The Decisive Night

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Life, and its unexpected experiences and surprises.


THE DECISIVE NIGHT

Every night since her mother’s death, Florinda went through a nightly ritual before going to bed. First, a warm bath, then a glass of whisky with lemon to help her sleep, and a romantic novel. She also wore frilly nightdresses. Years ago there had been a man in her life, but the nursing of her aged and ill parents had put paid to any thoughts of finding her prince charming. Night time was travelling time for Florinda, when she was transported across the dark skies illuminated by stars to a far away dream world. Every night was the same journey and her bed was her vehicle. With her dark-red hair spread out all over the pillow, Florinda was ready for take off. As she passed from wakefulness to sleepiness a slight smile played on her lips.
In her dream world Florinda was once again young and pretty and popular with boys. After her parents had both died she had suddenly realized that all the men who were in her age group were either married or ill. With the passing of time she understood there was a lack of a flesh and blood man in her life.

Albert went to the fridge and got out a beer, went back into the living-room to see the end of the film. Time was when he’d had a wife and family, but stress at work had led to heavy drinking and his wife got fed up with it, and their three children were tired of their parents’ fighting. At a Christmas party he had been caught kissing one of the office girls. How his wife had found out nobody knew. His wife and the two younger children went abroad to live, and he set himself and his eldest son up in an apartment. When the son got married he left and then Albert was finally on his own. Of his ex-wife and the other two children he knew nothing.

Albert and Florinda knew each other because they lived in the same building. The two of them with their own package of loneliness and dreams only ever said, “Good morning” or “It’s a fine day today” or “What disgusting weather!”
Instead of crossing the barrier of loneliness with an invitation to have a drink or play chess, they stayed trapped inside their own worlds, closed against being wounded or loved. It was their decision. Florinda didn’t notice when Albert tried to get a bit friendlier with her. She lived on a pink cloud. Florinda only saw a short, heavily-built, bald-headed man. She never gave him a second glance. She didn’t understand his anxiety, his goodness, or the sweetness of his smile. After a few tries to attract Florinda’s attention, Albert realized that he was invisible to her. Therefore, he went out and bought himself a couple of budgies for company and hardly spoke to Florinda.
The film and beer finished Albert went to the kitchen and tidied it up. He then went to his bedroom and peered through the curtains at the silent, dark street. It was the worst moment in the day for him. He picked up a book and began to read. Some nights he listened to the chat programmes on the radio and it was a great consolation to know that there were people he could identify with. Once there was a call from the district where he lived and he tried to discover the owner of the voice, but never did. Perhaps it was for the best. She may have turned out to be another disappointment. In spite of his loneliness, Albert still dreamt that on waking he would find the hair of a loved one covering the pillow, and the smell of a woman once more in his bed. He desperately hoped that each night would be the last night on his own.

On getting married, Veronica had promised herself she would never wear hair rollers in bed nor put cream on her face. She had a mania about her appearance. She always cleaned her face and put on a drop of perfume before going to bed. Veronica’s life was a series of rituals. Every night, a twenty minute bubble-bath with her head resting on a special pillow. Creams and oils followed the bath. After that she had her supper. She never wasted much time in cooking. An hour of television, exercises, and then bed. She never went to bed without doing most of those things.
Veronica’s husband, Tom, was a hairdresser in an expensive district. His clients were wealthy and willing to spend a lot of money. She was afraid of losing her husband, as he had been married before and, due to the daughter, he still had contact with his ex-wife. For this reason, Veronica made such a fuss about her appearance. Even though at times she didn’t feel like making love, she never refused him. The five years they had been married Veronica lived intensely. Her only relaxing moment was when she was in the bath. But she was happy.
Tom said that his daughter was spending the weekend with them. She and Tom didn’t have children because he said that he wasn’t ready for more. Veronica would then say to him, “It’s all right for you, you already have a daughter. But me, what have I got? Nothing. It would be better for your daughter to have someone to play with when she comes here.” Her words fell on deaf ears. Tom was inflexible about this. In order to avoid any slip-ups she took oral contraception and he used other methods.
“Don’t you think you exaggerate a bit?” Veronica asked him.
“You never know. In a moment when you least expect it, you might find yourself pregnant. No, no, we can’t run the risk.”

One night Veronica had switched off the electricity mains and lit a perfumed candle and had hidden his pyjamas. When Tom had arrived home he had rung the electricity company to come and fix it. Veronica had burst into tears on seeing a promising evening ruined by the unaffectionate Tom.

The young couple hardly knew Florinda or Albert. Veronica knew that Albert fancied her, but when she told Tom, he warned her that Albert was not to be spoken to. She thought that Tom wasn’t human at times, and instead of obeying him, she went for a coffee with Albert at the café on the corner. Tom didn’t deserve to know. He understood nothing, was Veronica’s most normal opinion.

Florinda is dreaming a repetitive dream. She’s in a street with high buildings and is walking along it when she finds herself at the same point. This is when she wakes up and feels cold. She switches on the bedside lamp and starts thinking. She feels cold but she hasn’t got a cold. Florinda goes to her wardrobe and takes out an electric blanket. In her bed, she now feels much better with the blanket warming her up, and the bed. She gave the dream no more thought, closed her eyes and went back to sleep to dream again.

Albert turned on his lamp went to the kitchen and drank a large glass of water. Sat down at the kitchen table and thought. Perhaps I’m getting old and there are no more surprises left for me. He took the glass of water back to his bedroom.

The light hurt her eyes. Veronica woke up. Tom was out of bed, wearing his dressing-gown over his pyjamas.
“Where are you going at this hour of the morning?” she asked him.
“There’s a smell of smoke. Can’t you smell it? I’m going to ring for the firemen. While they are coming, let’s go downstairs to see if we can do something.”
Veronica heard him speaking to someone on the phone.
“A fire, isn’t possible,” thought Veronica putting on her dressing-gown.
In the early hours of the morning, the staircase in a block of flats is an eerie, cold, and badly lit place. Veronica wanted to go back to bed when she saw Tom.
“Can you smell it now?” Tom asked a still sleepy Veronica.
“Where’s it coming from?”
“It’s coming from downstairs. I’m going down to take a look.”
Tom disappeared downstairs and Veronica waited quietly for him. He didn’t take long in calling up to her. “It’s the lady who lives alone. I’ve rung her bell but she hasn’t answered, I’ll have to break the door down. Go and get Albert, he knows her. No one else knows her, and if she sees a strange man inside her flat she’ll be frightened and panic.”
Veronica didn’t approve of what he was about to do. The other residents of the building were unaware of what was happening. How lucky they were! They were still dreaming in the warmth of their beds. While she and Tom were the unwilling protagonists of the drama.
Veronica knocked twice on Albert’s front door. Albert couldn’t hold back his pleasure and surprise on seeing Veronica.
“What’s the matter? It’s three in the morning.”
“There’s a strong smell of smoke coming from the single lady’s flat downstairs. Tom says you know her, and he’s afraid of breaking down her front door and going inside, unless you’re there too.”
“Wait a moment, and come inside.”
Albert rang a number on his mobile phone.
No answer.
“Tom’s rung the firemen and they are on their way. Who did you ring?”
“Florinda, but there was no answer. Let’s go downstairs.”
They went downstairs to Florinda’s. Tom had managed to open a gap in the door big enough for him to get through. He had gone inside to look for Florinda. When he opened the door the cold air from outside rushed past him.
Florinda screamed as she found herself surrounded by flames from the flash fire caused by the inrush of fresh air.
Tom ran to the bedroom and went to grab her from the bed but she grabbed hold of him in her panic and they died in each others arms in the flames.

The firemen arrived too late to do anything.
“Uh! Oh! See the electric blanket?” said one of the firemen.
“Elderly ladies never obey the instructions. See, it’s on maximum. Someone has to tell the lady waiting outside that her husband is dead.”

Veronica took it very badly. She went to her flat and changed her clothes. Albert made her coffee with a drop of brandy in it to perk her up. “I’ll accompany you to the hospital. It’s better that you aren’t by yourself. Have you any relatives?”
“Yes, I’ll ring them. Thank you, Albert.”

Albert felt bad, he should have done more for Florinda, and now that young man was dead, and the poor woman a widow. With his eyes full of tears from his sense of frustration with himself, for Florinda, for Tom, and for Veronica, Albert sat down on his sofa full of sadness at the tragedies life throws up at people.

Normal life was resumed after all the mess was cleared up, and Florinda’s flat had new tenants. Veronica still worked in a beauty store and at night spent an hour in a gym. She made an effort to spend as little time as possible in the flat. Anything that reminded her of Tom had been got rid of, somehow or other she knew she had to get over it and move on. Her bedroom was now that of a single woman, done out in pale colours – nothing at all masculine. At times Veronica and Albert passed each other on entering or leaving the building.
Albert was faithful to his habits but now he kept an eye on Veronica’s kitchen light, to know whether or not she was at home. Something prevented him from speaking to her, although he had done so before the fire. He was afraid of being rejected and of assuming something that for Veronica was of no importance.

One night Veronica arrived home to find her flat flooded with water from a leaking radiator. Without thinking twice, she ran to Albert’s and rang the bell. Albert smiled happily on seeing her. Veronica said to him, “Albert, I need you.” He took this to mean she fancied him, which wasn’t quite what she meant. He turned off the water in her flat.

Some time afterwards, Albert and Veronica didn’t need two flats. One night when Albert was stroking Veronica’s hair, she turned her face to him and said, “You remember that night when I came to your flat, it was because I needed you to help me cut off the water and clean up. It wasn’t for anything else. You understand, don’t you?”
Albert smiled and answered, “But you needed me for much more, didn’t you?”


Submitted: May 06, 2012

© Copyright 2022 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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