Loving Alex

Midnight - 4 March

I have kept a personal diary my whole life long, but there is nothing of interest in it, nothing at all, for I have never been able to tell the real story. It has not mattered that no-one will ever read these diaries, for I could not and would not break my promise.

But this morning, on the News, I heard that Helen's husband has died, and now I cannot sleep, and I am full of anxiety. To quieten my mind, I shall write the story down for myself. It cannot matter so much now that he is dead.


It was a damp dreary evening, twenty years ago, as I walked slowly down the Kilburn High Road in north London. The traffic was jammed with vehicles bumper to bumper. The pavement was littered with people I had never seen before or would ever see again. Lights of every colour streamed out from kebab joints and from the traffic queues, glistened on wetness wherever, and vanished like fireworks making no impression on the night.

When the drizzle suddenly turned into a downpour, I dived into a public house, it could have been any one of a dozen. My business suit was out of place among the young, scruffy drinkers yet the shelter was welcome. I chose a Guinness in honour of it being Kilburn. Dark brown stucco decorated the high ceilings and lavish mirrors reflected the dim light enhancing the baroque decor. A small stage had been erected in the corner of an almost empty adjoining room, equally lavishly decorated. As I moved away from the bar, a woman, dressed in purple robes and with purple scarves veiling her face, approached a keyboard and began to play and sing.

The woman's voice entranced me so, so that when she finished I clapped loudly even though I was almost alone in the room. It was hard to believe such a first-rate singer was playing in a second-rate pub to a non-existent audience. I couldn't see the woman's features properly because of the lighting and the scarves but she seemed to be smiling towards me. I shrank back in embarrassment. Only when she started playing again did I relax, pick up my drink, and move slightly forward to sit at a table nearer the stage. She played the keyboard for several minutes with her head down and the lighting still dim. Then, all of a sudden, she threw off the veil and her face swept up through a dune of flowing sandy hair and a bright white spot lit her up like an angel.

That moment was remarkable. It was as though the spotlight had got inside my mind and paralysed it by sparking off so many reactions at once. I think the first emotion was a response to the woman's beauty. Close behind, even simultaneously perhaps, I am not sure, was the emotional and intellectual confusion caused by the fact that I knew this woman, I knew her very well indeed. At least I knew one with the very same face and hair, and she too possessed the same and uncommon beauty. Either it was Helen, transported from her home the other side of the world in New Zealand, transported from her life as the wife of one of the richest and most successful businessmen in my country; transported from a woman wearing the latest in French fashions; or else she was the absolute double. Surely, there could be no two women in the world with her looks and hair. Surely, Helen could not be here in the Kilburn High Road dressed in hippy clothes. Surely, I must be dreaming. Surely, I must be mad.

The second song, like the first, was a mixture of folk and blues. The lyrics, which were crystal clear despite the less than adequate sound system, dwelt on the frailty of human emotions. I sat there staring, trying to make up my mind which of the two impossible options was true. My mind dodged backwards and forwards, between the present and the past, between her face and my memory of Helen.

Full story - 8 pages


Paul K. Lyons

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