The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: SL

In the night

MelissaHis interest in photography is boosted by his sister’s evident talent, and his curiosity for her work. Now he notices far more the light variations during the day, the subtle changes of hue and shifting skies’ s reflections that are so typical of northern climates. Jane is amused by his renewed passion. He is also taking a close interest in portraits. She, without consulting him, started taking nude pictures of Sarah a year ago, and her visits are a chance for them to continue with this project. They then disappear in Sarah’s room, and even sometime the study, after kicking Julian out and locking the door. In summer they have been seen taking shots out there, in the beautiful garden, away from preying eyes. He’s not upset by it, intrigued perhaps, and, more than ever, curious. The pictures are all black and white, and do more than justice to his wife’s beautiful body. At the beginning he was startled by the erotic style of Jane’s work, but what did he expect: two gorgeous women accomplice in making art? He was wondering if Sarah, in turn, was taking pictures of Jane, but he never asked. Since he was not briefed, nor invited to participate, he chose to remain quiet on the subject, and just enjoy what he is invited to look at.

The incident of the screen shots on Chi no longer worries Julian. He has made up his mind that it was merely an accident of simulation, or perhaps even editing. After Jane’s visit he feels rejuvenated, and full of new ideas. It has given a boost to his libido too, not that he’s ever short of that, but somehow the presence of both Sarah and Jane in his house inspires him. Sarah finds it hilarious, and teases him about it.  One night, before Jane left, he woke up from some dream, and notices that Sarah is no longer in bed. It did not bother him but, feeling thirsty, he walks downstairs to the kitchen for a drink of water. Sarah is nowhere to be seen, not in the back-room, nor in the lounge, nor the bathrooms. The only place where she could be, Julian concludes, is in Jane’s room. Indeed he could hear, walking past Jane’s door, a low sound of giggles. He smiles and goes back to bed, falling back into sleep immediately.

He finds a new inspiration for the novel too, writing for long hours non-stop, to the extent of neglecting his weekly visits to the gym, as he realises quickly by checking his weight. He knows that his wife won’t let him put on weight and get fat: she would immediately impose the kind of spartan regime she can very well design for her “boy”. So he reorganises his time, making space for gym and running, and still making the best of day light hours for his writing. He’s almost forgotten about the phone call, and the message on his page.

Then, one day, as he checks his wall, he incidentally clicks on the link that did not work, on the message “she” had left. And this time it works. It takes him straight to “her” Page.

He hesitates, as if on the edge of a deep fault, unable to see how far he would fall. Then he plunges…

At first he is lost. His own page is minimalist. “Her” wall appears to be densely packed, with an impressive list of “friends” and pictures. He looks at her profile picture. The red hair, the young face, the green eyes, the full lips, a simple flowered blouse… a beautiful young woman, a little old-fashion. Something stirs at the deep end of his memories…  That picture looks strangely familiar, but still he cannot recall who she is. He decides to read her profile. “She” has listed as much as she could, her schools, where she lived, where she worked.

She was born two years before him, near the town where he spent most of his childhood. She’s also attended the same high school. He pauses. Suddenly her name comes to him: Melissa. Something attracts him on Melissa’s page. One of her pictures is that of an adolescent, fresh-faced, athletic, standing in front of what looks like a school entrance with other youngsters. Julian looks at the picture, heart beating, suddenly transported in time. It was his school, and that young man is him, probably shortly before he left for the army – all those years back. He realises suddenly that Sarah is standing behind him: “An old flame has caught up with you?” she asks tenderly, with a touch of concern in her voice.

There is something else on Melissa’s page, a link to a location with a photograph: a place called Chi.

Julian pauses again, his mind a whirlpool of conflicting feelings and memories. Then, as he sits still, his mind suddenly sees her, the girl at the school gate, waiting for him, tall and smiling. A wave of memories submerges him: the old town, the medieval streets, the library where he worked and studied, the provincial railway station, the ugly buildings from the post-war period, the school, the calm waters of the canal… and Melissa: his forgotten friend, his adolescence sweetheart. What happened to her? And why all that secrecy? Why could not she just approach him, write to him, say who she was? Reading his mind Sarah says: “Maybe she has a grudge?”

Nostalgia has overcome Julian, and thousands of pictures are flashing past his eyes: the small shops, the cathedral, Mel at the swimming pool, her breasts, him boxing to pulp that big thug, who had insulted her, their walks along the river, his mother asking him: who is that tall girl she saw with him at the market… A sudden dread seizes him: where is Melissa now? And this page, what is the meaning of it? He takes a closer look: the friends listed on her page are all of her, his, generation, and there is something else: when he tries to follow the links they all lead to the same message: he is not allowed to see their profiles. “She’s protecting their privacy” Sarah says calmly.

Something else attracts Julian’s attention: there are notes, scores of them, some by Melissa.

For a second he hesitates, then starts reading.

The early notes sweep through three years of her life: the years they have been “together”, his school years, before the war and the world took him away.  Melissa has written at first a sort of journal, recounting their first meeting, their first kiss, her hopes, their walks, the many kisses that had followed, the tender touches, her wondering why he seems to be so gentle, almost shy, with her, and such a tiger with the others, whoever they are. She guesses at his internal violence, the turmoil in his young mind. She, who is ready to give him everything, admits to her puzzlement, at times her irritation. And yet she is writing about the delight of those days, their intimacy, his way of ignoring the jealous looks, the sly comments of the other girls. His way also to fight for her, suddenly changed, his fists tight, his jaws hardened, the pitiless concentration of a street fighter. She has made it her mission to win him over, and to give him happiness – for ever, her virgin lover. The last sad note is of a walk they take along the river, when he speaks to her of the war, and of a man’s duty. She was puzzled, and worried. Then the tone of the notes change. Melissa is alone, he is gone, silent, with hardly a good bye.

At first she is expecting him to write, perhaps even to visit. She tries to talk to some of his friends, those who, she thought, would be willing to share their knowledge of where he might be. No-one she spoke to knew.  In desperation she decides to contact his parents. His mother only says that her son has gone to fight. Neither she nor Julian’s dad would  give away anything else. Mel is desperate.

There is only one country he could have gone to, and this is beyond Mel’s reach, a hellhole of murder, torture and destruction, closed to anyone not directly involved with the fighting. At night she cries, remembering the days, with him, with him alive, their love. Then the notes stop being a journal. It is as if someone else has taken over, and is reporting, factually, without any feeling.

The first note is a newspaper extract. 

Julian turns pale as a wraith. Sarah, suddenly aware of a deadly silence, looks up: her husband is crying. Silent, cold tears, tears of despair. She looks at the screen.

The note states that the body of Ms Melissa xxx, daughter of Mr and Mrs xxx of a local village, aged nineteen, has been found at dawn, in a small lane near a night club where she was seen dancing with several men two hours earlier.  She was strangled by unknown assailants and her wrists cut. 

There is a date: Melissa was murdered twenty years earlier.

Reflection

She comes to us whenever she is in the country: my sister never misses an opportunity to see me, and, perhaps, even closer to her heart, Sarah. But those visits are now far and few between, for Jane is a busy lady. So it is a real, deep pleasure to be with both of them tonight, soaking the warmth of the fire, admiring them, my mind slowly drifting to pink clouds and sunsets, helped by my whisky’s glass.

“The funny thing, Jane is saying, is that I did take pictures, several shots of the shore, where “she” was – and none of them came out: there is no-one there”.  She shows us several prints of a sandy beach in the sunset: the waves are leaking the sand, shiny silver beads with reflects of gold, nearby surfboards have been left, in good order, lined up to dry on the beach till the next day. Jane explains that Chi is a surfer’s paradise. Competitions are held there almost every week of the year. There is an entire community which is very active: young and beautiful residents who can express their passion at several spots around the island. “I came in through the main teleport, explains my sister, in the temple area. There was no-one around, or so I thought.” Sarah is listening, her sight firmly fixed on Jane’s lips, smiling.

“Then, I ask, how did you know she would be there?” Jane remains silent, reflecting, and after a few seconds, then says that she did not know, it just happened. “I walked along a little path that leads from a statue of the Buddha, on the edge of the forest, towards the beach. As I walk down a flight of steps I was looking at the sea and the sunset reflections. She was standing there, at the edge of the water, and she said that she had been there for some time. Maybe it was luck?” Sarah looks at me and asks: “Could it be that it has nothing to do with the phone call, Julian?” “Hardly, I reply, if it had been a chance encounter “she” would not have known Jane’s name”. “Besides, Jane agrees, “she” mentions you immediately.”

We remain silent, I look again at the beautiful beach on Jane’s pictures. After a while I become aware of the two of them chatting quietly: I must have drifted into some dream. “You must have friends there who know Julian, and that you are brother and sister, Sarah’s saying, so it may have been a silly prank. As to the pictures, those are screenshots, and what they show is that at the time you punch that key, there was no-one there. It must be explainable…” Jane remains silent. Suddenly it occurred to me that I may have exposed my sister, my beloved sister, to some danger. “Did you feel threatened?” I ask Jane in a quiet voice. “I got a fright when I first saw her, I did not expect to see anyone. And then “she” did not appear “solid”, more like a mirage, and “she” grew more tangible as we spoke.”

A bell chimes in the kitchen. “Dinner must be ready, says Sarah with a smile, Julian, have you got the wine sorted?” We laugh, and stand up, Jane hugs me tight, as if to reassure me…

We forget Chi and, at the table, chat amiably about Jane’s travels, our summer plans, and my novel. Jane wants to know about the plot, the characters, the style. Sarah smiles and tell her that she, Jane, must be in it, as the muse of the poet. Jane laughs: she is not sure she would qualify! Then Jane asks Sarah if she figures in the novel too. Sarah turns to me: “Only Julian can say about that” she teases. “I think they may be a few ghosts in there too” she adds and then kisses me on the cheek.

And then the phone rings. I hesitate, feeling Sarah’s gaze toward me. “Do you want me to answer?” she says after a time. “No, just now I don’t want anyone to disturb our evening”. And we continue chatting, and the caller quickly gives up.

Dinner was perfect, the wine sumptuous. We retire to the back room, facing the garden and the full moon. The fire is burning bright. In the quiet of the house, the only sound the logs crackling in the flames, as Sarah and Jane indulge in a chaste cuddle on the sofa, my anxiety of the past weeks leaves me. The cloud somehow dissolves in my mind. We can hear an owl hunting in the garden, near the oak trees, I expect a sharp frost tonight. I won’t visit Chi anytime soon. I am too old to learn surfing now…

A small island

She did it for her brother, as she could see he was anxious, without knowing why. So she came to Chi. She was aware of the location, a small island dedicated to meditation and peace, open to surfers and the devoted. Once she had visited a temple there, with a friend.

Hesitantly she looked up towards the statue, the dark bronze of the goddess, dominating this corner of the island. In front of her the jungle. Behind her she could hear the distant sound of waves. Now she forced herself to walk towards the shore, her bare feet light on the cold stones, smooth and ancient, polished by centuries of footsteps. She was feeling the evening chill through her light dress. On both sides of her stood statues and small temples. A torch was burning at the end of the path, below a tall wooden portal. Steps led down to the beach. Near the portal she saw a small teleport. She walked down the steps, soon feeling the sand still warm under her feet. The sun was now a red disk low on the horizon. She heard the waves crashing on the shore: big rollers that the surfers must enjoy riding during the day… She walked a bit further, now in semi darkness, shivered a little… She was on her own, or so she thought. She let her eyes adapt to the obscurity around her. Then she saw the dark silhouette, on the water edge, a hooded figure, immobile and softly shimmering in the dying light…

“Come closer Jane ” said a woman voice, as if from a far distance behind the hooded shape. Jane  felt a sense of dread but obeyed, as if in a dream. She saw a tall woman wrapped in a black robe, who soon lifted her hood a little. A mass of red hair framed a beautiful sombre face still in the shadow. Jane saw the eyes, fixed on her: a deep darkness, black on black, absorbing all light. The woman smiled, Jane was petrified. Who was that woman? Her brother had been so unspecific.

She was aware of a small fire burning brightly further down the beach, in the distance. Looking up she saw the woman’s eyes, now two soft emerald orbs. The face was smiling, a woman’s gentle smile, and looking deep in Jane’s eyes. Jane observed the full lips. Gathering her courage she said: “ That’s a cool avatar you got there, but you really frightened me”

Silence followed. Seconds, then perhaps minutes passed. The voice suddenly said: “It was not my intention to frighten you, you see, I have been standing here for sometime. But I will share a secret with you, Jane: this is not my avatar, it is me”.  And then she added: “You should know your brother and I were once very close, a long time ago.”  Jane realised the shape looked now more solid, more human. The woman moves slowly closer to Jane. “Is it you who are stalking my brother?” Jane daring to ask. Those bright emerald eyes were now close to Jane’s face.

“My name is Melissa” the woman said, smiling. “Your brother and I have a date, are you his messenger?”