just don’t forget.”

     As I smile back, the thoughts run through my mind, “and some people you never forget, despite how hard you try.”

     As Thomas talks of his journey of the last three years, I learn of his pain at our breakup, and the devastation my abruptness had caused. Listening to how I had hurt him is painful. I ache to my core. Together, we speak openly, as adults, of his feelings and the changes in his life.

     Then Thomas breaks the news of why he had come here, why he had invaded my solitude.

     “I have cancer,” he says.

     I am silent, unable to speak as he explains. He has liver cancer, diagnosed eight months after I had left him. Now he was tying up loose ends, looking for closure. His voice is shaking, and I know he is desperate for some response from me, but I keep silent. I listen, struggling to hold myself together and remain aloof, professional. Nodding sympathetically, and voicing the occasional ‘oh, how was that,’ as I was trained to do as parish counsellor.

     Tears seep from those beautiful eyes and pool at the corner of his eyes before flowing down the lines of his face. Unable to maintain any sense of aloofness, I instinctively reach across the table and thumb his tears away. With my free hand, I clasp his hands. Suddenly, I don’t care who may be watching.

     We talk until the Café is due to close, then we walk through town. Silence is interwoven with short conversations and looks that moved far beyond physical desire or youthful passion.

     Thomas. I look, and I see a man I can love and respect, a man whose life was once an open book to me. A strong man yet vulnerable enough to ask for help. I could not find my giddy school-girl response, nor my first thoughts of ‘Hell having found me’.

     In fact, I think heaven has opened up and smiles at me. 

     Journal entry 9am 14/08/2010.

     I'm amazed that six months have passed. The time has slipped by, and my journal is now fuller than at any time. It looks like a replica off some old manuscript scribbling, pages worn with dog-eared edges poking out at odd angles. Photos added here and there with hand written notes from a friend and soul mate.

     Thomas and I reconciled quickly, three weeks after that first cup of coffee he moved in with me, sharing my home, my heart and my bed. Together, we attended church and community meetings with the surprising support of our little hamlet. The last few months we have grown beyond ourselves, beyond our labels and have arrived back where we started. We are just two human beings who have found agreeable company and unconditional friendship in each other’s presence.

     Thomas looks smashing today. The casualness and elegance of cashmere always suited him. His hair, slightly thinner six months on, is brushed neatly across his right brow. Those feature cheekbones, as youthful and clear cut as ever.

     As for me, I feel a little old and tired but contented that the decisions made these last months have all been worthwhile.  Still tired and older, I am here; dressed as comfortably as I can for our big day. We are surrounded this morning by so many people. I can’t remember when I last saw half of them, probably never in a church. Yet here we are. Thomas and me, with family and old friends: church and street mingling. Things are just as they should be.

     10:30am

     I’m shaking all over as I stand here, wondering if the pulpit microphone will pick up the knocking in my knees. Contemplating the last six months as I looked over at Thomas, I am amazed at how he brings out the strength in me. Going public on any matter had never been an option for me. I have always preferred the background, and allowing others to bloom was my specialty. Now I stand here, in front of so many people, feeling neither fear nor judgement, only peace. My mind is clear, the aroma of lavender and Chelsea roses fill the room, adding to my awareness of being surrounded by beauty. I gaze at them in all their splendour and consider what wonders the future will hold.

     Then I look at Thomas, his strength still enabling me. I smile, contemplating my good fortune as I step down from the pulpit to be by his side.

     A myriad of hymns and tributes follow our short service, with many well-wishers following behind as Thomas and I make our way from the church. As the throng gather around us, I kneel on one knee, hands gently resting on his coffin.

     “Make sure my coffee is strong and hot when I get there,” I say. “Don’t forget now.”

 


Aaron-Ure Bio for Aaron Ure


At 49, husband of one and father of four, I have always enjoyed writing stories for the family.  I entered my first contest this year and got into the final 14 at the AUT short story competition. NZ writers college is only my second entry into a writing competition and the first story I have ever had edited, What a bonus! Without the support of my wife of 25 years and my children of 24 years I would not have had the time, experiences or courage to do this. I am one lucky man.              

Life is a choice, Choose wisely today who you will be tomorrow!

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