The road was still full of potholes and dusty as ever. The huts had increased towards the fields but the laughter was missing. The trees were sparse, the dogwoods all withered and the pines greyish, still standing up to the harsh summer sun. There wasn’t much change but everything had changed. She stepped into the diner – La Carbonne. The sultry room greeted her, a tuneless music box playing in the corner. The solitary pair in the restaurant stared at the newcomer. She took the farthest booth in the corner. The plump waitress, who also happened to be the owner, came over, “Whaddya wan’ hon’?” spitting in the basin as she spoke.
The face wasn’t familiar. She had hoped it would be. “I’ll have a coffee please”. The coffee was just short of boiling water. The smoke gradually drifting from it took her back. She stared at the table. It still had the scratches – Forever yours, Tom. It had been 20 years since then. Her eyes misted.
The waving Dogwood and Forsythia were the main attraction – their long waving branches and the white and yellow flowers used to cover their bench. Sleeping on the bench hearing him read out his writing in he spring time, or the walks holding each other. The world could not have ended so soon. They would have held on till the end of the world watching the sun rise and set each day till their ashes mingled with the wind. The hustle and traffic of the city left far behind. They had each other and it was all that mattered.
The music changed suddenly. The flatness broke into her world, her dreams. The stillness became a cacophony of confusion. Truths were distorted and the grey cloud hung out covering everything in its path. “You new here hon?” the waitress asked, “There’s not much left here now. It used to be a thriving place. And then the government made that darned dam and the river dried up. Everyone who could leave left. Took the government’s compensation and shifted to the junk pile of a city”.
“Have you been here long?” she asked. “Aye, me husband took up this joint in the eighties. Been here since. Mark needed a dry place to live, he had a firm of pneumonia. He also passed away a few years back. It’s just been me since. Get the occasional cars passing by for company”.
“There used to be a family here, the earlier owners of this place – Brown. Know what happened to them?” she asked casually. The shots echoed in her head, the burning sensation in her chest and the pain as the bullet glanced off the ribs into the shoulder. Tom stood in front of her, “Are you all right?”. Her world began spinning as she looked down as his shirt turned a dark shade of red. The bullet had passed through his lungs before hitting her. The assailant dropped the gun from his shaking hands, he was just a kid, perhaps of 20 – the gun went off again. Tom’s head snapped back as the bullet broke his spinal cord. he fell lifeless in front of her. She was paralysed and shocked as her legs gave way under her, she stumbled and fell, his body cushioning her fall.
“Ah that’s a right sad story miss. Lovely family that was. Kept themselves busy and out of trouble till that witch came along with her daughter in tow. I always told them a single lady means trouble. Nobody listens to old me with my broken voice”, Mrs White was in the flow, “Poor Billy, divorced his first wife and married the witch within a year and their son too. He eloped with that brat of a child of hers. Never liked either of them – skinny and all show with that foreign accent. Don’t know what happened then. The son came back a few years later in a coffin and that I think broke poor Billy and killed him. It was all her doing. Ruining a nice family like that. It was the year after the government made that dam mind you. The witch soon moved away to the city. Never heard what happened to her. The son and father are still buried in the old cemetery by the lake”.
Those days in the hospital were the worst. She couldn’t sleep, his face flashing all the time. She was hospitalised for a month, the bullet in her shoulder had been removed but it still hurt. The police visited her a few times and started an investigation into the murder. She didn’t hear from her parents. That evening in the alley, the smoke rising from the sewers, the shaky hand drawing the gun – Tom wasn’t supposed to go like this. It wasn’t his time yet.
“Thank you for the coffee. How much is it?” she asked getting up. The dust was settling as the day was coming to an end. The other pair was eagerly listening to the story. They came to the counter and spoke hurriedly to Mrs White.
“Say hon’, you look like you’re from the city. How do you know about the Brown’s? You’re not some relative of theirs, are ya’?”
“No”, she replied heading for the door, “I am Mrs Brown. Tom was my husband.” The door creaked on the hinges as another group walked in. She went out into the setting sun.
The cemetery was a couple of streets away. It was still open. She found it easily ‘Tom Brown’ it read (1956 – 2008). “You left me to die – in name and in spirit. That was unfair of you Tom, that was harsh.”
The flat had taken some time to clear up – she had sent back everything of Tom to his father. He had died soon after, her mother had also moved away. The huge stuffed bear, the innumerable collection of book, their pictures together lining the mantelpiece. She couldn’t part with them all. Tom was gone, the only person who had loved and cared for her – the breakfasts he cooked in the morning when she woke up smelling the bouquet of roses everyday at her bedside, the late nights watching the stupid rom-coms on the television, the dinners he made when she came back from work all tired and restless, or even when he made love to her, the passion and the intimacy – all gone to dust and lost forever. She took out some papers from her bag, all brown is and scribbled. “I think I finished your story”, she read to the grave, “The story of the lost lovers. They never really meet, do they? The woman died in the terrorist bombing and the husband in the war. I tried to get them together at last. Hope you like it”. She read him her story as the sun set over the horizon. It was a place among the pines between somewhere and nowhere, a place of memories and a place to relive her life with the only love she lost.