It was somewhere close to 7:30pm as Lionel was closing up the shop for the day when he looked across the street at Soneya's cottage, noticing a light still on in the front window.
He knew instinctively that she must still be there.
“What is it dear?” Ruth inquired, noticing her husband as he lingered by the door.
“Oh...nothing,” Lionel replied sagely. “It looks as though Soneya is putting in another long day”
“That girl is working harder and harder Lionel,” Ruth remarked worriedly, shaking her head as she finished counting out the days take from the register. “It's not healthy for her”
“I know, I know," Lionel agreed wearily. She works much too hard. But it's not our place to tell her what she should and shouldn't be doing”
He rolled his eyes out of view of Ruth. They had had this discussion many times before.
Ruth checked the counter behind her. The two large black soup pots there were still switched on. She hadn't yet emptied them.
“Do you...think you should take a meal across to her Lionel? She would have skipped dinner again. It's not right for someone so busy as her”
Lionel baulked at her suggestion sensing where Ruth's mind was heading.
“Look, I don't think we should go meddling Ruth. She's a very private person – and independent. Soneya doesn't take kindly to any sort of interference”
Ruth had already fetched out a sealable container and was ladling piping hot pumpkin soup into it. She then took a herb bread roll from a nearby basket and warmed it slightly in the microwave.
“Ruth” Lionel intoned malevolently but she brushed him aside.
“Lionel, I'll not have that poor child wasting away in that office all alone at this time of night without at least something nutritious in her belly. She may not be our child but I consider her like our own. I feel an obligation to look out for her”
Ruth gathered up the items – the soup and bread, a coffee, some items of fruit – into a basket and came out from behind the counter.
“Take this over to her darling” she pleaded. “At least encourage her to have something”
Lionel frowned at his wife and shook his head. But he took the basket from her anyway and inspected it's contents.
“Well...I suppose it can't hurt to at least offer," he conceded before levelling his eyes at Ruth. "Just don't you watch me from the window. Soneya has got a sense like a blood hound for nosy neighbours”
Lionel turned on his heel and stepped out of the shop, walking the short distance down the street towards the practice.
Soneya was sitting at her desk before an open laptop – a mountain of paperwork, manilla folders and old invoice slips stacked messily on either side of the machine – when she heard a knock at the door.
“Hello?” Lionel called out.
Soneya smiled at the sound of the familiar voice and glanced up from her screen.
“In here Lionel”
Simon looked up from his basket momentarily then flopped back down, closing his eyes and growling pathetically in the pit of his throat.
Lionel appeared in the doorway holding the basket in both hands and Soneya tilted her head to one side.
“Awww...what have you done?”
Lionel blushed and smiled.
“We, ahh...saw a light on from the shop as we were closing up. Ruth thought you might like something to eat”
Soneya's eyes narrowed with a cheeky grin out of one side of her mouth.
“She knew didn't she – that I would have skipped dinner?”
Lionel nodded as he set the basket down on the chair and and began depositing the items from the basket onto the desk. The smell of the rich homemade soup hit Soneya's nostrils and instantly her stomach grumbled.
“Well...she must be pscyhic. I'm starving” Soneya remarked as she fished her purse out from her desk drawer and began to take some notes out for Lionel.
“Oh no,” Lionel said holding up his hand to stop her. “This one is on us. Consider it...our treat”
Soneya hesitated, eyeing him curiously before closing the purse again and setting it down.
“You didn't have to do this”
“I know” Lionel said. “That's why we did. We can't have you fading away on us. This town needs a lawyer too badly”
Lionel nodded at the chaos on her desk.
“That looks to be quite a...challenge?”
Soneya threw her hands up in mock exasperation then she made some room on the desk so that she could set her meal down.
“I'm trying to organize all of Harry's old clients who've indicated they wanted to come back to me. I want to stream line everything into an electronic system but I can only do it at night though - after hours”
“Have you thought about getting a secretary to help you with all of this? It seems an awful lot to try and negotiate on your own”
Soneya nodded through a mouthful of the soup.
“I wish I could Lionel but I don't have quite enough spare cash right now to afford a secretary. Most of the money went into getting this old building up to scratch again”
Lionel looked around at the work Soneya had done to renovate her grandfather's practice from a dilapidated old house that masqueraded as a legal practice into a smart and modern office. He nodded admiringly.
“Well...there are people around the town who would gladly help you. You only need ask”
“Oh I'm sure” Soneya agreed wryly. “But this is something I need to do on my own. Besides – there is enough fodder in this disaster zone here to keep the Stafford gossip mill running for the next two years”
Lionel chuckled as he made room for himself on the chair and sat down.
“I...met that fellow from Melbourne the other day,” he said, venturing a change in subject. “He seemed like a decent man”
Soneya nodded non-commitally.
"He mentioned he was the Director of that Festival” Lionel continued, feeling incredibly awkward.
“Mmm-hmm,” Soneya responded from behind the bowl of soup, eyeing him knowingly. She had already twigged as to where this was heading.
Lionel steepled his fingers together in his lap and looked down at them as an uneasy quiet settled between them.
"Did he...enjoy the Bistro?"
Soneya placed the soup bowl down on the desk with an expression of mock exasperation and smiled.
"You don't do prying very well Lionel"
His shoulders relaxed and he looked at her apologetically.
"Evidently not. I'm sorry"
"He came to ask me to present an award at the Festival...in memory of Denny...but I told him I couldn't go"
"Why ever not?" Lionel almost gasped.
Soneya hesitated, suddenly feeling as though she had to search for a reason.
"Because...I have too much to do here," her response came out much too harshly and she blinked and immediately felt ashamed. She continued more calmly. "I couldn't possibly leave the practice for a whole week when I've got this to contend with"
She gestured expressively at her desk for effect.
Lionel considered her occupational predicament and tilted one brow in acknowledgement.
"Well...I can appreciate the work you must have to do in order to make all of this...work. But Soneya...you haven't had any time off in over a year. Surely the practice could survive without you for a week".
Soneya shook her head and rubbed her brow.
"I just...can't Lionel. It's just too much"
Lionel wasn't at all convinced by Soneya's reasoning and though his conscience told that he should relent, something else overtook his rationality at that moment.
"What about Denny?" he ventured cautiously. "This seems like an wonderful opportunity...to do something...you know, special. To celebrate his life"
Soneya stiffened imperceptibly then. She lowered her head just slightly and her eyes narrowed.
"Lionel...you're going too far" she warned him. Even though she wasn't entirely serious, Soneya let her tone remain stony.
Lionel took the hint. He stood up awkwardly out of the chair and looked at Soneya sympathetically.
"You're right. It's none of my business at all. I'm...I'm sorry I even mentioned it"
Soneya remained seated and didn't say anything. Her eyes darted between him and the floor and though she held onto the soup bowl she'd stopped eating from it. She could feel herself shaking with the familiar sensation of desolate grief that she fought against so often.
Lionel stood there, his features etched with concern but his inner voice told him 'no more' and this time he listened.
"I shall...go. I'll see you in tomorrow...okay?"
Soneya nodded swiftly and closed her eyes.
Lionel quiety closed the front gate and glanced once more at the front window of the cottage. He felt awful for having been so interfering but also for having so clearly upset Soneya. Ruth was right - she was like a daughter to them both.
Lionel stepped off the curb and crossed the street towards the shop.
"Why does everybody think they have a right to interfere?"
Lionel spun around abruptly to find Soneya standing there outside the cottage gate. Her face seemed devoid of emotion and it chilled him.
"No one is trying to interfere Soneya," Lionel said evenly.
"Oh that's rubbish Lionel and you know it" Soneya shot back angrily, her voice shaking. "This entire bloody town wants to wrap me in cotton wool. They think I'm going to break apart"
Lionel shook his head sympathetically.
"That's simply not true," he said. "Everyone here just wants you to be happy Soneya. And...some of us who care about you very much can see that you're not"
Lionel stepped forward, his arms outstretched in exasperation. Soneya baulked, her cheeks flushed red with anger. She crossed her arms defiantly across her body to protect herself.
"What is that you're protecting yourself from Soneya? Why it is that you feel you need to cocoon yourself here - working 16 hour days, holing yourself up in that house, not mixing with anybody?"
"I don't have to justify myself to you!" Soneya spat viciously. "What I do here is my own business! I don't have to mix with anybody!"
"No...no you don't...," Lionel paused as he considered his words carefully. "...but if you keep limiting yourself from living in this world Soneya, you're going to miss out on the possibilities of experiencing it. Denny wouldn't have wanted that for you. You have your whole life still ahead of you. Why hold yourself back?"
"Bec...because I have responsibilities!," stammered. "My practice is too important to just step away from whenever I feel like it!"
"That's not it" Lionel challenged her, shaking his head slowly.
Soneya blinked at him incredulously, wiping furiously at her eyes.
"Because here is where I feel safe Lionel!" she shouted angrily. "Because...here I feel as though he never left - that he's still with me!!"
Her eyes glazed over then with tears that streamed freely down over her face. Suddenly her features contorted into a mask of raw anguish and she began rocking from side to side, gazing off into the distance.
"Why did he have to leave me Lionel!?" she cried. "Why!?"
Lionel immediately went to her and enveloped Soneya in his arms as she went completely to pieces. Burying her head into his chest she wailed, as all the pent up grief that she had held back for months and months finally collapsed forth like a tidal wave.
Lionel closed his eyes and held her close to him, recognizing what was happening; his heart was breaking for her.
"He couldn't hold on any longer, dear child," he whispered into her hair. "You know that. It was his time. He knew that. Denny wouldn't want you to hide away forever"
Soneya sobbed and sobbed. So hard that she could no longer hold herself up but Lionel held her close, supporting her, allowing her to collapse, to let her emotions carry her. All those long months of holding herself together, of concentrating on all the things she had to do in her life just to keep going, of denying the grief that had been trapped deep down inside her for so long - all of it tumbled forth like a tidal wave and it overwhelmed her. The 'wall' had finally collapsed and she was exposed by her emotions.
"I don't want to go on without him Lionel! He was my best friend, my...best friend. I loved him so much"
Ruth appeared in the doorway then, her own features were swollen with emotion and she was struggling to conceal her own sobs. Evidently she had overheard the exchange from inside the store.
Lionel looked over at her and nodded, mouthing 'It's alright'.
Ruth stepped down onto the street and came over, gingerly putting a hand upon Soneya's shoulder. She dropped down onto her haunches and surrounded Soneya's small frame with her arms and held her.
"I'm going to make up the spare bed" Ruth decided then and there. "Soneya - you can stay with us tonight my dear. I'll not let you go home to that empty house like this"
Soneya was too numb to protest. Lionel gathered her up in his arms and carried her into the shop and through into their house where he gently deposited her onto the sofa in their sitting room. Ruth followed behind him, having retrieved Simon from the practice and his blanket from the basket. She folded it into a mat of sorts and set it down at the foot of the sofa where upon Simon sat down and looked up at Soneya worriedly, whimpering softly.
Ruth then brought a quilt in from their room and lay it over Soneya as Lionel sat there on the sofa cradling her.
"Here will be good enough" he whispered to Ruth as she pulled up a chair and sat down beside her husband. She nodded in understanding. Together they remained there with Soneya until she cried herself to sleep.
* * *
By the time the international leg of his journey was underway and the flight was far above the Pacific Ocean, Andy had settled in to the rhythm of the aircraft. Though they had been delayed for an extra hour in Los Angeles it hadn't seemed very long at all and time had passed by quickly. It was now mid afternoon and the passengers were beginning to settle in for the roughly 16 hour journey to Melbourne. Some were watching in flight entertainment, many were napping. Andy had taken out the literature for the Festival from his shoulder bag and sat back quietly reviewing it.
The program for the concert series was to be laid out over a week of competition. Over the first five days the one hundred delegates that had been selected from conservatoriums all across the world would compete in a series of heats where two delegates would be selected from a field of twenty each day. They would progress to a semi final round on the Saturday where ten delegates would compete for five positions in the final on Sunday. The prize was considerable - a ten thousand dollar cheque and an invitation to record on a prestigious classical label in Australia for a release that would be distributed world wide.
Andy's heat had been set down for the Tuesday afternoon just after lunch. It was as good a position as any he reasoned. He wouldn't have to wait too long to perform and he would be relatively fresh. It was give him an opportunity to view the mornings contestants and get a feel for how good the competition field would be. He had two pieces in mind for his performance - the second movement of a famed sonata "Grand Solo Op. 14" by Fernando Sor and the piece Andy had performed that very first time in the Pub a mere few months ago - “The Sounds of Rain (Part 3)" by contemporary English composer William Lovelady. It was a more obscure but no less enchanting piece.
Sor's second movement had an orchestral flare that lent itself well to a concert performance and it required considerable attention to technique in order for it to be carried convincingly. Of all the great guitar composers, Andy felt a particular affinity with Fernando Sor because his works suited the solo style well - which Andy felt most at home with.
Andy was, however, leaning towards the Lovelady piece which wasn't as long but it was a complex arrangement with rich atmospherics and a unique visual soul. And it was one of those pieces in which the title really did say it all - it's description evoked vivid scenes of the rain. Andy remembered when he had played "The Sounds of Rain" as a child – the first piece that he had mastered with the guitar. In fact he wasn't sure now if it was himself or Denny who had happened upon it. But his knowledge of the piece was intimate. Though he knew he was taking a risk bringing a less well known piece with him into the competition Andy believed firmly that "Sounds of Rain" would best showcase his own skill and technique and challenge him. For it was when Andy was challenged that he tended to produce his best playing.
He did not want to think too much about the final - he felt if he did he would jinx himself. However he had a piece in mind for the final round - a concerto that would require an orchestral accompaniment. It was the second movment in the famed Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo – an incredibly tender and emotive piece that had taken on a life of it's own in popular culture. Though Andy was wary of just how prominent the “Adagio” was he felt that he had what it took to make the piece his own for this particular gathering.
He had recordings of all pieces on his iPhone and he listened to them over and over again noting the unique form and texture of the pieces, their tones and harmonies. He mentally practiced the fingerings making mental notes of where he would need to apply his most intense concentration. He emptied his mind of almost everything else.
Soneya was never far from his vision and it took very little for her face to center itself in his mind's eye. Once the Festival was finished he would find his way north to Stafford to her. He would explain himself to her somehow – convince her of the truth of who he was. How he was going to do that he had no idea but somehow he knew a way would present itself.
Andy closed his eyes and drifted in his mind from his environment; from the quiet cabin of the jet. And in that moment he was suddenly overwhelmed by a intense feeling of sadness, of loss. It was as though he could feel the distress of another somewhere close by who was grieving. And when he closed his eyes again he could see her in his mind...he could see her tears and her pain and it took his breath away. The intensity of the feeling caused his eyes to snap open and he was back inside the cabin. He sat there stunned and sweating, unsure of what had just happened. Taking a napkin from the seat pocket in front of him Andy wiped the sweat from his brow and blinked away the lingering tendrils of grief.
It was her...He had felt her.
* * *
In the dead of night, Soneya awoke with a start as a similar sensation passed through her - the sensation of a presence somewhere close by; a familiar presence that touched her and felt her grief. She blinked in the darkness, looking around her and seeing only Simon lying curled up at her feet on the end of the sofa. Her heart thumped and she lay back staring up at the ceiling.
She had felt someone...she had felt him...
Copyright © 2009, Dean Mayes.