About This Tale
Part One of Seven. In which we go to a dark place, with a variety of people, to tell a single tale….
Part One: The Giver
She better come.
She’s late, but I know she will come.
They think they all have it figured out, but it’s really so easy to get them to come. Silly girls. I would be better with a woman, I know that. An honest-to-goodness, mature, natural woman. The girls my age just talk. Incessantly talk. And they laugh. Making fun of every detail; your hair is weird, your shoes aren’t cool. Do they know cool? I don’t know cool, but if I don’t then how could they? I can’t see how they would know better than me. They have the same friends, the same experiences; go to the same school, the same classes with the same teachers. No, they don’t know cool.
They don’t know any more than me. Less, actually. Because I have cracked a book, I have spent my time online reading, learning. The world is bigger than our little village. It’s bigger than weekend trips into town. They act like their lives are some big deal for the world to look in on, or to be kept out of. But really they are closed off. Small minded little girls in their small minded little ways.
They will never grow up, never get past it. In 40 years time when I’m married and have children with the beautiful mature woman, these girls will still be bitching and gossiping and moaning about why they can’t have it all. Why they never succeeded in life.
Then they’ll come begging to me. Looking up to me, to my perfect life. They’ll hang off me like they’re 14 again and I’ll shrug them off, happy that I have the power now.
Simone will know then. She won’t have changed much at all from today. She will come crawling to me, wondering what I have got to give her. Just like today. She comes to meet me only for the gifts – so she says to her gang of squawking friends. But she stays and walks with me a while. She always walks, and talks. Although I do most of the talking; she isn’t the most chatty.
There she is. I knew she would come. She walks down the road as she has done a dozen times before, coming towards me, her eyes looking down at the ground after she spots me. She isn’t very expressive here. Never in public. She talks and we enjoy each other’s company when we are alone.
This village is all ears. Eyes and ears everywhere. The people are nice, but sometimes I think that is all just a cover story. They lure you in with their niceties and want to hear about your day, and offer up their advice. But when it comes to it, the next person comes along and knows all of your secrets, all of your worries. The whole village knows before too long. There is no escape.
Maybe it was a Mediterranean thing – does this sort of small-minded gossiping happen in France? At the height of culture do they really care about some local boys growing pains? In England? Do Londoners walk around with a hand cupped around there ear, hoping to catch some titbit of tattle from an old village granny wandering the streets of the city?
I doubt it. I know it, in fact. I have outgrown this place before I’ve even grown into my very own body. The sleepy village with the old vineyard that hasn’t been active for 40 years now. The bigger boys came and stole its business away. The little grocery shop, the post office, the market on a Thursday morning. The church at the top end of the village, the centrepiece to its entire being. Everybody – every scheming, gossiping, sneaking, conniving, duplicitous one of them – would gather there on Sunday and pretend to be one big happy family.
No. That didn’t happen in London. Or New York. Or Amsterdam. Or Sydney. Small town, small lives. It was all worthless.
She glances up and her straight brown hair falls before her eyes. I love how she sweeps it out of her way so effortlessly. I see her do it often; I just can’t help myself from staring at her. Her piercing blue eyes sometimes catch me and for a brief second we are staring into each others’ soul. She always looks away before I do. She’s teasing me. She doesn’t want me to see her bare soul just yet. I will wait for her.
I tell her she is late and she stumbles over an apology. “I shouldn’t really be here,” she tells me. The same old game, every time.
I assure her it’s ok. That we can just talk like we always do. We can walk out past the church, down that country lane where it’s only us. Behind the back of the cemetery, cross the old church yard. It’s romantic, in it’s own way.
“No, “ she says. “Let’s not today”
I look at her and wonder what has brought this on. Is it something I have done? Have I said something?
“No, don’t worry” is all she can say.
It’s those girls. I know it’s those girls. I ask her – is it your friends? Have they mentioned something? Are they jealous of what I give you?
“Forget it,” she says. “It’s not important.”
It is important to me. She doesn’t understand sometimes. Why doesn’t she understand me like I understand her? It is equal parts frustrating and heartbreaking, but I know I am the mature boy. I am the one who can push past all of that. Emotional reactions are schoolboy reactions. She likes me because I’m not like that.
“I brought something for you,” I tell her, leaning into her eyeline. She looks at the floor like it is the height of autumn and a wonderful array of leaves lie at her feet. I smile and she glances up at me.
“You shouldn’t, Noah.”
It’s what you came for, is it not? I ask her, knowing the answer. She comes to see me with the promise of a gift. That’s all. So easy. I’ll get you something nice, come and see me. It works a charm, and it stuns me that other boys don’t see this. Do they realise what they are missing out on? Their lives are incomplete. They should come to Noah for the answers!
“My parents found the last gift. They want to know where I got something so extravagant” she says. She sounds almost ashamed.
I reassure her. I tell her she can come clean, tell them the truth. I have nothing to hide. My father doesn’t notice when things go missing, he doesn’t notice when money goes missing. He doesn’t care or doesn’t notice. Either way the gifts I give are genuine. I haven’t stolen, I haven’t robbed. They are to show you my feelings, Simone. Why won’t you tell them that, Simone?
She doesn’t say a word. She won’t speak up. She won’t tell a soul.
Are you ashamed of me, Simone? I ask, voice trembling. I hate myself for that. I am not the weak one. I do not tremble.
She stutters. What is it? Her heads drops again.
“Let’s go to the church, Noah,” she almost whispers.
We walk in silence. Side by side. I handle the jewellery box nervously. A gift that can’t be explained, and therefore is no longer wanted. I won’t accept that. I’ll talk to her. We can get through this.
We sit in the church together. We wait respectfully as an old woman lights a candle. She nods at us as she walks the long walk to the door and finally leaves us alone.
Are you ashamed? I ask again. More stern. More manly. This is more me.
“I don’t think we should do this anymore, Noah”
She says it like it’s nothing, almost. A whisper. I ask her to repeat.
“We shouldn’t do this anymore. It’s not fair,” she says. “I can’t accept any more gifts from you”
My head reels. I cycle through all of the words I know. Which ones will fix this? How do I fix her?
I tell her that’s fine. No more gifts. I pocket the jewellery box. Not for you anymore, Simone. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop. We don’t have to be nothing, just like that. Surely there was something more to us than gifts. The gifts were to lure you out to our place. To our spot in the woods, the trail around the church yard. It’s so quiet. It’s our place.
“I’m sorry, Noah,” is all she says for a full minute. The silence pounds at my ear drums.
“I’m sorry to have led you on. I will give you all of the gifts back. I’m so sorry to have used you like this”
My world crumbles. Words are just flashes of light in my brain now, none of them are any use. I’m speechless and the more I think about what I need to say, the more I realise that no combination of words can make her take that back. I might be able to convince her to try again. I want her to try again. I know she can love me like I love her, maybe the gifts were a mistake? Maybe they were a distraction from what really mattered.
But she can’t take that back. I will need to be the man I know I am and bury those words she just spoke to me. They can’t come between us; she doesn’t know what she is saying. I can never forgive her for that. For using me. For making a fool of me. But I can forget. I will forget for her, and let her try again.
Come with me, Simone? Please? One last walk, together. In our place? Keep the gifts, they mean nothing. I accept your apologies. Just… come with me?
to be continued