The Voyeur and The Lady of the Night
'She's gone,' he said to himself as he picked up the discarded sweater. Clutching the pink fabric to his chest as if his heart had the power to fill the garment with her presence, he began to weep. 'She's left me. I'll never see her again.'
Of course you will, Hope whispered to him, She is not far and there is always hope. Remember how the two of you first met? Her hope for salvation drew you together and your hope for love held you together.
He looked around the room. He did remember. He remembered how they had curled up under the bed covers on cold winter mornings; how she would stare from the window some nights and slowly drift off to sleep in her chair; how she was always rushing into the room with some new recipe to test on him or a new item of curiousity to share with him. Now, the bed seemed as cold as winter, the chair was occupied by loneliness and nothing seemed new to him.
To say he'd met Sarah in the supermarket wouldn't be a lie, but it wasn't completely true. He's seen her before, yet he'd only had the courage to approach her on the pretence of being a fellow shopper in need of help. He supposed that such bravery arose from the normalcy of the situation when compared with the grounds upon which he'd seen her before.
Both he and Sarah were at low points in their lives when they first met. He had just lost his first wife to spinal cancer and Sarah... Sarah was a 'lady of the night' as he would say in an effort to give the profession some degree of respectability.
He lived across from a public house and had often seen what he would call 'people of questionable character' frequenting the establishment. The men were usually young and without morals, willing to prey upon the weaker or isolated patrons while the women attacked with a more seductive and appealing assault.
Such women usually found their mark early in the evening and dragged the poor soul away from the drinking house, presumably to some motel room nearby. Sarah was different though. She would spend hours standing by the bar, she had told him one night when they lay in each other's arms, waiting until the right one entered the room. Someone she sensed would use her and leave without trying to tie emotional strings to her or engage her in senseless conversation and, more importantly, someone who knew how to be gentle. She'd been careless when she first started out and nearly paid for it with her life after a client got abusive. Since then, she just wanted to get the job done, grab the money and get out. That was also why she didn't use motel rooms. Instead, she'd lead the John into the alley behind the pub to carry out her business.
It was while she was in the act of perfoming such activities that he noticed her. he'd been upstairs sorting through his wife's belongings when he heard the sound of her through the open window. At first, he thought someone was injured and in need of help, but he soon recognised the sound to be cries of pleasure. Intrigued, he crept toward the window, keeping low for fear that he might be seen. As if his act of voyeurism were somehow more disgraceful than the scene he expected to see.
He watched from his vantage point in silence but the scene didn't serve to arouse him in any way. To be honest, he could see little more than two figures shrouded in darkness who could just as easily have been wrestling as making love.
Instead, he became fascinated by the brazenness of the couple. What could have driven the young woman to allow herself to be used in such a manner and in so public a venue? What could she be thinking at the moment: Were her cries of pleasure real or the result of years of practice? These thoughts and more flashed through his mind.
The next night, he watched the street from the darkened room in the hope of catching sight of his unknowing performer, and the night after that, and every night for a week. But she didn't come. He'd given up hope of seeing her again and it was only as he was passing by the frozen foods section of Sainsburys that he saw her again. He didn't recognise her at first. Her long, brunette hair was tied back and not loose as he remembered from that previous night and she wore dark glasses. In fact, he doubted he would have recognised her if not for the sweater she wore. It was the same one she'd been wearing that night...the same one he held now. The titillating pink with a white star splashed across the chest had stuck in his mind and he found himself staring at this unexpected encounter. Staring at her chest.
'Didn't nobody ever teach you no manners?' he half heard her ask.
'Pardon?' he replied, shocked from his thoughts, 'What? No .. I wasn't... I mean, I...' he trailed off.
'If you're gonna check it out, you may as well pay for it,' she said with a smile on her face.
'Oh, my God!' he thought, 'She's propositioning me in the middle of the supermarket.'
'Here!' she said holding out her shopping basket, 'You can carry this.'
Breathing a sigh of relief, he gratefully accepted it and followed her as she made her way through the aisles. She chattered away to him as they walked, telling him her name, commenting on the price of low-fat yoghurt, even mentioning something she read in the newspaper about 'that Elton John bloke.' Meanwhile, he was content to listen in silence with only the occasional 'yes' or 'no' as she asked a question of no particular importance.
'This is nice,' he remembered thinking, 'I remember doing this with Emily.'
By the time they had reached the parking area, he had grown so fond of her company that he was reluctant to part ways with her. She seemed to sense this and, with a consoling smile on her face, she asked, 'Same time next week?'
He hadn't expected anything so definite, but he was quick to accept and the two of them met every week from then on.
At first, she dominated the conversation. She would tell him about her day, complain about the rent, ask him his opinion of her purchases. She seemed, to him, to be the most open and fascinating person he'd ever met. He grew to adore their supermarket trysts, waiting in anticipation of it all week. She wasn't at all as he'd imagined her to be. She had a love of life that infected him and she had dreams. She had dreams of going to university and becoming a teacher. She loved kids as much as any mother might and she often spoke of having some 'when I get me life right.' She was always saying that. 'When I get me life right.' It was her way of admitting to him something about herself she couldn't say aloud. Not for a long time anyway. For his part, he kept the secret of her career choice too as he had no wish to explain how he had found out.
She dreamed of going abroad too. She said her brother had gone to Boulogne in France with the school when they were younger, but she had chicken pox and had to stay behind. When he came home, he was full of stories of strange buildings and weird food. She had not had the opportunity to take a holiday since then and regretted it deeply. This, he felt, was a matter that he might rectify for her. He suggested she might like to go away with him to Paris, but she laughed it off as a joke and told him not to be silly. When he mentioned it again the next week, she agreed to think about it and by the time a month had passed, it had been all arranged.
He remembered how excited she had been. How fidgety she was on the plane. How she resembled a child on a visit to the circus. They returned there every year after that. It had become a tradition between them and, on their third trip, they were married. He proposed on bended knee beneath the boughs of an apple tree in a field of pink blossoms and afterward, as they made their way back to the car, she said to him, 'I have started my life in this field today and, when it is over, here is where I shall stay.'
He lifted his head to the empty room and thought, 'I wonder if she is there now, singing with the birds or lying within a bed of pink flowers. I hope she is happy. I shall join her soon, I think. If not by my own hand, then I shall surely die of a broken heart.'
No, Hope insisted, You shall live. You shall live as she would have wished you to. She is with you always. There is no reason to mourn.
A soft moan reached his ears through the open window. As if the ghost of his dead Sarah had returned to confirm Hope's argument. Perhaps she had for he could see the unmistakable forms of a couple making love in the alley across the street.
And, Hope added, There is always hope.