Luke Johnson is this month’s Bellarine Writing Competition winner.
Luke won $200 for his winning entry. Entrants had to write a maximum of 750 words on the topic ‘If Only’.
Born and raised in the Geelong region, Luke has worked as a physiotherapist for over 20 years. He says he is lucky to live in Ocean Grove with his wife and two daughters.
Next month’s writing competition topic is ‘Lost’. Anyone over the age of 16 can enter by emailing their story to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 24.
If Only by Luke Johnson
I mean, really, who wants to hear an old man’s lament?
I could tell you about the girl I once saw standing by the side of the road with a pretty face and a basket full of flowers. She had a blue dress on, neat black shoes and the verve and energy, even from her side of the road, that I was always meant to grab on to.
I could have stopped right then and there.
If only I had, and had the courage to ask her something. I might have held her hand and felt my heart beat fast.
If only the light had turned red or the wind had come in from the north and swayed me to slow down and wait. If only the clouds had come over and had me sit with the engine running by the wattle tree on the nature strip, wondering a little longer.
If only her bus had been late and she’d put out her hand to hail a ride, her thumb a beacon and a starting line.
I might have forgotten about the worries of the world I thought I carried even then and left them in the bus stop, in her basket, if we’d driven off and felt the wind rush through the windows we’d rolled down to bask in the heady first moments we shared. That wind might have borne witness to a love that shimmered even in the winter and carried all the world on its shoulders.
We might have held on to each other and murmured promises and even kissed. We might have bought a farm and raised chickens and goats. And children, even.
We might have gone to Morocco or Myanmar or sat and talked and watched the Seine float past like it needed us to be there.
We might have admitted our faults to each other and forgiven ourselves for all of the mistakes we’d made and the thoughts we never finished. For all of the time we’d wasted just to find each other across the asphalt and diesel fumes.
We might have shared what it meant to be so loved and chirped at those we watched on the streets below who would never find what we had. Who would never understand how you could be saturated and absorbed like we were.
What if we had dared to look into each other’s eyes and swore we would never love less than we did right at that moment; that we’d wade through life and all it threw at us and march on to our own steady beat, never relenting and never forgetting what it meant to be next to each other from that fateful glance out of the passenger window?
We might have been so careful and considerate that days drifted past before we realised we had done nothing but be; and beyond that understood that it was all we ever needed; and wanted.
She might have been more delicate. She might have been more sensual. She might have been mine.
And I might have cooked slow dinners and lit candles and let her wash over me, both the beginning and the end of everything that you could wish for or imagine.
We might have found just exactly what we were looking for.
And we might have stood at the Eiffel Tower in the warm blanching light of a summery, sliver moon and caressed each other’s hair and sipped Chardonnay and felt like the whole of Paris was only ever built for us to be there, right at that moment.
And she might have strolled down Carnaby Street and shopped wildly and had women look at her and gape at how she managed to be so perfect and radiant, all the while her earnest, enduring man lolling behind holding bags and finding new ways to not look awkward whilst he waited for her.
And I might have one day, somewhere, somehow told her that I loved her.
All of these things she tells me she has mused on. Endlessly, tirelessly and restlessly.
For this is her lament.
Because the next day I saw her and her best friend at the pub. I married the best friend and 50 years later she has never forgiven me.
If only I had stopped for her sake.
She might still have that best friend and I might not be as happy as I am.
But I do wonder what might have been.
If only I’d had the courage to stop.