Dear Kathleen; Part II

Samuel reclined opposite me, his legs propped onto a faux-marble coffee table and rakishly crossed. Tousled, jet-black locks framed alabaster cheeks, warmed by a faint strawberry glow. His head rested carelessly in his left palm; his amber eyes trailed with the specks of dust floating upwards in the golden column of sun, until they were lost in the depthless powder blue of the sky-light.

My own eyes, I could not pry away from Samuel’s youthfulness; how three decades of time’s incessant wear had left his cherubic countenance unsullied. His playful, lilting manner; his pensive day-dreams, all facsimile evoked from my memories of time past. Perhaps sensing my inquisitive scrutiny, Samuel’s gaze drifted back from journeying the heavens and met mine.

I first made conversation in an artless gait of platitudes; the trickles pressing at a dam holding back a life’s half worth of laughter and sadness, of risings and stumblings. I told Samuel of how I had been a haphazard student who spent more hours at a bar-counter than at a library desk; that my sudden disappearance from our college had been from dismissal for repeatedly poor marks. That I, an eternal coward, had been too ashamed of my childish indiscretions to remain in contact; that I had lived the past years from one menial employment to another, from one failed relationship to the next, as a sort of spiritual vagrant. That I had a daughter, now of some thirteen years, whose mother forbade my presence about but shrewdly availed upon my penury for her legal entitlement.

I was lost in hapless reminiscence, of the sort confessors meander in before the attentive Fathers, as if recitation of sin might elicit some untold redemption from the pity of the listener. And so I looked up into Samuel’s visage, seeking some absolving compassion. But instead, his jaw was slack with boredom, and his eyes dulled with a disaffection, as though the impassioned recounting of my woes was utterly blase, a recitation of old news. Anxious of having worn thin Samuel’s patience with soliloquies, I hastily relinquished my brooding introspection.

“Forgive me- I’ve gone on needlessly, and of such dismal tedium!”

“Hah, you’d noticed…”, Samuel yawned, then roused himself with a vigorous shake of the head.

“Tell me- of which I’m sure,” I pressed, “that the years have been kinder to you.”

“Nothing to complain of, and nothing to speak of, I’m afraid,” as he stretched his arms over his head, then rubbed his eyes.

Samuel then told of how he was still living with his parents at the same cottage, in whose sun-washed yard we had caught lizards and lit firecrackers as unruly children. How he was, somehow, still a student; how he staved off the boredom, endemic of the remote seaside town, with the same hobbies of basketball and dime-comics. His father was yet employed in his old trade, absent for much of the year in the Orient for some nondescript business in miscellaneous foreign imports. And how Samuel’s mother was still a housewife- the sort with nearly grown children and a maid, and who frittered her time with shopping and gossip.

“Oh, the balm of a peaceful life,” I sighed half-jokingly, half-envious. My hands clasped behind my head, and I reposed into my chair with a sigh. “Nothing to speak of”, did he say? If only I was so fortunate, if only life had blessed my sails with doldrums.

Samuel took pause, pursuing words to fill the silence of my daydreams, and grasped upon some tangent of thought.

“And my sister, Kathleen…”

At that very name, Samuel’s voice was drowned out, just as it cast me into an ocean’s depth of abandoned recollection. I remembered acutely having been infatuated with Kathleen for many a youthful summer, only for her to have spurned my clumsy, immature advances. How I remembered her tender smile, her warm auburn eyes! And I became dreadfully aware of my loneliness, and my heart ached with agonizing nostalgia and yearning.

Samuel continued that Kathleen had completed her education abroad in some vaguely ancient-sounding European city, and that she had returned to this seaside village to live with with her parents while working as a linguist and translator. That she was unmarried, and had related, on more than one occasion, her rejection of me so many years ago; that she had been pining for me ever since, much to the chagrin of her mother, who was anxious for Kathleen to take up with a reputable, landed suitor.

Here he came to an abrupt halt, the remembrance of my past fondness of Kathleen flashing upon his mind.

“I’m sorry, it was thoughtless of me; I suppose this is a sensitive issue for you, and I had forgotten in mentioning it.”

Quite to the contrary; I was now consumed by a wildfire that would only be quenched by speaking of Kathleen, hearing of her, and speculating fantastically of what could not be known directly of her. It would be my last wish for Samuel to abate this delightful topic, and of mind neither to dissuade nor seem ungrateful of his considerateness, I fixed upon the bareness of the coffee table. What a poor host I had been! And how enthusiastically Samuel might continue if enticed with refreshment!

“It is I who should be sorry; how had I neglected?” I spread my hands at the cheap marbled plastic. “I must rush to a store!”

“Let me accompany you; there’s no sense sitting here alone, whiling away…”

“Nonsense! To think of inconveniencing you… It will be but a moment, and I will have returned before you know it.” And I swung the front-door shut behind me.

The dusty streets, the narrow alleys flapping with zig-zagged clotheslines, the fountained piazza; all were now awash in the afternoon sun and swept by a whipping sea-wind. The cobbled lanes were now thronged with a mingling of shopping locals, wide-eyed tourists, and raucous bands of youths wandering to nowhere. I drifted amid the sea of faces, peering over bobbing swells of heads. Searching for a sweets peddler, I shuddered upon recalling that I had stolen the carajillo from the street market earlier that morning. Pilfering from the elderly, too- as I pondered of how little the hunched shopkeep must have thought of me upon returning to my empty seat.

I was arrested from my disquieting reflection when, momentarily neglecting the surroundings, I nearly collided with with a passing woman. I muttered an obligatory apology, but before I could turn away, looked up into the face of Samuel’s mother.

Consternation that gripped me at Samuel’s own appearance struck at me once more. The brushes of time, dripping with grey and lye, had not corroded upon Joanne’s neat, dark chestnut bob. She wore the same silver-framed spectacles, the same fitted silk blazer over flowing linen trousers. I cast aside my earlier brusqueness and greeted her with a deferential, muted nod, but Joanne’s countenance was cold and disapproving.

“You’re back in town? I thought you had fallen off the face of the earth after being dismissed from college.”

“Yes, I suppose I have returned, though on no particular business.”

“Wandering the streets while the sun is out… well, you ought to find a job! You’re no young man; idly chasing youthful fantasies and dalliances is hardly befitting.”

“You are right, I do intend to do as you say…”, I trailed demurely.

Satisfied that my self-loathing matched her disparaging notion of me, Joanne gave a dry smile and a nod, signalling the desire to move on without initiating goodbyes. I stepped aside for her to pass, and as Joanne came abreast, she suddenly halted; her face darkened, and a derisiveness crept into her tone.

“You shouldn’t call upon Kathleen. Perhaps she thinks fondly of you presently, and, I sense, you of her; but it is ill-fated, youthful nonsense. Let her forget of you with someone more suited, and you ought to do the same.”

I was dashed by these words; how the fire of my heart crackled and sputtered with the cold water thrown upon it! But it was not extinguished, and my unworthiness- of which Joanne had made me so acutely aware in so few words- was only fuel to seek out redemption in the winning of a love once unrequited. I bowed my head in silence, broken only by the clicking of her distancing heels upon the cobbles.

The sun now hung low in the sky, casting misshapen swaths of reds and oranges above a dark, glassy sea. My gaze swung about the walkway, straining for the clues of a market among the rows of merchant stalls and the swelling crowds. I began to worry that Samuel’s patience had worn thin with my delay, and thought it better to return empty-handed and apologetic rather than to exhaust his good graces. And with a perturbed mind my feet hastened an anxious return.

Unrepentant armchair philosophy.