A man realizes the depth of his love, but too late.
|It was a beautiful, crisp Fall day when Ned drove his Volvo off the Old Saybrook bridge. He had made sure he was strapped in good and tight for the final journey. He had always been a meticulous, detail oriented man and this day was to be no exception.
The morning had started much like any other. The alarm went off at 6:45. As the clock had not been moved in many years, his arm reached over robotically to push the snooze button, something he always did twice before finally placing his feet on the ground and forcing himself to join the world of the living. His wife Heather was used to the routine as well and was now able to sleep right through, despite being a light sleeper. This morning, as he looked over to her, he was overwhelmed by a deep sense of regret and longing. For a brief moment, he could feel the tears flooding his eyes. These feelings were not uncommon to him, but he more often than not managed to subdue them so as to get on with the business of earning an income and paying the bills. Yet, this time, these feelings lingered and the weight on his shoulders seemed to intensify. As he sat on the side of his bed, his short dark hair spiking up from sleep, his ice blue eyes still adjusting to the day, he wondered how many more predictable days of nothingness he could stand. The few things he had always enjoyed and used to escape – his daily routine in the gym to sculpt an already perfect physique, the morning coffee and paper at the corner café, the drive along the beach – had, in a matter of days, lost their appeal. Was it days? He wondered. Or was it really a feeling that had been there for many years that he had been able to push into the recesses of his mind?
Showered, shaven and minty, Ned donned the usual crisp Khakis and starched Brooks Brothers dress shirt, kissed his wife gently on the cheek as she reluctantly showed signs of life, and made his way to the kitchen.
The breakfast he had laid out the night before, and every night before that, was waiting for him. A box of granola, his favorite bowl and coffee mug, the orange juice glass, the whole wheat bread ready for toasting, the fresh coffee from the machine that had automatically launched into action perfectly timed with his alarm clock. It wasn’t that Ned was a boring man. Once, he had been the happy go lucky life of the party, always up for an adventure while also able to hold his own on a wide range of subject matters from the mundane to the intellectual and controversial. But that all seemed a distant memory now and order and routine was his security blanket in a world that had come to make little sense to him.
Ned heard the predictable rumblings of Heather as she manoeuvred from the bed to the bathroom upstairs. For a brief moment, his thoughts drifted and he wondered where they had lost their spark for life. But it was only a brief moment, as dwelling on it would make that persistent feeling of dread and longing that had nagged him since waking unbearable. Instead, he cleaned up after himself, checked his hair in the mirror and went to the garage. He knew Heather would meet up with him later in the day.
Tuning in to his favorite NPR radio station, Ned opened the garage door. Backing out, he was caught off guard by what a spectacular day it was. Not a cloud in sight, a crisp breeze, golden leaves on the trees, the neighbors walking their dog, as they did every morning at exactly the same time. He waved to them from afar and turned into the one-way street past the immaculately kept houses, with their white picket fences and green lawns.
Ned tried to focus on his neighbor. What was his name? Was it Jim? Jake? – Ned could not remember. He knew it started with a “J”. This thought preoccupied him as he drove the 2 miles into the village. How could he possible forget the man’s name? Then again, Ned had always thought he was a bit of a bore, always centring his conversations on the weather or the traffic.
It was still early and most of the tourists hadn’t woken yet. The village was overrun with tourists in the summer month, a stark contrast to the long bleak winters that greeted the locals every December. But Ned knew he needed the tourists for his business. It was on a day like today that so many would succumb to the seasonal charm of New England and swear off city life forever. Many had an idyllic vision. Few succeeded in seeing it through.
Ned parked in his usual spot and headed to the local coffee shop. It was his one daily indulgence – a strong double latte at an outrageous price that made even New Yorkers blush. Ned greeted the owner and exchanged the customary pleasantries before grabbing his latte and making his way around the usuals towards a small sidewalk table. The village was classic New England, the main street lined with the characteristic clapboard houses, painted white with green or black shutters, and the endless array of curio shops selling over priced trinkets to city folk in from Boston or New York.
Ned sat outside, paper in hand, coffee on the table. He tried to read, but he still could not get rid of the deep feeling of unease that had been with him since waking. He knew time was not his friend. It hadn’t been for years now. The recession had hit hard and he, like so many, had not seen it coming. His business had been going well. In fact, he didn’t have enough inventory for the demand he had seen. But then it all vanished overnight. Suddenly, he was sitting with too many houses to sell and not enough buyers.
Ned slapped himself gently, as if to say “ hey, time to snap out of this.”
And then his thoughts drifted back to one fateful Spring day a few years earlier. Heather was out of town visiting family in Boston. Work was slow. It was mid week. So he decided to linger at the café. As he read his morning paper, a young man sat at the next table.
“Wonderful part of the world you live in. You lived here long?” The man asked.
Ned didn’t acknowledge him at first. It didn’t occur to him that he was the target of the question. And who was this man anyway just starting up a conversation like that. It somehow clashed with Ned’s sense of privacy and introspection.
The man spoke again and this time Ned realized he was the one being spoken to.
“Yes. Yes, I do.” Ned spoke uncomfortably, but he didn’t know why.
He observed the man now with the keen eye of observation that he was known for. He must have been in his late 20s. He was quite obviously from New York or Boston, as dictated by his trendy black Prada clothes and his Persol sunglasses, yet these outward symbols of style and money betrayed his attempt to disguise his possible Midwest origins. His accent was flat, and everything about him was too perfect, too studied. Ned noticed that he must have had a near perfect physique. His tight fitting shirt outlined a sculpted chest and large, defined biceps, his black jeans hugged his thighs, his waist was almost unnaturally small.
“What kind of work do you do here?”
Ned woke up out of his stupor. “I own a real estate business.”
“Really? Wow, how perfect. I’m here to check out the area for my parents. They’re living in Chicago but my mother wants to move back East. She loves this area. Maybe you could show me a few places?”
“Uh, yes, well, yes I guess I could. What are you looking for?”
“I just want to get an idea of prices right now. I know my folks would love a place on the water. They haven’t decided on a budget yet. All depends what there is. Anything you can show me now? I have to get back to New York later.”
“Let me think. Yes, there is one place that is empty and it’s on the river. Has great views. 3 bedrooms, large family room…..”
The man was already standing up. “Great. Let’s go. I’ll follow you. Where’s your car?”
“It’s the Volvo across the street.”
“Perfect. Away we go.”
The man had the style of an older man but the impatience and spontaneity of youth that Ned knew he had lost many years before. He found it intriguing and almost seductive.
Ned drove the 2 miles to what he considered a spectacular if overpriced house. The man stayed close behind, waving every now and then. Ned parked and proceeded to get the key out of a lock box. He was in his real estate mode. Friendly but business like. Just warm enough to capture the client but cold enough to ensure they did not become friends, as clients so often wanted to do. He opened the front door and, before he knew it, the man grabbed his waist from behind, pushed him inside, against the wall and started to kiss him and rip at his clothes.
Ned stood there, frozen. He didn’t know what to do or say. He had had fantasies, but then who hadn’t.
The man seemed unbothered by Ned’s immobility, but made some incomprehensible comment as he lowered himself, undid Ned’s khakis and proceeded to have his way.
A few minutes later, the man stood up and got dressed. “That was hot man. We’ll have to do it again. Gotta run.” And in a split second, he was gone, leaving Ned lying naked on the floor of a cavernous house that he had once loved and now hated with all his might.
Ned gradually composed himself, used the shower and the towels left for staging, dressed and got in his Volvo. He wanted to go as far away as possible. To the other end of the Earth if he could. This tiny quaint village was now a symbol of everything wrong in his life.
He drove and drove and drove that afternoon. As he did so, he found himself inextricably drawn to the ocean. He arrived at the beach just as it began to rain. He was numb. His emotions were gone. He was gone. His world was closing in on him. But he knew then and there that he would have to tell Heather.
Ned snapped out of his daydream. That had been many years before. He and Heather had survived it, and they had continued on with their lives, falling in to a daily routine as quickly as they could. Routines were like erasers. They could make the bigger than life events of one’s past seem almost like an out-of-body experience that lived in the far recesses of their minds.
Heather had loved Ned from the day she met him. He was smart, attractive, funny and caring. That with the fact that he was a classically handsome man gave him what she viewed as the perfect package. It never mattered that he did not have any money. Her family had enough for both.
Heather had always been a somewhat simpler person than Ned. She wasn’t stupid by any means, but life to her just wasn’t that complicated. You had to have a plan and stick to it. Sure hurdles would get in the way. They always did. But that never stopped her from seeing the bigger picture. And she knew that Ned was a part of that picture. She had had an idyllic childhood. Her parents were well off. She had gone to the best schools. She had paid her dues in New York working for an investment bank and now she was happy to be living in her little corner of paradise, twenty miles from where she had grown up.
She had always understood that Ned was a complex man, with aspirations far beyond what a village like theirs could provide. And so she was always grateful that Ned had agreed to live where they did, and settle into a life that most thought only happened in fairy tales, no matter how uneventful it might be.
When Ned told her about the events of that fateful day, Heather was shocked and hurt. She left the house that same night and spent the weekend with her parents. But she was back on the following Monday, as if nothing had happened. She wanted Ned and the life they had built, and she was not going to let one act of immaturity brought on by some aggressive out-of-towner ruin all they had. For a few weeks, they tried to avoid each other. Actually, it was more Ned who tried to avoid Heather, out of shame and embarrassment. He loved her deeply and he knew that he had damaged their relationship. He just wasn’t sure how much. But Heather got on with her life and her work, and soon she forgot that anything had ever happened. It was much easier to do that than to divorce and start her life over as a middle-aged woman. She also knew it would never happen again.
Ned grabbed the coffee and made his way the 30 feet to his office.
Opening the door, he exchanged the daily pleasantries with Leslie, his assistant. Ned wasn’t in the mood for small talk and Leslie was able to recognize this instantly. After all, they had been working together for 5 years, ever since he had set up the business.
Leslie was a busy-body and a dangerous gossip, but it was so often her venom filled comments had given him a lead in the past, that he suffered through her intrusions. He subscribed to the old adage that it is best to keep one’s friends close and enemies even closer. Leslie had proven on more than one occasion that she fell into the camp of enemies.
The day progressed slowly. The occasional visitor would come in looking for bargains, Leslie went to show a few properties, his wife came by to drop off his lunch. All in all, nothing eventful. In fact, it was all so desperately boring.
Finally, 5 o’clock. Time to close up, grab a bottle of wine at the liquor store next door and head home. His favorite chair outside awaited him. But as he was putting the key in the door, his phone rang. Could he come to the ER right away.
For the first time in years, his heart pounded, his palms started to sweat, his hands shook almost uncontrollably. He had trouble getting the car key in the ignition. Finally, grabbing the key with both hands, he was able to. The Volvo lurched forward, almost hitting the next car. He sped all the way, miraculously not being stopped by the police. As he drove, his mind raced. His morning unease had turned into unbearable guilt. How stupid he was to not appreciate what he had, the life he had, his wife. All the frustration of boredom was swept away like a tidal wave destroys a town, only to be replaced by fear. The fear of the unknown, the fear of his world falling apart.
He pulled into the small ER unit at the nearby medical center and ran in to the reception, his face drenched in sweat, his entire body shaking.
“I’m Ned Prescott. You called… My wife….”
“Please wait here Mr. Prescott”
“The doctor will be with you in a moment. Please have a seat.”
Ned was too distraught to notice her clinical manner, her lack of human emotion. He paced up and down, frantically trying to see if he could see his wife anywhere.
“Mr. Prescott, I’m Doctor Welles. Please come with me.”
“My wife, is she OK? Is she….Please tell me.”
Ned followed the doctor into a tiny side room. The doctor begged him to sit but he was beside himself. He knew. He just knew something bad had happened. As Ned stared, the doctor uttered his words in a trembling but peaceful voice. It was his first time giving bad news like this, and he wanted to make sure he got it right.
“Mr. Prescott, I’m so sorry. Your wife was in a terrible accident. I’m afraid she suffered fatal injuries. We did everything we could. Is there someone I can call for you?”
“Can I see her please?” Ned mumbled.
“Yes. Of course, follow me please.”
The doctor opened the door to call for nurse and then began walking towards the morgue, in slow measured steps, keeping a close eye on Ned. He had learned that it was impossible to predict any one’s reactions in a situation like this.
Ned stared right through the doctor. The world seemed to be spinning out of control. As the doctor led him down the grotesque green corridor, he kept on thinking he was living a nightmare. None of this was real. The people and objects around him were all just blurred shapes taunting him and playing an evil trick as punishment. The guilt instilled upon him in his youth was still stronger than ever.
As the door opened, he saw Heather lying there on a cold metal sheet. She looked perfect. He was certain she was just asleep and she would wake up any minute and shake him out of his nightmare. But she was cold and pale to the touch.
“Mr. Prescott? Mr. Prescott?” The doctor took Ned by the arm, causing him to jump. At that point, Ned knew this was real. Heather was gone for good. The world around him faded to steel grey. Undefined shapes moving as through a thick fog, the fluid walls closing in on his numbed senses.
Ned ran out of the ER and got into his car, screeching off. His mind raced. He didn’t know what to feel, what to think. All day, he had been feeling sorry for himself, feeling bored and unfulfilled, secretly denigrating his life, his habits, even his wife and her predictable ways. He wanted to get home. He wanted to turn open the kitchen door and see Heather standing there, preparing dinner, opening a bottle of wine, reading the paper. Oblivious to anything around him, he pulled the car into the garage, turned off the engine, closed the garage door and sat there, in the dark, too afraid to move. Too afraid to open the door and hear… nothing. But never one to wait, Ned finally got the courage to go in the house. He knew what awaited him, and yet… And yet. What if it were all a bad joke so that he would learn his lesson for once and for all.
Ned opened the kitchen door slowly, tiptoeing in, afraid to make a sound. Across the threshold, nothing but eerie, deafening silence and darkness. Heather was gone. Ned walked like an intruder through his own kitchen, casting shadows as he stood in the moonlight. He didn’t need any lights on. There wasn’t any point. There was nothing he wanted to see. Ned stood in the middle of the kitchen, tears streaming uncontrollably down his face. Their lives had not been what they had mapped out in their youth. The journey had been far from easy. But they had managed to dodge the stray bullets, and had, over the years, learned each other’s most intimate details, their needs, their tics, their likes and dislikes. Perhaps they had grown complacent, but underlying it all was the knowledge that they would always be there for each other, no matter what.
Ned walked out as he had come in. Alone, frightened, regretful. He started the car and headed for the coast.
As the bridge approached, he knew then and there that he could not go on without her. In a brief moment of lucidity, he tightened his seat belt and accelerated. He had loved her from the day they had met in college. She had been his soul mate who had always known how to put up with his tantrums and his depressive cycles. She was gone. What else could he do but join her?