This is my attempt to write a Flahs Fiction Friday story based on the following prompt:
Prompt: Write a steamy Romance in any, or multiple, genres.
Word limit: 1,500
I got the word limit right (my story is just on 1500 words) but I think the romance ended up more bitter-sweet than steamy. This story takes one of the characters from a Flash Fiction Friday story I wrote last year:
Let me know what you think.
‘Arthur?’ the old woman peered through her thick glasses at the man sitting at a table outside the local pub.‘Arthur?’ she repeated in a voice infused with doubt, ‘It is you, isn’t it?’
The man looked up at her. There was no recognition in his gaze, but neither was there blankness. Instead, she saw a man with the look of a cornered animal, both hands on the table as if he was about to spring up and flee.‘How can it be you? You haven’t changed… at all… but it’s been what? Oh... sixty years.’ The woman sat down at the table on the bench opposite the man, still staring at him.
‘I… er… sixty years did you say?’ he closed his eyes as if this would help him to conjure up a memory.‘Sixty years, but it feels like yesterday. Our time together, it is still so fresh in my mind. You should be old and grey like me, but you’re not. How?’ she shook her head wistfully, almost talking to herself.
The man half opened his eyes and cocked his head, ‘Elsie?’ He recognised something in her face that hadn’t been stolen by the passing of time.She nodded slowly.
‘Oh, Elsie, we had fun together didn’t we. That summer was… I loved that summer.’ A smile lit up Arthur’s whole face as he remembered. His piercing gaze made Elsie feel week at the knees, something she hadn’t felt in many years.‘And yet you disappeared without explanation.’ the old woman’s voice cracked and she frowned for a moment.
‘I am so sorry Elsie, but you can see why, can’t you?’ Arthur waved both hands in the direction of his face. He looked about forty.‘You told me you had had adventures. Did you find the fountain of youth?’ there was the hint of accusation in her voice, anger that he hadn’t shared his discovery with her. Yet, she still remembered the excitement of being with a mysterious older man who had so many stories to tell. It was why she fell in love with him.
‘Elsie, I couldn’t tell you, not then. Now, well, if I tell you, people will think you’re an old woman who’s lost her marbles and won’t believe you, but you’re not that, are you. Oh, Elsie, I can see the young woman I loved behind the mask of old age.’ Arthur reached out and took put his hand on hers. Elsie’s anger at him melted away with his words.‘So, tell me Arthur, tell me now. ’ Even though some of his tales had bordered on the fantastic and seemed like too much for one lifetime, Elsie has always believed what he had told her. Now, she felt that her trust was justified.
‘Where to start? Hmm… We did find something like the fountain of youth but it wasn’t sixty years ago. It was longer ago than that, much, much longer.’ Arthur paused and looked at Elsie, trying to decide how much to tell. He felt that he owed her something. Looking back now, he was sure she had expected to marry him.‘We? That old man... your grandfather?’ Elsie remembered a very grumpy old man.
‘He’s not really my grandfather, but sometimes I’ve pretended that he is. It’s a strange life we lead; at least, I assume it is. I have forgotten what a normal life is like.’ This last comment was said with a sigh as he looked away.It seemed to Elsie that Arthur was trying to avoid telling her the whole story.
‘So, you and the old man found a fountain of youth?’ she prompted, wanting to find out why he had left her.‘Yes. Actually, we found the Holy Grail and drank from it. At the time, I didn’t really believe the legends saying that whoever drank from it would never die. I mean, who believes that kind of thing? Ok, the old man, Merlin, he did, but he’s different.’ Arthur sounded like he still didn’t believe this story as he explained his apparent immortality.
‘The Holy Grail? Arthur? Merlin? Surely not…? But…’ Elsie stumbled over the words, her eyes wide with shock and her heart racing. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but she had never imagined this.‘Like I said, no one would believe you if you told them. You can guess the rest; a lot of the stories about me are more or less true. I’m sorry, though, we destroyed the grail.’ There was regret in his voice, ‘But Elsie, that’s enough about me. Tell me about your life? Was it good one? Did you fall in love, get married?’ he gave her hand a gentle squeeze and looked into her eyes.
‘I fell in love once. I was twenty five.’ She smiled fondly at the memory. ‘He was the most wonderful man, an adventurer whose star who burned brightly. I have loved him all my life. ’‘Did you marry… him?’ Arthur swallowed. She had been about twenty five when he’d known her. Part of him was flattered but he also hoped, for her sake, that she hadn’t spent her life yearning for him.
‘No. But I did marry, eventually. A kind and steady man. We had five children and twelve grandchildren. He died a couple of years ago, now. I miss his company but I never loved him, not the way I loved… love…’ she stopped, afraid to admit the feelings she still had. She was an old woman and wasn’t supposed to feel such passion, but now here, face to face with Arthur, she again felt like the twenty five year old who had just met the love of her life. Elsie smiled at Arthur, her love glowing in her eyes.‘Were you happy?’ Arthur remembered that summer with Elsie, they had been so happy together. After more than a thousand years, he couldn’t afford to remember every love. It caused too much pain, but there were a few that were special. There were a few loves that he kept in his mind and in his heart. Elsie was one of them. He still remembered the first time they kissed, while walking along the Thames on a warm summer’s day. The thought of it still sent a thrill to the pit of his stomach.
‘I was happy enough.’ The old woman sighed, ‘A big family brings much joy. And I knew love. That makes so many things more endurable.’‘I’m glad.’ and he really was glad she’d had a good life; somehow, that made his choice to leave her easier to bare. Arthur remembered the times he hadn’t walked away from a woman he fallen in love with, when he’d stayed and tried to make it work. A man who didn’t age, who was immortal, with a woman who did age, and who was mortal, rarely lasted long. Too soon, questions were asked and lies were told and that lead to bitterness and hatred. When it did work for a while, then Arthur had had to watch as the woman he loved grew old and died, leaving him behind, heartbroken. Arthur preferred to leave when love was young and fresh, then, in his mind, the love never died.
‘I always wished I could see you again, just one last time. I just wanted to be sure that you really had loved me too. Now I can die in peace.’ She paused, ‘Enough of sentiment. I really must get home; things to do.’ The passion faded from Elsie’s eyes and suddenly she looked so very tired.‘Can I escort you home?’ Arthur got up and offered her his arm, chivalry ingrained in him.
Elsie looked up with a smile and took his arm as she slowly stood up.‘It’s just a little way up the road.’
The two walked along in silence. Arthur was lost in thoughts of the past. Elsie’s mind was empty. She felt a curious sense of peace, as if nothing more needed to be said, ever. Soon they reached her house and Arthur walked her up to her door.‘Well, I guess this is goodbye. I am so glad we met today.’ Arthur looked down at the wrinkled face, remembering the beautiful smooth young face he had loved years before.
Elsie smiled up at him. Before she could let go of his arm, he bent down and kissed her on the lips. For a moment, she was twenty five again and was walking by the river arm in arm with her lover. Then Arthur straightened and let her go. He turned and walked down the path away from the house without looking back. She stood by the door until he was gone from sight. Then she entered he small cottage and went to sit on her favourite chair. Elsie was tired after the unexpected excitement of meeting Arthur. The old woman lent back, feeling completely at peace. She breathed out a sigh and then breathed no more.