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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Author:Phaedra Patrick

He waited for Rajesh to pour his tea, then he took a sip. The china cup was dainty and painted with tiny pink roses. Miriam would have loved it.

He and she had lived their lives in opposite directions. Miriam’s had been colorful and lively and vibrant but then quietened and calmed when she met him. He in turn had never wished for more than his wife and the children, yet here he was, his sandals white from sand and his ankles suntanned. It was unexpected, invigorating. And his wife had led him here.

“I shall take you to see her room, yes?”

Arthur nodded, a lump rising in his throat.

Her room was small, no longer than eight feet and around five feet in width. There was a simple low wooden bed and a writing desk. The walls were white plaster and there were holes where photos and paintings had been pinned over the years. He imagined her sitting at the desk, looking out of the window and laughing at the children playing in the courtyard, rolling marbles between her fingers. She could have optimistically written a letter to Sonny here, not knowing what terrible events would unfold when she got home.

He stood at the window and closed his eyes, allowing the falling sun to warm his face. The back of his neck was already pink and tingly, just as he liked it.

Just then his mobile phone vibrated in his pocket. “Hello. Arthur Pepper. How may I help you?” he said without looking at the screen. “Oh, hello, Lucy. I’m fine. Please don’t stay on too long. These mobile phones are very costly...Don’t worry about me, really. It is very beautiful here and Mr. Mehra and his family are very welcoming. I can imagine your mother here as a young woman. She must have felt so happy and free, her life ahead of her, like yours is now. Like mine is. We must enjoy it. It’s what she would have wanted...Okay, well, goodbye, darling. It’s so lovely to hear from you. Love you.”

He slipped the phone back into his pocket. Then he gave a small smile and left the elephant charm on the bed, back where it belonged. He walked back into the courtyard. “My daughter was on the phone,” he said. “She worries about me.”

“We worry about our children and then they worry about us,” Rajesh replied. “It is a circle of life. Enjoy it.”

“I will.”

“Did you know that Miriam and I walked to the village together each day? Our treat was to buy a fresh bread roll each and to pull the soft bread out of the center and eat it on the way back. One day I proclaimed my love for her and she was very sweet. She told me that, when I grew older, I would meet the love of my life and it would be the real thing. She was right, of course. Miriam said that she longed to find her own true love, too. ‘I won’t compromise,’ she told me. ‘I will only marry once. I will take it seriously and marry the man that I will spend the rest of my life with.’ I remembered her words when I met Priya and I felt that lightning bolt of love strike me in the chest. And I hoped that Miriam had found it, too. And of course she did, when she met you. She followed her heart.”

Arthur closed his eyes. He pictured the rows and columns of photographs that Dan and Lucy had arranged in his front room. He saw Miriam smiling, happy. He saw the words in her letter to Sonny. “I’m proud that I was the one for her, just as she was the one for me. I believe that her life was the one she chose to lead.”

Rajesh nodded. “Come. Let us walk.”

The two men walked back to the edge of the quicksilver sea. Behind them a line of fires shone from the beach shacks. The smell of barbecued fish hung in the air. Two dogs chased each other along the beach. Arthur kicked off his shoes and let the sea kiss his toes.

“To Miriam.” Rajesh raised his cup of tea in a toast.

“To my wonderful wife,” Arthur said.

Then they stood and watched as the orange sky darkened to indigo and the sun finally sank into the sea.