CONFIDENCE BORN OF LOVE
Tom has been dead for six years,’ Jane said firmly. It’s time to get back on the horse.’
That was an unfortunate choice of words. In my mind I could hear my father’s stern voice as he picked me up and sat me roughly on the pony. ‘You need to just get back on the horse Ann. Look how well Antoinette is riding’ He hadn’t seen Antoinette poke her riding crop under my pony’s tail or her smug smile as I fell.
Even Antoinette’s name was more exotic than mine. Four years older than me she would toss her dark curls and flash her dark almond shaped eyes. She was, according to everyone ‘just beautiful’.
My sandy, straight hair framed a plump freckled face. ‘A plain little thing’ I had heard my aunt say as she looked me up and down, and plain I had stayed.
Antoinette rode well, sang and played the piano and excelled at sport. If I had said she was also manipulative and sly no one would have believed me.
I drew further into the background as I got older and no one made an attempt to draw me toward the spotlight. My mother was grateful for my help around the house and I was content to take on the role of ‘mother’s little helper’ as Antoinette called me disparagingly.
Of course Antoinette had the pick of the local bachelors and, as I expected, choose the wealthiest. The wedding took place in the local church and I was not surprised to be passed over for the role of bridesmaid. ‘She just doesn’t fit in’ I heard her reply when mum had suggested I be given a place in the wedding party.
Within two years a scandal erupted involving Antoinette and a married politician and it seemed I was the only one not surprised by the events.
What did surprise me that year was an older neighbour who took an interest in me. Tom was really shy and his old-fashioned manner highlighted the ten-year difference in our ages.
‘Of course Tom really only wants a house keeper’, Antoinette, on a brief visit home, was quick to say to anyone who would listen.
We married quietly and I didn’t really expect to be wildly happy. Settled and content perhaps. Instead, I was surprised by joy.
Tom was a gentle lover. He said he found me beautiful and after some time with him I could look in the mirror and believe it to be true. Each task I took on around the house and small farm was met with praise and gratitude.
Not falling pregnant could have been a disappointment but instead we continued happily on and the small sincere group of friends we shared were enough to complete our pleasure.
Tom’s illness came with devastating swiftness. An aggressive renal cancer that had already taken hold before any symptoms appeared.
Nothing could have prepared us for the pain we felt. We clung to each other and Tom did his best to organise a future for me without him. I was no help. Without him there was no future that I could imagine.
Six lonely years on my own had passed before I even considered my friend Jane’s persistent suggestion that I look on line for a companion.
‘Just someone to have dinner with occasionally,’ she said. ‘I’ll write a profile for you and we can have a drink next Friday evening and see who shows an interest’.
‘C’mon Ann, don’t be a wuss. You look fine.’ Jane had stood behind me and appraised her handiwork in the mirror. ‘Your hair looks great and that outfit really suits you.’
Jane had twisted my hair into a knot on top of my head and left a few tendrils to soften my face. ‘C’mon she insisted. It’s only for coffee and if you don’t like him just leave.’
And so here I was. Sitting in the car park under the pier waiting for the appointed time to meet Steve. He seemed fine on paper. A few years older than me and according to his profile a fly in fly out mining engineer.
I took a deep breath and walked across to the coffee table where Steve was sitting as planned with a newspaper. He looked older than his stated 45 years and his hair and clothes looked a bit scruffy, but I continued on and stood before him.
Steve, if that was his name, didn’t stand. Instead he looked me up and down rudely and said only two words.
‘No thanks’ he said, and I replied in a firm voice. ‘My sentiments exactly!’
I smiled as I imagined how Tom would have cheered as I hurried out to meet Jane for a debrief.