They sat in silence thinking of home
The first autumn of the new century had settled on London bringing a thick cold fog.
The lights of the Italian restaurant beckoned cheerily, but it was Saturday night and groups were already getting turned away at the door.
But not the tall well-dressed family who had the clear accents and the good looks of the English rom-coms, which were fashionable at the time.
The owner himself, who was as handsome and well-dressed as his new guests, came out to greet them. He knew all their first names, but he referred to the Dad of the party as ‘Doctor’.
The doctor did not have an English accent, but a soft voice that came from somewhere between Galway and Sligo.
I was on my own so I thought I would chance it. As I approached the door the waiter rushed forward, shaking his head, but the proprietor waved me in. He led me to a small alcove, a cupboard really, out of the way, and asked if that would be alright. I gratefully took my seat.
It had been a long week’s work in London and that afternoon I had had enough of meetings and conferences and braved the thick fog of Hyde Park.
It was an eerie experience, walking alone in that vast city, without another soul in sight or sound.
If Sherlock Holmes or Scrooge lurched out of the mist I would not have been surprised. But the fog stayed blank, and the sounds of traffic were very far away when I felt, and then heard, hooves on the ground. A horse appeared right in front of me and above its head was the surprised face of a woman.
She nodded, I nodded, and then she smoothly guided the horse around me, and they were both gone, the hoof sounds fading away. She had been going a bit fast, but seemed to know what she was doing. I had a feeling I knew her.
The rom-com family were on desserts when the Dad stood up. There was a good-natured cheer and gentle ribbing.
“Enjoy the Grappa.”
“Give Tony our love.”
He joined the owner at the alcove next to me. A special bottle was produced in a practiced ritual. The title ‘Doctor’ was dispensed with as they took up an obviously long-running conversation.
A daughter’s broken romance. A son having trouble with a college subjection. The state of the garden.
Then, at the second glass.
“Are you going home before the end of the year?”
“No, I don’t think I can.”
“Neither can I. When you miss the summer …”
“And the kids no longer want to.…”
They sat in silence thinking of home.
Was home some grey Irish town, with green on the hillside, and a sea breeze in the mornings?
Or a Mediterranean village in the sunshine? It did not have to be named. It was home, despite the new lives and fine houses, the successful careers and the movie star families. When men like that met in the huge city they had adopted, they knew where their thoughts went on a foggy evening after a glass of wine. Some things don’t need saying. When the second glass was empty.
“I don’t know not too many now.”
“Maybe next year.”
The conversation turned to politics. The Mayor. The Royals.
The next day I told my story to Stephen who was a Londoner and knew about these things. He stared at me for a long moment, then barked.
“That woman on the horse! What did she have on her head?”
“A kind of scarf. Like a woman at the back of Mass in the 60s.”
He was not listening.
“It was her.”
“The Queen. Her Royal Majesty. Ma’am. Had to be. Anyone else would be made wear a helmet, but she won’t do it and they let her off.”
I shook my head in wonder, but I wasn’t that surprised. What I hadn’t told Stephen was that after she disappeared into the mist, an armored car lurched out of it, festooned with soldiers in combat gear, all glaring at me and jabbering into walkie-talkies as they followed her through the September park.
Then they too vanished into the fog.
Some things don’t need saying.
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