There was a gentle knock on the door, three raps of the nurse’s knuckle.
‘Enter!’ he said quietly. The door was slowly opened by the nurse, who placed one foot inside the room, and announced, in a soft manner, that there was a visitor to see him.
‘Marta’s here to see you,’ she said, ushering in the visitor, who stepped into the room hesitantly.
He felt his stomach sink and burn with a harsh intensity. Even though he knew she was coming, and his back was to her, the reality of the situation overwhelmed him emotionally. He stood, head bowed, and shoulders hunched, enduring the ruthless surge of sorrow that spread like instant bruising flames throughout his abdomen. He said nothing.
‘Ei Elias!’ greeted Marta pleasantly. Elias measured out a brief pause, breathing in and exhaling, slowly, before replying.
‘Hello Marta,’ he said neutrally.
Marta looked about the small room briefly, adjusting to her surroundings. The walls were white and clean. The bed to her right was covered with an old purplish velvet throw. To her left was a wardrobe and chest of drawers. And directly in front of her there was Elias, three metres away, with long pale grey hair, stood at a 45-degree angle facing away from her, in front of a desk on which sat a laptop, positioned below a window, one half of which was open, allowing in birdsong and fragrance from the garden. In the far-right corner beside the bed was a door which also led out to the garden. There was no ornamentation in the room, not even a picture on a wall. She noticed a familiar old white mobile phone on the small bedside table, a pair of blue canvas ankle boots beside the desk, and a jacket and hat, hung on pegs on the inside of the door.
‘How are you?’ she asked enthusiastically. He didn’t move, his eyes cast downwards, his breathing measured.
‘Bad,’ he replied emotionlessly. Marta raised her eyebrows with a slight tilt of her head and briefly pursed her lips, slowly inspiring, gently through her nostrils.
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ she said genuinely, ‘I brought you something,’ she brightly reprised, slightly raising a brown leather rucksack she had removed from her back.
‘Thank you, but I don’t want it,’ replied Elias.
‘But don’t you want to see it first?’ asked Marta, a little upset at his rebuff.
‘No, I don’t need anything,’ Elias stated with a mildly insistent tone.
‘Oh, okay then,’ Marta submitted. ‘Would you like to go outside to the garden?’
‘Not really, I’m fine here,’ Elias stated blankly.
‘Well, I’d prefer to be outside in the sun, can we go out?’ Marta urged encouragingly.
‘Okay, if you want,’ surrendered Elias, and moved forward a few centimetres to where his boots were, crouched and tied them on silently. He then stood, turned swiftly, keeping his head bowed and eyes cast downwards, and walked past her to the door, without once allowing himself to see any part of her body. ‘Follow me,’ he said, turning right out the room into the dark corridor.
‘Okay Elias,’ replied Marta, and followed him as he made his way, ahead of her, along a couple of corridors and outside to the expansive garden at the rear of the home.
Once they were outside, Elias immediately set to walking at a slow pace along a path that eventually would lead them through brightly coloured flower beds in the centre of the garden. Marta moved to his side and gently coupled her arm through his, looking up at his downcast face, tilted away from her.
‘Please don’t touch me,’ he said coolly and gently pulled his arm away as she reluctantly retracted hers, suddenly saddened.
He still felt such an immense love for her. It had not dwindled at all; despite the many years they had been apart. In fact, to him, his love for her was so profound, that everything in his world, both inside and out was intimately connected to the memory of her presence, which presided over his every thought and action. Every word he typed was an extension of her energetic link, which he kept alive through his dedication to love her, no matter what.
‘Sorry,’ she said apologetically. She found his behaviour somewhat tiresome and melodramatic, but was also saddened by his rigid, depressed countenance. The former she could accommodate, but felt drained in the presence of negativities of all kinds. ‘The garden’s nice Elias; lots of flowers. Do you tend it?’ she enquired, still trying to elevate the atmosphere between them and initiate some sustained conversation.
‘No, not really,’ replied Elias, ‘I come out here to eat and for the sunset; to allow ideas to come to me for writing. Sometimes I help out if I’m asked.’
‘What are you writing these days?’ asked Marta.
‘Different things. Memoirs, stories, prose, poetry sometimes. I’ve completed two novels, and am working on a third at the moment.’ His tone lacked enthusiasm. He spoke as though recounting the chores of a daily routine that he was enslaved to perpetuate for eternity.
He enjoyed writing though. He didn’t enjoy anything else, not really. Through writing he could create inner experiences of a world he had never had the courage to create outside of himself, when he was still part of greater society. He published much of his written work on the internet, though Marta had not been attentive to his flow of creativity, reading only the occasional piece, every now and then. She was aware of the likelihood that she was the muse of some of his work, but felt uncomfortable with that, feeling it was a destructive obsession, which had, consequently, played a major role in his eventual self-imposed isolation and seclusion from the outside world. Elias never hid the inspirations of his work though, beyond the appropriation of character names, which he applied out of respect for privacy only.
‘I’ve read some of your things on the internet,’ said Marta, ‘you’re a good writer Elias,’ she sincerely uttered. She didn’t really find his work personally engaging, it wasn’t the kind of content that she found interesting or inspiring, but she appreciated that it was well written, and was, in moments, even touched by it.
‘Do you still paint?’ she continued.
‘No, I quit painting a long time ago,’ Elias replied, ‘I only write now.’
‘It’s a pity, you were a good painter too,’ Marta stated with a hint of nostalgia.
‘Do you have any friends here?’ she enquired.
‘No,’ he said bluntly, ‘I don’t have any friends at all.’
This was not going as Marta had hoped. Why had she decided to visit, after five years without any meaningful contact? She thought that perhaps Elias would have found some way to elevate himself from his state of morbidity. That was her hope. She knew he loved her, but it was too intense a love to seem realistic to her. She loved him too, in her way; after all, they had been close for a while, and he had proven to be a worthy companion in friendship. He didn’t exhibit such qualities of depression when they first met. He was spontaneous and funny, had confidence, and enjoyed the company of others. After becoming acquainted, they became close friends very quickly, and enjoyed a fun and playful platonic relationship. Within a few months they’d even began contributing to each other’s artistic projects. But all that ended abruptly when he openly expressed his love for her. At the time she was the partner of one of his closest friends, and the news didn’t go down well, even though it was known by them that he had never so much as even flirted with Marta, nor she with him. The damage, though, was done, and irreparably so. Elias found himself involuntarily distanced from them, and gradually their communication with him broke down, until his relationships with them were all but emaciated. Eventually, over a period of two or three years, he managed to rekindle a friendship with his close friend, but with Marta things were more complicated, and she lost trust in him, for a long time, even four years later when she became single again and attempted to re-encounter the foundation of their earlier wonderful friendship. In the end she still felt she couldn’t commit, and Elias became frustrated with the dissonance he perceived between her words and her behaviour towards him. He wasn’t good at dealing with these kinds of situations, always over-analysing, and invariably wrote highly emotionally charged messages and emails which would anger Marta, to such an extent that she would furiously push him away, and remove herself completely from his life for prolonged periods of time. Eventually Elias’ depression became his personality. This, in turn, created a permanently fixed distance in their relationship, which itself never fully recovered. For him the love was always present, it was a beautiful and profound phenomenon, but Marta was more pragmatic and could not bare the sadness and drama of his situation. And although he craved it, resolve between them was never reached. Now, after these five years more, she hoped that they could find some peace together, but instead she found a man whose soul seemed bereft of spirit, whose heart was inaccessible, and for whom joy no longer danced.
‘Marta, why have you come?’ asked Elias.
‘I thought that perhaps we could re-encounter our friendship, and I could visit you sometimes,’ said Marta.
Elias halted in his step; his solemn gaze still cast towards the grass beside the path. He wanted more than anything to embrace Marta, to squeeze her and smell her hair, to feel her arms gently clasped around his waist. He wanted to know now, in this moment, the joy that he had felt during their first few months as friends. The open and spontaneous forging of pure, new friendship; the seeking between eyes, discovering what made her laugh and observing the natural movement of her beauteous features as she engaged him in conversation. Her tactile gentleness, the piercing intelligence of her brightly illuminated mind, and her offbeat kooky humour. But he knew that if he was to allow himself the liberty of opening that most sacred of portals to her dream realm, through which his ideal world continued on without his presence, he would be intensely exposed to such a height of ecstasy, that after her departure, he would surely succumb to the inevitable emotional crash and collapse of mind that would follow, during the ensuing hours, days and weeks. A creeping unseeable gloom, slowly strangling the blossom of love, extinguishing the light of wonder. And would she ever return? Would she make visits, to be with him, a feature of her routine? Or could this perhaps even signal an opportunity for him to return to the outside world, and re-join the norms of social life and even work?
Elias opened his mouth, about to ejaculate a spontaneous affirmative, but gripped himself internally, allowed his lips to close and re-commenced walking, in silence. Marta followed by his side. He lifted his head, looking towards a small copse of trees a short distance away to their left, still maintaining a hidden facial aspect. His mood had eased a little, he noticed, and knew that it was the natural effect her presence had upon him — wise affection coupled with medicinal optimism.
They passed a bed of yellow and purple pansies, and Elias veered off the path in the direction of the small copse of trees.
‘There’s a small pond in this direction,’ he declared. Marta followed.
‘Are there frogs Elias?’ she asked cheerfully.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied, ‘I don’t visit it often. Perhaps.’ In a couple of minutes they were by the pond, with its overgrown reeds and two or three lily pads. After a couple more minutes of observation, they agreed that they could see no evidence of frogs, though of course, the amphibians may have been well hidden amongst the dense water foliage.
Marta knelt down beside the pond and peered into the dark water. She began pointing out the myriad of tiny creatures skating upon, and zipping about beneath, the surface of the pond.
‘Come down here and look Elias!’ she lured, turning her face upwards towards him, but he was carefully looking away from her view. When he noticed her turn back to face the pond, he knelt down beside her and bowed his head over the surface. There she had him finally, his reflection in the still dark mirror of the water. His aged face was smoothed by the reflection, and his eyes, focussing on the tiny insects darting around the pond, seemed alive with a familiar natural curiosity she remembered. Immediately Marta draped her arm over his back, gently and firmly, holding him as she continued to peer at his reflection. His reflex action was to tighten his musculature in response, but within a couple of seconds he succumbed to relaxation as she gently rubbed his back. She turned away from his reflection and looked at his profile. Elias kept his gaze fixed onto the surface of the pond. She leaned towards him and calmly kissed his face.
‘It’s really nice to see you Elias,’ she said soothingly, ‘I’m glad I came.’
He slowly lifted his head, tears running down his face and dropping off his chin into the pond. His knees were aching from crouching and so he raised himself to a standing position. Marta likewise stood, facing him. He turned to face her, and they looked into each other’s eyes for the first time in five years. In hers he saw five sparkling years of fun, love, friendships, vacations, frolicking and freedom. In his she saw one endless, sleepless night of isolation. She opened her arms, and they stepped into an immeasurable embrace.