2nd Circle of Life

They told me that love should last a lifetime. Well, it did. Except love died the day they planted my husband six feet under. The picture that sat atop his casket was the young, optimistic and slightly goofy young man I had met a lifetime ago. I remember him well in that oversized suit. Ever thrifty his mother had purchased it a couple of sizes too big anticipating that he would eventually grow to fill out its capacious folds. His luxuriant hair was a wild bouffant that was barely kept in check by the gel and hairspray that seemed to float about everyone like flammable clouds. It was the 80s and flammable hairspray was an occupational hazard.

I had seen him -well really seen him- that first time across the crowded church. We had grown up together first as children, then as squabbling acne covered teenagers and then finally as lovers. I was surprised we could connect across that heaving sea of hormones, big hair and the disapproving gaze of saints on either side and above us all, upon the church cupola, the Christ Pantocrator himself looking down for good measure. The parents proud, anxious and bored were now furtively sizing up these thriving youngsters who might in time become partners to their children. The kids were in it too, except they laughed openly and flirted shamelessly. The gloom and dour religiosity just made it that little bit more exciting. Here we were again, back to where it all started. My lover’s cheeky smile staring at me from the photo frozen in a moment of time. That crowd had now thinned out. The full faces and voluptuous figures of youth having given way to sunken cheeks and heavy bodies that heaved and puffed not so much from exertion, but from the worries and burdens of life. The anxieties of parents were now painted onto the faces of their aging offspring and suddenly they didn’t seem so different from the disapproving saints of youthful memory. Themis seemed to be laughing at them all. He was always the joker, the charmer, the seducer. You couldn’t stay angry with him for long. He had winked and with a furtive nod motioned for me to meet him outside. I made some excuse and squeezed through the crowd and stumbled outside. Themis caught me just as I lost my balance and fell forward.

‘Phew, did you feel it? All that religion, sex and hairspray?’

I went red.

He grinned. ‘Wave a candle about and boom! You take out half the community and half the hairdressers lose their job’. He reached into his coat and removed a packet of cigarettes and lit one and casually offered me a drag. I drew in too deeply and just collapsed into a fit of coughing. Themis couldn’t resist laughing. 

‘Disgusting habit’ he said with mock severity echoing the provincial accents of aunts whose husbands smoked like chimneys. He took my elbow and guided me to a corner where we were out of sight of prying eyes and leaning in whispered ‘Here, close your eyes. This will get rid of the taste’. 

I closed my eyes half expecting him to kiss me when he suddenly popped a lozenge into my mouth.

He smoked his cigarette casually leaning against the wall his oversized clothes and hair cutting a comic figure. He grinned as if he was in on the joke. 

‘You reckon we’ll get married one day in that church?’ He asked suddenly serious.

‘I’ll bury you in that church’ I responded with a fury I didn’t feel at all. 

‘Can we fit a christening or two in between?’ he teased. 

I couldn’t say anything more because the service ended, and people were spilling out of the church and suddenly Themis was being pulled in a thousand different directions and the girls were looking at me sideways sizing me up. Before he got swallowed up, I felt a warm hand briefly brush against mine and my fingers closed around a piece of paper. It was his telephone number.

The hair turned into a shock of white as he aged but remained as wild and unruly as ever, and the smile ironic in middle age and then, finally, tinged with sadness, never left him. For a moment though his voice seemed to reach across the years it was light and mocking ‘you buried me just like you promised’.

‘And I loved you… just like I promised’

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