by John Ritchie
I hadn’t returned before, because I knew I couldn’t. What we had, what we shared in those few hours together was somehow too precious, too tender, to re-visit. But then, when I read of your death in the Times obituaries, a pilgrimage seemed in order. I would come in the company of others, the better to distance myself, the better to put you, and me, in perspective.
Driving down the lane to your cottage in the tour bus was like re-running an old movie. There were bits I remembered, bits I’d forgotten, and inevitably some fifty years after the event, bits that no longer existed. I had to pretend sudden interest in your biography to hide my tears when I saw the shutters had gone.
I remembered I was thinking about how to lose my virginity, my understanding of the process vague and provisional, when I saw your shutters. They took my attention so completely I cycled off the road and into the ditch.
‘It’s a long time since a man fell for me,’ you said as you helped me up.
‘Oh, it wasn’t you.’ I said, and you laughed out loud.
‘Er. Yes, thanks.’ I didn’t tell you I would have preferred apple juice or water. That I hadn’t started drinking yet, but somehow you knew and were kind.
‘It’s home-made and quite strong, you’d better have just half a glass.’
You went inside to fetch the drinks and I gazed at the shutters latched back against the walls either side of the leaded windows.
‘They need painting.’ Your voice startled me, it seemed you had only just left.
‘Oh, yes, absolutely, but I only have a camera.’
You looked at me in amazement and then began laughing again, almost spilling the cider.
‘The colours are…beautiful.’ I said. ‘Where the paint has faded and flaked and the screws have rusted and…
Somewhere in that moment you kissed me. Later in your garden, with its beautiful view out over the Wye valley, I took photographs of you nude and naked in the late afternoon sun. You taught me the difference turning this way and that revealing and concealing the mysteries of your body with languid, careless grace. I was at once; both entranced and intrigued. You encouraged my interest and, almost without my being aware of it, carried me with you into a new place beyond ignorance.
In the morning, before I left, I took pictures of your shutters: closed and open. One of the photographs of you, standing at the front door, shading your eyes, is on my desk. People often ask. ‘Is that your father?’ ‘No,’ I say. ‘Just someone I knew once, long ago.’
John Ritchie is collecting material for a book, so if you have any words you are not using…