Elaine Martini
Elaine Martini 

Stare off


Alma woke up early like she used to. She liked her routine. She walked into the kitchen, made her coffee and sat at the table looking out at the window. Her cat Lily jumped up on her lap. She pet her cat lovingly without taking her eyes from the window. Alma's days were always the same but for some reason this morning something felt different. She picked up her phone to check her calendar, but it was empty. 


She was feeling anxious and on edge. Alma finished her coffee and decided to go out for her usual morning walk hoping that feeling would go away. 


Alma felt she had to walk slower. Everything looked a bit quieter and more empty, she wasn't sure why. She looked up to the sky. It was another beautiful sunny day. They have been so lucky with the weather lately. She noticed the strong scent of flowers and freshly cut grass. The road she normally walked was blocked. Some kind of roadworks, they seemed to be everywhere lately.


It took her longer than usual to get back to her flat. When Alma walked in she heard the beeping sound of the answering machine. She sat down next to it and pressed play.


"Mum…" her daughter's voice paused trying to control her emotions before she continued "Dad is in hospital, they don't think he has much time... He is asking to see you. Please get ready I'll pick you up in an hour" 


Alma felt it was strange that the message didn't make her upset, worried or sad. She knew her ex-husband was very ill. Her daughter had been keeping her updated about his condition. Alma was supportive of her daughter during this difficult time. She was grateful her daughter had a close relationship with her ex-husband. Jose wasn't a good husband, but he was a great dad. That's all that mattered. 


Alma had seen Jose on a few occasions since they separated, 30 years ago. Those were awkward and every effort was made so that they were not left alone. It's like neither of them knew how to act around each other.


As if it was a film, Alma started seeing flashbacks of their lives. She couldn't remember when they officially met. It was like they were always in each other's lives. Alma was the school's teacher daughter and Jose was the son of one of the farmers. They often played together at school. Often Alma helped Jose with his homework. He was great with numbers but not so good with his words. Alma was completely the opposite. 


As they grew up, they spent more and more time together. It was natural that when they reached a certain age they started to date, got engaged and married. One year after the wedding they had Jane. The first years were very difficult. There was so much financial hardship. They also had to deal with the loss of their parents. Jose tried so hard to take care of his dad's farm on his own. It was very difficult to make a living out of farming. Alma became a school teacher like her mum and she would do any extra work to bring more money in. She baked cakes, ironed, cleaned and washed for other people. 


During the first 10 years of their marriage, they rarely spent time with each other. But they knew it was for a good reason, they were building a better future. They both wanted Jane to go to university so she could have a better life than they did. 


During the following 10 years, things started to improve. There was a lot more money coming in from the farm, so Alma didn't need to do work for other people. Jose was happy with her staying at home and helping their daughter to get the best possible education. Jose was a great businessman. He has done so well that he ended up buying other farms. It seemed everything he got involved in became a success. But that also meant he spent less time at home. 


Alma heard rumours about Jose having affairs. She felt in her heart those rumours were probably true. But in those times a wife wouldn't question the husband about rumours. The truth was she didn't want to know. Alma couldn't face the consequences. What would everyone think? Alma was a devoted Catholic and that made the outcome unthinkable. 


One day Alma, Jane and the priest came home early to collect donations for the church. They walked into the house to find Jose and a young woman having a passionate encounter on the sofa. That changed everything for Alma. She could no longer ignore her husband's infidelity so she decided to separate from him. 


She moved out to her own place and made a life of her own. The beginning was very difficult as she felt so filled with shame for all that happened to her. She often thought of her parents and how embarrassed they would be of how her life turned out. Separated women were second class people in those times. Her daughter also suffered a lot from this whole situation. Jane had so much anger against Alma and Jose. 


Jose understood Alma's decision. He supported her financially throughout her whole life. They never divorced. Jane went on to study psychology and Alma was sure that helped her daughter heal her relationship with her and Jose. 


Jose had a lot of different partners over the years. Alma spent her life on her own and she was happy that way. Jane and her pets were all she needed to be happy. 


Alma saw her daughter's car parking in front of the building. She grabbed her handbag and rushed to the door. In what it seemed like the blink of an eye they were in the hospital, in Jose's room.


Jane held her dad's hand and said:


"Mum is here like you asked. " 


"Thank you, my girl. I'm so lucky to have you. I made so many mistakes. But if there is one thing I have done right that is you" said Jose with a frail voice. 


Jane kissed Jose's forehead. Tears rolling down her face. 


"I love you, dad. " 


"I love you too darling, more than anything in this world. Always remember that" Jose paused to find the strength to continue "Could you please let me have a moment with your mum." 


Jane instructed everyone to leave the room and asked her mum to get closer to Jose.


"I'm sorry it took me so long to say this," Jose said.


Alma interrupted him saying "It's OK, you don't need to say anything." 


"I do, I need to get this out of my heart" Alma stood in silence looking at Jose as he continued. "There is nothing I can say that can change what happened in the past. I regret so much how things happened between us. I feel so ashamed of myself. I know I don't deserve it, but I need to ask if you can forgive me". 


Alma took a deep breath, she never thought this day would come. So many times she imagined Jose asking for her forgiveness. And in her mind, she would assertively say that she would never forgive him. 


"Jose, it was a long time ago. It doesn't matter. What is in the past is in the past." 


"It matters to me, Alma. You are the love of my life. I never stopped loving you. I know I hurt you and Jane deeply and I can't live with that anymore. Please can you find in your heart a way to forgive me? I know you are a better person than me." 


Tears streamed down Alma's face. It seemed she couldn't find the right words. The room was filled with silence for what felt like an eternity. She then moved closer to Jose's bed and held his hand.


"I didn't know this until this moment. As I just searched in my heart for the answer I realized I forgave you years ago. I never stopped loving you either. I believe even that we separated all those years ago our love lived through our Jane."


"Can I ask you for one last kiss, my sweetheart?" Jose said with a smile. 


Their lips touched gently. It felt like their very first kiss under a tree in Jose dad's farm. Alma felt like every part of her body was alive again. She realized her love for Jose still filled every part of her heart. 


As they moved away they stared at each other's eyes. Alma remembered that was one of their favourite games when they were kids. Jose squeezed Alma's hand and said:


"I love you. I'm so sorry I took so long. I have been so blessed. Thank you. I have to go…" 


He closed his eyes and the next thing Alma heard was the flat beep sound coming from one of the machines. The door slammed open and Alma was asked to leave the room. A team of doctors and nurses walked in trying to revive Jose. Alma knew he was gone. 


She found her daughter, hugged her tight and said:


"Dad is finally in peace." 


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© Elaine Martini