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The Language of Love

Celebrating moving on and finding yourself.

You need not know my age, my name and you need not know where I come from. You should, however, be familiar with my brief account. The briefest would read; I fell in love.

However, that would not express wholly the intense passion which I fell captive to in the year of ‘99.

In a charming café, miles away from home, I effortlessly recall each moment I spent with Dakota Roe. Not one wasted. I can confess that I cling cautiously onto the memory of every argument we ever had. I find now that any moment we shared together, should be a moment to treasure. Her enigmatic personality kept me constantly on my toes. Her moods were raw and short-lived, whether they were expressions of ecstasy or aggravation. She drew me in to her world of mystery and she healed me. She healed me, only to break me again. My muscles and I groaned in recollection. I cannot sound the extent of her beauty. Skin so tangible, lips so secretive. She was a siren and I am her sailor.

“Coffee, love?” My thoughts are interrupted. I nod gently and the waitress fills my cup. As soon as she leaves my table, I stand up and flounce out of the door. I will do almost anything for a rush these days. Almost anything.

My wandering thoughts return immediately to Dakota.

We met in the spring of ’99, a top magazine I often take photos for assigned me to organise a photo-shoot of an American actor and her beagle for a campaign against animal testing. I shot her insatiably, falling in love almost instantaneously. Yes, how cliché. But, oh! If you could see her, you would understand entirely. She was vivacious, yet completely shy in an utmost charming manner. She held her languid mongrel next to her face and she beamed at the camera. At me. Her darkest curls stroking the crevice where her neck met her shoulders, her petite nose wrinkling when she smiled. It continuously breaks my heart to remember each detail so liberally, it truly does.

As I stand here outside the old-fashioned restaurant where we shared our first dinner date, I clutch my chest in a hope to cease my pain. It is hopeless of course, the pain lingers and increases. If I were in a Shakespeare play, this would be the heart-wrenching scene where the protagonist delivers a devastating soliloquy before taking his life in an attempt to end his misery. I am not in a Shakespeare play though, so I jerk my hood up over my head and eyes, I thrust my fists into my pockets and I head home.

I arrive at my door, my face drowned in tears. It is an everyday experience for my doorstep-dwelling neighbour, Felix. He pulls that smile people seem to pull all too often, the smile that could either say, “Your pain worries me, try to cheer up” or it could say, “You’re crying again? Pull yourself together, it’s embarrassing.” I do not know which of these he wished to bear, but I nodded impassively and went inside, regardless. He called after me, “Pull yourself together, Rich.” I let the slamming door respond. A surge of destructive vigour rose and simmered inside of me. I pounded my clenched fist on the side table, and then I swung it sideways and brought everything on the surface crashing to the marble floor. Several family photos shattered and were strewn down the hall, I flung myself after them. As I lay curled on the floor amidst the broken glass and memories, I wept for my loss of dignity. Or the theft of my dignity perhaps, for it was so brutally stolen from me.

I am not a weak man in build, I am not particularly robust but I have endured a fight or two. I did not used to be so, how to put it, ‘woe is me’. Before Dakota, and certainly during our time together too, I thoroughly appreciated living, I had no reason to believe myself to be so fragile. I guess it is not until you’re broken, that you appreciate how effortlessly you can be so. It was not until Dakota broke my heart, that I realised I had actually never been heart-broken before. If nothing, she proved to me that any woman before her, and frightfully any woman after her, could never mean more to me than she did. It is a thought I try so hard to avoid. I would like to believe that there is more than one person for everyone and that ultimately, you will find that person, and together you will prosper. I try so hard to believe this notion, but it a challenging concept to adhere to, especially after Dakota. She has ruined all my hopes of rediscovering love, or at least believing it is possible. How impressive!

After regaining some composure, I made a nutritious meal of cheese on toast and sat at my computer. It had become a daily ritual for me to check my emails, in an ambitious hope that Dakota would have contacted me. She hadn’t done so far, except once. A week after she’d ended our 3 year relationship; she sent me a callously casual email asking for me to place her things in a box for her to collect. I could have handed the box of memories to her myself, but I could not will myself to do so. Instead, I left it with Felix and left the house for the day. Sometimes I regret not marvelling at her unattainable beauty one last time. I suppose I did not know that would be the last time I would see her. Ah, it is so difficult not seeing her every day. It is torture.

It is a result of this that it gave me such a painful joy to see she had emailed me earlier that morning. I took several minutes to control my laughter and then my tears. I expected the worse to soften the blow of any possible bad news and I was right to.

The email read:

Dear Richard,

Please forgive me for not contacting you sooner. I’ve been very busy with the campaign. I’ve succeeded in closing down a whole factory for animal testing products, I suspect you’ve heard about it on the news or in the paper or from Margie. Do you hear from her often? She does not speak of you to me anymore. We meet up regularly for lunch dates.

I am writing to you to tell you some news that I hope has not already reached you. I am due to be married this December. His name is Henry and you would like him, Richard! He’s an avid pool and golf player. I assume you will decline (which I would understand completely), but you are very welcome to attend. You could ask Margie for the exact date, time and venue and perhaps you could even go with her. I know she has not been seeing anyone for a very long time. I think she needs to move on from Tony’s death. This dwelling can’t be good for her.

I hope you are well and I hope to see you in December.


Dakota Rose

I read the email and reread it six times before I could tear myself away from the desk. Margie! Go to Dakota’s wedding with Margie! What an agonizing thought! I could not possibly think of a worse event to attend and my, with a worse companion! Margie Reynolds, a mutual friend of Dakota’s and mine, a hideous creature of tartan and gossip. I could not even imagine! How insulting of Dakota. How insulting of her to presume I am without my own fiancé or wife!

In a fit of fury and despair, I flung the front door open and walked out. Felix stood up as soon as I had closed the door behind me. “Say, Richard?” he leant over my fence. “If you want something to take your mind off things, I’ve got a cracking new TV, sky and the lot. You should come round one night, we’ll watch something. Have a few beers and such. What do you say?”

I shot him a glare of utter frustration, “What!?” I drew myself right up in his face, “Do I look like I want to sit around drinking cheap beer and boring myself to death with your- your abysmal company!?”

He took a step back and held his hands up, “Well, the offer's there. You take it up whenever you like.”

I threw my arms in the air, “Unlikely!” I screeched like a little school girl and I ran as fast as I could down my path and out onto the road.

As I recall the look on Felix’s face and the tone in my voice, I wince, I cringe. I was cruel. At that moment, I was no better than Dakota and her vicious email. Not a slither better. But of course I did not realise that then, I did not think twice, I just kept on running down the road.

I returned home after a fruitless run beside the river. A bare step greeted me, I thought it odd, but I did not consider it further. Well, not until I went for a cigarette before going to bed. I pondered over his whereabouts and decided to knock on his door. I was not sure why I did it; I think I may have even taken myself by surprise. I had no plan of what I was going to say, but I felt as if I needed to talk to him. I need not have worried though, as he did not answer the door.

Bewildered, I slumped onto his cold step. How clichéd my mind was nowadays! I thought of nothing but the expression ‘you do not miss something until it is gone’. I attached the expression loosely to Felix and his absence. Something unexplainable and utterly bizarre willed me to spring up and knock once again on his front door. I called out, “Felix! Open the door now, Felix! Come on.” I recognised I was making a habit of screeching like a schoolgirl. I frowned at this. “Felix!”

Unexpectedly angry, I rattled the door handle, it opened easily and without thinking I stepped in. “Felix?” I whispered then, which was a surprise even to me. “Are you in?” There was no answer.

I could vaguely hear a TV show murmuring towards the back of the house. I crept towards the sound. “Are you in?” I repeated. I was beginning to feel a little foolish and perhaps a bit embarrassed as I tiptoed through his filthy kitchen/diner. The door to the lounge was shut and I could hear the TV beyond the closed door. I pushed it open. My body took over when I saw Felix, sitting on the floor with a bottle of pills in his hand and tears down his face; I pounced on the sofa and pried the bottle out of his hands. Without thinking twice, I slapped him straight across his wet cheek. “What are you playing at!?” I screeched (yet again).

He shook his head, “I wasn’t.” He mumbled, “I wasn’t going to. I just wanted to see if I could.”

I frowned and collapsed down on the floor next to his feet, “See if you could do what!?” I questioned frantically, placing the bottle out of his reach next to me.

“Well, I always think if my life is so bad, I could take this- I could take that bottle and down the lot. I could just down the lot and forget about everything.” He looked into my eyes, right into my pupils. “But I can’t,” he whispered, patting my shoulder.

“I don’t understand,” I avoided his attentive gaze.

“If my life was bad enough, I could just down all those pills and die. But I can’t do it. So what does that tell me? I’ll tell you, it tells me that I’m fine. Life isn’t so bad.” He stood up sharply and slapped his hands on each leg. “Ah, it gives you a great perspective on life, it does.”

I felt astonished tears stabbing at my eyes.

“Don’t cry for me, Richard. Don’t pity me at all. It’s good that I don’t take them, isn’t it?” he slammed the lounge door closed and turned to me; “I’d like you to leave now.” And I did.

I slept badly that night; my heart was not in its right place. It lay uncomfortably in my throat. Felix had been right when he claimed it put his life in perspective. It had certainly had that effect on me. I realised that if Felix needed pills to prove life was okay, my life could not possibly be as bad as I thought. I had never believed death would be better than my heartbreak. It seems a ridiculous notion when I think carefully about it. If you compare never breathing again with sometimes finding it hard to breathe, why would I choose death? Of course, an overwhelming ache controls my body, my mind, my everyday life. But to be dead? That could not possibly improve my situation. At least I can live with the hope that life will get better one day.

For the first time in several months, I was up before midday. It was 8am when I could stand my bedroom no longer and I sprung into the shower. It had been a fair few days since I had showered too, so I welcomed the warm water mercifully. I toyed with the idea of going back to work. Karl, the magazine’s producer, had told me to take some time off to sort my head out after I had turned up an hour late with teary eyes some months ago. I needed the time off, I needed to wallow. I still did, of course. But I was up and ready at 8:30 and it seemed almost normal to walk out of my house, get on the 5a bus, get off in the city centre and go into work. And so I did.

Half worried faces greeted me, half surprised. I shared a smile to all of the faces, the new and the old.

“He’s back.” The receptionist whispered.

“I am back,” I called and I slid into the lift.

The boss Karl was a little more amazed. “What the hell are you doing here, chap?” he clapped his hands and stood up from his desk. “What a morning!”

“I think it’s time I took some pictures, Karlos.” I took my Kodak from my satchel and placed it on his desk. “I’m ready whenever you are.”

Karl rejoiced with a kiss of my camera, “I couldn’t be happier!” he replaced my camera and kissed my forehead. “Of course, I gave your office away last month, but don’t worry chap, I’ll sort you out!”

He did sort me out. Together we dragged a desk into my old office and I set up there next to Beatrice, the other photographer. She was displeased to say the least. I guess during my absence, she had been promoted of sorts. She had taken on all the big jobs that I could not. But I was back! And I was raring to go.

“Good morning, Beatrice.” I pulled my chair up to her desk. “Karl has told me you have a job for me.”

She looked up from her computer and forced a gentle smile, “why, yes. I have the perfect job.” As she shuffled some papers, I could swear I almost saw her sneer. She handed me a small piece of paper, it read:

48 chestnut avenue,
50 year old annie Princeton
sewage overflow in back garden

I sighed. “Sewage?” I looked up at a happy Beatrice, “really?”

“Yes, Mr Manning. There is an alternative, if you’d like to see it. Would you?” Another piece of paper was in her hand. I reached for it, “let’s have a look then.”

This piece read:

apartment 4, st peters estate
26 year old Dakota roe
campaign to close Thompson & co.
(animal testing centre in Norwich)

I ground my teeth. “No thanks. Sewage is fine with me.” I dug my fingernails into my palms and walked over to my desk. “I cannot be doing with dogs!” I laughed.

“Who said anything about dogs, Mr Manning?” a smile widened across her delicate face. She was bitter. I understood, but it angered me all the same.

The walk to Annie Princeton’s house was pleasant. I had chosen to walk to clear my mind. It seemed to work, because I arrived at 48 Chestnut Avenue with a fresh outlook on the assignment. Annie Princeton turned out to be a cheerful lady with a fantastic sense of humour. We had a cup of tea and several custard creams before even venturing into her back garden. She pulled on her colourful wellingtons and led me outside. “It smells a bit funky, but I’ll tell you something, Richie, it does the tulips wonders!” she laughed heartily and pointed at the stream that was weaving through her flower beds. I took out my camera and took a few pictures of the brown sludge that was invading her garden. I heard a bang and a “woops!” and I turned around to see Annie on her bottom in the flowerbed. “Darn slippery stuff!” she chortled and patted the ground. “You should be snapping this!” she lay down on her side in the flowerbed and struck a pose. I laughed and pretended to take several photos of her.

“Wait!” I screeched as she began to sit up, “stay there!” I ran over to her and plucked a rich tulip from the ground. I handed it to her, “hold his!”

She stayed lying on her side in the mucky flowerbed, holding a tulip and smiling whilst I took pictures from different angles. “This is perfect!” I declared as she got up and wiped herself down.

“Oh Richie, you are a blast!” she took me inside and gave me a sandwich of cheese and pickle, which I ate ravenously before leaving the house.

“Good bye darling! Thank you ever so much!” she called after me. I waved and turned out of the road, a smile on my face.

I finished my day on a high. I was ecstatic with the work I had completed, as was Karl. He claimed my ‘hilarious take on the disgusting situation’ was that of a pro. A total pro. I did not get on the 5a bus; instead I walked the mile or two home with a smile.

On my arrival, I saw Felix sitting on his step smoking a cigarette.

“Felix!” I exclaimed and I walked up his path and patted his shoulder. “How are you doing?”

He threw his cigarette on the floor and stood up to greet me. “I’m fantastic Rich, how are you?” He was smiling at me; I had honestly never seen him so happy.

“I’m well. Very well in fact. Say, how do you fancy coming over for a beer and a game of rummy?” I hopped over our connected railing and jammed my key in the door.

“I’d be delighted,” he said frankly, “I’ll bring the beers if you have the cards!”

I cheered, “Great news!” and I walked into my hallway, “see you at 8.”

I had helped a lady with a sewage problem, I had made my boss happy enough to kiss my camera and I had cheered my neighbour up. All in all, I had had a good day. I felt happy.

8pm was greeted with a light knock at the door and a cheery voice calling, “Richie? It’s me, Felix!”

“Come in, I’m in the dining room!” I replied and I took a seat at the table and began to shuffle the deck. Felix was wearing a purple and black shirt and black jeans; he looked spruced up and clean really. It was a remarkable change. “You look well Felix, take a seat. I’ll get the bottle opener.” Felix sat down and marvelled at the room. I returned to my seat and we opened a couple of beers and began our game.

I must say, I had a marvellous evening. I beat Felix remarkably, but he laughed wholeheartedly at his own expense and opened another beer. We played only one game of rummy and spent the rest of the evening gossiping like old school friends. It was a fresh new concept for me to have a friend that I could talk openly to. The subject of Dakota Roe was unavoidable and it did not pain me to tell him the story of my heartbreak and he soon understood my hostile temper that I had been carrying for so long. He was very understanding, come to think of it. He admitted he knew something was not right and he did not see it as his place to question it. So he allowed me to be hostile and kept out of it until I wanted to share my pain. I told him I was very grateful of this and I apologised for being so rude to him recently. He accepted my apology and we went on to talk about golf and other light-hearted subjects alike.

Our casual evening in my house ended just after midnight. It did not end pleasantly though. A knock at the door interrupted Felix’s entertaining impersonation of our neighbour Millicent. “I’ll get it, you open some more beers!” he called as he left the room. I did as he said and opened two more beers. I smiled to myself and I noted that for the first time in a very long time, I felt quite content. Naturally, it did not last long. I heard a commotion in the hallway and I went to see what the fuss was about.

“Who the hell are you!?” A voice I recognised all too well shouted. Dakota pushed past Felix and walked up to me. “You!” she pointed a wild finger at me, “You are so rude!”

Her face had grown increasingly tired. She had some faint frown lines which took me by surprise. Probably more so than her angry tone and her wobbling march over to me.

“I’m rude?” I questioned, not taking my eyes off those creases in her face.

“Yes! You are so rude! I wrote you a perfectly pleasant email and you blatantly ignored it! You’re a-“

“I’m a what, Dakota?” I raised an eyebrow.

“You’re a pretentious arsehole!” she threw her arms in the air, nearly smacking Felix in the face, “that is what you are Rich!”

“Now, come on!” Felix stood in front of her so he was between us, “you should leave!”

“Who the hell are you to tell me to leave?” she practically spat in his face. I had not realised how utterly repulsive Dakota could be. Just completely disgusting!

“If anyone should be leaving, mister,” she jabbed her thin finger into his chest, “it is you!”

Felix looked back at me, “is that what you want?” he asked me. I paid no attention to him; I was still focussed on the tight angry expression on Dakota’s face. I was fixated in my mind, pondering over how she got to be so vulgar. The way she spoke, the words she used, they were hideous! She had become hideous.

“Fine. I understand perfectly. As soon as she calls, you come running, right? That’s how it is.” He shook his head and stormed towards the front door. “If this…charade is what you want, then you’re bloody welcome to it!” he slammed the door shut behind him. It awoke me. I ran my hands through my clean hair and exhaled for what felt like an eternity.

“Rich...” Dakota’s voice was gentle as she tiptoed up to me and placed her palm on my cheek. “I love you.” She whispered into my ear. She left a line of destructive kisses from my ear to my lips.

For a second, I let her. I was fooled by her performance, but just for a second. I pushed her away from me, shaking my head and I led her to the front door, like you lead a small child back to bed. Silently. I guided her out on to the door step, much against her will, and I said firmly, “Go away and do not even consider coming back.” I did not close the door on her, I stayed blocking her from the house, during her protest, then her tears and then I watched her walk away.

As soon as she was out of sight, I walked round the fence to Felix’s pathway. My steps were tentative now, as though the ground might break beneath my feet. I did not knock as I presumed he would not have answered anyway. Instead, I walked in and calmly headed for the lounge. He did not look up from the sofa when I walked in, or when I carefully took the bottle of painkillers from his loose grip. I sat next to him on the sofa.

“Could you do it?” I placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

He looked into my eyes, right into my pupils. And he nodded.

I dragged him to the kitchen sink, I opened his mouth and taking his fingers, I pushed them to the back of his throat. He gagged several times before being continually sick into the sink. I made him vomit until the liquid he produced was no longer frightfully white. I then placed him back on the sofa and handed him copious amounts of water. He was an empty shell of exhaustion and I felt completely to blame. It broke my heart, it truly did.

Whilst I tore a slice of bread into manageable chunks and stroked his blonde curls back from his face, I ensured him that Dakota would not be returning. He nodded softly and carefully pushed the bread in my hand away from him. He then looked up at me again, but this time he didn’t stare into my pupils, he looked at my skin, my hair, and my lips. Then he leant towards me, placing his hand under my chin, and he kissed me. He kissed carefully at first and then ever more passionately. I closed my eyes, thanked God and I kissed him back.

You need not know my age, my name and you need not know where I come from. However, 25, Richard, Norfolk and perhaps my briefest account would read; I fell in love with Felix.

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