The air is cold now, on this late February evening. There have been so many nights such as this. The only sound the ticking of the mantel clock and the beating of my own heart; it’s rhythm gradually slowing with age. Can it be so, that I will be seventy-four on my next birthday?
I pull my shawl around me to keep out the chill, tossing the dying embers of the hearth with a metal poker. Anderson my tomcat stretches himself on the rug in front of the fire, his sharp teeth frightening to anyone who didn’t know he was soft as kitten fur. I settle myself into my chair by the fire, looking around my comfortable room. There are Photographs everywhere, pictures of long dead children, family members friends much loved, but now forgotten by everyone but me. I am alone you see, alone with my ghosts and memories. The loneliness is sometimes so acute that I long to follow those sepia faces into death.
My wrinkled hands clasp on to a book of poetry, its leather cover now shiny and worn, it’s binding only just holding together. A present from my darling Teddy; a book of love sonnets.
I can remember, so many years ago. I was still in the first bloom of life, not yet eighteen. Teddy was twenty, and I thought him very grown up. We would walk together, my arm through his, nodding at the people that we passed. I had been so proud of my handsome man, so very proud and almost giddy in excitement that he had chosen me above all others. We would sit, Teddy and I, beneath the wonderful ancient oak tree close to my Father’s property. And there he would read to me, from this very book. The sun was warm and dappled as it shone through the canopy above us. Then he had held my hand, so tightly in his, his touch soft and yet possessive. It was as if he was declaring to the world “Constance Farley belongs to me, in body and soul, forever and always.” Those first Halcyon days, were but a taste for what was to come.
At nineteen, Teddy asked my Father for my hand in marriage. I can remember sitting on the banisters with my little sister Kitty, listening to the muffled voices from my Fathers study. It seemed an eternity, sitting and waiting, Kitty almost as excited as myself. Those moments on the stairs, I imagined my wedding dress, my trousseau, whether our daughters and sons would share his deep brown eyes, or my blue eyes. I planned my life with him, planned it so perfectly and so deeply, that I didn’t even hear the study door opening, or my name being called. I continued in that trance for most of that summer. My Father allowed Teddy to visit me on a Sunday afternoon. Where we sat in the parlour, while I served him tea and cakes. He would sneak chaste kisses, his eyes hinting at a deeper passion I had no inkling of.
Teddy moved away at the end of the summer, to London, to work for his Father as a stockbroker. My Father had made certain demands before he had agreed to the marriage. Teddy must keep me in the manner to which I was accustomed. And so he gave up his dreams of being a writer and poet and embraced the life of a city man, and all because he loved me with a passion undimming. I studied while he worked; my Mother showing me everything I would need to run my own household. Soon, I was an excellent bookkeeper, housekeeper, an excellent wife to be.
Teddy would come home one weekend a month, and those were the happiest moments of my life. He would bring me tales of London, of the hustle and bustle of the theatres, the music halls. He frequented the clubs of Soho, learning new things, and teaching me all he had learned in wide-eyed wonder. Soon it wasn’t enough to see him but a few hours a month, I wanted to lie in his arms, kiss his lips, and taste the forbidden delights he had only hinted at. I wanted to be in his bed, be his wife completely. I wanted to become a woman, and forget the girl.
One Saturday afternoon as we sat beneath our oak tree I told him how I felt, how I wanted to know what it was like to be a woman. He had been shocked at first, but then he had kissed me. The kiss was so different than anything I had experienced in my entire life. I felt on fire, as if he was devouring me. I had pulled away from him frightened, my eyes wide in shock.
“Did you like that my Darling?” He had whispered in a breathless tone. My hand had strayed to my mouth, feeling my swollen lips. I had nodded, my hands reaching up to touch his face.
“Yes, Oh Teddy, kiss me like that again.” And he had pulled me roughly into his arms, his mouth crushing mine with the intensity of his arousal. I had moaned, as a new stirring began between my legs. His hands had strayed to cup my breast, and the feelings had intensified. I was almost afraid of how I was feeling, afraid of the passion that threatened to burst forth from within me. Teddy had lifted his head then, his eyes dilated in arousal.
“Constance, that is just a taste of the delights that will follow once we’re married.” My cheeks had coloured as I realised how badly I had wanted him to go further with his lessons.
Anderson looks up from his spot on the rug, watching me with a mixture of distain and love. He was a stray, who came to my door one wet December night. His pitiful cries had warmed my heart, and so he had come to stay. He was about seven now, very fat and very spoiled. I put down the book on the side table, patting my knee in open invitation. Anderson didn’t need telling twice, he leapt on my lap painfully, purring and pushing at my hand with his big head. At least I know there was one creature on this earth that will miss me if I was to move on. Anderson settled on my lap for a long nap, his warming, vibrating body felt good to me, alive and vital. I picked up the silver framed photograph from the side table, lifting it to my weak eyes. My wedding day was nearly fifty-three years ago now. Teddy stood so straight and handsome next to me, my cheeks blushing with happiness. What a wonderful day that had been. Full of promise; full of love. We had been deliriously happy.
I put down the photograph as the first tears began to gather at my wrinkled eyes. He was gone. He’d been gone for so very long, I had almost forgotten what it had felt like to fall asleep in his arms, to experience those long, passionate kisses. I allowed my hands to rest on Anderson’s warm fur, gaining comfort from his closeness. Closing my eyes, I chased away the tears with memories of our life together.
We had moved into a townhouse in Knightsbridge. My days spent managing the house and volunteering at the Children’s hospital and orphanage. My nights were spent entwined in Teddy’s arms, learning new sensations, new levels of feeling each and every time he touched me. I was like a flower; it’s petals opening under his expert touch. That first night, had been almost magical, or at least it had seemed that way to me. I had been a little frightened, but over all I was excited about what was to happen.
Intoxicated on champagne and love, we had retired to our room. The bed strewn with rose petals. He had loosened the buttons of my white satin blouse, pushing it off my shoulders; kissing both shoulders, caressing my arms and moving lower to undo the buttons holding up my skirt. It had fallen to the floor, pooling at my feet. I had undone the buttons at his collar, removing his tie and shirt, until for the first time I had laid eyes on his naked chest. My heart had hammered so loudly against my ribcage, that I feared he could hear it.
Anderson mewed and jumped from my lap, startling me into wakefulness. I squinted my eyes at the shadow standing by the fireplace. My heart began to flutter as I recognised my dearest Teddy.
“Teddy my Darling, you’ve come for me at last.” He didn’t move from the fireplace, instead he shook his head sadly.
“No, my Darling, please don’t leave me all alone again.” I pleaded with him. I had tried to stand up, to walk over to him, but my old legs wouldn't stand. He disappeared as quickly as he arrived, leaving a fragrance of tobacco and flowers in his wake.
Teddy had died young, barely thirty-five. He’d gone to war with hopes of being home before the end of summer. He’d died in the fields of Flanders, cut down in his prime and left lying in the mud and filth of the battlefield. It was almost three weeks after he died when I heard what had happened. Young Teddy and Fiona our beloved children had wept along with me, they had lost their Father, and I had lost my soul mate. He had been right though; he had been home by the end of summer, his body buried on the 22nd of August. It was a beautiful sunny day, the earth ripe and bursting with vitality and rebirth. I had hidden beneath my veil of black, my tears rolling silently down my cheeks. Fiona being the oldest had understood my pain, her small hand clasped in my own. Young Teddy had been barely six years old, and would forever ask me if I thought his Father would have been proud of him.
I believe that was why he enlisted in the Air force at the outbreak of World War II. So handsome and so like his Father he had been, dressed in his uniform. It had almost broken my heart to see him standing there in front of me. He had died in the Battle of Britain; he’d been flying in his Squadron for less than three weeks.
Why did you come Teddy, if not to collect me and bring me home to you? Do you know how much you torture me so, standing there so alive, and yet not so. I am weary, now. I am weary and so very tired of this life. I let the tears flow down my wrinkled cheeks, Anderson licking at them with his rough tongue. I close my eyes, wallowing in my despair.
Fiona had died too; breast cancer aged Forty-four. A mother is not supposed to out live her children. I open my eyes again, and Teddy is stood by the fireplace again. My heart trembles in anticipation. Surely now is the time, surely now he will take me with him. He holds out his hand to me, his eyes full of love for me. I struggle to my feet, my old tired legs propelling me forward to his waiting arms.
Paradise is known on earth, and it is in the arms of my beloved.
“Come along, my Darling Constance, Let me show you heaven.” He says, and I hear him for the first time.
“Teddy, I love you.” Are the last words I whisper as I leave my body and go with him. No one will care that I’ve moved on, apart from Anderson the cat, who nestles close to the body of the old woman that loved him.