SHORT STORIES: MARINA
Other Short Stories: Corbies, Glasgow 2050, A Christmas Miracle
She had changed her hairstyle, even the colour from the black I remembered to a striking red. Yet her way of sitting at the cafe table, the way she read the newspaper, head slightly to one side, made her instantly recognisable to me. I sat down opposite her. She looked up sharply, startled but not alarmed. Her eyes assessed me without recognition, still with that relaxed stare I used to find so attractive.
"You clearly don't remember me," I said.
She said nothing.
"Well, I've changed a lot," I went on. "Obviously. It was a long time ago."
A smile touched her mouth and eyes.
"Mairi," I said, "I'm Henry. We used to play together. You took me to the cinema. We went to the Museum here a few times."
She was beginning to remember.
"Yes, I remember now," she said. "You certainly have changed. I'm not Mairi any more. Call me Marina."
As Marina and I began to talk, I learned that she now lived abroad, working as an administrator for an aid agency in one of the newer East European countries. Yet she remained reticent about her private life. I ordered drinks, white wine for her, a mineral water for me.
"I'm not allowed alcohol any more." I explained. "Since I had to give up the practice, my doctor keeps me on a tight rein."
"I understand. I've given up things like that often, but not permanently, I'm glad to say." Marina stopped abruptly.
"Well, whatever you do, you're looking great on it. You don't seem to have aged at all since I last saw you. Quite incredible, I think."
"Oh, I've aged," she said. She sounded wistful. "Just like you and everybody else. I'm lucky, I suppose. I've always had a good skin. And I've never been really ill. I keep myself very active."
I wasn't convinced. In fact, I was beginning to feel uneasy.
"Heavens," I said. "That can't be all of it. It was a long time ago. You were a grown woman then. What was I? Eleven, twelve?"
Her eyes had a kind of smile around them. Crows' feet, perhaps. And there were definitely lines. But not of age.
"I know you're older than I am." I came to a halt. Marina sipped her wine, as if thinking hard.
"Yes, that's true," she seemed to admit. A silence fell between us. Neither of us wanted to break it. Down in Princes Street Gardens, children were laughing and shrieking.
"I've always loved children," Marina said suddenly. "But I don't get too close to them. You were one of the special ones. I loved my outings to the talkies. And the Museum, I preferred it the way it used to be, before these changes."
I found it impossible to speak, though I wanted to say something.
"I once had children, a long time ago," Marina went on. "But it became too painful eventually. I had to leave them....before the end. I've never had any more."
"I'll get the bill," I said. "I'd like to go outside."
We walked out of the Academy and along towards the National Gallery. Marina walked slowly beside me, making allowances. We talked more generally, avoiding the real subject.
"Let's go in," Marina said. "There's someone I want to see."
The large rooms were almost empty, echoing slightly to our voices.
"I only come back to Scotland after long intervals abroad," she said. "I get so involved in my work, until I have to change it. But it's always the same now, helping people, the need never goes away. It's the only way I can justify being as I am."
She looked directly at me. "I don't usually expect to meet people I knew before - when I revisit."
She stopped before a large portrait. One I knew, from my young days. Gainsborough.
"It's a good likeness," Marina said. "The Beautiful Mrs Graham. We were all shattered when she died. So young."
She turned to me. Though she was smiling, her eyes had an old sadness. I realised it had always been there. "I'm going now," Marina said. "Take care of yourself, Henry. I'm glad we met."
She turned and quickly walked away. I stood leaning on my sticks and watched her out of sight. I was suddenly glad to think that there could be people like her, in our midst, out there, trying to avoid being noticed, doing unobtrusive unending good, caring for us with their unageing compassion.