by Christopher Joyce
Another entry in our Write Across Sussex competition.
My husband would be furious if he knew I was here. I’d broken my promise not to see this boy again, but I just had to see him one more time. The choir shuffled onto the stage, not quite the grand entrance that had been rehearsed. A few brave men broke up the ranks of grey-haired ladies fumbling with their song sheets. Most of them were women of my own age, or slightly older, dressed in an assortment of rainbow colours, as requested by the choir director. The early evening sun shone through the stained-glass windows of the old church. Friends and family fanned themselves with the programme of tonight’s show and I caught the scent of decaying lilies placed beside the altar.
It was to be an evening of ‘show tunes and music from the movies’ as part of the Chichester Festival. Old favourites such as ‘Do Re Mi’ mixed up with a few Bond themes and some others that I’d never heard of. But I hadn’t come to listen to the music, I’d come to see him.
I settled into the third row, hoping that nobody would recognise me. Two children next to me waved excitedly at their father on the stage as their mother tried to quiet them down. He waved back and put his finger to his lips to no avail. The kids were just too excited.
My heart sank when I realised that the object of my obsession was nowhere to be seen; but then jostling for position in the back row with another man in the choir, he beamed out into the audience. I bit the knuckle of my finger to hold back a little squeal of excitement. He looked so alive.
He was probably just a few years older than my son. What would Ben say knowing I was somewhat fixated about this young man about to burst into song? He’d accuse me of stalking him and call me a cougar.
I fanned myself to cool down and the redness faded from my cheeks. He shielded his green eyes from a shaft of sunlight that highlighted his torso. The top few buttons of his crisp white shirt were undone and a few hairs peeped through. I wanted to gently stroke his chest with my fingers once more.
He lifted up his song sheet and sang a nervous rendition of ‘Cabaret’, harmonising with the other tenors as best he could. I smiled to myself, remembering that it was not his voice I so admired. I just wanted to feel the warmth of his skin again and rest my head on his shoulder.
The audience clapped enthusiastically and the choirmaster introduced the next song, but my gaze never left his face. Dark eyebrows framed his green eyes. He pushed aside his fringe of curly black hair and made a comment under his breath to a fellow choir member; they both tried to stifle their laughter. I felt jealous not to be included in the joke, and decided I didn’t like this new friend he was talking to.
The choir burst into song again and I took a moment to admire his posture and square shoulders. Was he a policeman or a soldier? I felt embarrassed that after all this time I still knew so little about him. I’m sure he’d probably told me, but I was sobbing when we last met so can’t really remember much at all.
I do remember asking if I could touch his chest. He looked embarrassed about the large red scar that was still healing and turned his head away. My fingers trembled as I slid them along the angry red slash. I muttered that I was sorry and pulled my hand away, but he gently held it in his own before putting it back onto his beating heart.
“It’s okay,” he’d said. “Really, it’s okay. I’m glad you came over tonight.”
I kissed him on the cheek and his beautiful green eyes glistened as just one small tear escaped onto the pillow of his hospital bed. I wanted to tell him so many things about my son Ben. I wanted to tell him how he’d always talked about organ donation and teased his younger sister for not carrying a donor card. I wanted to tell him how he loved to sing; that he hated muesli but loved cheese on toast covered in blackcurrant jam. I wanted to tell him how handsome he looked on the night of the accident, dressed in his DJ as he left to go to the charity ball. I wanted to tell him all the things I’d never said to Ben. I wanted to scream. I wanted to die.
He nestled my hand in his and held it tight as I slumped in the chair by his bed.
“They said it was a perfect match. Do you want to hear it?”
I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked at that beautiful young lad with his whole life ahead of him. I hated him for not being Ben, but Ben was now part of this man’s life and I wanted to be part of it too.
I eased open his pyjama top and laid my head on his rib cage. I closed my eyes and listened to Ben’s beating heart leading the orchestra of this man’s body; it urged every muscle of his fine young body to repair itself as his liver and spleen danced to the rhythm of life. The beat grew stronger; it demanded his broken bones to heal, and I knew that Ben was there in the room as I hugged this stranger and wept.
The sound of applause dragged me back from my memories of that day. I’d completely missed the last song and joined in the clapping a little too enthusiastically. The choirmaster announced that the final song would be a solo from the hit film Titanic. There was a murmur of appreciation amongst the crowd, and then he stepped forward to the front of the choir.
He was just yards away from me now. I could smell his aftershave, Vetiver by Jo Malone. He seemed taller and stronger than I remembered; he buttoned up his shirt and planted his feet firmly on the parquet flooring.
“This next song is dedicated to Ben Watkins, who sadly can’t be with us tonight, and to his mother and my good friend Emma.” He turned towards me, and I could see tears once again welling in his eyes. He regained his composure, took a deep breath and continued, “The song is called ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Whitney Houston.”
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