The letters in his hand were crisp, clean, and pure white and had the age of youth while Sebastian’s hands were wrinkled, old and worn out. He smelt the perfume of the letters which were like flowers in the room showing down onto him. He rocked slowly as he held them and whispered ‘Lillian’ while Beatrice didn’t budge and had gone to sleep purring away in his lap. As the light glistened in the fireplace the colors were reflecting onto the walls of the living room like colors of the rainbow as he thought of Lillian and the past.
It was at university where he had met her first, he was himself lost in the corridors, with his shirt half tucked into his trousers, tie askew and hair rough and looking at the board trying to find his class. He heard her voice, ‘excuse me’ and turned towards her. It was her golden hair that struck him. It shone in the corridor like a gem and it was long. She looked as though she were a mermaid emerging from the sea. He could feel his heart beating faster and faster in his chest as he was lost in her blue eyes. ‘Do you know where classroom B is?’ she said. He didn’t move like a statute and just looked at her as the bell went which made him jolt out of his skin. He watched her run past him scurrying through the corridor like a mouse trying to find the room. That was the first time he saw her but it wasn’t the last.
Sebastian held the letters close to him as he remembered that moment he saw her, the treasure of her letters were all that he had that mattered to him. He didn’t know what she had seen in him. He had never really taken any notice of his looks with his hair messy and shirt out of his trousers.
It was dark outside. The rain fell pitter patter as the wind blew roughly. Inside his living room, Sebastian held the letter in his hand like a baby and rocked to and fro. A tear fell from his cheek onto his dingy, tatty old trousers which had stains on them, whilst the rain bashed and thrashed in waves onto the window. He was the boat rocking to and fro through the storm, his heart beating faster and faster he rocked through the rain.
Beatrice the cat jumped onto his lap as the lightning came through the dark clouds outside. ‘Ouch Ouch —cough — cough…. Beatrice, you damn CAT’ he shouted as he nearly capsized from the chair. ‘It’s only lightening you damn cat’. Beatrice didn’t move but started to make herself comfortable onto his lap in the same way the rain had onto his window. She wasn’t budging.
He held the letter in his hand and could see the fire in the fireplace sparking away colors of red and orange as he thought of Lillian as his heart beat in her memory. The fire was dancing away and he started to rock slower now as the rain was lessening outside. His eyes started to feel heavy as he fought to keep them from closing. He took his glasses off his head and put them onto the side table. He thought of Lillian, her golden hair and her beautiful eyes as the rain faded away and the room warmed up. He did have the age of youth at his side. He was barely twenty one when he met her. He was now eighty years old.
‘Beatrice did I ever tell you how things happened between us?’ he inquired. Beatrice didn’t budge but had settled into his lap as she had heard the story so many times. She purred asleep. Sebastian could feel her weight on his legs like a sack of potatoes. He stroked her rough dirty fur. She was grey and old like him.
‘After that first University encounter, she met me again in the Library, cough — cough —, I had my books all over the place. I was studying medicine at the time. My father wanted me to become a doctor back then. It was his dream that I was a doctor. I was scribbling away in my note pad. I must’ve looked a mess. I had my glasses on my head back then also. The table was piled with books all over the place; paper, pens, sprawled on the desk. I looked like one of those mad scientists with all those books around me, like a castle with a moat and me in the middle. I heard her voice again. ‘Excuse me, Hi’ she said. I looked up and there she was again. As beautiful as the first time I saw her. I said hello to her. That was all I could say’, Sebastian said as he stroked Beatrice. Beatrice just slept. She didn’t move. She had heard him speak of the story time and time again.
The rain had completely stopped now, as the fire around the room was glistening colors of red and orange around the room. Feeling tired, Sebastian rubbed his eyes and yawned. ‘Where are my glasses Beatrice?’ he said as he hunted them around his jacket and the pockets of his trousers. ‘Oh… there they are, where I had left them’, he laughed looking at the side table. He was tired. Beatrice was purring away fast asleep now. He looked at the colors around him dancing like his heart in his chest.
It was in the library where he would watch Lillian. He would be sitting at his desk every Friday waiting for her to arrive; his books askew and piled onto the table as he waited for her. She would come and study and he would be sitting watching her whilst pretending to be scribbling away. He would be lost in her beauty. Her eyes were like the ocean and he would drown away in them lost in thought. The exams were coming up closer each and every week but Sebastian couldn’t concentrate. He wrote a note on a pad – ‘ I love you’ – and walked past her desk to drop it near to her. He observed her open it as he left the library too afraid to see her reaction.
‘How is your studying going Sebastian?’ said his father. Only his father would call him his full name. Sebastian felt like a donkey carrying his father’s expectations on his shoulders. He would say ‘fine’ and walk out of the room. His father scared him, he was a tall, imposing, broad shouldered man, with a mustache. Sebastian did not understand where he got his scruffy looks from as his father was so bold, handsome and strong and would command the room like an actor on the stage would be center of attention. Sebastian felt the sweat dripping from his neck as he hadn’t even been studying. His mind had been on Lillian.
‘Sebby’, said Margaret his younger sister. ‘Who is she?’, she laughed. ‘ Come on, don’t be coy now’. Sebastian looked at his sister in the corridor whilst trying to exit the house. She was younger than him; pretty, with her brown hair up in a pony tail. She looked like his mother when she was alive.
Sebastian glanced at his watch. He was getting late for the library where Lillian would be. ‘What do you mean?’ he said blushing.
‘I know you are in love, it shows all in your face….. and you are so lost nowadays. I see the way you rush to the library……Come on Sebby who is she?’ Margaret said chuckling.
‘Lillian’, Sebastian sighed.
Margaret looked at Sebastian and let him leave. She only wanted to know the girl who had won her older brother’s heart. She was happy for him as he was always worried, carrying the weight of her father’s dreams. Now she could see his heart glowing away like the sun instead of the dark clouds of fear that had been always following him.
Sebastian entered the library and searched for Lillian. He could not find her. He sat at his desk, rejected, his hands on his head at the desk. He felt his heart ache in his chest and felt ashamed for admitting his feelings. What a fool I am, he thought. I should never have told her how I felt. He took his hand out of his shoulders and there was Lillian standing in front of him. Feeling his face blush, he looked at her and she at him holding the note in her hand. She said ‘I feel the same about you too’.
Sebastian stroked Beatrice as he remembered that moment when she had said that she felt the same way. The sparks of the fire were intensifying more and more, blazing with the colors of his love in the room and of her memory. He stroked Beatrice and said ‘We used to meet in the library regularly up to the exams. We would sit together and just look at each other. I don’t know why she fell in love with me. I mean look at me, I am tatty, scruffy and messy and she was beautiful’. But the exams changed everything.’
‘What do you mean you failed???…..FAILED!’, shouted Sebastian’s father. ‘I don’t understand HOW can you fail?? What were you doing at the library ALL those hours???… I feel ashamed to have you as a son. What dreams I had of you being a doctor. You have broken the tradition of my family, I am ASHAMED!’. He had never seen his father shout. He had also never seen him cry.
His father was distressed of the shame Sebastian felt he had given to him. Sebastian didn’t mean to speak, but did. ‘Lillian,’ he said.
‘SO it’s a girl is it? A girl which had made you dumb and stupid to throw everything away? You are no longer my son, I don’t want anything to do with you. I don’t want to see you ever again’. Sebastian was shaking whilst he stood but his father had his back turned to him. He could see Margaret in the background with tears in her eyes watching them both unable to say anything.
‘I didn’t see father again Beatrice’ croaked Sebastian as he wiped a tear whilst he stroked his cat. The rain started to patter again at the window, whilst his rocking of the chair was growing. ‘I failed him, I didn’t fulfil his dream and I failed…’ Sebastian rubbed a tear from his cheek. ‘I never graduated either like any of my friends I watched everyone go onto the stage and collect their certificates but me. I observed their smiles, happiness and success whilst I had nothing Beatrice. But I felt that I had Lillian.’ said Sebastian to Beatrice as he held the letters tighter and tighter in his hands. They were creasing in his hands.
Sebastian saw Lillian graduate, she looked so beautiful and he wanted to marry her after graduation. But his father had thrown him out of the house. He had no money and now he had no degree either. How was he going to support her, or provide a home for her, these questions were going around and around his head. He had to find a job. He managed to get one in a school as a caretaker cleaning the floors of children’s vomit and muddy footprints. But his thoughts were always on Lillian. He wanted to save some money so that he could propose to her or to ask her the question that he wanted to ask. He worked day and night. He sweated but only made ends meet. He tried to go home but couldn’t muster the courage to go to the front gate and then left as his father’s words echoed in his ears like bells ringing.
‘Sebby, She is married, I am sorry’ said Margaret. She came into his small damp living room. She was older and hair hair out now as it flowed away in the room like the sea. ‘Father didn’t mean what he said. Father is dead now so come home now’, come home, now please. Here, she wrote some letters for you, some letters for you to read’. She weeped and her mascara ran down. She dropped them onto his lap and then rushed out of the room.
Sebastian had read the letters thousands of times. They were apologies and how Lillian had met Patrick and they had decided to get married. Sebastian held the letters in his hand tightly close to his chest. ‘It’s been now forty years’ now Beatrice ‘Forty years’ since time has passed as he stroked Beatrice.
Sebastian sat in the doctor’s office . It was a Monday and said ‘ I feel fine doc’ as he sat on the chair of the GP practice. His legs ached and he didn’t bring the cane with him. The GP practice inside was as white and clean as the snow. There were no books or notes. Everything seemed to shine inside and it hurt Sebastian’s old eyes. His legs didn’t touch the floor as he sat on the chair.
‘Mr Brown, last time we met I had recommended that you use your cane with you when you walk, It will help with your legs,’ the doctor said as he scribbled away.
What does he know, thought Sebastian. He is merely a boy. I don’t want to use my cane, it makes me look old. He hated going to the doctor, but Margaret would ring and moan at him to go and he didn’t want to hear her nag so came instead.
‘Now Mr Brown I feel some counseling may help you. Your sister phoned and suggested that you go’, he said scribbling away again looking at the computer screen.
Margaret, what does she think she is doing thought Sebastian. What do I need to see a counselor for? What is a counselor anyway? He thought as he sat on the chair.
‘I have arranged an appointment for you Mr Brown with Dr Poppy Bennett’. Here is the letter you can get help from the elderly scheme bus in going to the appointment’. He didn’t look at Sebastian once, only the computer until opening the door for him to leave.
What is a counselor? Again pondered Sebastian. I am not taking any damn pick up bus I am fine to go myself, as he hobbled to leave the GP surgery.
Sebastian went to the counselor appointment dragging his feet slowly. He had his scarf wrapped up to his neck and looked at his watch.
‘Morning Mr Brown, how are you today?’ she said. She was looking straight at him unlike the doctor, like always she would look at him and he would not say anything. She was plain. Glasses and no distinct features like one of those actors who had a small part to play and then would be forgotten.
Sebastian said ‘fine thank you,’ he would always say that it was best to say one word, and looked blankly at the counselor. The doctor had referred him to see a counselor and he had forgotten about going to the appointments. My legs ache he thought, and my arms. What would this woman know about how I feel he thought to himself.
‘Mr Brown you have not turned up to one or two sessions, so I can’t help you if you don’t come, the GP referred me as he felt you are depressed’. She said slowly and calmly.
Sebastian didn’t speak he was tired. It was his sister he thought. Meddling. What does she think, that I am mad? He thought. This woman will probably put him into a mental institution. Depression what does she mean by that word he thought
‘Who is Lillian? Mr Brown, your sister mentioned her in the referral that you keep her letters’.
Sebastian flinched at her name, that was the first time someone had said her name after all these years. But he didn’t speak and started to think about her, the golden hair, her blue eyes and they way he felt when he first saw her. The clock in the room ticked away but Sebastian did not speak. The counselor shook her head and said ‘I am afraid I will have to discharge you, as you are not turning up to the sessions’. Sebastian didn’t hear her, he was too lost in Lillian’s thoughts and the past.
Sebastian limped home and sat in his living room onto the rocking chair. He had the metal chest on his lap which had the letters in them. He took the letters slowly out, but there was one which he didn’t notice the one which he had never read. He read the words how she knew that he still felt for her, but that it was time for him to move on. That she didn’t love him anymore but loved Patrick. That she had children, two boys, and called one of them Sebastian after him and was happy in her life.
The telephone started to ring. He stared at the letter reading it away and picked up the receiver.
‘I found her last letter to me, I didn’t know it existed. She said goodbye to me’ he said. He knew it was Margaret as she would always ring him, as he held the letter close to him. The room felt empty the fire was the only thing on but was burning low, there was no rain outside just stillness surrounding him.
‘Please come home Sebastian we all love you and we miss you come back to us. Charlie your nephew will pick you up’. said Margaret.
‘I didn’t become a doctor I didn’t do what father wanted me to do’ he said as he wiped his tears from his cheek.
‘That doesn’t matter now father died over twenty plus years ago Sebby remember?’ She said as her voice crackled. Sebby was her pet name for him, he hadn’t been called that for years. Yes he thought I remember father had died. A tear fell from his eyes as he fell onto his hand whilst he held the telephone.
‘Lillian is also dead, she said, It’s ….time for you to come home now. She was happy with Patrick. It wasn’t meant to be. I am sorry…. Sebby’. said Margaret as his put down the receiver of the telephone.
Sebastian looked at the letters in his hand and the fireplace and dropped them slowly in as he heard the word dead. Dead she was gone. She was no longer part of existence but now only memories that were no longer worth keeping. The fire in the fireplace puffed as it seemed to take the letters into its bosom and caress them like a mother to a child. He watched the letters slowly turn crisp and dark black in the fire as the smoke drifted in the room and disappeared out of the window.
He knew it was time to go home. Back to his family whom he had left so many years ago. ‘Good Bye Lillian’ he said as the letters slowly disappeared like ashes into nothing.
Tavinder Kaur New is primarily a short story writer, who lives in Dagenham Essex. One of her short stories ‘ If I had Known’ has been published in City Lit Adult Education Centre in London in their Between the Lines Magazine in 2010. She has been also chosen to read her poem ‘I Want’ in the Barking and Dagenham Folk Festival in 2015. She has attended many writing courses in City Lit Adult Centre and currently in Barking and Dagenham Adult College. She has a BA honours in English and Cultural Studies and also a Level 3 diploma in Counselling Studies. In addition she has a blog where all of her collection of poems and short stories have been published: http://tavindernew.blogspot.co.uk/.
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