Date Of Birth

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

30th October 2015
“IF wandering past Westminster, treading towards Trafalgar Square, or coming across Canary Wharf, you should stumble into a time machine – please do this for me.
“Please turn the clock back to precisely this time last week. 6.45pm. Friday.
“If that should fail, then please fast forward exactly seven days. That’s a significant day for you isn’t it? Something at least to celebrate.
“Finally, if none of that should work, simply select some vague time in the future, more appropriate, of your choosing.”
Message composed, he pressed the well-worn button on his ‘brick’ of a phone, that his now long-since-exiled children had mercilessly teased him over.
A short electronic ‘beep’.
Message sent.
Envelope delivered.
Gold, brilliant gold of the winter sunset had sparked the memory. He caught it on his camera phone. Shared the dramatic skyline with the world, thanks to some ‘social media’ those same children had taught him about. Persuaded him ‘sharing’ was quite ‘the thing’, whatever your age.
The golden sky was so dramatically brilliant, so vivid, so other-worldly, like some ‘end of the world is nigh’ image, it even had him ‘trending’ in different parts of the world whatever that meant. He got a message within the hour to tell him that. He didn’t care. He didn’t see what was ‘social’ about it anyway. Didn’t bring him any real ‘friends’. No-one to talk to, no-one to laugh with. No-one who really ‘liked’ him for who he was. Why would it? It was only a damn phone. Not a time machine. It couldn’t perform miracles.
And anyway, he had his own time machine. His mind. It wasn’t quite fuddled just yet. He could still remember the events of the week before. Vividly.
It was all in the gold. Just like it streaked across the darkening sky now, so it did on the canvas at the gallery the week before. All regal and theatrical.
It transported him back in an instant.
She’d picked up her paintbrush and explained the painstaking technique, the art behind the masterpiece.
It was like he’d blinked, long and tight, then opened his eyes for the first time, and been hit by the sheer brilliance.
The golden brightness.
It was glaring. Staring him in the face. He could see it now.
The painterly painting. The light, the brushstrokes, the tones on the canvas.
How had he been so blind before?
Side by side they sat on the gallery’s leather sofa and stared at two portraits.
On one side her favourite – all precision, the deft, delicate touch, the perfect light, the calm composition of the man at his desk, the dedication, the skill of the artist.
On the other his – all wild, wide, sweeping brush strokes, a tempest, a tortured human soul, a manic mind, a love-torn writer.
The paintings were worlds apart.
So were they. Just to look at them, any stranger could tell you that.
Him all ageing, wrinkled skin, and balding in his shy, faded country gent tweed suit. One foot in the grave.
Her all porcelain complexion and shiny silk-black hair in her London fox fashion look. The vibrancy and confidence of youth.
But in that gallery, beneath those flashes of gold, their worlds had collided.
He’d spoken first.
He could see from the intense look in her pale blue eyes, from the way she studied the canvas, she had plenty to say.
He was right.
Before long, they had got so engrossed in their respective views on the paintings, the passing gallery visitors became just a blur of colours and textures, all dark blue woolen overcoats, and black leather jackets, sheer black and red tartan skirts, twists and folds of fawn corduroy trousers and yellow Cashmere scarves.
They chatted some more.
Found they were from different centuries.
Their date of birth told them that.
It was his birthday today. It had come out in conversation. She was sad he was spending it alone. He knew no different anymore.
Her celebration was exactly two weeks away.
Although she didn’t ‘do’ birthdays. For some reason. He never did find out why
From those dates of birth they’d no right to even be on the same planet at the same time, let alone in the same room, the same art gallery.
He should have been long gone by now.
She still had her life ahead of her.
But somehow in thousands of years of humanity they’d managed to share some time on this earth and, even stranger still, a few minutes, a few hours as it turned out, in each other’s company.
The wonder of coincidence. The wonder of humanity. Or just that Friday evening freedom feeling. Whether you like your thoughts on a grand, biblical or far more mundane day-to-day scale, either way, this was cause for some sort of celebration.
There was something simply life-affirming about two people poles apart sharing thoughts and smiles on life and art.
Finally they got up to wander into the gallery’s different rooms, the theatrical lighting accentuating their relatively fleeting moments on this particular stage.
When all was done. When the security guard ushered them towards the exit, they prepared to push through the swing doors out onto the pavement and to head off in their separate directions, him stage right off to his West End hotel, her stage left to her East London flat.
But the weather pushed them back.
Driving rain, and a shrill whistle of swirling wind thrust them back into the revolving doors, into each other. This was their encore.
“Sorry,” he said, all fumbling apologies.
“Look, why don’t we hail a cab, grab something to eat, wait for the storm to die down,” she said.
“Why not?” he replied, surprising himself at seizing the moment, not sure why his more usual anxious, cautious habits, were suddenly replaced with such self-assured confident style. He was in rarefied air.
They went to her favourite Friday night haunt. French. Piano player and jazz band. The type of bistro you only get in the capital.
Over the music, above the buzz, they talked, and laughed some more.
Turns out they did indeed have lots in common, albeit from different generations.
The waiters looked at them strangely – as if perhaps a father and daughter – granddaughter even – shouldn’t be having that much fun together.
He’d not been as fascinated by the conversation of another human being – a man, let alone a woman - for he didn’t know how long. Probably 50 years or more since his student days.
She’d not laughed as much in a long while. Probably since she was on a hen-do down in Essex with her friends the summer before.
But for both the night had to end.
She had the last train to catch to the east end.
He had a writer’s conference to prepare for the next day.
They said goodnight at Westminster station and parted down different escalators to different platforms.
They’d exchanged mobile numbers before they went their separate ways.
Just in case he happened to be in town again.
He knew it was futile.
He’d intended to delete it from his phone.
Just one chance meeting. Just one night of enjoyment. One night to feel alive again.
Real life wasn’t like that. Real life was pain and loss for the ageing. Keeping in contact would only prolong the agony.
Laughter, life, and love was consigned to the stuff of movies and memories for lonely old men like him.
But back home in the country, a week later, as he looked across the fields and the October light left for the last time to be replaced by November’s darkness, the flash of brilliant gold brought it all back.
It was like he could touch the canvas, feel the painting, read it like braille, from the brushstrokes she’d taught him.
And, against his better judgement, that golden sunset prompted him to write just one more message on his phone.
Don’t ask him why, he won’t be able to tell you, he just wanted one more Friday night, one more conversation, one more meeting, however fleeting…