‘I suppose I’m lonely,’ she said. ‘Lonely and I never thought I would be’
Hilary Fannin: Don’t tell me to take up a sport. Especially golf, said my lonely friend
‘I’m suppose I’m lonely,’ my friend said. Photograph: iStock
“I suppose I’m lonely,” she said. “Yes, that’s the word. I’m lonely and I never thought I would be. I never thought I’d feel so alone.”
We were sitting at an outside table in a cafe in the park. The sun had made an appearance after a monsoon week and we had arranged to meet, a friend and I, for a long-planned walk.
“I didn’t know you were feeling lonely,” I said.
“Nobody knows. You can’t tell by looking at me. I’m not talking to the trees. I haven’t started pushing my life around the streets in a supermarket trolley, swigging fortified sherry out of the bottle.”
“I didn’t think wandering the streets necking bottles of sherry was a particular signifier of loneliness.”
“Illness then, vulnerability – it’s the same thing. If you admit to being lonely, people think there’s something wrong with you. They back off, they think it’s catching.”
There were two rooks eyeing up our raspberry scones from their perch on top of the ornamental gate beyond our table. Another bird on the ledge of the tall pillar was frantically shredding a napkin, searching the ribboned tissue for crumbs.
At other tables talkative, efficient young mothers stirred their chai teas or spooned froth from foamy coffees into their busy mouths. One of the rooks, or maybe they were crows, swooped down and swiped a crust from a just-vacated table. A baby, perched on its mother’s knee, momentarily stopped eating its own fist to fully concentrate on the sheer astonishment of it all.
“I don’t know who I am any more. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”
“Maybe you should look for work.”
“What work? Who’d want me? What can I do?”
“Loads of things.”
“Yeah. You brought up a family. Seems like you made a good job of it.”
“And what does that qualify you for? When it’s over, when they’re gone, when you don’t have to be somewhere at four o’clock, or six o’clock, or midnight? When it doesn’t matter if you don’t make the dinner or put on a wash? When there’s nobody there to feed or encourage or collect or console, what then?”
“There is need everywhere,” I answered. “Everywhere.”
I looked across at the rook, perched now on the back of a red chair. It looked straight back at me, head cocked, eyes steely-blue. Its arachnid-like talons were a varnished black. It clung to its position on the chair back until we stood and abandoned our table. I turned to watch it dart over and poke around our plates for spoils.
We walked then through the withered rose garden, where the names of the buds, clearly legible, were displayed on plaques on the drying earth.
“Sexy Rexy?” I asked my friend. “Is that really the name of a rose? It sounds like a nightclub in Fuengirola.”
“Sexy Rexy is a very good bloomer. Fragrant. Chop it down and it keeps coming back.”
‘Spoilt and privileged’
“I know I sound spoilt and privileged,” she continued. “I know I was lucky to be able to stay at home with my children while they were growing up. It’s not that unusual, not really, and I was happy to do it, and the years rolled on, and now . . .”
“I don’t know. I have no confidence in myself. Honestly. I know I sound like a cliche. But it’s so quiet. Everything feels so silent.”
We walked past a bed of slumbering Ingrid Bergmans and then another of dormant Lili Marlenes.
“They should name roses after ordinary women,” I suggested. “Ordinary women and their lives.”
“I’d be planted in a bed of always-a-good-girl-did-what-she-thought-was-required-and-now-look-at-her.”
“Do you have any money?” I asked.
“Shame. You could traverse the world by rail.”
“I’d be scared. That’s the problem. I’m suddenly afraid of my own shadow, and suddenly ridiculously alone.”
“I think,” I ventured cautiously, unsure if I was helping or hindering, “I think this is a phase. I think that the ground is swelling and pushing around you and that you’re cultivating some other part of yourself. I think you’ve got a whole new life ahead of you.”
We circumnavigated the rose beds in silence for a while.
“Okay, but don’t tell me I’m a perennial,” she said.
“And don’t tell me to take up a sport. Especially golf.”
“I seriously wouldn’t dream of it.”
We walked. Under our feet, the springtime earth rang with the whisper of renewal.