Inspired by The Bridges Over Madison County
Frances lay on her back, on a carpet of brown leaves, beneath a group of ancient oak trees. She watched a leaf spin in the air as it dropped to the ground. She let out a slow sigh. She felt lonely. She had lived alone for over a year now and still she hadn't got used to it.
She sat up quickly, her heart thumping. The voice was to one side of her. His approach was so soft that she had not heard any footsteps.
"Did I gave you a shock? I am sorry. Aren't you the nurse from the hospital?" He stood looking down at her, a slight grin on his face. "I am sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. I should have made some noise or something ... er... I am Robert Ryan."
He hunched his lanky frame down opposite her.
"Frances Tyler", her voice was slightly shaky. She could feel a hot flush on her face. Her hands moved unconsciously to brush bits of leaves from her hair.
"Do you remember me?", he asked.
Yes, she remembered him, all right. She recalled a bunch of pale yellow roses arriving a day before he did, accompanied by a card with a short message. "Mum, hang on. I will be there. Love, Robert." He sat by her bedside through the night until his mother slipped away peacefully.
She watched his grief, following his fingers as they gently trace the outline of her eyes, move along her cheek bones and down to caress her lips, the tears gliding silently down his face. She was seated at her desk, trying to fill in some records, when she felt him walk by. He pushed open the swing doors, stepped through and was gone.
"It's been at least two months, hasn't it?" She replied hesitantly.
"Yes, time always seemed to pass so quickly. I work as an engineer and I was out in Africa when Mum was taken ill. I had to arrange the funeral quickly, get back to work and then make some time to come back again to sort out the paperwork. Thankfully, that's almost finished now."
"Did it go alright? The funeral, I mean."
Robert did not reply immediately. She watched him picked up a leaf and twirled it between finger and thumb.
"I am sorry. I shouldn't have reminded you," she continued somewhat awkwardly.
He flicked the leaf away.
"It's okay. Just some old memories." He took a deep breath. "My mother's home is just over there." He pointed in the direction of the setting sun towards a line of houses.
"I presume you live locally?"
"Yes, on the other side the park near the entrance."
"Are you hungry? Would you like to join me for dinner? I have had takeaways the last few nights and I fancy something nice tonight. It would also be great to have some company."
"I am not properly dressed for eating out," Frances responded.
But, then she thought, why not. His dark hair was somewhat unkempt but he had a strong face, penetrating brown eyes and an appealing soft drawl to his voice.
"That shouldn't be a problem. We could get a bottle of wine and go for a Balti!"
That evening they had more than a bottle of wine. The first bottle was consumed in the restaurant. The second, and third, in the living room of Frances's little terraced house. They sat together on the sofa, her legs resting on his lap. Her shoes had been discarded a long time ago and he was stroking her feet. Frances felt reckless. It has been such a long time since she had a man. He bent forward and her lips parted expectantly.
Robert woke up with a start, heart beating. Through one of the windows a line of grey appeared in the distant horizon. He had a dream that turned into a nightmare. He was a little boy and there was something he wanted. But the fragments were fast fading from his memory. He could only recall the feelings of desperation that woke him up. He turned towards the sleeping woman and gently stroked her hair. She responded by snuggling closer.
When he next woke up the sun was high in the sky. Frances sat by his side with a tray of toasts and fresh fruits on her lap.
"Wow. You shouldn't have," he said drowsily and yawned.
"Well, make the most of it while you can. It's not going to happen again," she smiled at him.
"Don't you have to work today." He accepted the toast offered.
"Thankfully not, and not tomorrow, either. Then I start a new shift."
"That's nice". He bit into the toast, chewed methodically and swallowed. "Do you believe in love," he asked suddenly.
"Don't you?" she replied. She wiped some marmalade off her lower lips with the back of her hand.
Robert popped the last bit of toast into his mouth. "I can't make up my mind"
"Why not? Would you like a another piece of toast?"
"Marmalade again, or Black Cherry?"
"Black Cherry, please. Thank-you. Have you been in love before? I mean really in love."
"Only once," she replied. Frances selected a pear from the tray.
"And..." He carefully picked some crumbs off the duvet and deposited them on the tray.
"It didn't worked out" Frances took a bite of her pear.
"When was that?"
"Long enough for me to forget ... hopefully."
"What happened, if I may ask?"
"I decided to leave."
"Ah ... he wasn't deserving of your love?"
"Depends what you mean by love. I think I still love him in the sense that I care for him. It just all became too safe. What about you? What is your story? Why can't you make up your mind about love?"
Robert did not reply immediately. He held the half eaten piece of toast in mid-air, brow knitted in concentration.
"I suppose I have had my fair share of lovers. Out in the field, not staying in one place for long, love can be very transient."
"You do believe in love then?"
"Yes, I suppose I do, but I find it hard to believe that there is such a thing as an all consuming love and, once found, is so mind blowing that there will never be someone else."
"You know what they say. A man is always looking for his mother."
"Do you really believe that?" For a moment his gaze held hers then shifted towards the window. "I better get up. Got to finish the packing. Old memories to put away." His voice trailed off.
"Would you like to have dinner here tonight?"
"Er...I am sorry. My mind was somewhere else. Yes, I love to," he smiled.
Frances felt languid and relaxed as experienced hands touched and stroked her. Robert had turned up promptly at 7 pm, a cheerful grin on his face and a bottle of wine in each hand. She had prepared a simple bouillabaisse that was just perfect. He had praised her excellent cooking and delighted in her clinging chiffon dress. After dinner she had put on some light romantic music. They had danced, cuddled, kissed and now her body arched in anticipation as Robert placed himself above her.
He was breathing harder now, his breath hot against her cheeks. His eyes were closed, his skin oily, his body taut as he pressed into her. The dark sensual eyes were warm and inviting. He wanted to dive into those eyes, to sink into their enticing depth. He moved closer.
He thrust in suddenly, causing Frances to cry out in surprise.
Warm wetness covered him, gripped and drew him deep into a pulsating darkness. They were sunbathing in the garden and he was sure she could see his erection pushing against the thin fabric of his shorts. Her eyes were no longer inviting. There was, instead, a hint of amusement, but they remained dark, sensual.
Gripping Frances tightly he continued to thrust harder and deeper, faster and faster.
His hands reached out to caress soft breasts. Her eyes lit up. Passion flared, intense, bright. The darkness congealed into twisting tendrils that tore through his body. He pressed deeper and deeper. This time he is not going to be denied. Not this time!
Robert screamed, a harsh tearing sound, like a fell tree, crashing and crushing all before it. His body shook spasmodically. Slowly, he opened his eyes, his breathing ragged.
"Robert, what's wrong? What happened?"
"Did I hurt you?" he asked hoarsely.
"Yes, a little."
"I am sorry." Tears streamed down his face.
Frances held him close, cradling his head against her breast, rocking almost imperceptibly. Robert cried until he dropped into an exhausted sleep.
The next morning Frances sat by the window, watching the dipping and swaying branches of a line of trees in the park. In the pale morning mist the mix of brown, red and gold appeared richer, more enchanting. Soon the colours would be gone, leaving behind grey, empty branches.
"I will be flying out later tonight."
"I know," she replied. Outside, flurries of leaves spiral to the ground as gusts of wind shook the trees.
"Last night, I ..."
"It's okay." She turned to look at him.
"I am so sorry. It's because ..."
"There is no need to explain. We all have our painful secrets."
"I don't know." Her voice was low, barely audible.
She watched Robert walked down the path. He reached the gate, hesitated and looked back. For a brief moment he stared at her faint figure through the window, then abruptly, he swung open the gate, stepped through and, for the second time, was gone.
Slowly, fighting the tears that threatened to engulf her, Frances turned away from the window.