The kernel of inspiration for this short narrative is a photograph by Christoph at BW Photography (which he has given me permission to use and post… thank you, Christoph!) I do love his B&W photographs and although he hasn’t posted for a while his work is really worth having a look at! Many of you will have sussed that I do enjoy the visual arts very much… paintings, photographs, sculpture & architecture… so, it was a real treat writing this story from a genre that gives me so much pleasure. I take this opportunity to acknowledge all the visually artistic blogs out there (especially those I visit regularly)... thank you so much for sharing your 'light and creativity' with the blogging community! [Well, as with all my work on this blog this remains a WIP]. Hope you enjoy the read!
There is a certain cruelty in the cycle of the rising and setting sun which forges on irrespective of circumstance or tragedy. Perhaps if Mother Earth would weep with me I might find comfort in her tears. But she persists in her rolling rhythms. Even on the day of my loss, the sun shone with autumnal song. There was not a speck of black or grey in the skies, no rumour of thunderstorm or gale. Nothing to warn me: of the arrival of the emptiness that was to become my nesting companion.
On the morning of the day, which will forever be laced with heartache, we went through the motions of our Saturday routine. After breakfast, I slipped on a pair of yellow plastic gloves and made a start on the cleaning; scrubbing every inch of the bathroom and kitchen. I remember he commented on how the house ‘stank to high heaven of Dettol and bleach’ before he disappeared to potter in the garden. I remember being cross at the fact that he’d ruined a load of washing the night before; all our whites stained, a sepia hue. Once the cleaning was done, I hung the disasters out in the yard, muttered several obnoxious comments in the direction of his auburn curls, and returned indoors to make a start on the ironing. I remember I spent a good hour doing the ironing (mainly his work shirts) because we’d agreed to go to Cannon Hill Park in the afternoon. That morning, I’d been interrupted by two phone calls. The first was from our neighbour, Alice, who asked about borrowing the lawnmower. The other was my mother checking to see if we’d still be coming over to lunch the next day. It’s funny what I remember of the day which changed the course of all my tomorrows.
We cycled to the park. I trailed behind him keeping an eye on the guitar strapped to his broad back. He always took the lead in this way, like the time we hiked up Snowdon and he’d led the group from the front. And whenever we planned trips abroad, he’d take charge and make all the necessary arrangements – organising the passports, and the hotels we’d stay in. He hated the all-inclusive package holidays and preferred the pick-n-mix approach – ‘we need to be in control of our destiny’ he’d often say. After turning left at the roundabout, he pulled to the side of the pavement and waited for me to reach him before continuing. At the park (bikes in tow), we strolled over the bridge spanning over a small lake, paused momentarily to enjoy the sight of squawking ducks, and wandered the short distance to our usual spot. There, we settled under the large oak tree – engulfed by a collage of yellow, red and brown; the tide of changing season. I threw the rug he’d bought on a trip to Brazil on a patch of grass. He emptied the picnic basket: ham slices, pickle, a baguette, yoghurts, orange juice, strawberries and cream (we’d picked up from Tesco during a late night shop the previous evening). After lunch, we fed each other strawberries and cream. I giggled as he missed my lips and splattered cream on my cheek. He kissed it off. ‘Tasha, I must get a picture of you like this,’ he whispered, reaching across to collect our camera from the rucksack. As I lay flat on my back – spread like a windmill – he took a snap. Then a succession of poses: on my belly, chin supported on my knuckles; peering round from behind a tree; looking away from the camera into the distance allowing my gaze to take in Birmingham’s sky rises. They towered and surrounded the park like silent guards. He came over and tickled me – shattering the stillness of my pose. I tried to wrestle him off but he didn’t stop until I gave up in a heap of exhausted giggles. It was then he decided to strum his guitar while I withdrew into my Alice Munro book, the short story collection I’d been reading at the time. That’s how we were – Morten sat with his back leaning against the tree while I lay with my head cushioned on his lap – until the afternoon glow flickered and began to wane.
This is the last memory we shared. Even now I wish I could remember the songs he played on his guitar that day. Beatles or Bruce Springsteen? I can’t be sure. When we got home just after six or so, he left me to unpack our load, gave me a quick peck and said, ‘Sweetheart, I’m just popping across to the Newsagents to get the paper.’ That would have been our evening. I’d spend time fixing dinner while he’d catch up with the day’s news. I’d planned on preparing some lasagne or maybe it was cannelloni? It didn’t matter in the end… because he never came back.
Like a comet streaking the skies in an unexpected flash – he was there one minute and gone the next. Twenty-four hours later, I notified the police. Then a blur of conversation: ‘Did he leave a note?’ ‘No, no – he didn’t leave a note’ ‘Did you have a row?’ ‘Nothing major - I was upset about the laundry this morning but we didn't row about it...’ ‘Was he depressed?’ ‘No, he wasn’t depressed – stressed with his job but who isn’t?’ ‘Is this out of character?’ ‘Yes, very much so…’ ‘Has he ever run off before?’ ‘Run off? No – no, he’s never run off before…’ ‘Is it possible that he is just timing out?’ ‘Without telling me? No – no, this is just not like him…’. In the events that followed: the police report, the search, the investigation, it was as if some deity had pressed the pause button on my world. My family, his family, and our friends all said that he’d be back but intuitively I knew he was lost to me forever.
In the first few weeks after his disappearance I carried on with the business of living. A part of me willed him to find his way home, but he never did. The sadness and unanswered prayers became lingering ghosts in his absence. As the days and weeks ticked on, with the cyclic tempo of dusk to dawn, I had to accept he was gone – for good.
Six months passed before I began to sort his things. I couldn’t bring myself to donate any of his belongings to charity so I boxed them up and hauled them into the cellar with the help of my sister and a friend. I don’t think I could have got through it without their support. With each item I packed away, I buried any future I might have had with Morten. I shed silent tears for all the dreams we’d had. The wedding we’d planned for the summer; the child we’d never adopt; the trip to Singapore we’d chatted about… The only item I kept was his guitar. It stood – a sombre shadow in the corner of the room we'd shared for six years. It was the only thing knitting the memories we’d created. I remember how we first met when he was playing at a concert in a Custard Factory venue. From the moment I spotted him on stage, he captivated me. There was something about him; his reddish hair caught in a ponytail; and the intensity in his pale eyes that would occasionally close as he vanished into another world fashioned by acoustic melody. It was during the interval that I’d finally plucked up the courage to say ‘hi’. He’d looked up and smiled, that lazy smile I fell in love with. That is how we’d started. Now, with his laughter gone, all I had to comfort me was the anthem of his soundless guitar.