Another day, another edition of Story Press! Today, Jonathan reflects on a romance he had in the sixties, what it means for him today, in 2001, and what unfolds when she takes a boat ride with powerful men.
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#43 Fellini, From Sea
Over thirty five years ago, I loved and loved hard a girl called Catherine. She was tall and blonde and freckled, and her smile, like some medicine, killed all the negative cells in me. We met at a party in Soho. She laughed at my trousers that didn’t fit right and then kept pushing me around all night. And then I asked her to take a walk with me and she said it was raining, but we did it anyway.
Several months passed, and we saw each other every day - going to the movies to watch Hitchcock, Fellini or Kubrick; sitting in bars with friends until the early hours; taking the car out to Margate for a fish and chips.
Then, out of nowhere, she turned up with a sour face on and she told me she was going away for a few months. She couldn’t tell me where, but she was going on a boat to exotic lands, and that she’d write me every day and keep a picture of us by her bedside.
And, most importantly, that she’d be back soon.
I asked questions and she told me not to. She said she couldn’t answer. It was all so mysterious.
About a week later, I came home from the pub and a small postcard was halfway through my letterbox. I grabbed it and sat on my steps. The front image was of an island with tall green trees surrounded by blue waters.
My dearest Jonathan,
You would love a life at sea. The hours become irrelevant and all you know is where the sun is, what colour the water is and that you have cold drinks at your disposal. We took two flights before setting sail, and we’re in among some distant islands in the Atlantic. Or the Pacific. I don’t know, my geography’s always been questionable. On this boat, there are a lot of staff who make things very comfortable, and powerful men who decide the fate of the world. Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you that, but now you know. The ink has dried.
I’ve run out of writing space, but I’ll write again soon.
Well… powerful men who decide the fate of the world? What has she done? What is her life outside of 2001: A Space Odyssey with me?
It only struck me then, sitting on the steps of my London home, that as much as I want to, I couldn't write back. I didn’t know where she was, couldn’t confirm which ocean she was even in.
I spent days circling my living room, robed and unshaven. My mother said I was depressed, but she didn’t know anything about me. Then, a month or so after that (so much for daily updates), I received another postcard. This one had a palm tree reaching over a cocktail on a sandy beach:
I have lots of time to think here. I stand on a beach with my feet drifting away under the water, watching wave after wave bob and peak and roll, and somewhere in there I see my whole life unfolding. And I see you. Do you remember that time we got high up the Junction and you told me that every detail of me would be burned into your consciousness for the rest of your life? And we ran down the street yelling at the ugly people we saw and drinking from the same bottle, before collapsing in your bed for two days. Well, now I see your face, hear your voice. Some of the details aren’t exactly you, sometimes you’re a bit different, but mostly it’s you. I still know it to be you. Well, maybe now I know what you meant.
Until next time,
This postcard, I kept by my bedside and read it every day. It was something real to cling to. I used to smell it in the morning and I swear it smelled of Catherine. In the end, that was all I had left of her.
After that, two months passed and I had altogether given up on receiving further postcards. Then, one day, this one was tucked into the corner of my letterbox:
I do not have much time to write and I’m sorry for not having written sooner. Have you ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome? Leanne told me she read a book about it. It means that when you are held captive or taken by someone, you start to have feelings for them to help you cope. Well… I haven’t been kidnapped or nothing, but…
I have a family here and I do not know if I can return. The weather in London is enough to make me want to kill myself… Here, I have character, I have a role. I serve a purpose. In many ways, you gave me that purpose and I know I can never repay you. What you have done for me, perhaps without knowing, is more than anyone ever and I am so grateful. Perhaps we will see each other again and smile and laugh. But for now, I need to cut away from my life at home and embrace this new life.
I hope you understand.
I was devastated by this but had resigned myself to some outcome along these lines. I would have preferred it had she not written at all. I had already reconciled myself to this without her postcard, but this just dredged up all those feelings of vitriol, of hatred, driven fundamentally by love. I buried myself in work, in another life, in alcohol.
Though I thought of her all the time, I had moved on. I met Lauren who I would later marry. That postcard was the last thing Catherine had ever really written to me. But I did receive one more from her. The picture said Kauai on it, the letters made up of burgeoning flowers, so I knew she had sent it from Hawai’i. It said nothing but my address and this:
“Put yourself into life and never lose your openness, your childish enthusiasm throughout the journey that is life, and things will come your way.” - Federico Fellini
Thirty years later, I keep that postcard in a shoebox and periodically look at it. Even after I married Lauren, had my three children, and now approach seventy. I think a lot about Catherine, where she might be in the world, whether she is alive. I tried to search for her on Google but there were so many people with the same name I got daunted and turned off my computer.
I do wonder why, despite everything, I kept that postcard with the Fellini quote on it and what on earth she wanted me to do about it.