16 July 2009

Excerpt Thursday: Anna C. Bowling

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're featuring one of our contributors, Anna C. Bowling, and a glimpse at her short story NEVER TOO LATE.

Ameila Sinclair has lived all her life with the decorum expected of a 19th century banker's wife. She remained faithful to a husband who never loved her, raised three children, and turned away the love of a lifetime. Now widowed at the dawn of a new century and facing her second fifty years, she decides she can no longer deny the love that has burned within her for decades. Can she throw away the only life she has ever known in order to find the only life she has ever wanted?

December 01, 1899

What shall I write to begin the second half of my life? I begin this diary as I have begun every one I have ever kept. My name is Amelia Bennington Sinclair. I am fifty-one years old today, and my son has given me this diary. "To write your life's story, Mama," he says.

Were there only one story of a life, that would be an easy task. Today, however, when I think of what I would like to record for the ages, I can think only of the way I felt when I was with Tommy.

I didn't love Tommy because it was the right thing to do. I just loved him.

Was it right? I'm not sure.

It all happened in one of those pockets of time and space that are cut off from everything else. When looked at on their own, for what they are, in and of themselves, then they do make a kind of sense. It's when someone--somebody else--tries to fit times like that into the rest of life that it becomes complicated. One moment he was only a man, a colleague of my husband's, come to dinner to talk of business, but a lame horse and bad weather kept him long after, and within a week, he had become my life.

Now, from the safe haven of years, I can say aloud, as I write the words for the very first time, what I never could during those most champion of days I loved him.

I loved Thomas Van Wyck.

I loved his eyes of Caribbean blue, his weathered hands and the weight of his step. I loved the tilt of his head as he listened to me ramble about the most inane of subjects, merely because they interested me. I loved to breathe the air he exhaled and touch the doorknob that still held the heat of his fingers. I loved him and I was not ashamed of it. I loved him. I loved Tommy.

His name emerges from my lips in a hushed whisper, soft and smudged like an Impressionist painting. Like Monet's people at market, washed by the rain, he is captured on the canvas of my heart, one good, bright and shining spot in the dull morass of duty.

To this day, I can never stand in the last light of sunset without feeling his presence. It is an ache I seek out when I can, the way a child's tongue probes at a loose or aching tooth. If only Tommy were as easy to dislodge.

Nobody knows, because we made a pact never to speak of it, he and I, that we sat once under the rose arbor and planned--not vaguely, but intricately--how to make our escape. Tommy never cared much for banking, you see, and I had by then already had my fill of being the society matron. We shared a yearning to escape and fly away like a great, tall ship of old over the Atlantic, to some exotic port of call. Bermuda, maybe, or all the way to Africa, where we would live on a lush plantation with native servants and dress in loose cotton robes. No bustles or celluloid collars awaited us in our new lives. Those cumbersome symbols of everything that was wrong with the world, those we could leave behind when we reached Italy. Italy was as good a place as any to begin again.

An uncle had fled there in his misspent youth, Tommy told me, after a great scandal with his employer's fiancée. We would find a haven in Italy, he was certain, until we decided where we wanted to settle. Bermuda, or Africa if we wanted, or we could stay forever in the villa that overlooked the sea.

I curse myself every day for not going. Understand that I would never, not for another twenty or thirty years of life, exchange my children, Jonathan and Margaret and Sylvia, for sand in my toes and bananas at lunch. They've grown into fine, respectable people, but still...

At times like this, when every hothouse flower with half a heartbeat to its name bursts forth into a riotous symphony of color, I remember the inkstained fingers that held a buttercup to my chin. It's when I remember bright blue eyes I always imagined a child of ours would share. This is when thoughts of Tommy insinuate themselves into the daily scheme of things and take my mind dancing through the clouds like the tail of a kite.

I remember the kite. I do, I do. It was a horrible thing, really. Ugly thing, put together from ledger sheets and tailed with strips of cloth from an old petticoat of mine. The string burned my hands as the kite flew up, so Tommy took it from me. We ran like children, breathless and laughing. It was a right moment there if ever there was one.