by Jane Davis
She was at school the first time she read Thomas Hardy’s poems — set texts for her O-levels that she was surprised to enjoy.
Soon after that she started going out with her first real boyfriend. It lasted, on and off, until he failed his A-levels — she was never sure why, as he didn’t seem to struggle in class — and she went off to university. She met a guy called Andy in the first term, and never looked back.
She was living in rural Scotland with Andy the second time she read Thomas Hardy’s poems. She just spotted a copy in the local library and felt again that same feeling of gentle excitement and comprehension as she flicked through the pages.
Soon after that, she fell in love with a client, astonishingly, over a meeting table. She couldn’t take her eyes off him, and he kept looking up and seeking her gaze with a tiny, shy stunned smile of his own. After the meeting, they both just walked away in the same direction, ending up in a cafe and talking for hours. This was Jon.
Ten years later, Jon left her for a younger woman, a woman who would give him the children he so desired. “I still love you, but …” as he put it. She’d told him right from the start, in that cafe, that she didn’t want them, but couldn’t feel angry that he’d changed his mind.
She’d been living happily on her own for four years the third time she read Thomas Hardy’s poems. They’d slipped from her consciousness again, but one day something made her think of them. And by now she had enough money that she could afford to buy an attractive, cloth-bound copy of Wessex Poems. These were mostly new to her, but still with that same spare style and lucidity. She just got him, his references and his thinking. Funny to share your character with a Victorian Romantic. Or maybe not.
Three weeks later, she got a message through her shortest and least impressive dating profile, from a man who described himself as “Not really looking for anyone at the moment but I just had to contact you”. His profile was the longest and most impressive one she’d ever seen. She was visiting his town two days later and suggested coffee, knowing that he almost certainly wouldn’t be able to make it. He could. They hugged when they first met, and she felt like she’d come home.
Scanning her bookcase later that week, not really knowing what could possibly entertain her mind through the jittery love-struck haze engulfing her, she spotted Wessex Poems. Reached slowly towards the small volume and drew it out carefully, opened it and flicked through it, wondering.
Then she smiled sadly and replaced it gently, for the next time.
Jane Davis is a freelance translator and editor, originally from the Isle of Man and now dividing her time between France and Sweden. This is just as much fun as it sounds but does have the inevitable result that any possession she wants will, at any given time, always be at the other end of Europe.