This wonderful short story, Lovely Sunday, was written by Robert Turrall-Clarke (Lincoln, 1957) and was one of the winners of last year’s Oxford Today creative writing competition. It explores the feelings of confusion and loneliness following separation. Find a moment to settle down and read it.
Sunday morning. The alarm at 8 o’clock. Usually I wake up before it goes off but I stayed up late to watch the football which was a mistake because Manchester United lost. I do not know why I support them. I have never really been to Manchester, not that is to see it to any extent. I have always lived in the south. Well, not quite. In my early childhood my father took a position as a surveyor, and then the controller of a number of agricultural estates, one of them on the Scottish borders where we lived.
I remember only three moments, snapshots from the camera film that is my life, all of our lives. I am in the car looking up out of a window.
Then I am by a riverbank. There is a picnic spread out for us. It is my mother’s face which is recorded. Looking out beyond the immediate into the far distance, as if the past and the future were locked into a timeless now.
Then there is an argument. How is it that at the age of three I could remember such a thing? My parents were very upset. A letter had been received. My mother says: “We must go”. My father paces the farmhouse kitchen, the big man distressed in crisis. An opportunity he cannot responsibly turn down. Our wonderful secure little farmhouse hidden away among the hills of the Scottish borders will be no more. Later I remember a very different house in the south, my father in a dark suit coming home by train from London. I run the water to get a shave; it takes time to warm up and so do I.
What am I doing in this place? A two-bedroom flat (I call it an apartment) on my own. I have painted the room myself in a soft apricot come raw sienna colour which is warm and homely. When the children come they feel comfortable. I can see it in their faces. They will come today and I must get a proper shave because Sophie, who is seven, likes me to look smart in a blazer and tie and white shirt.
In the garden I can hear church bells. I can never be sure at what time they start and end but they are reassuring, part of my England which is in some way under siege. I have long since realised that I do not cope well with change.
As I drive the ten minutes or so to her house (our house actually) I can sense spring. I can see it in the park beside the road. High clouds have taken winter away. And when I open the window of the car on the driver’s side, I can smell spring and a sense of renewal. I will make amends. Fall in love with her all over again. They, the writers I mean, report of falling in love, and out of love but never falling in love again. Perhaps it is impossible. I even once thought of remarrying the same woman, retaking our vows and so forth. She dismissed it out of hand. I was downcast for a day or two. Women are strangely insensitive in some ways. It was just a thought, that’s all.
I turn into her (our) avenue. It’s really quite posh now I look at it again. And unlike my apartment, it is not lonely; I pass faces I recognise and they recognise me. They say, apparently, it was rather a shame. Such a nice young couple. And there were two children. He has a good job (profession they mean) quite successful they say, and she a teacher of history at a private school nearby.
How did we meet, one of them had asked me. There were four of us playing rugby together, before university this was. And four of them, student schoolteachers at a college near the Cathedral. We went there on winter afternoons, all four of them and four of us. I think we slept with each of them in turn. They always had the blinds drawn before we arrived. One of them was tall and thin, another older and much more experienced, and two were quiet and attractive and more dignified which was not difficult compared with the older one.
A year later I was walking down the High, not far from the Mitre pub. On the corner of Turl Street, a face came out of the crowd and said: “How are you?”. It was one of the two dignified ones with a gentle quiet demeanour and far away smile, like my mother’s smile. Was that significant? I said: “Let’s walk through to the Broad and find somewhere for coffee”. It was the longest cup of coffee in my whole life, and now I think of it, my longest single unbroken conversation with her.
I park in front of the drive. I never go down it. The children come running and I drop on my haunches and take one in each arm. If there is a God could he really have invented moments such as these? Someone has to take care of them when I am gone, when both of us are gone. Why did I bother to read philosophy? It all comes down to moments like these.
“Wave to mummy”. They turn and wave. She smiles faintly and waves back. I kiss my fingers and blow it her way. She smiles again and catches it out of the air. How many more ‘lovely Sundays’, as Sophie calls them, can I really endure? Communication. That’s the problem. We cannot communicate what we would like to say. Words are such an imprecise instrument. We live our lives at cross purposes. Occasionally there is a meeting of minds but only tangentially, as if she lived in another country, an empty chair, half-finished coffee, just missing each other by only a moment, now, always, all of our lives.