Tuesday 6 December 2011

Frozen in Time
Maureen Vincent-Northam
De Kuyper Crème de Café

He came to the city to make his name and I was simply a contact in London, someone he’d been asked to look up. The doorbell rang at around six one late spring evening and there he stood. It had been years, and at first I didn’t recognise him. Here was a stranger – tall and good looking with the evening sun back-lighting his fair hair.
‘Lizzie?’ he asked. Then he smiled. ‘Of course it is; I’d recognise you anywhere.’
‘I’m not sure–’ I began.
‘Ross,’ he said. ‘Don’t you remember? From when you lived in Cheltenham?’
Cheltenham! I hadn’t been back there for more than fifteen years; time enough to bring about a vast change in him, though by all accounts, less of a change in me.
‘Of course,’ I said at last. ‘Do come in!’
I led him to the kitchen, where I’d been preparing my evening meal, and offered him a cold drink. It was odd to see this young man – the little boy I was beginning to remember – with a beer in his hand.
‘It’s been years since I last saw you,’ I said. ‘You must have been around nine or ten. You’ve changed so much! Well, of course you have.’
I was rambling.
He smiled. ‘Yes, I suppose I have. You haven’t though. I knew you straight away.’
Any awkwardness soon disappeared and of course I asked after his mother.  Mary had been a friend of mine since schooldays. When she’d first married Pete I was often invited to their small flat and Mary and I would spend hours catching up on gossip and generally putting the world to rights.
When a baby came along, Mary and Pete moved to a larger place a little further out of town. This coincided with a job I was offered, which meant travelling regularly up to London and then relocating here, so I saw less of them. But though my visits were infrequent, I recalled Ross as a beautiful child, sociable and inquisitive, funny – a great mimic.
‘I remember sitting in the garden with your parents watching a performance you staged in which you played all the characters,’ I said.
‘I know,’ he said, ‘a precocious brat or what?’
‘Not at all. You were very good!’
I looked at him. He still radiated that same zeal for life – and he was still beautiful.
‘So, you live in London now?’ I asked.
‘I’ve been attending a drama school here,’ he laughed, ‘I’ve had the odd small role and I’m now awaiting the big break – along with a million others!’
He shared my supper and we talked for an hour or two. He hadn’t lost any of his inquisitiveness; he asked about my work, my sculptures, and was interested to hear about my current project.
Later, as I had some letters to post, we walked together to the end of my street. When we reached the busy road, Ross grabbed my hand and we darted across to the post-box, laughing like children as we dodged the traffic.
He pointed to one of the old buildings visible through the trees of the small local park.
‘I live just over there. A bedsit. So I could visit you again sometime – if you don’t mind, that is?’
‘Of course I don’t mind. It would be nice to see you again.’
We said goodnight and I made my way home.  It was ridiculous, but for the rest of the evening I couldn’t stop thinking about the young man who’d come to call.


I wasn’t expecting him to get in touch – at least not so soon. But two days later, there he was.
‘I have a free afternoon; let’s go out some place, Lizzie’. He looked down at my clay-encrusted work shirt. ‘Bet you could do with a break from whatever it is you’re doing.’
He was right, my current assignment wasn’t taking shape the way I wanted it to and I knew from experience that I should leave it a while.
‘You’re on!’ I said. ‘Give me ten minutes to put some damp cloths over the dratted piece and clean myself up.’
He followed me through to the backroom I used as a studio.
‘Hey,’ he said, ‘this is pretty impressive.’ He walked around the half-finished bust on my worktop. ‘And it’s commissioned?’
‘Yes, most of my stuff is these days. It pays the bills.’
We spent the rest of the day window shopping and had coffee and cake on a bench in Hyde Park. Ross told me about his work, the small company he belonged to, the roles he’d understudied and the part he was playing in their latest production. His enthusiasm was infectious and I promised to be there on his opening night.
Over the next few weeks we walked my favourite haunts, sat in pubs listening to bands he enjoyed and talked endlessly of the past.
‘Do you still do that paper folding stuff?’ he asked one evening. ‘I kept that little boat you made me for ages, you know. Then one night I tried sailing it in the bath and it disintegrated!’
‘And you told me how you’d rubbed soap onto an old wooden plank to make a slide.’
‘It didn’t work. Turned out the soap had been a really expensive one Mum had been given, too. She wondered for ages where it had gone. I was so grateful that you never told her!’
Reflecting on all these silly things was fun, and slowly, without noticing it, we became closer.
‘I want to do a sculpture of you, Ross. Would you mind?’
‘I’d be flattered. It isn’t every day that you get the chance to be frozen in time.’
Then he stood and, taking both my hands in his, pulled me to my feet. The kiss was inevitable.
‘I’ve wanted to do that, Lizzie, ever since you opened the door to me that first evening,’ he said.
I knew I’d been falling for him too. Was it wrong? Would I think it sordid if it was another couple?
‘Ross, I’m too old for you.’
He held me to him. ‘Rubbish! You’re beautiful, I love you, and I refuse to discuss your Zimmer frame.’
As he had rehearsals the following day we arranged the first sitting for later in the week. I’d need to do some sketches and take a few pictures of his profile. ‘I love you too,’ I whispered to his back as he walked into the night.
The next month was hectic what with Ross’s rehearsals, his first night and all its accompanying frenzy, and sitting for me. But despite this our relationship deepened and it seemed the most natural thing in the world that he should occasionally stay overnight.
Then it happened.
‘Lizzie, fantastic news! I’ve been offered a small part in a new mini-series. Zoe has connections and pulled a few strings. Means moving up north for a while, but hey...’
‘You remember her – very talented – we were in Dangerous Butterflies together. She’s to play the daughter in the series and she put in a good word for me.’
I tried to sound pleased for him, after all wasn’t this his dream? He talked about it as though it was a temporary thing, like a weekend away, but I had doubts.
He phoned regularly for the first few weeks to tell me all the news and to say how much he was missing me, but the calls became less frequent and eventually stopped altogether. A couple of months on, I ran into one of his friends and discovered Ross had moved back to London. Was I surprised that he hadn’t been in touch? Not really.


It was early December when I bumped into him loaded down with shopping bags. He seemed pleased to see me and, shifting the carrier bags under one arm, hugged me with the other. I noticed the shop names on his packages.
‘Been Christmas shopping for Zoe?’ I asked.
‘Yes, nightmare!’ he laughed. ‘How are you, Lizzie? Sorry we lost touch – did you ever finish that sculpture of me?’
‘I’m fine, I lied. ‘And yes, the bust is finished. You must come and see it – and Zoe too of course.’
He said he’d love to come, but I knew he wouldn’t and it was probably for the best. How could I bear it if he did?
It was bitterly cold and had just started to snow as I reached home. I let myself in, made a mug of hot chocolate and took it in before the fire. I switched on the blue lights of my small white Christmas tree – the only concession I’d made to the season – and moved to the table that held his image. 
‘I love you,’ I whispered.

Maureen Vincent-Northam has been published in newspapers, international magazines and on the Web, contributing regularly to markets aimed at writers.
She is the author of Trace your Roots and co-authored The Writer’s ABC Checklist. She won The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books 2008 competition and her short stories and poetry have appeared in a number of anthologies.
Maureen has judged online writing contests, tutored writing workshops and consumed much chocolate.

The Writer's ABC Checklist
By Lorraine Mace & Maureen Vincent-Northam

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