Everything After Now
Tomorrow they will laugh about this. In the hotel restaurant, while Timothy piles his plate with bacon and Rachel spoons fruit compote on to her yoghurt, they will glance sideways at each other. They’ll laugh at how two glasses of house red could have made them forget 57 years, two happy marriages. It was nothing, they’ll say. A moment of madness. And Timothy will take a table by the window and Rachel a table by the door.
On Sunday night Timothy will lie next to Jane in their super-king-size bed, wide-eyed in the dark. She will turn to him and say, How was the exhibition? Did you sell any paintings? What was the hotel like? And he will say, Fine. Two. Full of retired tourists. When Jane wants to know why he is so quiet, he’ll tell her that he met a friend from long ago who made him realise how old he is. She will laugh and reach for his hand beneath the covers.
Sometime next month Rachel will be playing with her youngest grandson. As he serves her Play-Doh pie she will find herself wondering if, in another life, he might have had Timothy’s red curls. That evening, while Mark does the crossword beside her, that other life will haunt her: the life where she took Timothy’s ring instead of her mother’s advice.
In September, Timothy will catch sight of Rachel again across the foyer of the Old Vic. She will be laughing with a woman who could only be her daughter. The sight will bring Timothy to a standstill, breathless until Jane touches his arm, draws him towards the usher selling programmes. They will spend three hours sitting three rows apart and Rachel won’t see him until they are about to step into adjacent taxis. Her hand will touch her lips in shock and, although he’ll know it was involuntary, he will catch the kiss anyway and hold it hot in his memory.
A year from now Rachel will see an obituary in The Times: Renowned artist. Devoted husband. It will say nothing about his childhood sweetheart; no mention of his 1950s quiff, or the way he whistled The Entertainer as he waited at the end of Station Road, a bunch of daffodils in his hand. Private funeral for close family only.
But now there is none of that. In the hotel bar, with Mark playing golf and Jane 80 miles away, there is no future and no past. Six decades dissolve in one chance reunion. They are 19 again. Rachel’s parents have not yet banned her from marrying an artist. Age and expectations have not painted their words with caution.
I’m happily married, but...
I love my husband, but...
I never stopped loving you.
I still miss you.
For one afternoon – one drink in the bar, one walk on the terrace – they can be the dreamers they once were. Let’s run away together. And everything before now has disappeared. And nothing after now matters.