A Moment of Power

He waits; I wait, and both stare at the other. But once again the moment passes.
He bends to pick up his paint tin. He is so close to me now; I breathe in the familiar smell of pipe tobacco and long to reach out and let my fingers explore the soft greying hairs of his beard.
He turns away.
‘Damn fool girl’. His voice isn’t angry but there’s a sad resignation in his tone.
I stare at the back of his head. He’s now several rungs up the ladder; his dark hair curls over his collar.
‘Jack.’ I am unable to keep the pleading note from my voice. It’s cold in the boat shed. There’s nowhere to sit down. I shove my hands into my coat pocket, wrapping it tighter around me, and wait.
Jack continues with his task of painting the topsides of his beloved old wooden boat ‘Calico’. I wish that the boat was in the water so we could be down below together. I remember the smell of the paraffin lamps, lit early on winter’s afternoons; the red enamel coffee pot simmering and pungent on the calor gas cooker; long dark afternoons of closeness.
We talked then, for hours sometimes, about sailing and foreign harbours, about philosophy – it was Jack that first persuaded me to read Karl Popper. Other afternoons, it was just companionable chat and gossip about his fellow residents on the river or colleagues at the University. Everyone wanted to spend time with Jack. He was witty and articulate and certainly knew how to enjoy himself. Once a term, he invited his tutor group over to the boat and would cook wonderful eye-watering curries and open many, many bottles of red wine produced from a seemingly endless supply under his bunk.
He comes down the ladder carefully, purposefully now and wipes his hand on an old piece of canvas.
‘What are you doing here, Alex? Haven’t you got any lectures to go to?’
I take a step closer, encouraged by his light-hearted remark, welcoming the creeping wave of desire. He returns my gaze but in the rich brown of his eyes there is a troubled, haunted look. I push it firmly from my mind and touch him lightly on the arm.
‘Don’t, Alex; I can’t do this.’ He turns away from me once more.
Always a strong, direct and confident man whether he was lecturing, sailing or just being sociable but now all directness has gone. His head is lowered and there’s a stoop to his shoulders as he begins clearing away his painting tools.
Impulsively, spurred on by the feeling of humiliation, determined that I shall be a strong one here and nearly driven to distraction by a deep longing to go to bed with him, I take his hand and pull him by the arm.
‘Yes, you can, Jack.’ I am bright, cheerful, encouraging. I lead him out of the boat shed towards the car.
As we emerge into the bright sunlight I glance at him. He’s crying and I am ashamed. I hesitate briefly and he turns towards me. I wait, he waits. Both stare at the other.

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