Forever Single: A British Tragedy
The sun in London deceived even the locals to imagine warmth, until the breeze hit skin. Ms. Margaret Williams was one of those fooled by appearance. Her scarf carelessly hung down from her neck as she crossed the threshold. This misjudgment, however, led to a missed observation which led to a missed avoidance.
As she scrambled to wrap her neck and face with the scarf, her admirer Herbert Freeley casually sauntered by the front of her residence. They both knew this was his calculated next step in flirtation, but Herbert thought it a secret unknowable. This brief distraction meant she missed the chance to use the ‘oops I forgot something in the house’ manoeuvre, or the ‘rush to the car like there’s an emergency’ tactic. Also, because of her hands being busy with the scarf, she was unable to fill them with items, so that he wouldn’t be able to shake her hand. For her, a hand is too intimate for his fragile and adrenalin filled heart. None the less, hands were shaken out of the pressure of his hand offered. He wanted to lean forward for the cheek kiss, but his cowardice saved him great rejection.
“Hello Herbert?” She knew his name, but added the question to show he wasn’t memorable.
Like a good boxer, he kept confident and proceeded with the next swing. “How are things?” instantly regretting his choice of greeting.
“Things are well. Thank you. I’m just on my way to work now, and a bit late,” she said while trying to adjust the scarf and her hair. “How are things for you?” She wanted to move towards the car, but he remained still, not catching her implied desire to finish this interaction.
“Things are going very well. Thank you. It’s crazy running into you here. I didn’t know you lived so close to me. I walk through here almost daily.” They both knew this was a lie, but once again she was bound by etiquette.
Instead, she chose questions to make him falter. “Oh, really? It’s funny, I’ve never seen you here. Which street do you live on?”
He clambered internally for a street name that was nearby. The pressure produced, “Hampton Road.” She was surprised by his quick save, but knew it was a precarious position he held. “Wow, that’s not near here at all. You walk 5 miles each day one way?”
The gap while she was speaking had given him time to plan his next lie, “Yes, I am training for a trek in Nepal.” The hole called ‘British manners’ was dug, and they both were stuck inside of it. She wanted to leave, but not without exposing and rejecting him. Unfortunately societies rules made sure that couldn’t happen as she wished. On the other hand, he wanted to succeed in capturing her heart, but despised deception being required.
She decided to succumb to these centuries old societal rules and responded, “Wow, I hope that goes well. I really must go now.”
For him, this showed she accepted the Nepal tale and he had to capitalise. “Oh, why yes. But Margaret, I’m terribly sorry to delay you further, but would you be willing to accompany me to dinner on Sunday?”
She grinned within herself, but to him, showed a look of great surprise and discomfort. ‘Now, what are my options?’ She pondered. ‘I’m definitely not saying yes. I could be polite and make an excuse as would fit our ancient customs of subtlety. No. Then he would only try harder until a direct answer was given. I don’t have time for that kind of banter. I’ll go straight for the kill, and put an end to this infatuation, as impolite as that may be.’
Her eyes met his and said, “Henry, I mean Herbert, I will never care to have dinner with you, nor do I want to see you again. Please, leave me alone.” She cursed herself for not being able to say it without a ‘please’, but still a valiant effort worth her self-praise.
His eyes sank as if below the ground. All that was life within him was vanquished by this nuclear rudeness. He was stunned, but within moments came to grips with the situation. His attraction and love for her disappeared as he saw her true self. Ever polite, he said, “Very well then, I’m terribly sorry to have disturbed you. I had no intention of causing you duress. It has been a pleasure meeting you, and I wish you very well.” He nodded his head and when she returned the same, he left the way he had come.
New waves of emotions overcame her as he distanced himself. All that she had loathed about him, now became the most alluring qualities. And all that she held in pride about herself being above this Herbert, now seemed of the lowest scum. Now her heart dances with pain and admiration as she walks all 5 miles each way to Hampton Road hoping to see him again, and dreaming of the Himalayas where the appearances are not illusions.