Something Like Sunlight

Right at the end of our lawn, Lois stands waist-deep in the lake. She’s holding cupped hands of water for her niece and nephew to dip their fingers in. I think they’re painting or drawing with water on the jetty.

Lois looks happy: too happy.
She’s done it again, thrown herself into a relationship 101% without any restraint or wisdom. If it goes wrong this time I fear she’ll take permanent damage, maybe blame herself. Her self-esteem will suffer catastrophically. I can’t bear the thought of my daughter bereft and withdrawn from the world again. The last time was torture for both of us – Lois especially.

Fears grip me, like icicle fingers, and I shiver despite the hot summer sun.

Life dealt her a savage blow before she was even born and it seems to be an insurmountable barrier to enduring relationships.

I can hear screams, made faint by distance, as the children splash her. Arcs of water glitter in the sunlight as she splashes back.

Standing on the balcony, I sip my coffee and hear a car pulling up, manoeuvring into the narrow space I’ve left. It’ll be Lois’ new man, Clark. He calls himself a poet but works in medical software to make a living. Roses sway below the balcony, touched by gentle breezes.

He comes through the door bare-footed and dressed in shorts and T-shirt as always. “Hi,” he says, “How are you, and where’s … oh, there.” He stops and stares at Lois. Usually he would race towards her. His hesitation today worries me.

“You OK?” I ask. “I thought you’d be straight down there, playing with them.”

He’s silent for a moment. “Sometimes I just like to watch her. She moves with the unconscious grace of a child – an unedited expression of what’s going on in her head and heart. So many people, adults anyway, shield themselves behind poses and self-conscious camouflage. But not Lois. Look at her! she’s blissfully happy right now.” He watches her, frowning. “Weird. If she’s happy, I’m happy. I think it works like that for her too. Big things happen, huge, but you don’t notice until afterwards.”

“I don’t follow, sorry.”

He grins at me, tearing his eyes from Lois for an instant. “It’s hard to express. I’ve been trying to put it into words but can’t find half of them – I don’t think they exist.” He pauses, frowning again. “Maybe if I talk out loud about it, it’ll all come together. It’s like, um, no… We all carry something fragile and precious. We have to protect it, only some of us aren’t very good at that – me for instance.”

He seems to be struggling with his thoughts so I let him get on with it. Nodding slightly, he points at a rose. “As delicate as that, a flower but made of the thinnest glass, easily shattered. It’s our image of ourselves, our confidence, our ability to make friends, trust, care for ourselves and others, take risks, hope … and so many other things that life can break. When … when a relationship erupts from the usual and into something profound you find that the other person has opened their heart to take that fragile part of you and care for it much better than you could yourself: they cherish it. Before you know what’s happened, you’ve done the same for them and find strengths you never thought you had. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. I’m a better, stronger person now, and loving it. There’s another part to all this. Somehow a new … universe … opens up, and it’s just for the two of you. You both dump everything you don’t want outside it – all those things you find unacceptable in yourself – secrets you don’t share with other people. Lois told me about the surgery she had as a child…”

He’s interrupted by my involuntary gasp. I can’t believe Lois talked about that so soon! The fool.

He looks at me. “About how they had to test her genes to work out what sex she was supposed to be and operate accordingly before she went to school … how she can’t have children even so.” He shrugs. “I told her about things I’ve done. Horrible things for which I’ll always feel shame. Lies, deceit, bullying, a funeral I refused to go to because I was being too stupid and selfish… Lois and I got all that stuff out of our way. It’s made us closer and unburdened us at the same time. It’s like … seriously, it’s like preparing for a lifelong journey, an adventure, with your best friend.”

Shouts from the lakeside make us both look that way. Though we can’t hear the words, Lois is waving and obviously calling Clark to join her. He jumps onto the balcony parapet. “Gotta go. Head office has summoned me.”

In one leap he’s over my roses and down onto the grass. Sprinting towards Lois and the children, he’s halfway there before I realise the frosted talons of my fears are melting in something like sunlight.

©Gary Bonn, 2020