The Last Summer of Love.
By Craig Dellverdi
Jason found the familiar weight of the Beretta a comfort. He sat, admiring the weapon in thepalm of his hand, a beautifully crafted automatic pistol, the gunsmith's art personified.
Can an instrument of death be beautiful?
The gun was his trophy, a souvenir from hell. He'd released the Beretta from the death grip of a fallen adversary who'd have shot him with it, but for a split second and the reversal of fortune.
Later that same day he used the captured handgun to good effect. The bullet that had nearly killed him in the morning, had saved his life, by taking another - that afternoon.
That was long ago, upon a field of conflict that seemed a million miles away now. Some nights he'd go back there, but he didn't mind, because when the nightmare ended and he woke to find it only a dream, the sense of relief was glorious - like rebirth. The new life that surrounded him was full of warmth and joy, for he was living in a summer of love.
He looked into the photograph upon the desk before him. His wife and daughter smiled back from within the frame and his heart fluttered. She could still do that to him, his wife... after all these years.
Jason remembered when they met, it was hot, just like today. He was in the army and after spending months in the Central American jungle, he found himself back on the streets of London, shopping for a shirt. With only one day to adjust to civilization, everything seemed unfamiliar, he felt strange and detached.
The store doorway had a cool-wall and the downdraft of frigid air chilled the fine layer of perspiration, raising goose bumps on his bare forearms as he entered.
Where had that air-con been when he'd really needed it?
The dramatic shift in temperature put an edge upon his senses and the aroma from a rack of leather jackets, together with the newness smell of assorted fabrics, combined to assault his nostrils. A glance around suggested this establishment was too fashionable and overpriced.
Who the hell names these places?
... It used to be called ‘Clarkson & Son. Menswear,' he was sure of it.
Jason was a reluctant shopper, usually his civilian clothing came from the outdoor-store and he found himself pushed through the entrance of ‘Geezers' by the occasion of friends wedding. No uniforms; the bride didn't want a military do. Jason was pissed, not because he liked parading around in his uniform, and it wasn't the cost of rigging himself out for the one day. It was the shopping - he just hated shopping.
Fumbling through a rail of far too fancy shirts, looking for collar sizes, his head was down yet he became aware of the salesperson homing in. He feared it would be a man. Jason harbored an irrational distrust of male retail-assistants. He'd attempted to come to terms with it on several occasions, but found the prejudice to be deeply instinctive, rather than conceived. He'd lived too long in a world where you box before breakfast and have to skin your own dinner. He couldn't relate to them and found himself wishing that they'd get a proper job. In a country crying out for self respecting construction workers and all nature of craftsmen, why would a fit, healthy young man become an underwear peddler? The resentment folded the moment he realized that the assistant in ‘Geezers' was female.
And what a female!
His heart leapt at the vision coming towards him. Her gentle blonde hair framed a natural sun-kissed face set with jewel green eyes. He looked at her, and was mesmerized. As she closed in, an ice-breaking smile parted her delicate lips to reveal perfect white teeth.
He remembered thinking that she was an identikit-angel, the blueprint of his perfect woman.
"Hi," she said.
One single mischievous syllable and it rendered him incapable of forming a coherent reply. The jungle-boy, hardened by years of training and active service was reduced to a limp mute. Jason fought to regain control, sure that his tongue was hanging out, channeling drool to his chest.
His wife told him in later years, that it was his smile that enchanted her - it involved his whole face, giving him an air of schoolboy innocence whilst the devil danced a wicked jig in his deep hazel eyes.
"Hi, um... Nicole," he mumbled, in reply.
Her badge said, ‘Hi, I'm Nicole, ask me...'
Stupid badge; great suggestion.
"Have you seen anything that you like?"
"Would you like a hand?" she had the voice of an angel.
"I need a shirt... um'...a formal shirt, I'm going to a wedding," he finally blurted.
"Oh, that's nice... can I come?" she said, with enough sarcasm to make it clear that an alibi is not normally required to excuse the purchase of a dress shirt.
Her wit was lost upon Jason who, stunned and hardly able to believe his ears said "Yeah... of course you can... I'd like that. It's on Saturday."
Nicole threw her head back and laughed. Jason suddenly realized that she was joking and flushed to the rouge of an accidental nudist.
He needn't have worried... she was already working out what she'd wear.
He loved her from the very first moment that he saw her and the feeling never left him, it never faded or diminished, just deepened and developed.
They attended the wedding together, and of that day, he remembered only her. The months rolled by and he lived for the moments they spent together. The next summer, another wedding; this one their own.
Jason picked up the photograph and held it close, he never tired of it. Taken last year in the Mediterranean, Nicole and their daughter Holly, laden with beach gear and laughing at something... him probably. They'd both turned and were smiling towards the camera with the sun in their faces. His eyes dived into those of his wife's, and he could see her soul. The flame of their love burned there still, a deep fire that sometimes smoldered, sometimes flared - but never went out. The little one looked up at him, her blonde curls ignited by the sun. The pout was mock, she was laughing at him with the same jade eyes.
His whole universe was within that frame, he loved his wife and daughter with every fiber and nerve within. He loved them unconditionally, he would never deny them and he would never fail them.
He'd suffered the headaches on and off for a year. Grit your teeth an overcome it. Shake it off the old army way. It had always worked before.
Not this time.
One day in the spring a short circuit fused in his head as he drove to work. A quick flash and a feeling of nausea. For the next ten minutes he didn't know who he was, where he was going, or even why he was sitting in a car. The next week it happened again as Jason was shaving.
A doctor was sought.
The diagnosis; a grade four astrocytoma. The Glioblastoma multiforme. A fast growing cancerous brain tumour.
The prognosis; inoperable, a no-hoper, the proverbial dead man walking. Four months, no more... maybe less. They told him that soon he wouldn't know who he was. Soon he wouldn't know where he was. He would have no sense of smell, no taste, no memory and no mobility.
When he'd looked at this photo earlier that morning, he hadn't been able to recognize the woman and child within.
It had begun... and so, it was over. He was living the last summer of love and autumn is a desolate prospect. There would be no winter.
After all - you can run but you can't hide. He smiled at the irony of it. That old Beretta was going to kill him after all.
Can an instrument of death be beautiful?
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