Luisa and Walter put on their coats and went outside. They crossed a small stone patio and descended two steps which lead them into the garden. The spring roses were just starting to bloom, giving off a sweet aroma to mingle with the smell of cut grass from a recently mown lawn. Their feet crunched on the weedless, raked-gravel path as they walked toward a small bench on the far side facing the house. The air was cool with a residual winter bite and the late afternoon surprisingly calm so that you could hear cattle lowing in the nearby fields. Farther off you could just hear the sound of a train mournfully clanking on the line toward London. They walked in silence, each of them thinking about their coming exchange.
Luisa reviewed why she couldn’t marry Walter with a quick analysis of her innermost thoughts. She asked herself what goes into that complex emotion called love. If love is rational, she told herself, then she ought to love him; after all, he was close, and a good friend, he was faithful and he was even ‘dear’. If love is physical, she argued that she ought to love him as she found him good-looking and attractive. But, if love is something else, something on top of the rational and physical, then she knew that her response to him lacked this elusive ingredient. One day she hoped to be able to give this special love wrapped around the rational and physical to her husband. She still clung to her concept of this ideal and had told herself that she would rather face spinsterhood than compromise.
As they walked, Walter fumbled nervously with the contents of his coat pocket. The sound jarred with the other afternoon noises which seemed so peaceful it was hard to recall that they were in the midst of a world war. Momentarily he was wrapped in his own thoughts as he fondly recalled their closeness during the Blitz of London and the critical night of December 29, 1940. He mused that he should remind Luisa of that night when they had shared a common reaction of awe and closeness. He had planned and rehearsed his speech with care, but when they reached the edge of the garden by the bench, he remembered the three rejections which she had given him, and his mind went bank.
Panicking, he blurted out, “Luisa, darling, it’s your birthday, we are not getting younger.”
This was a poor start. Luisa knew her age only too well. Walter had hit on a nerve as she was now thirty-two, something which she could not brush aside, especially when her parents constantly reminded her. Before Walter arrived they had both advised her that her age should be a factor in her consideration of marriage proposals, including Walter’s.
Walter pulled out his ring, and dropped to one knee. The gravel bit through his clothing but he hardly noticed. He focused his full attention on Luisa’s face. He grabbed her hand with his free one, and proffered the ring with the other.
“Luisa, you know that I love you. I adore you. I can’t help thinking about you. I ask, no, actually, I beg you to marry me. We could get married now and I know that I can make you happy. We’d have beautiful children who look like you. Don’t give me a pat answer. Think, Luisa, think.” Walter kept his eyes on her face and, noticing that she was opening her mouth to respond, raised his voice slightly into a desperate plead and forged on. “Yes, I know what you said in the past but please, my dearest Luisa, make me the happiest man in the world. Honor me; bring me happiness, say ‘yes’, consent to be my wife.”
Luisa steeled herself to ignore his supplicating pose and the glistening ring. She focused on his blond hair and blue eyes and tried to respond with kindness.
“Walter, get up, will you? Please put the ring away.” She helped him to his feet. “Walter, I know that someday you will be a wonderful husband and father. But, Walter, it’s not with me. It’s not me now, and it’s not me ever. Walter, I love you. I do love you,” she professed firmly. “But it is not as a suitor but as a friend, as a valiant fellow countryman and as a patriot. After the war is over I know that you will also be a great architect. I admire you. I treasure our friendship, but Walter, my dear kind Walter, that’s all. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t see myself married to you. Please, Walter, please, can’t we just be friends? Can’t we forget about this marrying stuff? There is a war to fight and we both need all our energy to give to the war effort.”
No sooner than the words were out than she realized she was being too kind. She suspected that this probably meant that if they were both alive next year Walter would be back. Perhaps she even wanted him to be back. He seemed to have expected her answer and nodded solemnly. He sadly wondered if his suit was completely pointless and that one day, perhaps on his next mission, he’d be killed and would miss his chance at marital bliss. She nostalgically reached out and touched his hand in a desperate attempt at the consoling closeness which her heart could not give. They silently turned, walked down the gravel path, mounted the steps, crossed the patio, and went back into the house. Walter kept his coat on, and they bid good-bye on the front porch. His wheeled his bicycle through the gate, mounted and rode off.
Luisa stood at the door and watched him ride away. When he reached the swerve in the road she half expected him to turn and wave before he went out of sight, but he didn’t. This time it had been harder to reject him. She wondered if he would be back a fifth time and whether she might eventually compromise and make all, except herself, happy, by accepting his offer. For now she knew that she was right. She couldn’t reconcile the thought of being married to Walter with his faint manly odor and clinking pocket change. She thought that it would probably eventually bring happiness but not the joy that she craved.
© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, February 2014
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