A TRAVELLERS TALE.
By Alice Douglas
Joan entered the busy cyber cafe.
Here, in the small town of Coburg, Canada, there weren’t that many.
Joan sat in front of the computer monitor screen.
She tapped in her reference number, which would admit her to the matchmaker web site.
The screen filled with a blood red love heart.
She didn’t need to enter a, ‘search for profile’, request.
She already knew who she was searching for.
She had looked at his picture and profile many times.
She had memorised his number.
She had sent him an email.
She had attached her picture.
Brian’s page appeared : Brian lived in England ; he was two years older than Joan and he worked in the family fashion business.
In the, ‘any other comments box’, Brian had included the old joke about being a traveller in women’s frocks.
Joan’s smile faded when, further down the screen, she saw that he had replied to her earlier email to him.
His reply contained an invitation to her to come over to England for a friendly visit and to meet his family.
Joan was beginning to regret searching a match-maker site. True, she had found a promising prospect, but now, the dilemma. It would mean travelling alone half way across the world to meet someone she didn’t even know. Of course, his profile may be false; he may not be who he says he is.
Sitting back in the chair Joan gazed at Brian’s face trying to assess his character: his intentions.
She typed in a reply agreeing to a provisional acceptance of Brian’s offer.
And, against the advice given by the website provider, she had typed in her home phone number.
The fingers of her left hand busied themselves strumming the table.
Her right elbow rested on the arm of her chair. She swung her right hand out, slowly, like a crane jib.
Her index finger hovered over the send button.
Her sigh told her she was taking a big risk; a shrug of her shoulders told her she was going to do it.
She jabbed the send key.
She watched the thin blue line streak across the monitor screen.
She logged off.
Brian did not notice the nervous tremor in Joan’s voice when she answered his call that evening.
Joan asked what frock he was wearing, ‘Oh, just a little off the shoulder number, it suits my new makeup’.
Joan began to relax as they both laughed, setting the tone of the conversation. Joan had enjoyed the chat and was feeling more positive when she agreed to travel over in four weeks.
Brian replaced the receiver, and, smiling at Joan’s picture that he had put up on the screen as they talked, felt pleased with himself.
He went down stairs and into the kitchen.
He was standing in front of the calendar on the wall, and, while drawing a thick black circle around the date of Joan’s arrival, his mother, Pamela, walked in.
‘What’s that for, Brian?’ she said, pointing at the encircled number. Brian told his mother about Joan and that they had been emailing through a match-maker site, and, talking on the phone, he had invited Joan over to meet.
“Really, how long is she staying for ?” said Pamela.
“Oh, just a week”, replied Brian, ‘she has work to do, in Canada, she’s an artist’.
‘Canada!” exclaimed Pamela. “All that way just to meet you?’ ‘Perhaps not just for a meeting mother,” said Brian, “ if we hit it off ok, well, who knows”.
Pamela had always nurtured plans for Brian. She wanted her only child to bring someone into the family who could join the family business and eventually take over joint directorship. Pamela hoped all this nonsense would come to nothing. But as days passed, Pamela became aware that Brian’s phone calls to Joan were becoming longer each time they talked, sometimes three or four times a day, every day.
Joan’s plane was on schedule. Brian recognised Joan immediately,. She was pushing her luggage trolley out of the arrival area. He greeted her with a gentle hug. He had already decided this was the right approach; he didn’t want Joan to think that he was some kind of Internet predator.
The physical contact between them had removed the last vestige of defence that the distance apart had offered Joan.
She felt a sudden, and unexpected, unease.
If she had changed her mind, the distance between them had made it easier for her to make an excuse as to why she couldn’t come: a family crisis; or something.
Joan gave a weak smile, and being unable to make eye contact, looked down at the floor. Brian thought it was a natural shyness and, taking over the trolley, led her to the car.
Joan climbed in to the car while Brian stored her bags in the boot. Then, pushing her hands into her pockets, Joan felt the slip of paper that a woman passenger, sitting next to her, had given her, on becoming alarmed on hearing from Joan, that the reason for her journey; was to meet a man she had only ever met on the Internet. Written on the paper was the woman’s phone number. She had made Joan promise to phone her if she needed any help.
Joan toyed with the paper in her pocket, as if it were a string of worry beads.
Pamela’s greeting to them both as they walked in to the house was friendly, but hardly any more than that. And, telling Brian to bring up the bags, she showed Joan to her room.
Next morning, over breakfast, Pamela received a phone call from a buyer in Scotland asking if she could send up next year’s fashion lines. Brian’s conversation with Joan ended suddenly when he heard Pamela say, ‘Of course, Brian will bring them up to you tomorrow’. Pamela hung up and, looking at Brian, anticipated his protest, ‘You will only be away a day or two, Brian, Joan and I will find plenty to do till then, won’t we dear?’
Joan didn’t want Brian to go but she didn’t want her presence to cause any conflict in his family.
‘Of course we will.You must go Brian’, smiled Joan, ‘It will give Pam and me time to get to know each other’.
Brian returned Joan’s smile, ‘Let’s go for a walk’, he said, ‘we can go up onto the fell, there’s a place I always go to get away from it all, the view from there is, well, breathtaking’.
Laughing at the cliché, they pushed back their chairs and, reaching for coats, Brian grasped Joan’s hand.
That afternoon the phone rang, ‘ Hi, Pamela, is that you? Was that ok?’
Pamela replied, ’Yes, thanks, Brian will be coming up to Scotland tomorrow. I know you said, when I phoned you yesterday, that you were not really ready for the new lines, but I appreciate the chance of getting Brian away for a few days. I think he may be intending to do something silly, and I want to fix it before he does. I owe you one, ok? Bye’.
Brian took Joan to his special place on the fell. There, there was an abandoned sheep pen, its dry stonewalls long since fallen. They sat together for hours on the grass, grazed short, and luxuriously soft. They watched as the sun went down between the crags.
When they got home Pamela had gone to bed.
Joan led Brian into her bedroom, and, quietly, closed the door.
Brian left next morning.
Pamela and Joan went shopping.
Over a cup of coffee at a small bistro, overlooking the open market, Pamela told Joan that Brian has other interests when he is out on the road.
Pamela slid her hand across the table, and, grasping Joan’s hand gently said, ‘To be frank, Joan, what I mean is, Brian has other women in his life, and at almost every outlet we sell to. I’ve known it for ages, but Brian doesn’t know I know. He will probably never change.
Joan said nothing, for a while, then, looking up from her coffee and shaking her head to throw back her hair that had fallen over her face said, ‘Well, I suppose that’s it, it was good of you to tell me’.
Pushing her cup away, and standing, said, ‘ I may as well go back to Canada, I suppose’.
‘I’m really sorry Joan’ whispered Pamela, ‘I thought it only fair that you should know about Brian’s other side. You can put yourself up in a hotel until you fix a flight, best not to be at home when Brian returns. I’ll make the excuses for you’.
On Brian’s return from Scotland, Pamela explained that Joan was really very sorry, but having had time to think about everything, she had decided that it really wouldn’t work, what with moving to England and leaving her family, who she was missing a lot more than she thought she would, and it would be best for both of them if they called a halt to everything, before getting any deeper involved.
Brian phoned Joan’s number hoping to persuade her not to break up, or, at least to ask for an explanation, when he learnt from her father that Joan had phoned home yesterday to say that she had decided to tour Europe.
Over the next year the business expanded.
Pamela had big plans.
She intended to establish a connection in Paris.
She sent Brian over to establish links and contacts.
Brian was having a business lunch with a group of marketing people. As the other members of the group sat discussing percentages and discount rates, Brian leaned back in his chair. His eyes were scanning a row of paintings along the opposite wall, when his gaze rested on a painting of a landscape of a sunset. It reminded Brian of the place that he had taken Joan when they were together in England.
He made enquiries to the waiter, ‘The paintings are by a local artist, sir, and they are for sale, should you you wish to buy’.
Brian asked the waiter if he would ask the artist to meet him here at the same time tomorrow to discuss a price for a painting.
The next day Brian was sitting at the same table.
He was looking at the painting.
He saw her reflection in the glass as she approached.
Joan was carrying a sleeping baby in her arms.
Brian stood and walked towards her.
Joan gasped as she recognised him and turned quickly, to leave.
Brian hurried towards her and placed a hand on her shoulder, ‘ Please don’t go, won’t you at least give me ten minutes, did you really miss your family that much?’
Leading Joan back to a table. It soon became clear to them both that Pamela had deceived them.
Brian, looking at the baby, still sleeping, said, ‘ Who’s the lucky man then?’
Joan offered the baby to Brian,
‘You mean you can’t see the likeness, Brian. I named him after you. Perhaps one day you can choose a nice frock for him to wear’.
Brian, looking at their son, did not speak for a while, then looking up, said, ‘Do you think he might like a little off the shoulder number?’
They both smiled.
Author Notes: I would like to hear your critique.