With thine eyes

In the late nineties, I thought I’d try my hand at writing short stories, light romantic somethings that might sell to one of those women’s magazines. I thought that might have lucrative potential.  Well, I wrote a short story, but never tried to submit it. I was too embarrassed at its inadequacies to try. So now I am going to inflict it on you here…

With thine Eyes

Dammit! Where’s the loo? As she tried to edge her way through the crowd towards the door bearing the words ‘Powder Room’, a lilac equivalent of Barbara Cartland, brandishing an old-fashioned clasp purse, almost poked out Ellie’s eye in reckless animation. Friend of the groom, no doubt. Or maybe she was the aging domina her sister Lara had met and befriended when she was working on that documentary on ‘Age and Erotica’ – what had Ian called it? ‘Geriatric Gymnastics’. He could be sarcastic at times. Despite the searing pain in her right eye, Ellie accepted ‘Barbara’s’ effusive apologies graciously, tearing herself as quickly away as was seemly to freedom. Dammit, she couldn’t hold on any more!

Salvation! The hall of ablution. She burst through the door of the cubicle, hoisted up her bridesmaid’s dress, dragged down her knickers and, as if to belie her mere 49 kilos, plonked herself down like an overweight regent on a short-legged throne. Relief! It was the coffee that did it. Now she remembered one of the main reasons why she didn’t drink it. The other was that she couldn’t sleep for the next 18 hours if she had so much as a mouthful. But she wasn’t planning on going to sleep early tonight. Sleep… what was it she had dreamt last night? It was there lurking at the edge of her memory. Eyes. Lustful eyes. Gazing over the edge of something. A cup? It remained elusive.

Back out in the throb and throng of the wedding reception, she spied Lara doing the rounds of the guests, bountiful and beaming in her typically guarded manner. Somehow Lara had succeeded in getting her small-town family and ex-schoolmates to mix with her big-city professional friends and colleagues, and everyone seemed touched by the old-fashioned charm and eagerness to please at the reception centre.

Lara turned to another guest. The recipient of her boundless grace would inevitably be left breathless and awed if they didn’t know her better, or smug and amused if they did. Those who knew her best were well aware that her cool façade masked the fact that her innards felt like they’d been through the blender. Occasionally Lara glanced across the room at Ben, tall and dark-skinned, looking more like a Harlem Globetrotter than a lecturer in English literature. He was working his way through a similar ritual and invariably sought her eyes at the same time. Eyes. Gazing. A prickling sensation. The shadows of Ellie’s dream kept snatching at her, catching her breath.

Bill, the elderly organ player, a fixture at the reception centre, struck up a number from his well-worn wedding repertoire, an ancient, half-remembered, romantic oldie. A voice at Ellie’s shoulder, in an almost laudable attempt at open-minded generosity, murmured ‘Young Ben speaks surprisingly good English, don’t you think?’ Auntie Pam. Immaculately elegant with her still-blonde hair in cherished beehive style. She was still stumbling over her ignorance at 55. Before Ellie could engage in the usual altercation with Pam, a deep voice cut in from behind, ‘Yep, not bad for an Oxford scholar born and bred in London.’ Ian, Ben’s closest friend, had sauntered over to them and was now grinning impishly at her. The sarcasm was lost on Pam, though, who was now tittering like a schoolgirl. She liked having the attention of men, regardless of how she gained it.

‘Sorry, Pam,’ he added. ‘The best man is stealing the maid of honour for a dance.’ Then he turned to Ellie, put his arm around her shoulder and steered her towards the dance floor out of harm’s way. ‘I thought you and Pam together after you both had been drinking champagne might prove to be a little explosive.’ They slipped into the throng of dancers. ‘I got there just in time, it seems! Had she already delivered her line about African men in bed? You won’t change her, you know.’ Ellie knew he was right, but Pam infuriated her all the same.

Just at that moment, there was applause and murmurings from the guests as Ben and Lara were being urged to move forward to make a toast. People were taking up their glasses, so Ellie and Ian abandoned the dance floor and moved towards the bridal table to find theirs. Ben and Lara looked at each other as if to seek approval first, then picked up their glasses, too. Lara raised hers to Ben. A glass! That was it. Eyes above a glass, gazing in promise and expectation. Desire. Ellie flushed as she began to recall her dream. The intensity of her dream-hatched tangled tumble took her breath away! A flood of pleasure and embarrassment overwhelmed her. She remembered whose eyes they were. His eyes! She glanced surreptitiously at Ian, standing next to her, hoping he could not read her thoughts. Of course, that was ridiculous, after all, her dream was only hers, not his.

Lara gazed graciously around the room then turned her eyes to Ben. ‘You once said to me that peace was a place, and not understanding, I disagreed. But I was forgetting that a place needn’t be a location.’ She paused. ‘It can be a living in the here-and-now connected to something or to someone. I suppose you could also give this place other names, like home, or tranquillity or even love. Whatever name it bears, this place for me is with you. Peace is the place I found when I found you.’

There was absolute silence. Nobody would have dreamt that Lara could ever have been so public about her feelings. Some of the guests even looked embarrassed. Her parents were gobsmacked. Ben’s eyes were fixed on hers, a soft smile playing round his lips. He raised his glass, too. ‘I can’t say anything that hasn’t been put in better words by others before me, so I will quote a verse by my namesake, Ben Jonson, an English poet who wrote in the early 17th century.’ He raised his glass. ‘Drink to me only with thine eyes,/ And I will pledge with mine;/ Or leave a kiss within the cup,/ And I’ll not ask for wine./ The thirst that from the soul doth rise,/ Doth crave a drink divine;/ But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,/I would not change for thine.’

They both gazed at each other over their glasses for an instant. The silence resonated across the room, then settled like a soft fall of snow.

Suddenly Ian broke the spell by raising his glass and declaring ‘To Ben and Lara, peace and the drink divine!’ The guests echoed in warm response, and laughter and murmuring swelled again to fill the room.

Ian glanced at Ellie, and her eyes locked on his above the glass. She hesitated a moment, holding his gaze, made her decision, then leaned in closer to him. ‘You know,’ she began in a low voice, ‘I had the most, um, revealing dream last night. As a matter of fact, you were in it.” She rested her hand lightly on his chest. ‘Shall I tell you about it?’

She paused with bated breath, met his eyes. Bill the organ player had struck up a melody again. The verse Ben had quoted was a song he knew! Unfortunately his rendition was a little ponderous and stumbling, like Bill himself, but his heart was in it.

Ian seemed to be weighing her up. ‘If you promise to tell me more than just once,’ he answered, his eyes unwavering.

‘Well, let’s just say it begins with a promise,’ she murmured, raising her glass. And Bill battled on with ‘Drink to me only’.

© Cate Kimberley and Word and Affect, 2012.


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