He had only once been in what people call a serious relationship. That was ten years ago when he lived with Maureen. She was several years younger than he and worked in advertising. They had met at Taubman's seventieth birthday and walked together into the garden of the hotel where the party was being held. There they sat on a bench under a tree and talked. It was late but still warm, the lights aglow among the flowers and shrubs and a cheerful din coming from the hotel. She moved closer to him without any apparent design and her laugh was bright and artless. She was wearing a white backless dress and he gazed at her long, slender neck and her shoulders, which were so delicate that he wanted to touch them out of simple curiosity. He called her at work several days later and invited her to dinner. She accepted gratefully and her voice sounded as bright and genuine over the phone as when they had sat in the garden. Two months later she moved in with him. Although it had been his suggestion, he was not prepared. He was set in his ways, never having had to worry about anyone but himself since he had left home. His life was neat and orderly; his days were all the same. He was in the office by half past seven on weekdays and woke early on weekends, read the papers, tidied up, took a walk around his neighborhood or visited galleries before going to the sauna that he and Taubman frequented. On Saturday evenings he dined with friends. He lived a simple life, taking care to have a routine for everything and avoid upsets.
He had always tried to keep his feelings on a tight rein. His psychologist traced this to his father's death. They had been very close and when his father had passed away he had silently blamed his mother for not grieving enough. Tomas mentioned this to his psychologist once he began to trust him. They discussed the past at length and eventually concluded that it had been out of care for Tomas that his mother had never broken down in his presence. He regretted having judged her, even if only in thought.
He had difficulty adapting to the change of routine, and Maureen assumed that he felt she was in his way. She wasn't demanding but sensitive and every now and then felt the need to tell him how much she loved him. He, on the other hand, did not make unprompted declarations; it was not his way.
When he felt he was finally growing used to living with her, she broke off their relationship. They had then lived together for more than a year and he had begun to enjoy waking up before her and watching her sleep. But he never told her that and refrained from touching her while she slept. He felt lucky to have met her and expected a happy future. He was speechless when she said it would probably be best for them to go their separate ways.
"I don't think you love me," she said.
He was about to try to convince her that she was wrong and ask her to stay but abandoned the attempt. He thought that maybe his love wasn't adequate, maybe there were others who were capable of loving more passionately. It wouldn't be fair for him to get in her way. He imagined that she had already met someone who was better for her but couldn't bring herself to tell him.
He helped her move and called her regularly for the next few weeks to hear how she was doing. Perhaps she felt he was nursing her as if she were one of his clients, but she talked to him anyway and tried to sound cheerful. Then she asked him to stop calling.
"You needn't worry about me," she said. "I'm going on vacation and when I come back I'm starting a new life."
They hadn't met since. Apart from hearing that she'd moved to Europe he had lost touch with her. So had Taubman, and Tomas had stopped asking him about her. He hadn't forgotten her, though, and once in Paris he caught himself looking for her. He found this strange, as he had no idea where in Europe she lived. But he could picture her in a city like Paris with her long, slender neck and those birdlike shoulders. Paris or Rome or Florence. That's where shoulders like those belonged.
Excerpted from Valentines by Olaf Olafsson Copyright © 2007 by Olaf Olafsson. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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