Trafalgar Square was its usual lively weekend arena: tourists posed with V-signs at the feet of Nelson, while toddlers yelled and scurried after pigeons eating breadcrumbs scattered by bag ladies, causing the pigeons to flee into the paths of passer-bys who side-stepped, ducked, and inadvertently photobombed the V-signing tourists.
Laura pulled her woollen trench tighter around her neck as the late October chill sent her a shiver. She seemed to feel the cold more these days since the divorce, though she was thankful they had an amicable separation.
She and Jeremy still saw each other occasionally when the loneliness and simmering regret pulled them back together for a few small moments over a glass of wine, and then the regret would pull them apart again. They still sent a casual text or two in the evenings and shared the odd occasional Like and Update on Facebook on weekends, although she stopped posting pictures of herself now.
She passed another young couple kissing at the feet of a bronze lion. This made her feel the emptiness of her bed again. Without somebody to hold at night, with the left side of her king size bed empty, the duvet didn’t seem to warm her anymore. Without somebody there at night she felt colder in the day.
She touched her eyes, self-conscious about the little lines that had appeared after the divorce. She practiced for hours in front of her bathroom mirror, trying to perfect a natural expression that would neither appear too arrogant nor draw unwanted attention to her wrinkles.
A group of teenagers lounged in waterproofs against a fountain, chatting while independently leaking pop songs from white buds stuffed in their ears. She regretted that she and Jeremy never had children. That perhaps the responsibilities of parenthood would have subdued their differences and misdirected their insecurities long enough to keep them together.
Laura pulled her knitted cream beanie tighter to cover up the grey hairs she didn’t have the enthusiasm to dye anymore as she waited for Michael at the steps of the National Art Gallery. She watched the throngs of strangers arrange and re-arrange themselves in this increasingly odd picture of life that she was becoming a spectator of.
Michael was an American diplomat whom she’d met through mutual friends. Like Laura he was recently divorced though, from what she gathered, in less amicable circumstances. He didn’t like to talk about it, in fact he didn’t talk much saying he preferred to listen, and she didn’t enjoy talking, but somehow they had managed enjoy each other’s company over the past couple of weeks.
She felt the Autumn chill biting and settling itself into her tiny furrows as she watched him approach. She managed a little wave and smile, knowing her little lines couldn’t shame her from that distance. He was dressed smartly in a long camel cashmere coat buttoned up with a tweed cloth-cap pulled low.
‘I’m glad you decided to come out,’ he said giving her a kiss on the cheek which she took reluctantly, the thought of his lips against her newborn wrinkles unnerved her.
‘Me too,’ said Laura. ‘Though, if I’m being honest, I did have second thoughts.’ Laura tried to strike a balance between dignified solemnity and playful cheer without her lines stretching and filling her mind’s eye and wasn’t sure if she pulled it off.
‘Let’s get a quick picture,’ said Michael as he repositioned themselves to capture Nelson and some lions in the background. ‘Say cheese!’
Michael pointed his ageing Nokia to face them as he pulled her closer. She tried to say ‘cheese’, but could only manage ‘ch’ before thoughts of her crow’s-feet and pleated brow cut her short.
His aftershave got caught in the passing breeze and smell of sandalwood comforted her and wiped the lines away from her mind momentarily.
He checked the picture on his tiny screen. She was happy that the lack of definition had smoothed out her wrinkles somewhat. As Michael held her a little closer, Laura found herself smiling involuntarily. He placed a cold hand to her face, thumbing the lines around her mouth.
‘So why did you have second thoughts?’ asked Michael smiling as his eyes danced and uncovered more hidden lines, more evidence of beautiful life in her face.
‘I don’t know, it’s been difficult lately I guess. Since the divorce. I suppose I was just waiting for the right moment.’
‘That’s understandable,’ said Michael putting an arm around her shoulder, ‘but, the way I see is: sometimes the opportunities wait for us.’
‘I don’t understand,’ said Laura. She readjusted her beanie to ensure no stray grey hairs peeked out.
‘Well, it’s a bit like a stuck pendulum if you think about it. We could spend ages sitting on the sideline waiting for it to come back. But, sometimes we need to go to it. Give it a little push, get it moving again.’
‘Kinda makes sense I suppose,’ shrugged Laura. ‘Coffee? Then we can check out that Monet exhibition. You like Monet right?’
Michael laughed. ‘To be honest I don’t know my Monet from my Manet but sure why not?’
He held out his arm for her, she fed hers through as he kissed her little lines again.