“Strangers in the Night”
By Sean Bracken
It was my daughter Megan’s thirty fourth birthday and the party had ended about an hour earlier. Perhaps a dozen stragglers and overnight guests were gathered around the fireplace in the sitting room. Most were helping to finish off the last few bottles of wine. I was enjoying a hot cup of strong black coffee.
Lots of candles, a few incense burners and the warm glow from the flickering fire combined to create an intimate, cosy atmosphere. General chit chat ranged from how well everyone looked, to Jacinta’s operation, to Peg and Jack’s honeymoon plans.
One of the girls, Jessie I think, asked if anyone believed in love at first sight. This provoked lots of debate. The romantics believed fervently that it happened all the time. The more practically minded dismissed the notion out of hand and a few declared that there was no such thing as love. Asserting that it was merely a chemical reaction brought about by hormones.
Between the late hour and my long drive down from Dublin the day before, I was feeling tired. Just as I prepared to excuse myself and head off to bed, Jessie, the girl who had started the debate asked for my opinion. “Mr Colin’s, what do you think? Do you believe in love at first sight? Or do you even believe in love at all?
Never able to resist spinning a yarn I answered the questions like this. “Jacinta, to answer to your second question first, I most certainly do believe in true love. With all my heart I believe. To answer your first question I’d need to tell a long story of something that happened years ago and let you decide for yourself. But it’s getting very late. Maybe I’ll tell you all in the morning. I really need to say goodnight now.”
As I expected, this caused cries of protest from Megan’s friends. They all insisted on hearing the tale there and then. Secretly delighted to have captured my audience so easily, I sat forward in my chair and began.
“In order to tell you this story I have to bring you all back in time to Dublin in nineteen-sixty-nine. It was a wonderful time to be young. I was only sixteen back then and full of life. Our generation was changing society all over the world. Flower power was in full swing, The Beatles were at the height of their career. Of course Free Love hadn’t exactly caught on in Holy Catholic Ireland. Priests and Nuns patrolled the dance halls at night and woe betide a couple caught dancing too close. So we lived in fear of getting a girl into trouble and the consequences for a girl becoming pregnant were horrific.”
I paused to let the picture I’d painted with words sink in and took a sip of coffee.
As the young people waited impatiently for me to continue, I asked Megan to make a fresh pot of coffee. Then I continued with my story.
“I remember as if it was only yesterday. It was a Friday night, late in the Autumn. I had caught the 46a bus into town with my two best friends Peter Daly and Dave Cleary. We wanted to see “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” showing in The Metropole Cinema in O’Connell Street. The city was a hive of activity as we joined the queue for tickets. A busker with an accordion entertained the crowd, while a tout tried to sell theater tickets at inflated prices. Evening Press Vans unloaded piles of final edition papers for the motor bikes waiting to despatch them around the city’s street vendors and late night shops.
Half an hour later we gained entry to the beautiful old cinema. Walking through thick piled hand woven carpet, emblazoned in gold with the theater's name and motif, we reached the ticket desk and then wandered over to purchase sweets and ice-cream to sustain us during the show. Then into the auditorium to find our seats. We were halfway down on the left hand side, in the middle of the row on the lower tier.
We settled into our seats and waited for the lights to dim, the curtains to open and the show to start. Dave made his way down to one of the usherettes to buy a ten pack of Players Navy Cut. The three seats beside us had reserved signs draped across them.
Dave arrived back to his seat just as the background music faded and the show began. As usual we had to endure a litany of cheap ads for local companies, followed by Tom and Jerry and then my favourite, Mr Magoo. Next we were treated to a fantastic trailer for a new James Bond film. Then more ads. We learnt that a big, big carpet could be cleaned for less than half a crown and then, wonder of wonders, Johnson, Johnson, Mooney and O’Brien had gold medals to prove that they made Ireland’s favourite pan. The next ad was for Cadbury’s drinking chocolate. I proudly pointed out to the lads that the boy and girl being pushed on the carts were my brother Pat and sister Deirdre. “You know that isn’t steam coming from the mugs,” I said “No, some cameraman puffed cigarette smoke into them before the takes. Pat said it was disgusting. Still they got well paid and were allowed to keep the clothes.”
The lads, clearly underwhelmed by this riveting piece of information, ignored me and continued to munch on their sweets. A crowing cock introduced the Pathe News feature, which was always months out of date. We heard for the umpteenth time about the Vietnam War, a political scandal in England and just as Niall Armstrong made yet another giant leap for mankind, we were disturbed by people squeezing down the row to the three reserved seats. “
I pauseded to ask Megan if she’d made the fresh coffee. She took my mug and went over to pour me a cup. As usual it was perfect. Megan always knew exactly how I liked it. Double strong, no sugar, no milk. I dallied for a couple of minutes over the coffee to build up the suspense and then resumed my tale.
“You have to understand that back in those days it was considered the height of bad manners to arrive late to the cinema. So, I was a little annoyed at the disturbance the late comers were causing. That was until I looked over at them. It was three girls. I have no idea what two of them looked like, but the other one. My God, no matter how I could try, I could never give you a description that could do her justice. She took my breath away. She was tall, about my height and she had auburn hair falling in waves down to her shoulders, the darkest, deepest eyes I’d ever seen and they sparkled with life as they reflected the light from the big screen. Despite having to pass through a crush of knees, coats and bags on the floor she moved with poise and confidence. Her face could have graced the front of any fashion magazine. She looked remarkably like Bridget Bardot, but Bardot would have been the artist’s first rough draft. This girl was the finished masterpiece. She was about my own age. I can still remember that she wore a pale lemon, semi-see-through embroidered blouse, with a black bra showing through the light material of the blouse. Her long bronzed legs went all the way up to a black micro-mini-skirt and she completed her look with a long red maxi coat that trailed down to the ground.
She took her seat just as the censor’s certificate came up to herald the main feature. I couldn’t take my eye’s off her. I’d have endured any hardship or torture just to be close to her.”
At this point I considered taking another short break from the story, just to build the tension, but on looking at the faces of my audience I could see that there was no need. They were enthralled and desperate to hear more, so I continued.
“Well, the film was in full swing, Butch and Sundance were busy robbing and looting across America. The entire audience was captivated by their exploits. Except for me. I was captivated by the heavenly body sitting only inches away from me.
Her hand was resting on the armrest between our seats. So near and yet so far. I couldn’t resist the temptation and boldly placed my hand on hers. I fully expected to be rebuffed for my foolishness, but no, instead she turned her hand and held mine in hers. She looked over at me and gave me a smile. That was it, I was in love, head over heals, gloriously in love. Her response to my touch encouraged me and I turned in my seat, replaced my right hand with my left and put my right arm around her shoulder. She turned towards me and snuggled into me. She closed her eyes and I leaned in to kiss her lips, lightly at first. Just a gentle brush of my lips on hers. But this was not enough. The taste of her lips ignited a fire of passion in me. She opened her lips and her tongue flicked against my tongue. In seconds we were licking and pressing, exploring teeth, gums, lips. Our tongues wrestled, deeper and deeper, our mouths tasting and sensing. I was almost sitting in her seat and as our tongues explored, so did our hands. She reached down and pulled her coat over us. Like a blanket. By now both of us were on fire. We began to soar in a torrent of passion. Thinking only of giving pleasure to the other, we carried each other higher and higher. I unclipped her bra with one hand and she urgently unzipped my jeans. Our bodies were out of control. And we soared to even greater heights. Like birds in flight, preparing to mate. Our hands discovered new secret, forbidden places. Dark parts always to be kept private. I could feel the moist, dampness of her. She reached down and guided my hand into her and all the while she stroked me, slowly at first, but then faster and harder. She was writhing at my touch. Our lips never parted. Then came the pain. We began to nip and bite with our teeth. First lightly, playfully, then savagely, like beasts. The pain was like some exquisite spice, bringing new flavours to our passion. We reached a plateau. It seemed we could soar no higher. Then, we could both sense a rising volcano, deep in our cores. We reached new heights. Heights never reached before or since by any man or woman. Our souls exploded in a crescendo of unsurpassed passion, then reformed into one perfect, shared soul. And yet we went even higher. Our volcano erupted in an intense burst of ecstasy. Spent, exhausted, we slumped back into our seats, clinging to each other.”
“The sound of the movie’s theme tune brought us back to reality. Our modesty returned and we fumbled under her coat to restore some semblance of decorum to our clothes. The credits finished rolling and hand in hand, we stood to attention as the Irish flag fluttered and the National Anthem reached it’s own climax.”
“The curtain closed, the lights came on and she turned to follow her friends, waiting in the center aisle. I turned to follow Peter and Dave out to the left hand aisle.”
“During the entire encounter we had never spoken. There was no need for words, indeed, words would have only been wasted. We had shared a lifetime in one brief hour. We had shared our dreams, we had shared our love, we had shared our being, our essence. I never knew her name.”
“I often wonder, does she ever think of me? and if she does, does she remember me as fondly as I remember her? My very own Stranger in the Night.”
I looked around the group of young people and asked, “Well Jessie, what do you think? Do you think that I believe in love at first sight, that it can become eternal?”
No one answered, but I could see that for the first time, they could see the young boy who still lived in this tired old face. Megan rose to her feet and crossed to give me a big hug. She said, “That was a lovely story , Dad,” And she hugged me even tighter when I whispered in her ear, “It wasn’t a story Megan. It was all true. Dave Cleary was best man when I married your mother, six years later.