Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Short Story from Tricia McGill


Find all my books here on my BWL Author's Page

My rather large family teemed with stories itching to be written. Unfortunately I will never live long enough to come anywhere near telling them all. This is one of my first ever efforts and was written so long ago I had forgotten all about it. It was based vaguely on one of my brother's unhappy experiences. Do not fret though, for he ended up finding true love. 
Sweet Bitterness

“Australia. You must be mad!”

As Tony laid one shirt carefully on top of another in his suitcase the angry words of his father reverberated around in his brain. Now that the time of his departure was so near he sincerely believed his father was right. He must be insane. But what was the use in remaining here? Melody would never love him. He doubted if she’d ever love anyone but herself.

Ah, Melody! So beautiful, so vibrant, like a pure white rose in full bloom. With a heavy sigh Tony closed his suitcase and fastened the catch.

While preparing for bed he almost pushed all thoughts of her to the back of his mind, but as he tossed and turned beneath the covers in the bed that had been his all his mature life all memories of Melody came rushing back to torment him.

How well he remembered their first meeting.

“Sweet seventeen and never been kissed,” he said. Her luminous brown eyes smiled provocatively at him while her mouth curved in a smile so enticing his poor heart was lost to her in that moment. Like the first wonderful day of spring after a long and bitterly cold winter this vision blew into his life.

 “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” At this retort she tossed her raven hair; hair like silk. And so he took up the challenge and became so besotted by her beauty and vivacity that soon she led him around like a lamb to the slaughter.

“She’s using you, son. She’s making a fool of you. Are you so blind you can’t see her for what she is? She’s a Jezebel.” Tony’s father kept up a constant barrage of criticism. But Tony fell deeper and deeper into Melody’s honeyed web; so deep that even if he possessed the power to break free of her spell he really doubted he wanted to. His love for her was a wild and desperate desire, blotting out all else, consuming him.

When Tony saw a wealthy and influential local businessman making undisguised passes at her, he stormed, “I’ll kill you before I see that dirty scoundrel set a finger on you.”

Melody laughed in his face. “Oh Tony, what a fool you are. Daniel’s a very rich man, and I intend to get the very most out of life. He doesn’t have a hope of touching me, but what harm can it do to string him along?”

And string him along she did. Tony’s jealousy soon reached boiling point. “You belong to me, Melody, and I’m warning you; my patience is coming to an end.” The ache in his poor heart threatened to choke him when he saw her continue to exercise her growing powers over the infatuated admirer.

“I belong to no one.” With a haughty flounce, she taunted him, which inflamed him more.

Tony had other ideas. He set out to prove to the beautiful half-child with the charms of a witch that she did indeed belong to him, body and soul. He arranged a trip into the serene countryside bordering the city and on a soft and warm spring day when the birdsong filled the hazy air and shafts of sunlight filtered through the overhanging branches of a great willow tree he made love to her.

Melody offered little resistance to his sometimes gentle, sometimes sensual, demanding lovemaking, and when he embraced her in the afterglow and gazed down at her lovingly she did not contradict him when he whispered, “Now you are truly mine forever.”

The breeze drifted over their heated bodies and a train whistle sounded mournfully in the far distance. Filled with the sheer ecstasy of the moment and the enchantment of the place of seclusion on a mossy bank where they lay entwined, she’d nodded mutely and sighed.

* * *

Tony stared at his face in the mirror as he scraped the razor over his stubbly jaw. His night had been restless and dream-tossed and the dark smudges beneath his eyes and the lines running from his mouth to his nose made him appear gaunt and older than his twenty five years.

“Hurry up son, Dad wants to get into the bathroom,” his mother’s quiet and placid voice called as she tapped on the door. How he’d miss his family. Going far away seemed like the only solution to his problems and he’d rushed out recklessly to buy a ticket on a liner to Australia. But as his time of departure drew nearer he wondered if he was doing the right thing.

After he’d seduced Melody—yes it had to be termed as seduction, even though she’d been more than willing, he’d said, “Now you must marry me.”

Melody stared at him. Her eyes filled with her surprise; a look that shocked him to the core. But it was the words coming from her beautiful mouth that hurt the most. “I can’t marry you, Tony, don’t you see. My parents would never agree to me marrying a mere labourer, even if I wanted to. I care for you, of course I do, but I’m too young to settle down to dull domesticity. I have so much living to do before I marry.”

“I’ll be rich one day, Melody. I’ll go up north to work. They’re crying out for tradesmen in the midlands; I’ve already applied and I’m waiting on a reply.” His uttered prediction had sounded hollow even to himself.

But before he left to take up the job he’d begged, “Please wait for me?” But when he looked back on it she never promised or pledged anything; in fact the subject of marriage was ignored as far as she was concerned, but being so blindly in love with her he’d taken her silence as agreement.

* * *

Tony boarded the ship with a heavy heart. His mother’s tears and his father’s remonstrations did little to ease the sense of desolation at leaving all and everyone he loved behind. After taking his travelling case to the tiny cabin he was to share with three fellow passengers he returned to the ship’s rail to watch the hustle and bustle on the dockside below. A girl with a mass of black hair stood on the pier waving, the tears blinding her were clear to see even from this distance. Could it be Melody? His heart stopped for a moment as he gripped the rail. Had she come to beg him not to leave? He tasted blood and realised he’d bitten his lip. What a useless fantasy; no hope for that now.

There were no answering letters when he’d written to her in despair when he went away to work up north. Fool that he was he’d made one excuse after another for the lack of mail. It was her parents—they’d forbidden her to reply, he knew it. Or perhaps they hadn’t even shown her his letters. He eventually ceased writing, but instead sent his young sister to Melody’s house on a mission to discover what she could. But, his sister was unable to talk to Melody and her father had forbidden the girl to come to his door again.

Still Tony clung to his dreams as his bank balance steadily grew. Melody would be waiting for him, despite her parents attitude and when they saw how successful he’d become there was no doubt in his mind they’d approve of his marrying their daughter.

Fat chance. When he’d returned, jubilant, nothing had changed. The stab of pain around his heart was still as strong and the taste of bitter disillusionment still there in his mouth.

Dressed in his best suit with a matching waistcoat he’d arrived at Melody’s front door to be met by the formidable figure of her father. “What d’you want here?” The scorn in his eyes as he took in Tony’s immaculate appearance with a barely concealed touch of amazement was belittling.

“I want to see Melody.” Tony squared his shoulders and tried to keep a confident tone.

But her father was curt to the point of rudeness. “Well she doesn’t want to see you. And I’m warning you, my good man, you keep out of her life; she’s a married woman now and can well do without you hanging around.” He pushed his chin forward in a threatening posture, but Tony was barely aware by then of the man’s twisted sneer. A loud thumping in his ears sent him deaf and his heartbeat was so erratic he felt he’d collapse on the step.

“Married?” The word came out on a squeak of disbelief.

“Yes, and she’s quite happy. So I’m warning you, stay away from my girl!” With a finger waving under Tony’s nose he backed up and slammed the door.

Stricken; Tony stumbled around for a week. Then he took to waiting on the corner of the street where Melody’s parents lived, figuring she was sure to pay a call at some stage.

When she finally put in an appearance a further—and more painful surprise—hit him with the force of a sledge-hammer between the eyes. She was pushing a pram. When she drew level with Tony, she stared at him as if he was an apparition. When Tony’s eyes finally went to the pram a child of about three months waved small arms at him and gurgled happily.

Melody’s stunned reaction was clear testament that her father hadn’t mentioned his return. Eventually she broke the silence by stammering, “Tony it’s you.”

“Your Dad never mentioned you had a kid.” Tony could think of nothing more sensible to say. Sick at heart he scrabbled for something to say to end the awkwardness. “How could you do this?” He gripped her arms and shook her.

Melody’s head went from side to side as she whispered forlornly, “Let me explain,” but Tony turned and strode away, hands fisted at his sides.

“I don’t want to hear your lies.” The rain fell like needles on his face as he shouted over his shoulder. “I never want to set eyes on you again, you little tramp!” But deep down he knew his words to be superficial. Unable to keep away, he returned each day in the hope of bumping into her.

On the third day they met again. The pain that skewered his heart as he watched her walk towards him nearly killed him. Her fragile air of innocence had disappeared; replaced by a hard and brittle detachment. The vibrant shining thing she’d been was gone, along with so much else. Her bitter smile cut him to the quick.

“Can we talk awhile?” he begged. So they strolled along the bank of the canal. A wind whipped her dark mane about her face and plastered it across her cheeks. She stared ahead as she explained how her parents forced her into a loveless marriage. “But why? Why didn’t you wait for me. I promised to come back a rich man, and I have.”

“I was pregnant, and they figured he was a good catch. I didn’t want to get married, I’d rather have stayed a single parent but they wouldn’t hear of it. No daughter of theirs was going to flaunt herself to the world as a harlot, they told me—so I did it for peace and quiet.” There was no mistaking her unhappiness, but this was little consolation.

Sorrow pressed down on him like a heavy weight. “Oh Melody, it’s my baby, isn’t it?” He peered into the pram and the infants’ tiny finger wrapped around his large one. The boy smiled up happily. Melody stared down at their joined fingers silently. Tony forced her to look at him by grabbing her shoulders. “It’s my son, isn’t it?” he insisted. “It’s got to be mine. Tell me you never let him make love to you?”

After mumbling some words he couldn’t decipher she turned and fled, pushing the pram before her as if the devil himself was following.

He shouted after her but she either didn’t hear or chose to ignore him. The pain tore at him until he thought he would die. His parents could find no way to help him out of the depths of his despair.

Belatedly he began to realise she couldn’t have reciprocated his feelings from the start. A host of recollections haunted him until he felt sure he’d gone insane. Determined to prove his paternity he pursued Melody relentlessly until her father found out that he’d been trailing her. He threatened to call the police if Tony refused to stop harassing his daughter. So then Tony started waiting further away from her parent’s house. Eventually he met her again.

“Please meet me somewhere so we can be alone together Melody, we must talk.” He knew he was begging but was past the point of caring. What persuaded her he didn’t know and cared little but she agreed on a meeting place on the other side of town.

He arranged to borrow a friend’s apartment for a couple of hours. To his amazement and joy she allowed him to make love to her. All the pain drifted away when he held her in his arms. As he stroked her slender body in the aftermath of their passion he asked, “Do you love your husband?” With her hair spread across the whiteness of the pillow, she looked like a goddess as she stretched provocatively on the bed.

“I hate him, He’s a worm.” Her full lips twisted with disdain. “I treat him like yesterday’s newspaper, and he takes it. He’s a lapdog, and I despise him for it.” She played with the hairs on his chest as she whispered, “I hate the life I’m tied to. I wish you’d help me run away.”

So Tony made arrangements for them to get away together. Melody didn’t turn up at the prearranged meeting place. Frantic with worry and certain something terrible had happened to her he went to the address Melody had given him. At the time she stressed that he should only go there in extreme emergencies. Well, in Tony’s mind this was such an emergency. The man who answered the door seemed to be a decent unassuming person in his early thirties. He greeted Tony without a trace of rancour.

 When Tony explained that he was looking for Melody, the man said, “I’m her husband, please come in.” Tony followed him into a comfortable, inexpensively furnished sitting-room. “Sit down.” He gestured to an easy chair and floored Tony by saying, “I guess you must be Tony.”

Amazed that the man knew of his existence, Tony nodded. “I suppose you know that I’ve always adored Melody and presumed she’d marry me one day,” he said.

He let out a small laugh without malice and sighed. “Poor man, join the lengthening queue. Melody is immature and unable to accept fate or circumstances as they are.” He sat opposite Tony. “You probably already know all that if you know her well. But she’s married to me, and so must accept that I intend our marriage to survive.” With a dismissive shrug he continued, “I’m not condemning her. She’s a butterfly and blithely flings herself into anyone’s arms without thought of the future or the feelings of the person involved. But I knew what I was getting when I married her, and I knew she’d make trouble wherever she went through life. Please forget you ever met her and leave her alone. She’s foolish and incapable of any responsible actions.”

Tony felt as if the world had tilted. Of course he’d always known she was irresponsible and flighty, but having this man talk that way about her made his insides churn. She belonged to him. Suddenly stifled by the over warm room and the anger welling up inside him he bit out, “But the boy is mine, and I’m not giving up my claim on him.”

The man stared down at his steepled fingers before saying in a quiet voice, “This is an intolerable thing for me to tell you, but the child is possibly not yours and is most certainly not mine. I do love the child, and whereas you may claim paternal rights, I am married to Melody.” For the first time his tone turned savage and sharp and the glint in his eyes warned that he meant every word he said. “So, I suggest you forget any illusions you may be harbouring and don’t try to take the boy from me. Melody has no love for him, but I do, and the day will come when she grows old and perhaps no other man will want her...but I always will.”

Tony walked away from that house shattered in mind and spirit.

Now as he watched the gangplank being drawn away from the ship and the last tie to England being severed he knew her husband was the only sane one in the whole sorry tale.

Surely the years would dull the thoughts of Melody’s face and Melody’s eyes to a memory he could cherish. Perhaps one day he’d return to see his son—the boy he was still convinced was his. The shoreline receded as surely as his youth had faded. The illusion of a dream of eternal love was diminishing as his homeland was fading into the mists.
Tricia McGill Web Page




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