The Longest Night

They were engaged to be married. Marie called him her prince, and naturally and reciprocally she was his princess. He had (somehow found the money and) bought nice (and heavy) matching eighteen karat plain gold rings which they, sitting by the edge of this green May field and blessed by the sun and further warmed by sweet champagne, had placed on each other’s fingers. A long, sweet kiss sealed the deal. Yes, they would stay true to each other forever, and they would get married—as soon as she returned from England.

London was the only cloud in this glorious spring sky.

They had met cold mid-winter. They had fallen truly and irreversibly in love, and then, buoyed by the sweetest and longest wave of pure bliss that humankind has ever known (a common claim among those freshly in love, to be sure), had promised each other undying devotion.

Just one thing, Marie brought up early March. She had been wondering how to put this, how to break this to him—in fact she had tried to uncommit but her friend Monica would not hear of it, a promise was a promise and they were going. You’ve known him for, what, five weeks, and you’ve known me for twelve years, Marie. You cannot go back on your promise. You must not. You cannot, you simply cannot. I would never forgive you.

So, there was nothing for it, she had to keep and deliver on her promise to spend the summer in London with Monica—hotel cleaners by day, pretty Swedish dancers by night. To be perfectly honest, in one of her heart’s many hidden apartments lingered still the pre-him excitement of going, she would enjoy it (she loved dancing) but she would be true to him, of course she would be true to him. Of course, you will be true to him parroted Monica, though with detectable cynicism.

“I have something I must tell you,” she said.

“What,” he smiled.

“You know Monica.”

“Sure, your friend.”

“Before you and I even met, last fall, Monica and I made plans to go to London this summer.”

“For how long?”

“The whole summer.”

His smile waned. “How whole?”

“We’re to leave late May and return in August.”

“That’s the whole summer.”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not going, right. Plans have changed, haven’t they?”

“Well, that’s just it, you see. We made plans, we made promises, Monica and I, and we are going. Monica will not hear of a change of plans.”

“So,” he said after a long, heavy pause. “You’re going to leave me?”

“No, of course not,” she said. “You’re my prince, you’ll forever be my prince. Nothing will ever, ever change that.”

“If that were true,” he heard himself saying—and regretted saying as the words fled his mouth, “you would not go.”

“Sweetheart, I have no choice. Really, I don’t. Monica is my best friend and has been for years.”

“And I’m what?”

“You’re my prince.”

What could he say? Of course he was hurt. She, the love of his life, was leaving him for the whole summer, and God knows that might happen in London—it was the swinging 60s after all. But on another level, he knew that she ought to be true to her friend and keep her promise, it was part of the honesty in her that he loved.

It was all very confusing and unsettling and unpleasant and slippery.

He said all he could say, “Okay.”

Then she said what he was trying not to think, “Don’t worry sweetheart. I love you and I will stay true to you, my prince.”

“You love to dance,” he said.

“Yes, I love to dance,” she said. “But dancing and loving is not the same thing. You can dance for the sake of dancing, for the joy of moving, for the love of dancing.”

However, they both knew this to be a lie for dancing was, no matter how platonically cast, at least to some extent, sex—whether at a distance or near or intimate—set to music.

“I know,” he said.

“Let’s talk about something else,” she said.

And they did. Talked about something else. And as the winter wore on and into spring, and as the spring wore on and into early summer, he forgot, or chose to repress more likely, London, and as their love blossomed, he even hoped that one day, one day soon, out of the blue, she would kiss him and tell him that, after all, she had decided not to go.

No such luck.

But to cement their love (and to assuage his fears, she added to herself) they decided to marry as soon as she returned, and so he had found the money and bought the rings and they had gone out into the young-May field and under the smiling sun and to the clink of champagne glasses and the soft susurrus of a million freshly minted leaves they had promised each other true, true love forever and his mind was eased, but only a little.

But only a little: her departure was not far off now—and he didn’t really trust Monica (same as Monica didn’t really trust and outright—and quite obviously—resented him for stealing her best friend). Dancing, any type of dancing—tango, disco, whatever—is always fueled by sexually tainted energy, he knew that, he knew that. They were going to London to dance, to dance. He knew that, and Monica would (he had not even the tiniest doubt about this) do her best to pry Marie away from him, permanently.

Still, their love was truer and stronger than dance, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? He hoped so, prayed so, doubted so, feared that perhaps not so, then again wished so—no matter how swinging the London scene with its hundred clubs all made for dancing through the night.

Sometimes he dared not even think in that direction, in the London direction, and sometimes he did and then he was ready to kill Monica for insisting Marie keep her promise. Sometimes he managed to lift his thoughts beyond the summer and up to wonderful September and October when Marie was back and they were married.

And then they were another day closer to parting.

And another day closer.

And then.

This was their last night together. She and Monica (a somewhat gloating Monica) were leaving first thing in the morning; well, around ten. Monica’s dad was to drive them to Gothenburg where they would take a ferry boat to England. Marie was staying the night in his rented little room with its high bed and barely sufficient writing desk, where he penned his poems and now his agony at Marie’s going away in, what, eight hours now.

Marie was sleeping, he was sitting by the desk writing yet another letter to fate and the goddess of love asking them to somehow intervene. He looked over at his sleeping fiancé, who—he reflected with a deep stab in his lower guts—unlike him, had no trouble sleeping. Probably dreaming of dancing.

He tried again to sleep, but just could not.

He thought of waking her (again) but she had been a little annoyed the last time. He thought of crying, perhaps loudly enough to accidentally (as it were) wake her, but he didn’t want to appear that pathetic (and didn’t want to give Monica the satisfaction should Marie tell her about it on their way to dancing London).

He finally fell asleep and in the next moment Marie was shaking him awake, “Got to go now, Sweetheart. Do you want to come and say goodbye or do you want to stay here, sleep some more?”

“Of course I’m coming,” he said, and slid out of bed and into jeans and sweater.

At Marie’s house, everything was set for the majestic departure. Monica and her driving dad had just arrived. Marie’s dad (the cook in the family) was serving up freshly baked (and really delicious) cinnamon buns with the perfect coffee; everybody was smiling and laughing and wishing Marie and Monica a safe journey and a good time and don’t forget to write her mother told Marie at least a dozen times that he could hear.

And then Marie’s dad carried her suitcases—two, lots of dancing outfits—to the car and fitted them (barely), while laughing at own his efforts, in the trunk of the blue Volvo.

“Ready then?” wondered Monica’s dad aloud.

Monica smiled and smiled at him at everybody at him again. Marie’s parents (a little apprehensive, to be sure) smiled too. Marie said, sure and looked around to catch his eyes. Found them. Came over to him and kissed him squarely on his mouth for all to see. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I love you, I really do.” And he believed her, of course he did.

And then she turned and vanished into the back of the Volvo, Monica in front (owner’s/driver’s daughter’s prerogative, obviously). The Marie-kidnapping Volvo’s engine fired up (first try) and just like that they turned left at the end of the drive and Marie was gone.

She had not looked back what he could see.

It was a lovely day, the sun was high, birds were singing their hearts out all over the place, barely a cloud, and those that had ventured out sailed high up there like ridiculously happy babies discovering they could fly.

It was the worst day of his life.

Perhaps, he was later to consider, he had suffered a mild shock, for he remembers very little of the rest of the day. Had he stayed with Marie’s parents (who were not all that keen on the wedding plans, to be honest) to be consoled or had he gone back to his room to revel in his misery. He just could not remember.

 But what he does remember is the hell that set in as the evening aged into Marie-less night.

It was not that his heart was sailing away, it remained and ached, it was everything it had to live for that grew more distant with every beat, and he yearned, yearned, for her arrival in London so that this distance between would finally stop widening.

He physically felt the vastness between them increase, it was a ravaging chasm: he felt the light dim, his love flicker—fainter, fainter.

It was a grief beyond grief.

In that moment, sitting at his desk watching his own reflection in the window on the not-quite-dark night outside he was not sure that he could take more of this: each breath drew new loneliness, new desperation and fresh need to have her here, in this room, right now, smiling at him and calling him her prince.

In that moment he truly wanted to leave. Simply up and leave. He wanted to leave this sad game altogether. No, not kill himself, that never entered his mind, no. Yet, he found and stood by the white door, that large locked door that did indeed lead out of this theater and he knocked and knocked and knocked.

He sensed life (intelligence, awareness, call it what you will) on the far side of that very locked door and he now pleaded with that awareness, that life, that holder of keys to please, please open the door and let him out. Let him wake up from this terrible, terrible dream. Please.

He could sense more than hear movement on the far side of the door, but it was an interested, a curious rather than compassionate movement, as if something moved closer to the door and placed its ear against it the better to make out his suffering.

The door remained shut, and the boy remained tormented.

He was eventually to recover, and Marie was to eventually return (almost two months late) from swinging London, somewhat pregnant—the embryo had not settled in and was easily dislodged by their first rather passionate and a little wild act of love.

But she had betrayed him. She had not been true to him. She had broken her promise. She confessed this and cried a little as she did, cried at her girly weakness, but, my Prince, that is all over now, I’m back home and the summer is behind us.

“Where’s your ring?” he had asked her.

She had lost it, she said—pawned more likely, he thought. But despite everything, he discovered that he still loved her, with a freshly blossoming heart and so—although they did not marry—they re-united and remained Prince and Princess for nearly a year, when he was the one to leave to seek love and truth elsewhere in the world.

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