As you may know, I am currently on a break, but am taking this opportunity to repost some of my older posts that you may have missed. This story was written back in March for my creative writing course. We had to take a well-known fairy tale and twist the story. Can you guess which fairy tale this was based on?
On the opposite side of the road, he saw her.
She didn’t see him at all but he called out to her. She didn’t hear him either.
He walked along the road to try to remain parallel to her but she was a very fast walker and the road between them was wide and full of traffic. He saw her jump onto a bus just as it pulled away. It was one of those red, double-decker London buses with the entrance at the back. He saw her sit down under the metal staircase and then the bus turned the corner and he lost her, for the second time.
There was so much he had wanted to say to her if only he’d been able to catch her eye. He sat down on a bench, above an arch, overlooking a park. His mind thought back to their last conversation and how she had been crying. Above everything, he had wanted to apologise to her and to explain. He was so socially clumsy, so ill at ease. He often said or did the wrong thing. Despite all he said and didn’t say, he truly loved her. Why couldn’t he say that to her then? When she had said she loved him; that would have been the perfect moment but instead he couldn’t say anything at all and when she started crying, he didn’t know what to do.
Looking back three things had become clear to him. Firstly, she had been “The One” he was positive of that now. It was clear too that he had lost the opportunity and probably lost her also. Finally, it was clear he needed help. Help to understand why he was so awkward socially, why he so often couldn’t think of the right things to say or read those important visual cues that others seemed to read easily. Perhaps, one day, he could make it up to her. He hoped that their relationship if it could still be called that, wasn’t a completely closed door.
As he sat there, the chill wind ruffled his sandy hair and the russet leaves on the trees in the park below. He thought further back, to their first meeting. It had been two years ago, in a glorious summer. He had been working at his family’s hotel giving tennis lessons to any of the guests willing to pay. Sport had seemed such a lifeline to him at school when no one had wanted to be his friend. He was always that strange silent kid with the temper. The ‘Little Beast’, some had called him. With sport, however, he was often the first picked for the team and that had made him feel popular. So he had played football and rugby but it was at tennis he had excelled. So during the holiday season, his parents had decided to put him to use teaching tennis to the people staying in their hotel. He also helped out waiting at tables in the restaurant and occasionally he helped in the kitchens.
One day he saw her, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, with auburn hair that shone like burnished copper in the sunshine. She was with a middle-aged man and two other young girls, who he found out, were her father and sisters. Neither of the sisters looked much like her. One was much taller with very dark, frizzy hair. The other was shorter and with curly blond hair. They both had a disdainful look on their faces as they gazed around the lobby of the hotel, whereas she was smiling. She looked up and their eyes met. She had the most beautiful deep blue eyes, and he found himself walking over to say hello. Then a miracle happened. For the first time ever, his usual awkwardness didn’t materialise. He introduced himself to them and welcomed them to the hotel. In her company he seemed to be able to speak normally and without his usual hesitant manner. They got on well and as she decided to take tennis lessons this meant they spent a lot of time together. Her name was Annabelle, she told him, and she lived in Manchester with her father, who was a merchant, and her sisters. They usually liked to spend their holidays on the South coast of England but this was their first time in Devon. After spending a good deal of time together during the two weeks of her holiday the day came for her to leave. He started to feel tongue-tied and he couldn’t think of anything to say but she asked if they could keep in touch, as pen pals and gave him her address to write to.
He had never been much of a writer but he began writing letters to her once or twice a week. He found that he was able to communicate much better in writing than he ever had verbally.
Last summer she came back to stay again, with her father. He was so pleased to see her but the emotions seemed to rise up inside him and choke him. He could barely utter two sentences together. At first, she was able to make up for his silence by telling him about her new Job in London and what other things had been happening to her but eventually she seemed to realise that he wasn’t adding much to the conversation and the awkward silences began. That night they went out for dinner and he remembered clearly the lights from the candelabra shining on the silver cutlery and bringing out the coppery highlights of her hair. He could smell her perfume, spicy and intoxicating, over the usual comforting aromas of the restaurant. He remembered again how after the meal she had confessed she loved him and he felt that rising suffocating emotion stifling all thought and murdering his ability to speak. He remembered seeing the tears gather in her perfect blue eyes but he sat paralysed and unable to comfort her. That had been the first time he’d lost her.
He had tried to write to her and explain. He never had a response.
His thoughts returned to the present. The sun was setting and he was aware the autumn air was getting too cold to be sitting around in it. Getting up from his park bench he began walking back to his dingy little apartment in Old street. He was now working in London as a data analyst. It seemed that, just like with sport, his strange manner didn’t make any difference to his ability to process and handle data. He was at ease with data, data couldn’t misinterpret his silences and he couldn’t misread its face. He had moved to the area because he knew she worked in this part of town, as a nurse in Moorfield’s hospital. He wanted to be near her in case, one day he would see her again. He supposed it was a strange obsession, but he clung to that one hope.
As he walked down the steps to his basement studio, one of many like it in London where old Victorian townhouses were divided up into small flats, he decided that once and for all, he was going to find out why he behaved the way he did. He was going to see his GP. He had hardly even seen his GP, only once a couple of months before when he’d had flu. The doctor was a brisk but pleasant chap who got down to business quickly without too much small talk. He liked that. After the doctor had asked him some questions about his problems he referred him to the behavioural therapy clinic for some analysis. “You should hear in the next couple of weeks,” the doctor said, by way of dismissal.
Exactly eleven days later his appointment letter arrived to see Doctor Hazel Mortimer at a clinic in Hackney. On his first visit, he was quite nervous and taciturn. The Doctor was a mature lady with dark hair and a rather unfortunate nose and chin that reminded him of a witch. Her manner, though, was friendly and easy-going. After a good long discussion, she gave her diagnosis, which sounded like a curse.
“I am pretty certain that you have Asperger’s syndrome. It is reasonably common, more so in men. I can recommend a support group to you and I have quite a lot of information that you may find useful and helpful.”
The more he read about it, the more things fell into place about his childhood and growing up. His temper, that had caused people to call him the little beast, was borne out of frustration. The inability to read people’s faces and pick up on visual cues was typical. It seemed to help to know that. It also helped that at last, he had a label that people could understand. The name somehow legitimised him as a person, he wasn’t just an oddball or a beast, he was a person with Asperger’s.
He attended the support group which met weekly in the community centre, not far from where he lived. It felt so good to hear how other people, perfectly normal looking people, had had experiences like his.
It was as he was leaving one of these support group meetings that he unexpectedly came face to face with her again in the community centre lobby.
They stood for several seconds looking into each others’ eyes. Both of them stunned to see each other.
“Annabelle, I’m so pleased to see you. I wanted to see you again. I have something to tell you, something important.”
Her blue eyes began to fill with tears. He couldn’t let this happen again, he had to speak.
“Look, Annabelle, I love you. I’ve always loved you and I’m sorry I couldn’t say so at the time. I know it’s been over a year since we last met, but please tell me, do you still feel the same way?”
She was looking at him like he had horns growing out of his head; like he was some kind of monster.
“Annabelle, I found out why I am so awkward and why I come across the way I do. I have Asperger’s syndrome. I come here to attend a support group and it has helped. I am not a beast, but neither is this a curse that is going to go away like in a fairy tale. I am always going to have Asperger’s but maybe if you still love me, we can make a go of it. What do you say?”
Annabelle smiled; it was a quirky slightly uneven smile. “Well I am here for my support group; I have Bi-polar disorder. I am not an easy person to live with and sometimes, I suppose, I must be a nightmare. If you are prepared to take me on, then if you’re game, so am I.”
There, in the community centre lobby, with a couple of support workers looking on, they kissed, like two starving people at a feast. They were impervious to the smell of cheap bleach and the onlookers gawping at them. The grey lino on the floor, the plastic chairs and bright fluorescent lighting were not at all romantic, but they were.
They did not live happily ever after, because real life isn’t really like that, but they were together and that was enough.
Copyright: Kristian Fogarty – March 2018