Mathilda was a beautiful woman. Her delicate skin still had not taken notice of how long she had been around drinking and smoking at the endless dinner parties with the rich and famous from the town. Every man that crossed her path wanted to touch her porcelain skin. Their desire for her was comparable to the relentless search for the secret of porcelain making and in return, she defended her integrity in the same manner as the Chinese kept a valuable secret.
At first, you would perceive her as a relatively shy woman. While taking part in the tea parties she usually would have a rather demeanour presence. Never too flamboyant. It was only when the warmth of the sun was replaced by the rays the sparkly moon reflected in her deep blue eyes, that her personality would shine.
One could say, that the precious liquors contained in the crystal bottles engraved with golden monograms had something to do with her and other guests less reserved presence during the dinner parties. Animated discussions about literature, politics were in order. Her life agreed more with the rays of the moon rather than the sun.
Today all the town’s dignitaries were invited for a cocktail at Mr. von Villiez’s before the big parade in the city centre to celebrate the construction of a big automobile factory in town. The impact on everyone’s life would be significant. So much hope of a better life was at stake for the town.
Lady Steinberg looked magnificent in her pale rose dress, embroidered with very delicate crystal pieces brought from Paris. Each flower was made of the finest silk tulle finely sewn around her neckline that was not too revealing yet so elegant. She had impeccable taste, a real style setter. Apparently, one of her best friends was Coco Chanel. Of course, that has always fuelled gossipers at tea and dinner parties. Envy was always a shadow that followed Lady Steinberg where ever she went. Her thoughts about those commentaries were very rarely betrayed. Just once in a while, an impatient look was displayed or a word with a tone of censure would slip her unerring behaviour.
Mathilda arrived at the party and was immediately welcomed into the entrance hall by the party hosts, Mr and Mrs von Villiez. Her first thought was directed to Mrs. von Villiez. Despite being blessed by a family fortune, we could not say the same had been applied to her taste and features. Short in stature and a rather rounded figure after securing the future of the family’s name with three sons. She understood well what it took to be a wife of a prominent entrepreneur. She undertook the job to the best of her abilities, however, what she yearned for most was to spend time in the kitchen learning how to bake delicious and sumptuous cakes. Through her life, on very few occasions her desires were allowed to be known. A woman of her stature should never set foot in the kitchen. That was the costume. Words of censure were echoed from all directions; her husband, late mother, her circle of friends and even more so from her employees. Each time she attempted to go into the kitchen and get involved in the creation of cake, the cook would object. That was the only moment where she was more assertive and stood up for her wishes.
The music was slowly getting everyone in A good mood. Jaws were giving into soft laughter and shoulders were slowly relaxing. Mathilda was standing at the garden balcony when the wind brought the sound of a very familiar voice. A shiver ran through her spine. It could not be. They have not seen each other in few years. Was she deceived by her desires and started listening to things? Creating fantasies? Fantasy or not her hands were shaking, her heart beating at the same speed as an Ascot winner. She could no longer bare her doubts. Mathilda started looking for the source of that so familiar voice. And there Fabrice was. The love of her life holding hands with his wife. One could not dismiss Rose’s beauty. Perfect features, deep honey eyes framed by very long eyelashes. Impossible not to be drawn in by them. Dressed very elegantly.
Fabrice and Mathilda walked around the party like it was a labyrinth, trying to ensure their paths would not cross. Wanting to meet but frightened by the thought of what that would cause to themselves. One could compare their movements to the slow advances of tectonic plates preparing to collide. The only question was who would subside.
Mathilda was in a very spirited discussion with Lady Steinberg and other three guests about the new book by Ernest Hemingway “For Whom the Bell Tolls” when Lady Steinberg grabbed Rose’s hand as she was passing bringing her to the group.
– Everyone let me introduce you our sweet Rose, Fabrice’s wife.
After some pleasantries, Mathilda acknowledged Rose with a nervous smile to which Rose reciprocated graciously. As the conversation progressed, Rose moved to Mathilda’s side who was struggling to keep her glass of champagne steady not to spill and make sense whilst speaking. Multitasking was never so difficult. As Rose was about to say something to Mathilda, Fabrice joined the group. The handshakes and introductions had not even been completed when one of the gentlemen asked when they would be lighting cigars to celebrate Fabrice’s first child.
He could feel Mathilda’s gaze fixed on the movements of his mouth. There and then the tectonic plates of their hearts collided. Desire, love, hope, despair, longing all displayed in their retinas like a kaleidoscope of emotions. Only a person versed in the subject of the heart would notice the fine line that united Fabrice and Mathilda. As he moved his hand to embrace his young wife his hand touched Mathilda’s forearm. Mathilda felt a shock of 10,000 volts going through her body and let spill some of her champagne on Rose’s dress.
– I am really sorry Rose. Let me get someone to help.
– Don’t worry! It’s just a drop, and that is the only way I can have champagne since I am due in 7 months, anticipating Fabrice’s answer.
An awe of congratulations and hugs encased them. You could see the male pride in the way all the men looked at each other, the chest puffing, grand hand gestures as if they were announcing the next big event in town, male virility celebrated once more. Then, Rose in a very delicate manner apologised for her rudeness and addressed Mathilda. Do you know my Fabrice, my husband? And she continued talking, but Mathilda was no longer listening to her. Fabrice answered her explaining they met a few years back during a summer at Lord Sandfort.
In fact, Fabrice failed to mention that they shared four summers at the Lord’s house. A common friend of their families. The only difference was Mathilda was the daughter of a famous lawyer, and Fabrice’s family were in the banking business. Both families had very opposing views regarding politics and how to behave in society. At the time, Fabrice was discovering his independence as a young man. He always led a very controlled existence being either in boarding school or amongst his family. Going to Lord Sandfort summer’s house was the beginning of his journey into manhood.
Meeting Mathilda, a free-spirited young woman. Well-read and full of desire to discover life in a different manner put his existence in a turmoil of emotions. He used to compare her to salmon. Born in a small town “river” and destined to migrate to the big town “ocean”. Always against the current.
It was love at first breath; touch; gaze. With great difficulty, they kept their love undercover for four years. Fabrice was marvelled by Mathilda’s way of dealing with life; his heart was fully devoted to her. Yet his love was not sufficient to bridge the gap between their aspirations in life. Fabrice belonged to breed of man who still aimed to have a wife devoted to him. Like an audience permanently clapping to their master on the stage. Being the centre of attention was his sole unconscious and most precious desire; no wonder he was following his father’s footsteps into a life in banking. He desperately aspired to be needed. If he could not subdue the people around him, subtly his mood and interest in people would shift bringing a cloud of discomfort. It was a very subtle trace of his personality disguised by his beautiful smile. Mathilda, on the other hand, did not oblige his silent demands. She left him to make his decisions. At times, she created situations to observe his reactions. Every time he disappointed her. All his kindness, good manners were a smoke screen of his weaknesses.
As heard in popular wisdom, love does not possess common sense. It Just happens. Mathilda surrendered herself to the young and innocent hope that love would work its magic and smooth all the wrinkles of their lives. That was her flaw. The blind romantic belief that love did not require maturity, wisdom, independence and above all kindness.
Eventually, Mathilda let Fabrice go. All her tactics and antics did not produce the changes in behaviour or the awareness that she wished for in Fabrice. She understood that was a path he needed to go down by himself.
At the party, they barely spoke. They were too afraid to crack the very thin ice they were walking on. Each look or word exchanged was charged with emotions. Mathilda always had hoped life would bring maturity to Fabrice and then back to her. He used all the same mannerisms an insecure egoistic man from their social class would use. Just with more charm and eloquence.
The party progressed at the same speed as Mathilda’s despair and desolation. She distanced herself from the crowd, filled her glass of champagne, lit a cigarette and went for a walk. She found herself at the little private garden on the other side of the house. There, alone she collapsed. Silent tears running through her face. She understood that what she had was not hope that Fabrice would change but illusion. Illusion she created. She was lost. She silently observed Fabrice from a distance and said her goodbye. Her heart was broken all over again but this time she understood her own weakness: The inability to accept reality.
Mathilda moved to New York and with the support of her father and husband became a beacon for woman’s rights. Involved in every movement that would cross her path. To each of them dedicating equal measures of love and determination. Always trying to change things and people for the best. She never tolerated any kind of conformists. The desire to produce change was her strength and her fall.
Her work with The Center Against Domestic Violence was remarkable. She studied and got deeply involved in preventing violence within the family and to promoting the well-being and economic independence of women and children, by providing safe shelters, a network of supportive services, advocacy, education and resource information services and building coalitions. She immersed herself in this immense network to raise funds and awareness of all issues. Her work commanded respect and brought notoriety to American society. She was the happiest when she achieved her objectives at work. When the word ‘change’ became tangible.
Like any other day, she woke up and went straight to the kitchen to prepare coffee. Whilst still under the influence of Morpheus a smile came to her now slightly wrinkled mouth remembering her grandmother and then her mother preparing anxiously the first cup of coffee of the day. She was flying to Washington later on that day.
She had a shower noticing the signs of time printed on her skin. That didn’t affect her, she has long accepted the perils of ageing. She put on an elegant red dress with the pearls her dad gave her when her first book was published, black and white court shoes and bright red gloves to top off the look.
She was putting her make up on when she stopped to look at the portrait at her dresser. It was of her and her late husband. She smiled. Memories came flooding to her mind on how they met at University. He was a great man and understood her in every aspect. Her inability to feel the same kind of lust for him, the way she felt for Fabrice saddened her. Ralph was her strength, was by her side building a beautiful and meaningful career. Lectures at universities and big corporations were her life. Airports and cruises became her second home.
After the party at Mr and Mrs von Villiez’s, Fabrice became a memory locked in her heart. They never met again. Every so often she would hear some news about him. Either from common friends or via the news. He became a successful businessman with some dubious connections in politics. Every time his name surfaced a little piece of Mathilda’s heart would dissolve into silent tears.
Strangely after getting ready, she decided to go earlier to the airport. That was unusual as Mathilda disliked wasting time. She never understood why people liked to stay at the airport hanging around. She always timed to be as quick as she could. Not today. Today she felt different. Embracing time and contemplating every aspect of life with joy.
She calmly installed herself on the sofa in the 1st class lounge at the airport waiting for her 3rd coffee of the day when she raised her eyes and lost her breath. At the age of 67, her eyes met Fabrice again. Her heart raced in the same manner. She still loved him. All her muscles tensed and prepared to run in his direction and say … Hi! Fabrice instead stared at her for what felt like an eternity. Then looked down to his nervous hand holding a hat. Slowly his feet turned around and he walked away.