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ENJOY THE SILENCE

Lonely Can Be Sweet

Tom ordered a Gin and Tonic with a slice of lime and flicked through the in-flight magazine. A morning TV talk show host listed her must have carry on items for long haul flights: an overnight face mask, a Pashmina shawl and noise cancelling headphones. A famous acting couple, celebrating 25 years of marriage romanticized about favourite holiday getaways: Tahiti, Bora Bora and a private island off the coast of Australia they didn’t wish to name. “Tahiti looks nice” Tom chuckled to himself, remembering the catch phrase from a TV commercial when he was a small boy. He took a sip of his Gin and Tonic, crunching a couple of ice cubes between his teeth and returned the magazine to its holder carefully so he didn’t disturb the person sitting in the seat in front of him. Two business men sitting in the seats either side of him in 6A and 6C, both dressed in ill-fitting suits and badly knotted ties had fallen asleep before the plane had taken off, impressing and annoying Tom at the same time as sleeping on a plane was a skill he’d never been able to master. He eased his seat back, closed his eyes and turned his thoughts to her.

Tom remembered the day he first saw Audrey Jones. It was Autumn, the leaves on the Japanese Maple trees outside his office building had begun to turn red and the morning air felt crisp and cool, cool enough for people to start wearing their winter coats but not cold enough for hats, scarves or gloves. As he moved through the revolving door and towards the elevators she caught his eye, sitting in reception on an olive-green velvet armchair, staring into space like she was deep in thought. She was impeccably dressed and very chic, her style a nod to the mid 1970’s like a young Faye Dunaway in the Sidney Lumet film Network. She noticed Tom looking at her and flashed him a warm smile.

Audrey Jones was a linguist whose purpose in life was to “make words sing”. Tom’s boss had poached her from a rival publishing house where she’d been successful at translating several challenging texts, including the last novel by an obscure French author who mysteriously disappeared in 1978. As the story goes he left his Paris apartment one Tuesday morning to buy a bottle of wine and some bread and cheese for lunch, and was never seen or heard from again. Three months later his housekeeper found a manuscript in his wardrobe with instructions to hand deliver it to his sister Celine who he had also dedicated his novel to. Celine kept her brother’s manuscript under lock and key for thirty years before she finally allowed someone to publish it. Of course the novel ended up being a best seller and viewed by most Literary critics as a companion piece to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, with its small community of charming characters living above Paris in Montmartre, going about their daily routines and speaking a peculiar French language full of riddles, metaphors and rhymes. However the novel and the publicity surrounding the author’s disappearance took its toll and six months after being published Celine passed away and Audrey, seeking solace and a way for words to have more meaning to her again, poured herself of glass of wine, wrote a letter to her parents and took a vow of silence.

Audrey carried a small red leather-bound notebook so she could communicate with her colleagues at work and if she liked someone she would leave a yellow post-it note on their desk with a combination of words she found intriguing written on it or a favourite Japanese Haiku. Tom kept his collection of Audrey’s post-it notes on his fridge at home, his favourite “lonely can be sweet”, which Audrey gave to him after one of their regular Tuesday lunch dates at a café owned by a sweet elderly French man who made the most exquisite herb omelette and coffee with a caramel tasting crema so delicious even a sweet-tooth like Tom didn’t need to add sugar.

Tom returned his seat to the upright position, finished his Gin and Tonic and handed the empty cup to a member of the cabin crew who was making his way through the plane with a large green garbage bag. The Pilot announced on the intercom the plane had commenced its descent and asked the cabin crew to prepare for landing. The two business men in 6A and 6C yawned without covering their mouths and sent a whiff of stale alcohol tinged breath Tom’s way, giving away the secret to their slumber and reminding Tom he’d seen them earlier in the airline lounge, eating bowls of peanuts and drinking five or six Whisky and Sodas before boarding their 12pm flight. As the plane landed the people sitting in the seats behind Tom clapped, apparently “it was one of the smoothest landings they’d ever had”. This was something Tom’s Mother and his Aunt Bunny liked to do when they travelled to his Grandparent’s house every Christmas. Tom rolled his eyes just like he did when he was a fourteen year-old boy.

The First Presbyterian Church served a neighbourhood of affluent churchgoers whose homes had perfectly manicured gardens and expensive European cars in their driveways. It was a hot afternoon, too hot for a suit and tie. Tom entered the Church, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, silently cursing his Uber driver who’d taken a wrong turn and made him miss the beginning of the service. He looked towards the front of the Church and saw Audrey sitting next to a woman he assumed was her Mother. The only seat left was next to a row of elegant women dressed in black Chanel suits, Hermes Birkin bags sitting neatly in their laps and cooling themselves with sandalwood fans. A man who looked remarkably like Alfred Hitchcock was finishing the last words of a tribute to his friend William Randolph Jones, projecting his voice without the need for a microphone, like an actor reciting Shakespeare on the stage. “… Bill was our friend, a devoted husband to his wife Elizabeth and loving father to their daughter Audrey who will read one of her father’s favourite poems for us now”.

Tom’s heart started to race as he realised he had never heard Audrey speak before. As she walked up the three steps to where Hitchcock’s Doppelgänger was standing Tom held his breath, expecting to hear a warm, resonating, radio announcer’s voice. As Audrey spoke the first line of her father’s favourite poem Tom winced. She had the kind of voice that shattered glass, high-pitched like one of those silent movie actors whose careers were over as soon as the talkies were born. Thankfully the poem wasn’t very long, resembling one of those Japanese Haikus Audrey was so fond of. Audrey returned to her seat and rested her head on her mother’s shoulder. As far as Tom knew she hadn’t seen him sitting in the back of the Church and she had no idea he was coming to her father’s funeral that day. As the congregation stood up to sing the last Hymn Tom made his swift exit from the Church and booked an Uber back to the quiet sanctuary of his hotel.

Image: Faye Dunaway as Diana Christensen in Network, directed by Sidney Lumet, 1976.

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