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Duncan Johnstone
Literary Correspondent
9:27 AM 6th February 2023
fiction

Beyond The Gate

 
My colleagues, and then my boss, advised me that I needed to take some time off, and so I had decided to spend a few days in the country for a break. The little village in which I had found a suitable B & B was just what I was looking for, with short pretty walks passed oldy worldy cottages. And so, on my first morning I set off for a short walk around the village. As I turned left into a lane I saw her. Beyond the gate of a small cottage a few yards away she was picking some flowers from the garden. She had not seen me, and so I retreated a little so that, should she look up, I might not be in her line of vision.

I saw her. The most beautiful girl I had ever known. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder - but then I was lucky enough to be the one doing the beholding!

How many years now was it since we had last met? I knew precisely. It was four years, three months and two days. And I was sure that I would go on remembering with that same degree of accuracy.

The first time I saw her was a year before that. There was a dance for freshers week at the college and one of the dances was an “excuse me” when you can go up to a dancing couple and request that you may take over. I saw her wrestling, as it seemed, with an oafish looking young man in the dance, and so I went up and issued the required “Excuse me” words. With reluctance he let her go.

The very first thing she said as we began to dance was “Don’t let him butt in again whatever happens.” And so, contrary to the rules, I refused to give way when he returned to take over his partner again.

When the dance was over we went and sat together at the edge of the dance floor. I could see the oaf coming towards us and so I suggested we go outside for a while.

And so began my romance with that most beautiful of women, and the only one with whom I could truly say I was in love. For the next year we became what they call “an item”. The first time we went out together was to the cinema - I remember the film even now - “The Manchurian Candidate” in which Laurence Hervey played the leading role. I couldn’t wait to see her again - and it seemed that she felt the same way.

But then came our separation. She was studying for a degree in German and, as part of the course, had to spend a year away in that country. We wrote to each other and looked forward to her return.

At last the day came. We would meet, not at the college, but in a tea room that we had used to frequent. The time was set. It being half-term I was not at the University but had to travel in from home. I caught my train in good time, and all seemed to be going well until suddenly the train stopped. Something was clearly amiss. It seemed that someone on the train had gone berserk. There was a lot of shouting and a guard was struggling with a young man who was creating a great fuss. Fists were thrown, & the guard fell and struck his head sustaining what seemed to be severe injuries. The case now became more serious, and as a result the police had to question all witnesses of whom I was one. I was kept back for over an hour to be questioned. When, at last, I was allowed to go it was clear that I would be very late for my appointment. In the end I turned up - three hours late! I don't know how long she had waited, but she was no longer at the cafe.

And we never met again, the main reason being that she was forced to leave the college suddenly because of the serious illness of her mother to whom she became carer. I did not know where she lived. She made no attempt to contact me assuming, no doubt, that I had lost interest.

But I had not. I had never forgotten her, and although I had had other relationships, none really mattered. I was floundering in the despair of lost love.

And now. There she was picking flowers from her garden just beyond the gate. I looked and looked and looked again. I could not believe it. It truly was her. I curbed my first instinct to run up and throw open the gate and sweep her into my arms. What were her circumstances now? Was she with someone else? Did she still care for me? Did she even remember me? Such things sorry lovers will sometimes think to themselves.

I looked from my vantage point. She had not turned in my direction, but anyway I was sure that I was outside her range of vision. Now was the moment to decide. Would I open that gate and meet again with the girl beyond it who had filled my waking and sleeping dreams for so long? Or would I walk away, fearful that things would not be, could not be, the same?

I stood there for several minutes as I debated with myself. Then I decided. I …….

(At this point my late Uncle’s manuscript written in his own hand ends, or rather what I assume would have been the final page is missing, clearly lost - or, perhaps, removed.)

29th December 2022