The story below won second prize in a "Canadian writers Journal' Short Story Contest.
I Loved Ronda Once
Thirty-five years ago in a little Southern Italian village, Ronda sipped Chianti with me for two glorious weeks. I’ve longed for her since that last explosive night. And now, sitting just ahead in the sixth row is a woman who looks just like her.
Watching my son perform on the flying trapeze, my face is flushed as I glimpse the profile of that cheek I once touched. Beside her sits a fair skinned man with young eyes. The catcher, my son, grasp the flying lady’s wrist, gleaming to the spontaneous applause, then with a subtle flip lets her go again to fly back to the bar. I need to know for certain.
If that face is not Ronda’s why is my pulse drumming so violently? I tried to will her to turn sideways, so I could be sure. My wife, Marie, broke my concentration as she touched my hand to ask if there was anything wrong.
“Scott is doing well tonight, isn’t he?” I recovered. During almost thirty years of marriage, Marie could always sense my emotions. She smiled and focused on the flyers again.
Wartime was no excuse. We knew it was our last night together before I had to leave with my unit to go north. I had told her that I would return as soon as I could and we’d spend the rest of our lives together. One minute she was smiling, the next, she slapped me and left. I never could understand why.
With all attention focused on the high wire, I noticed Ronda make her way to the end of the aisle and head toward the washrooms. My stomach knotted with certainty. I excused myself and followed her to the concession area. I stood beside a pay phone waiting for her to come out.
We were wartime lovers. What would I say to her now? Without time to get my thoughts together, she walked past me, returning to her seat. Our eyes did not connect. I returned to my seat as well.
Scott was now performing his bicycle rodeo routine. The crowd laughed and applauded. I couldn’t help noticing her laughing face again. As a certain fragrance brings back instant memories, her laughing face brought back memories that I could not deny. I must talk to her. I have to know. How am I ever going to make contact with her, when I am here with my wife celebrating out son’s debut performance with Circus Soleil?
At intermission Marie grabbed my hand to lead me backstage to congratulate Scott. I saw Ronda, with a young gentleman, flowing with the crowd in the opposite direction. Scott was busy changing his costume. Smiles, hugs and congratulations were exchanged. We returned to our seats as the crowds returned from their break.
We settled back to watch the Chinese diabolo group perform. There were no more breaks before the end of the show and we had promised to meet Scott after the performance to go out and celebrate. I was beginning to lose any hope of a rendezvous.
Was she married and now living in Montreal? The man beside her is younger than she is. I remember how she commented on how young I was in those days. We had only known each other for a couple of indulgent weeks. The bombing had intensified. As we sipped our wine that night, we both witnessed a ship in the distance, being blown out of the water. She slapped me and left shortly after that.
Scott performed again. This time he was with a troupe of acrobats, flipping and juggling at the same time. I sat amazed at the skills he had gained. I remembered him enjoying the stage with me doing magic shows as a child, but he had never displayed any talent for what he was doing now.
Any hopes of meeting Ronda after the show vanished during the standing ovation as she disappeared into the crowd. Disappointed, I followed Marie backstage to wait for Scott.
We joined Scott and his friends to celebrate at Marco’s. We toasted and laughed as we talked about their great performance.
Startled, I looked up as Ronda interrupted to ask if I was Larry. My heart did a double loop. There she was, talking to me. I hugged her and introduced her to my family and our new circus friends. I explained that we knew each other in Italy during the war. I told her about Marie and our son, Scott.
She was delighted to meet a real live circus performer. Her young escort approached and she introduced him as her son Anthony. Anthony explained that the reason they stopped in Montreal was to see Circus Soleil, on their way back to California, where they now lived. We shared some wine and more conversation.
I desperately wanted to know why Ronda left that night. I needed to talk to her alone. My perceptive wife sensed my dilemma and suggested that I take Ronda to the empty table to catch up on old times.
“It is great to see you again,” I began. “I really want to know why you left me that last night?”
“I would like to apologize for striking you,” she offered. “Do you remember the ship we saw being blown out of the water?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I never told you but I was married to a sailor during the time we were together.”
“You what!” I blurted out. “I know,” she quickly replied, putting a finger to her lips to calm me down. “Let me continue. He was at sea for three months and I had just received word that afternoon that he was returning home in a few days.”
“Go on,” I impatiently encouraged.
“Remember, just after we saw that ship being bombed, you reached up and touched my cheek? In that instant I had an intuitive flash that my husband was on that ship. I flailed out at you and left.”
“Was he?” I enquired. “Yes. I received word the next day he was killed in that bombing.” I reached out and touched her cheek, once again, as I consoled her. I stood up to return to the group, when she took my hand and motioned for me to sit down again.
“There is one more thing I need to tell you. Anthony is my son. You are his father.” “What!” I stammered. But I don’t want him to know. He thinks his father was my husband, the sailor, who died during the war.”
She stood up, walked over and whispered to Anthony. They both said their good-byes to the group. She turned and smiled at me, and they walked away.
“Larry, are you all right?” Marie inquired. Yes,” I murmured, and returned to sit with her.
I loved Ronda once.