Back Cover Blurb
Overwhelmed by a rush of excitement and joy after finally tracing his first love, Duncan embarks on a quest to rediscover Brooke, after 45 years. He finds a woman twice married and spiritually committed to a new world faith. Separated from his wife, he becomes consumed by the desire to understand the new Brooke, and uncovers in her a complex web of denial and a suppressed need for self discovery; of a woman still yearning for emotional fulfilment.
(The synopsis and first 3 chapters are available for agent/publisher review on request)
“Pop!” Duncan reopened the bottle of Cristal Champagne that he had so reluctantly corked the night before. Had he continued to sup the heavy opiate of champagne and sweet memories what might he have said? He sipped again from his magical chalice before composing his morning email. Although she hadn’t replied since his last lengthy messages to her, he desperately needed to write again. If only she knew how deeply in love with her he had once been. Dig – dig – dig, how easy the ecstasy of remorse unearthed itself to him from its shallow grave. Forty five years! Had it been that long? Was he to find solace in regrets? ‘Non, je ne regrette’ – nonsense, he mused to himself, we all have regrets, and we revel in them, wasn’t that what Oscar Wilde said, ‘..nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret’.
All those years ago she was his ‘femme fatale’; one that any real man yearned for. He had consumed her until his very soul ached with longing for more. But, soon after she had floated into his life, she slipped away; away across the years, lost in time. He had never forgotten her. But why? There had been other women in his life, others that he had cared for – and said he had loved, though none had bewitched him so over time. What love was this that bore so deep into his being?
Filling his empty goblet one more time and staring down at the rising effervescence, it reminded him of her; of those halcyon days of youth. As a naive 19 year old with the wide eyed wonder of a child, and she, probably no more than a year older but already bubbling and swirling higher and higher, within a vortex of comely people in a beautiful age. How his thoughts were so often interlaced with images of her; she brought so much joy into his life: it was suddenly full and the world was a plaything. He was her plaything and knew and revelled in the lifestyle found with her. How easy it was to believe they had reached the highest transcendental state love can elevate us to….to fall in love with love. How intoxicating that feeling was. No wonder then that the memories lasted. Yet Duncan was to learn, following that spellbinding summer and winter of ’65 that love – wonderful, suffocating, all embracing love – is rarely attained, but when it is you are forever destined to fall in love at the drop of a hat in the prevailing hope that someday you’ll return to the land of Xanadu.
His goblet and bottle were empty; with aching limbs he swivelled his chair to open the email again. He gazed at the screen and his blank page. Not yet, he couldn’t write to her yet. Another bottle of champagne will do the digger no harm other than risk he disturb the ghost of some other time. Drink, gulp, swallow deep the elixir of love lost, and luxuriate in the pleasure of sifting through what his spade unearthed. The draughts of alcohol, sweet as caressing lips, carried him back like a child; back once again to the past.
A warm tropical breeze beckoned him to the balcony of his penthouse apartment as if to whisper some spell binding magic to ferry him back to her embrace. Clasping the rail, he imbibed more of the bubbling words never said and the ominous, ominous truth that lay ahead. He smiled as if for a brief moment he realised his folly. At long last he had found again the girl of his dreams; the chime of her voice, the softness of her touch, the scent of her hair as he held her so close: the tingling excitement of embrace. Oh, what rapturous joy he had found. Could he bear to reconcile the impassioned ghost from his past with a woman two score and five years away from….what might have been?
Her last letter to him, sent months after he had left for Vietnam, described a cold Chicago night as she walked alone through the snow along State Street. If only he had kept the letter, as he had her picture and the etchings he had made from it. How he wished he too had been stepping through that white winter wonderland with her – the chill of the wind and the snow in young faces. Young love, hand in hand, and a lonely trail of footsteps in a white never-never landscape. He could feel the warmth of her body wrapped so snugly in furs and the delirious excitement of holding her hand again. How apt it was that it should have ended that way. And how cruel that he had been drafted to fight in a foreign war in a far off land, never to return to the bosom of the one he loved so passionately.
Parker-Gold, little wonder his occasional Internet searches for Brooke Parker had been unsuccessful. Tracing her by a maiden name was the only lead he had. How fortunate she had retained it now. A failed marriage, a return to maiden status and then a new matrimonial coupling with a double barrelled family partnership. Is that what happened? Whatever the reason, he was thankful. He had finally found her, although no longer remembered how he eventually stumbled on her page in FaceBook; he was sure he’d searched there before. But here, at last, was the face that caused so much burning, aching loneliness as it had weaved itself into his midnight slumbers and daytime dreams. Changed of course, yet the ravages of time had been kind; still the same flaxen hair shaped as it always was, the tilt of her nose, the sweetest lips and those smiling inviting eyes. Duncan slumped into the wicker chair on the shaded balcony as he mused over the image. She was beautiful – still is he thought. He swirled the wine in his glass goblet and lit a cigar. He imagined her, through the hazy blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his cigar, sitting with him now, together, looking out over the gently waving palms that seemed to bow as if in homage to lovers. What fanciful folly. Was she 20 or 65? Slightly tipsy, his mind was muddled. Brooke Parker was married, she said, to a ‘lovely man’. In her email – how wonderful it had been to receive that email – those were her very words, ‘had two husbands and now married to a lovely man’. So, married twice and now happily married it seemed. Oh, the joy-pain of remorse. The curling smoke had cleared as he settled his gaze on the empty chair beside him. There came a sudden chill and he moved to return to the email. How many lovers had she enraptured in the months and years that ensued? Was love ever found? Or was it always one sided as it had been for him. Oh yes he knew, of course he knew. His ardent soul once cradled the pain of her unrequited love. How else could she have left him for another? Love, oh love, what hopeless love can do!
Brooke then, and Brooke now – these were different people. His foolishness had been to give a voice to the ghost from the past. It was madness. Brooke Parker-Gold was not his Brooke Parker, and there was not to be another email, but how desperately he wanted to hear from her again… The bright morning sun had by now changed to a late afternoon glow. The empty glass goblet fell from Duncan’s hand and shattered into a thousand glistening pieces – a thousand crystal memories shining like diamonds beneath his feet. He finally raised himself from his chair and stooped to pick up one small speck as he drifted aimlessly towards the balcony’s balustrade. Placing the sparkling particle in the palm of his hand, a tear fell upon it and for a brief moment he saw her young face again. What alchemy was this?
“Butterfield 4376.” A boy’s voice answered the phone.
“Hello, is Brooke there please?” I replied, slightly nervously.
“Who’s speaking?” said the voice.
I hesitated, faltered and was about to disconnect. “Duncan…..Duncan Heatherington,” I continued.
“Hang on.” I heard the receiver drop and the voice faded into the distance, “Brooke it’s for you, someone called Duncan, with a funny accent.”
I waited. It seemed forever. Then more footsteps approaching from the distance and fumbling as the receiver was picked up.
“Yes, hello, who’s that?”
”Hi, it’s Duncan, Duncan Heatherington. Dick Gustin gave me your telephone number, but only after I insisted – after he showed me your photograph that is”. My speech quickened with nervous excitement. “I was mesmerised – actually he said I’d be wasting my time calling you; said you were too sophisticated for the likes of me.”
Cold calls was something I was rather good at, at least I thought so, but when it came to this one I began to lose composure and started babbling – a bit unlike me actually – and I stumbled through my pitch beginning to sound really awkward. She didn’t say anything for a while then simply, “Oh?”
“Yes,” I continued, “I’ve – I’ve just moved into his old flat around the corner from you at 1450 South Hyde Park Boulevard. Smashing place, though a bit untidy and the landlady’s really quite odd.”
Then, in a surprised voice, “You’re English.”
”Yes, my country sent me here on a quest to find the meaning of life – well actually my mother sent me. I’m studying at Roosevelt University, only just enrolled actually. Arrived in New York a couple of months ago; came across on the Queen Mary.”
“I see.” she said with a slight laugh, which bucked up my spirits.
At least she hadn’t put the phone down which was good – I mean, you expect some bad responses with cold calls, right? Well I did. Anyway, sensing some initial interest I pitched in with my best English accent. The truth is, since shortly after arriving in America I had discovered that a British accent proved rather seductive with the opposite sex, if that’s not sounding too pompous. A British accent did have a rather surprising trance inducing effect, rather as if I had sprinkled angle dust in the air – something I had never experienced before. So, oozing charm from every pore as it were, and overdoing choice British adverbs, with ‘actually’ and ‘really’, I rolled off my best lines with growing confidence.
“Look, how about an evening of pampering, intelligent conversation and nothing short of what any Prince would do to charm a Princess. You are a Princess aren’t you? No, actually, don’t answer, I know you are really because the first moment I saw your photograph I realised you were the reason mummy sent me here.” I laughed just in case she thought I was completely loony, and waited..
“Wow, please go on.” She had the sweetest voice, very soft and rather sensual.
“You’re probably not going to allow me to whisk you off for a champagne dinner on my private yacht moored somewhere in the Caribbean, so how about coffee and a doughnut at a venue to suit? I’m really not that sophisticated; I watch John Wayne movies, and have actually eaten hamburgers and, let me think, yes Coney Dogs too.”
“Hmmm, I could be tempted by the champagne, but perhaps another time,” she said, and I knew she was smiling, “coffee sounds fun though. Why not come over to the Museum of Science tomorrow afternoon. I’m in a fashion shoot there. Look out for a film crew. Anytime around 3 o’clock.”
“Fab, that will be great! Have to go I’ve just used my last dime in the phone. See you then. Byeee..” and I hung up.
I stood in front of the public telephone in the foyer of Roosevelt University staring at the handset I had just replaced. My last 10¢ was gone, but the feeling of excitement was intoxicating. I strolled out of the building with a lively spring to my step. If there had been a lamp post on route I would have swung round it like Gene Kelly. My life had been in a whorl ever since I embarked on the ocean liner from Liverpool some three months earlier. It was as if I had walked onto a movie set, full of glittery people, wide eyed and expectant of fulfilling their own private American Dreams. And now, here I was, a new undergraduate, standing under the Doric columns of a mid west university making a date with an absolutely stunning model! And to think that less than 3 months earlier I had been waiting in a dingy Liverpool Consular office for my Green Card, wondering what life had in store for me in this great adventure to the land of fairy tales. I had always believed that somewhere in this wonderful world there was a girl ideally suited to me – waiting for me to appear in her life. That had to be, in all the millions of souls trapped in their little worlds, one, just one was destined to be the one love of my life; suited to each other in every possible way. Someone capable of loving me as I would love her – more than she loved herself. It was my quest, my duty to my soul to search for her because I knew she was out there somewhere, waiting. I truly believed this and that destiny would lead me to her. How desperately I wanted to fall in love and what better place than a land of fairy tales and dreams.
On the train back to Hyde Park I felt as though I wanted to tell the whole compartment of sad looking passengers how terrific life was and that I was dating a beautiful doll. I wanted to shake them out of their dreary thoughts and let them experience the excitement I was feeling. Stations rushed past and before I knew it I had missed my own stop at 53rd. Street. It didn’t matter, I was happy in my day dreams. Little did I realize though, that I had already stepped into a dream.
I arrived at the Museum sometime before 3pm and quickly shot into the men’s room to smarten up my appearance. My wardrobe was pretty sparse but at least I managed to salvage a clean tee and a pair of jeans that I had been wearing in the bath the day before to produce a skin tight fit – a flatmate from Chicago U taught me this trick. Oh, and Dick, who I mentioned earlier, had introduced me to V8 vegetable juice, and a diet of mineral and vitamin pills to replace good honest food as skinny was sexy – so he said, and this bloke was definitely pulling in some delicious dates – I was no sloth when it came to following the lead of an established Casanova or so he would have us believe. A newish pair of cowboy boots rounded off my best attire for the occasion. A few splashes of Onyx after shave – given to me by my girlfriend in Liverpool just before I left – was a mistake as it smelt awful so I tried my best to douche it off in the washroom before I ventured out. A final discrete check in the mirror and I flung open the washroom door with dramatic effect and strode out into the vast empty expanse of corridors an atriums. I ventured through displays of incubators where baby chicks were hatching, through a huge beating heart – how apt that was! And into Paul Bunyon’s cabin. But no arc lights, film crews and beautiful people. Only hordes of children, being ushered hither and thither by scholarly guides waving text books, directing them from one exhibit to another. Where was my date? Where was Brooke? I rummaged in my pocket for the crumpled picture I carried of her; just to be sure I’d recognise her under whatever costume she could be modelling in. As I rounded one corner after another searching for the bright lights I began to doubt I’d even find her. Maybe she’d forgotten our arrangements or had been whisked off to another location by her clients at the last minute. Doubt began to undermine my confidence as I circled through one exhibit hall after another. Nothing but the echo of children’s voices and the eerie emptiness of the place.
Then, in despair, as I headed back to the main entrance, I noticed a taped off stairwell leading to the lower floor exhibits that I must have glided past on my way to the washroom. It had a small sign hanging from the tape, ‘Closed for Filming’. Yes, my heart raced, this must be it. A warden who looked as though he had been snoozing in a chair close by raised his head as I was about to hop over the tape. I instinctively blurted out ‘Crew’. He nodded and with a lazy wave signalled me down the winding staircase.
“Your people are at the far end, at the ‘Main Street of Yesterday’ exhibit. Mind you don’t trip over them cables’.
‘OK, thanks chum’, and I descended the stairs. Good advice too, as there were yards of generator cables criss-crossed over the floor leading to group of maybe a dozen people busily arranging arc lights, reflector screens and cameras in front of a Dickensian shop front exhibit. In fact the whole area looked like a street scene from ‘The Olde Curiosity Shope’. I cautiously merged in with the ensemble. No one seemed to take much notice. The front of the shop was the focus of attention, brightly illuminated with occasional crew members darting back and forth arranging and re-arranging props. Every now and then there was a ‘pop’ and a flash as the photographer checked exposure, lighting and everything else fashion photographers do. A gay looking fellow with hair clips attached to his shirt and cosmetic paraphernalia hanging from his belt slipped out of the shop front.
Then, from right beside me, a small fellow probably no more than 5 feet 6 with hair tied back in a pony tail, yelled ‘OK, action!’ He gave me quite a start and for a moment I found myself staring at him and not the set. When I looked up, there she was. The most stunningly beautiful girl I had ever seen. The flash lights popped and cameras clicked. The lead photographer issued instructions, raised his hand gripping a wire trigger, and again there was a ‘pop’ flash. All this, I caught in peripheral vision as my eyes were transfixed on Ms Parker; Ms so adorable Parker. How wonderful she looked as she moved from one sensual pose to another. In the brilliant camera lights she looked angelic, yet tantalisingly seductive. Was I dreaming? Here in a English setting was my Faerie Queene; a girl with the complexion of an English Rose, and the sensuality of a Playboy model. Was it Marlowe who captured the moment, ‘who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?’ I was mesmerized by her beauty. She was just so dauntingly elegant in high boots, mini skirt and what seemed to be a Mary Quant assemblage. Ms Brooke Parker was everything in a girlfriend I had ever dreamt of. Brooke exuded refined sexuality from every curve and movement of her body.
“It’s a wrap,” exclaimed the pony tailed man, turning to me, “You know Brooke?”
“Oh – yes, I…” but before I could finish he tapped me on the buttocks.
“Thought so” he continued,” she’s very popular. You’re a lucky guy.”
Not a little startled by the sudden attention to my posterior I eased slowly away, thanking him graciously. In fact, I was about to say, “..I’ve just met her,” but dropped that, taking his remark as a affirmation that I was her boyfriend, and felt very proud that he could assume me suitable to be dating such a gorgeous girl.
Feeling 10 feet tall – not too difficult in his company, I might add – I thanked him again and cautiously waved in her direction. She smiled back, skipped off the dais and danced towards me like a fairy floating down from a child’s Christmas tree, a trail of pixie dust glittering behind her. Everything around her faded from focus just as reality and fantasy became blurred. The Faerie Queene was about to appoint me as her Courtier! Her court was the amassed film crew and I sensed their eyes following her as I impetuously stepped forward aware that I was being drawn into their sights. Did they know that I was being swept up into a whirlwind that would carry me off to another world?
“My Liege.” I said, bowing with an ostentatious knee bend and side swing of my arm.
“Ha-ha. Arise Sir Duncan, doughnut Knight.”
I looked up to see her outstretched hand and held it as she laughed and giggled. The temptation to hold her closer was intense; such was the magnetism she aroused in me as I touched her.
“You are very funny. Well, Sir Duncan in the cowboy boots, where are we going?”
Wow, just like that! I mean, I expected to sort of coax her into coming out with me. I’d been used to girls playing hard to get if you know what I mean. Like, ‘I’m busy today maybe next week’ sort of hurdle. Honestly, I was really dumbstruck as I hadn’t actually planned anything beyond getting to the Museum. A dash cavalier I know and I dare say one of my failings. Anyway, no sooner had I started to mumble a possibility, she interjected.
“Look, while you think of somewhere, I have to change out of these clothes – shame they’re really chick don’t you think?” She swirled round and with a little flick of her heel and hurried back to where the crew where mingling. Just before she disappeared through the same Dickensian doorway I yelled out:
“You’d look terrific in anything, even blue jeans.” I don’t know why I said blue jeans. It just came out. Now, it could be, she always carried a huge wardrobe of clothes with her on these shoots, or it was a weird co-incidence, but no sooner had I come up with an idea for coffee, than she reappeared wearing the tightest pair of hip-hugging jeans I’d ever seen. I’d say I was looking at a 34-24-34 with the 24 bare to within 2 inches of the 34’s. As she strode towards me stretching both arms up to secure a clip in her hair – I think she did that purposely to reveal even more waist by the way – I took a deep breath, waited for her to come closer then uncontrollably clasped her hand and kissed it.
“Brooke, you look just dazzling, absolutely dazzling.” Still holding her hand I led her towards the stairs. “It’s around 4:30pm, if we catch a cab now we can be downtown in 30 minutes before the traffic builds up. What time do you need to be back?”
We had already reached the main foyer and paused while Brooke fumbled in her handbag.
“I’m driving my mom’s car, it’s packed outside. Let’s use that. I have to be back by 7pm to pick up by brother from a music class over on 51st – maybe we can do that on the way back. Do you drive?” She pulled out a set of car keys and dangled them in front of me.
‘My cup runneth over’ or so the old Hebrew quote goes. What a wonderful place America was. The land of opportunity was beginning to sound very, very undersold. In an extraordinary 24 hours I had met the most beautiful girl in the world, she had agreed to go out with me, offered me her car keys, and was now about to introduce me to her kith and kin! Oh, Ms Brooke Parker, dream girl, what world was I being swept into?
The car? Sure I had driven a car. Once, and that was my dad’s Jaguar which I reversed through the back of our garage at home. I failed my driving test miserably but I put that down to a very grumpy examiner who definitely put me off my stride as it were. But I couldn’t refuse – what eligible 19 year old in American didn’t drive? I’d have to bluff me way through this one. I hoped desperately it had a stick shift as I had absolutely no idea how to handle an automatic, let alone one of these big American jobs.
“Of course, you’ll just need to remind me to stay on the left – I mean right”, I said smiling, a little nervously as we strolled down the Museum steps towards the car park. There was a warm, late autumn breeze rolling in from Lake Michigan. The municipal gardeners had just mown the lawns around the entrance producing a pleasant smell of fresh cut grass, enhanced by the warm air. I started to feel more relaxed.
“Whereabouts are you parked?” I enquired, now holding the car keys.
“Just..” Brooke hesitated as she looked around a bit puzzled, “..there, look, there is it” and she pointed to a little European saloon parked precariously half on the kerb and partially obscuring what looked like a ‘No Parking’ sign.
“Hmmm, impressive parking Ms Parker. I think we’d better hop-it before the attendant slaps a ticket on us. Talley-ho.”
What an infectious laugh she had. “Oh don’t worry about that. They know me here. I’ve been coming to the Museum since I was a child. I grew up playing in and around here. On rainy days I would come to the Museum, we used to call it the Museum of Sinus and Injuries.” We both laughed.
The little European job turned out to be a Hillman Minx – yes that’s right, a good old British Hillman Minx. Could you believe it? What on earth was that doing over here? Ok, so the steering wheel was on the wrong side, but it had a stick shift and a clutch and that was all I needed to know.
I gallantly opened the passenger door for her – Oh I forgot to say, I had been carrying her ‘rag bag’ (as she called it) full of make-up, assorted changes of clothes and some hats. I don’t think she was used to anyone pampering her quite like this. But then it was my gambit to be as smoothly English (with a subtle hint of naivety) as I possibly could. And it was working a charm!
“Oki Doki, Mr Wok’s Chinese Kitchen here we come.”
“Where?” she said, still smiling as we sat in the car.
“Just joking. I thought we’d go to ‘The Man at Ease’. It’s about the only coffee house I know in Old Town.” I glanced at her for a reaction as I jolted the car off the kerb and with a few splutters and jerks, that sent us both rolling back and forth, we were underway.
Her smile was still there albeit mixed with a slight puzzled look. You know, sort of ‘is this guy real?’ look.
“Steve, the bloke who runs the cafe, told me he makes the biggest Doughnuts in Chicago!”
At that we both burst into fits of laughter and the puzzled expression gave way to an honest happy smile. My hand rested on the gear stick for the entire journey down Lake Shore Drive and into Old Town, as if it involuntarily wanted to touch her again. I couldn’t stop sneaking a peep at her long blue-jeaned legs that were temptingly angled towards where my hand was resting, and seemed likely to pounce on her legs at any moment between importunate gear changes. Self control prevailed, although I have to say the scent of her perfume within the intimate confines of the Hillman was enough to send a fellow crazy.
I thought it best to keep the conversation flowing as the last thing I wanted to happen was get stuck in one of those ghastly silent moments. But this really wasn’t likely as we were building a rapport at a cracking rate. And the week end was only a few days away; I knew I had to see her again then. ‘Don’t talk about yourself, I thought. Rule number one. Ask her about herself’.
“How long have you been modelling?”
“Since I was 7”
“Yes, amazing isn’t it. My mom auditioned me for a children’s commercial. Don’t laugh, I was dressed up as little fairy and had to hop and skip around pretending to eat a candy bar. She believed my value was based on being pretty and talented and that these were the key attributes to worldly success. So from then on she insisted I continue modelling, and well, here I am doing the same thing at 20.”
“You obviously enjoy what you do and you’re bloody good at it. In fact if I’m any judge I’d say you’ve got the world at your feet right now.” I paused and smiled at her again. “It just so happens that I rule the world – have done so since I met you earlier today – so I’m going to treat you to a little of its splendid surprises.”
She giggled, “I can’t wait, do I have to put on a blindfold?”
“What a terrific idea! Actually no, not for coffee, oops I’ve spilt the beans as it were…but I’d like to take a rain check on that offer if you don’t mind.”
We arrived at the cafe around 5:30pm and Steve, apronned and looking every bit the house butler as was his style, recognised me as we slipped through the open door.
“Hi Duncan, welcome backkkkkk….” he drew out the sentence as he eyed Brooke from head to toe. Then, smartly walking back to the table he had just been wiping pulled back a chair and signalled Brooke to sit down. “Are you going to introduce me?’ he exclaimed, looking at me as he settled Brooke in her seat. Leaning over Brooke and winking at me, he whispered, “You need to be careful with this guy, he’s a smooth talker.”
“Brooke, this is Steve. Steve may I introduce Brooke, and no you can’t join us.” I said with a grin.
“Hi Steve, he’s been very charming, but I will stay on my guard,” murmured Brooke, looking at me with a quizzical expression.
“Don’t listen to Steve, he’s jealous,” I said, sitting down beside Brooke.
“Steve, a double Espresso please and…”, turning to Brooke, “what would you like, Cappuccino?”
“Yes that sounds lovely, thanks.”
“… a Cappuccino,” I continued, smiling. I had an arrangement with Steve to draw the first letter of my date’s name in the froth of their Cappuccino whenever I brought a girlfriend into his cafe. It was a simple trick but worked wonders.
As the coffees arrived she looked for a moment at the sculptured ‘B’ on her Cappuccino.
“’B’ for Brooke, from ‘D’ for Duncan,” I declared, looking into her eyes in a rather corny romantic way, “but Steve hasn’t yet mastered how to squeeze two initials into his tiny servings.”
She smiled, “That’s very sweet of you. If I drink it, will Duncan still be around tomorrow or is he going to vanish like the frothy ‘D’?”
“Ha-ha, hardly vanish. I’ll be around to buy you as many frothy ‘D’s and whatever else it takes to see you smiling – and to see you again.”
Phew, I was making an impression all right. It was all simply too good to be true; I couldn’t put a foot wrong it seemed. All in all, I thought I was making a decent enough impression. Little did she know I was already putty in her hands!
We chatted on until it was quite dark outside. I never thought about the time. She talked about modelling, her mother’s influence, even emotional involvements and sex! Yes Sex. In England we talked about ‘it’ at lot of course but only between us lads. Never with girlfriends! Physical stuff just happened – we never discussed it! I mean, crikey, the English are pretty reserved about that sort of thing. My mind was being wrenched open and I loved every minute of her company. I began to feel we had known each other for months. She never mentioned her father though which I thought rather odd, but left that aside. It was Steve who finally broke the spell – probably because we hadn’t ordered any more coffee – and announced it was almost 7pm.
“Yikes!” exclaimed Brooke with obvious surprise and concern, “Quick, we have to go. My brother will throw a fit.”
I so didn’t want the day to end, but gallantly whisked her off to the Hillman and drove back towards Hyde Park. The car could have been a spaceship, I was feeling so high. We picked up Jerome from his music lesson – yes ‘Jerome’, I’d never met a Jerome before, and we flew down the Expressway with a grumpy, bespectacled school kid in the rear bemoaning the difficult scales of Beethoven’s 5th, and chastising his sister for keeping him waiting half and hour.
On skidding to a halt outside her building, Jerome popped out of the car and stood there waiting for his sister.
“Come on.” he yelled petulantly, staring at his sister through her window.
“Well,” said Brooke, making a little moue as she stared back at him and then at me, “if I’m not going to be allowed a long thank you, I can at least say,” and she kissed me on the cheek, “thank you ‘Sir Duncan’ for a lovely day. You are very sweet.”
As she turned to get out of the car I wanted to pull her back, caress her neck and kiss her full on the lips; to hold her close to me and embrace her. It wasn’t possible. Jerome was tapping on the window. But, although slow to recover from that little peck on my cheek, I managed to regain my sang-froid, swung open the door, clonking the poor lad on the knee, and bolted round the car to do the gentlemanly thing and escort her to the pavement. Call me clumsy if you will, because after brushing past Jerome who was rubbing his legs and mumbling something nasty, I bumped into Brooke as she was stepping onto the pavement. It all happened so quickly. Clumsy or not, fate smiled on me yet again, for suddenly she was in my arms. I’d learnt not to be too presumptuous on a first date, but my desire to return a kiss was overpowering. She new, and made our first embrace so easy. I held her close to me and kissed her lips, once, twice, inhaling the scent of an angle in my arms. Reluctantly I pulled away drawing her hand to my lips for one final good night kiss.
“Good night Brooke,” I whispered, handing her back the car keys, “will you join me again in Camelot?”
“Of course I will. I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t call me tomorrow. Any time after 10am, I’m a very late riser.” She scooped up some books Jerome had dropped and usher him in through the doors of the apartment block, waving to me as she disappeared.
I stood outside the huge building for a while, bewildered and happy, looking up and wondering which floor the elevator had taken her to. With a deep breath and a wide self-congratulatory smile, I spun round, turned, and felt as if I were walking on air as I strolled back to my apartment, smiling still and humming, ‘Da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum.’
It all seemed so real, as if it were yesterday; her smile, her laugh. Forty five years of his life had been dispelled from his mind as though they never existed. The ghosts of his youth had finally risen, conjured up by the power of his day dreams. They pervaded his consciousness with such alluring intensity that he became drawn into their world; a world where time and space were illusions. Every image, sound, scent, touch and even the taste of sweet lips, were real to him now. His lonely balcony was alive with their bewitching presence. Duncan looked up and stared in wonderment at the sparkling early evening stars and floating, wispy clouds. Love, he thought, has no bounds. It engulfed him with all its celestial majesty. Brooke’s smile that shone from the crystal in the palm of his hand was shinning still, even from the heavens. How strange and moving it all seemed.
He simply had to write to her again. What would be achieved by waiting anyway? Nothing, but angst and heartache. She may never respond to his last email. With eyes still moist with torment, and a face pained by anguish, Duncan paced back to his study, turning to close the blinds that stretched across the balcony’s wide French windows, as if to shut out the spirits he had invoked.
George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘Youth is such a wonderful thing it is a shame to waste it on young people.’ How wrong he was, thought Duncan. Would he have had the ephemeral bud and bloom of youth spread thin and wasted over the huge arid acreage of middle age; mutated by responsibility and conformity, to be squandered on mundane…. relationships? The flame of youth remained in his consciousness as a beacon of light and hope; without it, he believed, love could never bloom.
Mundane relationships – why had he used that term? He thought back to her email, and the term she had used to describe her partner. It was more an expression of companionship than love – wasn’t it? Perhaps there was hope that Brooke had never found love over all the years, and perhaps, yes perhaps there may be a chance he could win her back. If he could be so easily carried back to those halcyon days, why couldn’t he take her back too, to rekindle a love that may have never died but remained dormant over time? To restart their lives, as the love spirits at his door had revealed, by treating time as a mere illusion. And if, he consoled himself, she had never discovered how to love, he would teach her. The secret, he concluded, was not to transplant youth into later life, but to plant in youth a flower that would burst into bloom like youth itself, when she finally discovered within herself the true power of love. He half smiled as he thought of The Sleeping Beauty, awakened from sleep, or was it from a life without true love, by a Prince’s gentle kiss. But, wait, he had left a message, locked in time. How stupid to have forgotten; his last letter to her, written shortly after receiving hers. He vaguely remembered the substance of it – it was heavy in romantic prose, there was something there about her representing to him ‘a rose at dawn, which would wilt without his nurturing care’. That was it! he announced to himself. Brooke was, incapable of feeling love! There was no ‘romance’ in her letter to him, and she never responded to this last love letter to her. She probably didn’t comprehend that men could have deep feelings. Looking back, Duncan now realised she had not fallen in love with another as he had all along believed; Brooke had never loved any man – she didn’t know the meaning of love. She enjoyed relationships, and that was all they were, relationships.
This was a revelation to Duncan. He had to know whether Brooke was still incapable of feeling love and if so, to understand why. All this of course had no bearing on his wounded pride so many years ago. Whether she had become emotionally involved with another or not was in a way immaterial to Duncan. What hurt then was that the girl he so much loved could be in the arms of another.
The wild, turbid feelings of only a few hours before were gradually settling into a clearer picture of what he had to do and it was with a new sense of purpose that he returned to his computer. Though, he was not ready to write quite yet. He had to understand Brooke so completely from the time they first met.
Was Chicago as he had imagined it back then or was it all illusionary? If only he could be there now, how much closer he would be to those memories and to understanding the real Brooke.
Duncan opened Google Earth on his computer and typed in ‘South Hyde Park Boulevard, Chicago, United States’. The Earth image spun, then zoomed down, closer and closer through clouds and over buildings drifting him down like Peter Pan into that never-never land of his past. But this was real, incredibly real. He was floating over the tree lined Boulevard – it was beautiful, far more beautiful than he had imagined. Had he really lived here? At nineteen years of age everything around him would have been little more than a backdrop, a stage set, on which he acted out his adolescence. Along the street were little camera images. As he clicked on each in turn, it transformed into a crystal ball and then changed again into a rotatable 360 degree view of his street! He had been transported by some weird and wonderful technology, back to Hyde Park. This was captivating, and far more rewarding than what he remembered, through the lens of his own memory, transfigured by time.
There was his old apartment! Just as if he were standing outside it now. How the memories flooded back. It was from here that he first learnt about Brooke, through Dick Gustin, and it was within these walls that Duncan had first made love to Brooke.
How noble and spruce it looked now; so befitting for a building with such a happy past. A single tall tree still remained in front of its porch like a flagpole. The only one from what Duncan could see that stood back from the uniformed rows of trees that lined the Boulevard. He laughed at the thought of a small blue Historic Building’s plaque, like they use in London, over the front door:
In this building Brooke Parker
took Duncan Heatherington to Xanadu
At the time, the little single storied house was owned by a strange deranged woman of dangerously large proportions who often burst into rages accusing her tenants of the most frightful things; walking through the walls and beating her was a favourite torment she, and her bewildered tenants, suffered from. Whatever happened to the poor old lady? She was a sort of Raule Dhall creation, based loosely on Margaret Rutherford with Graves’ disease. Her intimidating appearance was exaggerated by having an upper frame of a Russian weight lifter as she lumbered about the passageways on crepe bandaged legs, and stockings rolled down to her angles like a peasant. Such was the strong image that remained of the dear old girl. It was a house of crazy characters. They all seem so unreal now to Duncan. The fellow in the adjoining basement room to his – a dark, dank and unwholesome grotto of a place as he remembered – would occasionally appear stark naked and breeze into adjourning rooms to join in conversations like the Emperor in His New Clothes – completely oblivious to startled stares. Everyone eventually adapted, yes adapted. How open minded we were then he recalled; the happy people of another age. Dick Gustin had moved out as Duncan moved in. He was a likable bohemian artist, or so he would have everyone believe, forever relating his sexual conquests – quite an athlete by all accounts. He disappeared to live with other free-spirited artists in some downtown commune. ‘I hope life has been good to you Dick’, mused Duncan.
As he turned the Earth camera round, the sweet memories continued to tumble through his mind’s eye. He was now looking north along the Boulevard towards East 53th. How often he had walked along this street, passing the café on the right and rounding the corner to Brooke’s apartment building. He clicked on another camera image at the junction of the Boulevard and East 53rd and there, looking towards the open expanse of Lake Michigan he recognised the same awning reaching out from the entrance to her apartment block. This was where he had first embraced and kissed her. Where the magic trance was cast that would forever bewitch him. How he wished he were a Time Lord, capable of telling himself then, on that fateful evening that 45 years later he would be gazing down through some magic lens, a wiser man, though still madly in love with the girl he was soon to lose.
Staring still at the scene, he began to understand why he had lost the one he loved so intensely. His own naïve almost childlike view of himself, of love and relationships, really had left him exposed to the sophisticated world that Brooke had become accustomed to. But more than this, he was seeing another side to Brooke that his youthful naivety blotted out. Duncan lent back in his chair and tried desperately to untangle the web of memories time had woven around him. The apartment, her mother. There was something about her family he had never considered before. If Brooke was incapable of love then, he had been too naïve to know, or even try to understand why. What secret was that apartment concealing? The ability to love is innate in us all, but it could nevertheless be suppressed by parental influence, couldn’t it? Was there a link – in all the time he had spent with her, the long discussion over coffee at The Man at Ease, she never once mentioned her father. Was this the key to unravelling the secret that even she didn’t understand?
He was woken by the sound of curtains being drawn and a bright flash of morning sunlight.
“I’m sorry Sir; I didn’t mean to wake you. It’s 9:30am. I’ve laid a light breakfast. Would you like me to pour you a cup of tea?”
“Oh! – Grace! – yes, thank you, that would be lovely,” exclaimed Duncan, barely able to open his eyes, bewildered and surprised to find himself still slumped in front of the computer. “I’d quite forgotten you were due this morning.”
“That’s all right Mr Heatherington, I’ll just tidy up outside and then be off. If you need anything just let me know.”
“Right,” Duncan paused as he straightened up, yawned, and made a big effort to look bright and cheerful. “OK Grace, that’s very kind of you, I won’t require anything else right now thanks.”
Duncan had employed Grace as a part-time maid for the past few years. She was a very honest and hard working Philippino woman, probably around 45 years of age. He trusted her well enough to have given her a set of keys to the apartment so that she could continue to take care of things whenever he travelled overseas, most usually to London where he also owned a small Mews property in South Kensington.
Dithering over whether to freshen up with a strong cup of Grace’s tea, or jump into a cold shower, he decided in favour of a cup of Boheh as the gentler adrenalin booster. As he leaned to get up, he unintentionally jolted the keyboard mouse and the computer screen flashed on. Blinking in his in tray was a new incoming email notification. Instinctively Duncan clicked on his email in-box. It was from Brooke! Finally she has responded. He swung back to the desk, his heart thumping as he read her message:
You didn’t scare me off, but you did cause me to be thoughtful. In fact, when reflecting on the special people whose lives were woven through the fabric of my own, I have often wondered, ‘Whatever happened to Duncan Heatherington?’ I do remember almost everything in your email….except I have no idea who Dick Gustin was. (Hope we weren’t good friends.) And no, I had no idea about your feelings. I think I was too selfish and self-centered to think much about how other people felt, and I feel really terrible about that.
I also can’t believe that I actually showed up at your apartment with a new boyfriend…what a terrible thing to do. But if it makes you feel any better, I can’t remember who that boyfriend was…not even a name…but I didn’t forget you.
In between the time we knew each other and now I’ve lived in San Francisco, been an artist, acted in TV commercials, and had two husbands as I think I mentioned. The most profound event in my life is that I became a follower of Meher Baba about 35 years ago, and that has shaped and colored all aspects of both my internal and external life.
I know how sweet it is to remember young love, and it was great fun to hear from you, and it would be a treat to meet you again someday
and share stories about our lives, but if we did meet you would find I am not the girl you remember….for one thing, I’ll be 65 in August. (I think you are a little younger, isn’t that right?)
I hope that you’ll let me know if you are planning a visit to DC. I think the grown-up versions of Duncan and Brooke would find lots of fun things to talk about. Best way to reach me is through this email address.
Now, please tell me what on earth you are doing in Penang?
Duncan sprang back in his chair, threw his arms in the air and exclaimed with abandon, ‘Yes! Yes, whatever I said to her, it’s worked. She’s opening up a little of her world and has even asked about mine’. With that, Duncan at last alighted from the chair he had spent the last 7 hours in, and headed for the breakfast table to consider his response. Not now, not today, maybe the day after. It was his turn to play the waiting game.
Who on earth was Meher Baba?
Copyright 27 April 2010