Otherwise

by Robert Graham

It may have been during freshers’ week. I saw one of my new friends, went over to speak to him and when I got closer I saw her there beside him, nodding and listening to whatever he was saying. While I greeted my friend, she hovered behind him, giving me a bemused look. Before many moments had passed, he stood aside and said, ‘Charlie, this is Lindy Martin.’

Her impish smile appealed to me. It adorned her porcelain face when she told me what she was studying, (French), or accepted my offer of a drink, or agreed to go out on a date. We were to meet for a drink in the bar of the Sun Hotel in town and go on to Pizza Marguerita.

In the Sun Hotel, she looked lovely. Her long flaxen hair was swept over the shoulders of a custard yellow dress and she wore black leather pumps. I rose and asked her what she would like to drink.

In Pizza Marguerita, before our waiter had finished twisting the tall wooden pepper mill over our pizzas, Lindy was issuing her challenge to me.

‘I’m going out with someone.’ Her large blue eyes twinkled. ‘He’s spending the year in France.’

‘He must be a fool – leaving you behind for all that time.’

‘You think?’ she said with that impish smile.

After the restaurant, I walked her home – a house, I remember now, and if she lived in a shared house, this must have been in our second year. First years all lived in halls.

‘This is it,’ she said, stopping at a rusted wrought-iron gate. ‘Want to come up for a nightcap?’

I studied her face in the moonlight.

Recently, I went back to Lancaster, to see a reading in the Literature Festival. It was in the Duke’s Playhouse, actually. Afterwards, a woman came up to me and said, ‘Hello.’

I looked at her for a moment. ‘Lindy Martin!’

‘Hello, Charlie.’ Same blue eyes; same full, fair hair.

‘It’s great to see you. I’ve often thought of you, down the years.’ I pictured the last time we spent any time together, maybe a year after the night we went to Pizza Marguerita. We had lunch in a bistro.

‘You have?’

‘Yeah. Why not?’ I said and laughed.

There really was a nightcap when I went in and up the stairs to her room. In the soft light of her bedside lamp, I hesitated before taking the one seat, a small armchair.

‘Sit on the bed,’ she said, and disappeared.

Moments later, she flopped on the bed beside me, a bottle in one hand and two glasses in the other. The mattress was soft so that she bounced up from it and collided with my shoulder. The glasses chinked and we laughed.

As we kissed, her eyes were swerving around and regarding me still with amusement. I wrapped my hand round her breast and the lambs’ wool sweater she was wearing felt soft against my palm.

‘Your man in France,’ I said. ‘Did you make that up?’

‘No. He’s real enough.’

‘Couldn’t we pretend you made him up?’

After the LitFest reading, I suggested going for a drink. Lindy said a drink would be lovely.

As we raised our glasses and chinked them together, I asked her if she remembered that lunch in the bistro.

‘But we never had lunch together,’ she said.

‘Are you sure?’

She laughed. ‘What else do you remember about me?’

I told her about the drink at the Sun Hotel, the meal at Pizza Marguerita, the nightcap back at her place, and the boyfriend in France.

She shook her head. ‘But it was you, Charlie! You were the one with the girlfriend in France! That’s why we only went out once.’

‘Really?’

Well. She’s entitled to her memories, but I’m entitled to mine.

The last time I saw Lindy Martin back in our student days was across a lecture theatre. She was back at Lancaster after her own year in France, so for a long time our paths had not crossed. I climbed halfway up the steps before selecting a row to sit in. As I turned to take my seat I saw her below, twenty feet away, and she smiled. It was a fond look that has lived with me ever since. There wasn’t anything to be done about it: by now, I was with somebody else and who knows, she may still have been with her boyfriend. Maybe it was the fact that there was nothing to be done about it that made this look something I have cherished ever since. Even if it never really happened.

Robert Graham‘s short stories have appeared in magazines, in print and on Radio 4.

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  1. #1 by John D. Ritchie on April 9, 2012 - 9:28 am

    Very good, a certain surreal quality that makes you feel you are lost in a Hall of Mirrors, where you are never sure that what you are seeing is actually there.

  2. #2 by Beth H on April 10, 2012 - 12:37 am

    I I love this, perceptions of memory are so interesting. Great stuff.

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