When I See Your Face, Part 6
“No, wait, wait, you agreed to let me have my say. This man might look incredibly like your husband—in fact, I could swear they’re long lost twins—but he is most definitely not the person you think he is.”
When Cathy merely stared at her, she went on, “His name is Michael Newland. He has been living in our village for the past six to seven years. He’s our gardener and an artist too. As far as I know, he has never been married. Even if you don’t feel like believing that two people can look so similar, you will have to. Including me, there are several dozen people here who can vouch for his identity, let alone for the fact that he’s been living here continuously for the past years and can’t have led a double life with you someplace else.”
The confusion in Mrs. Grindle’s eyes belied the conviction in her voice. As for herself, she felt as though someone had thrown a bucket of icy water over her head. This couldn’t be! Or could it? The man in the shop, not Mark… That meant she hadn’t been discovered and the divorce would go through, didn’t it?
The small green shoot of the plant called hope that had sprung up inside her, only to be trampled upon, raised itself again, leaf by tiny leaf. Not Mark but a certain Michael. The one in a million chance of somebody looking exactly like her husband and living at the very same village that she had chosen for her new start. It couldn’t be true, and yet if the old lady said so and there was apparently a whole village population to back her up, it had to be true.
“Are you quite sure, Aunt Grindle?” she finally found herself asking, copying the older lady not only in wording but also in its tone of utter confusion.
It was her companion’s turn to nod silently.
Cathy stared at Mark’s photo on the table, at Mrs. Grindle’s face, into blank space, trying hard and failing miserably at comprehending what seemed impossible.
“My dear, I’d best leave you to yourself to get to terms with this unbelievable information. But let me ask something of you—though I’m not in a position to ask you for favors.”
With the young woman looking on, the landlady pressed ahead, laying a veined hand on the trembling one.
“You should…Could you apologize to Michael? He is a respectable person who’s had the shock of his life. We all like him immensely and he has deserved an apology for being screamed and shoved at. Believe me, I absolutely don’t blame you. However, if you could find the strength to face him and say one word of sorry, I’d be forever grateful.”
With that, Mrs. Grindle gave her hand a last press, got up and left the room, not without a backward glance at Mark’s photo on the table that stood out so clearly that it seemed to burn a hole into the wood.
Strength. If she could find the strength inside her to apologize… From where was she supposed to get any strength? She shook herself all over as though she had been doused with cold water. She took Mark’s photo from the table and looked at it, hard and long. His features were small but all the more clear due to the black and white of the portrait. His high forehead that looked even higher due to the neat hairstyle, his grey-blue eyes that looked lighter due to the black of his hair. The thin lips that were set in a winning, toothy smile ever so slightly crooked at one corner. It was all so familiar to her. And yet, she had confused another man for him, her own husband alongside whom she had lived for roughly two years.
Closing her eyes, she willed herself to relive that shameful moment in the shop, trying to focus on the details, but realizing that she had been much too worked up to notice any details at all.
There were only two things that caught her attention and spoke for the truth of Aunt Grindle’s words: There was the man’s—she couldn’t call him Michael, give him a name, and accept the fact yet—casual attire that her husband would never have chosen for leaving the house. And there was the look of bewilderment on his face that had barely registered with her alongside his stuttering. And hadn’t he called her “Miss?” Coming to think of it, there was no way that Mark would have reacted like that. Especially not if he had planned on confronting her.
Shaking herself again, she sucked in a breath. There was no denying it, Mrs. Grindle must have told her the truth. Which meant that she had been worried for no reason. And which also meant that she had screamed at an innocent stranger in broad daylight in a shop full of villagers. Cringing, she remembered her landlady’s request which had in fact been more of a plea. Would she ever be able to look her husband’s double in the face and say a word she would never want to say to her husband?
* * *
Cathy picked listlessly at her breakfast. Appetite or plain hunger evaded her because she knew she would have to go out and face the world, such as the village and its inhabitants, again from today onwards. Sure, contrary to what she had feared, Mark hadn’t sought her out and their divorce proceedings were most probably still rolling. Yet, there were people to confront whose opinion—she was astonished to realize it—did mean something to her. And there was an apology to make that made her sweat merely by thinking about it.
She swallowed the last piece of bread, rinsed her plate and knife, drank her coffee and grabbed her handbag from its hook. It was useless to prolong the inevitable. That was a lesson she had learned during the past few months, painful but helpful too.
Inside the shop, she held on fast to her shopping list as though it were her life vest. She gave the cashier lady a timid smile and felt ridiculously relieved when it was answered by a kinder, bigger smile. Bertha looked like she had a dozen things to say and ask, but Cathy fled into the heart of the shop, not quite ready for a game of Q&A yet. She was engrossed in replenishing her food stock and remembering what she had left behind during her last stint at the shop. Best to concentrate on the here and now and keep herself busy with small tasks than to fret about what she would have to face later.
When she rounded a bend and lifted her head to scan a shelf of tinned food, her gaze fell on the cashier counter. She nearly dropped her shopping basket, and seriously considered retracing her steps and hiding behind the shelves for a while. There, chatting to Bertha, was Mark’s clone, the one person she was least ready to confront today.
(To be continued tomorrow!)
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