Home Stories Poems Site Reviews Writing Tips Charlie Fish
FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

A Sprig of Rosemary
by Carolyn A Lewis

View or add comments on this story

I fiddle with the sprig of rosemary and put it in my pocket. The waitress puts my coffee down. 'There you go, sir,' she says, smiling. I take a sip and look around at the blue skies of Rome. A couple of boys walk past wearing their soccer jerseys.

Our first kiss... I was seventeen and she was sweet sixteen. We were in Rheinpark, playing soccer. She was absolutely hopeless — I'd been trying to teach her for ages. I don't think I've ever met anyone as uncoordinated as Ingeborg.

I stepped away from the soccer ball. I looked towards the goal where Ingeborg was standing and saw the look of fear on her face as she shrank from the ball. I grinned, running at it.

'Come on!' I shouted, as Ingeborg failed to catch the ball. 'Dive for it if you have to!'

At the next ball, Ingeborg dived, and missed yet again. I laughed and pulled her up. 'You tried,' I said.

'Shut up!' she replied, scowling at me.

I slowly kicked the ball back a few metres and then turned to look at Ingeborg. She was laughing, her blonde hair falling out from her short ponytail. That smile was such a killer. I'd asked her out about a million times. Every Friday after school, I'd asked her if she wanted to go to the movies, or ice-skating, or out for a coffee, and she'd always say no. And I'd stand, watching her drive away with her mum, leaving me alone, which sucked. It wasn't exactly her fault - her brothers were a bit weird.

Halfdan was eleven years older than Ingeborg, and Helge thirteen. Their dad had died when Ingeborg was seven, and their mum had worked full time until Helge and Halfdan had completed their medical and accounting degrees and were able to support the family. Since their dad's death, the two brothers had become stupidly overprotective of their sister.

Ingeborg's dad had never laid down any rules for her; she told me that she remembered only a loving, kind man, so her brothers were the only authority she had known. They set the rules, and, with her compliant nature, she always did what she was told. She had never felt cause to complain. But I sure as hell had.

'Oh, come on, Frithiof,' she called impatiently. 'Just kick the damn ball!'

I rolled my eyes as Ingeborg dived and missed yet again. 'Ingeborg!' I shouted, as she stood up, brushing the dirt off her clothes. 'What do I need to do to get you to catch the ball?'

I ran at her and wrestled her to the ground, tickling her. Ingeborg squealed and slapped me. 'Get off!' she shrieked.

And then I kissed her. And she kissed me back. Afterwards, I didn't quite get that I'd just kissed her - was it supposed to just happen? But she just grinned at me. 'Get off you sweaty thing!' she said, pushing me away. I laughed and poked her. We sat on the grass, talking for a while about life in general.

Eventually Ingeborg glanced down at her watch. 'I have to go now,' she said.

I sighed. It was only four-thirty. 'Do you have to go?' I asked, annoyed. 'Your brothers are crazy, expecting you home so early.'

'Don't say that!' she replied, firing up. 'One: they're my family. And two: I owe them heaps. Hell, you know what they've done for mum and I since dad died!'

'Sorry,' I said penitently. 'See you later.'

'Bye,' she replied as she stood up slowly.

I watched Ingeborg walk home, and kicked the ball into the goal.

Laughing and a running hey, hey
Skipping and a jumping
In the misty morning fog with
Our hearts a thumpin' and you
My brown eyed girl,
You my brown eyed girl.

I throw a tip on the table and leave the café. I walk along the cobbled streets, not really caring where I go. Occasionally I stop and take a picture of an old building or some church. I haven't been here since I finished uni.

When Ingeborg was nineteen, she was doing a course in Romance Studies at the Universität Leipzig. I was completing my Bachelor of Philosophy at Universität Bielefeld. We'd been dating since the end of school. Ingeborg's favourite place was the Oper Leipzig - God knows how many theatres and operas we saw. And the Bach Memorial. If I couldn't find her at the student accommodation, I always knew where to look. The church of St Thomas.

Ingeborg meant the world to me, although she did annoy me often - always listening to her brothers. But apart from that - Ingeborg was the sweetest, kindest, most beautiful person I knew, and was heaps of fun.

One weekend, towards the middle of the first semester, I travelled to Leipzig to see Ingeborg, as I often did, and took her to the Bach Memorial. I had planned this weeks before. I was going to propose to Ingeborg. I'd picked out the ring and it sat ready in my pocket. I knew that the girl standing next to me was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We stood, Ingeborg looking at the statue, while I looked for the courage to talk.

'Well?' said Ingeborg eventually. 'I know that look all too well! You have something to say.'

I tried to laugh. 'You got me there,' I said.

Ingeborg smiled at me. She reached up and kissed my cheek. 'Go on,' she said. 'I won't eat you!'

So I pulled out the ring and said, 'Will you marry me?'

I saw tears in Ingeborg's brown eyes. She grinned and nodded. 'You know I love you, and always will,' she whispered. I kissed her.

And that was it.

My young love said to me,
My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you
For your lack of kind.
She stepped away from me
And this she did say,
"It will not be long love
Till our wedding day".

I find a fountain, and sit on the edge of it, hands in pockets. A couple of teenage girls wearing their stilettos walk past. I can never understand how they do that on the cobbled streets. The clouds are starting to block the sun. Another girl walks past me, crying.

I felt violently sick. Ingeborg pressed the ring into my hands, tears streaming down her pale face.

'No. Keep it,' I said. I slipped it back onto her hand.

I was bowled over. I didn't know what to say or where to turn.

Ingeborg held my hands tightly. 'Frithiof,' she whispered, 'you do know that Helge only wants to do the best for me. He can't see the practicality in Philosophy, and I can't blame him.'

I hugged Ingeborg. 'I'll make myself “worthy” of you, then,' I said, attempting to smile.

'I love you,' she said, kissing me. And then she was gone.

I was crushed. She wasn't supposed to go like that, just walking out of my life.

It hurt me like hell, but I knew why Ingeborg wouldn't marry me. She would never ignore a direct command from her brothers. I'd wanted to question her, but I knew why her brothers objected. It was obvious that they thought I was a worthless piece of nothing. And I hated them for it.

But I hated them more for hurting Ingeborg. I knew what she was doing - she'd be sitting at her desk, staring hard at her uni notes, blinking away tears.

When your day is long
and the night,
the night is yours alone,
when you're sure you've had enough of this life,
well hang on.
Don't let yourself go
'cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes.

The rain starts to drizzle and people put up their umbrellas. But I stay where I am. I close my eyes, letting the raindrops splatter all over my face.

I leant on my cue, watching Gilbert aim. 'So have you ever gone out with a girl?' Gilbert asked.

'Yeah,' I said. 'About a million years ago.'

Gilbert looked at me narrowly. 'You're not hiding anything?' he asked. 'You're not gay, are you? You won't tell me after knowing you for four years that you're gay? I don't turn you on, do I?' Gilbert grinned.

'Ha, ha, ha,' I said, rolling my eyes. 'No. I'm not gay, I just... don't date anymore.'

'What? Bad experience?' asked Gilbert.

'You could call it that.'

'Anything to do with a certain gorgeous blonde whose photo sits on your desk in the office?' Gilbert asked slyly.

I started and looked up. 'Yeah,' I muttered, looking back down and shooting viciously.

Gilbert said nothing. 'Your shot,' I said.

'You can't leave me hanging like that,' said Gilbert, taking aim.

I didn't reply and we continued playing in silence.

'All right,' I said at last. 'We were engaged.'

Gilbert slipped as he went to shoot. He looked up, horrified. 'What happened? She didn't leave you waiting at the altar, did she?'

'No, not Ingeborg,' I said. 'She's too sweet. I just wasn't good enough for her family. She was too obedient not to listen to them, and I had to let her go. It would kill her to be separate from her family. There was no choice, really.'

I had tried to shrug the matter off, but it still rankled. I often wondered what Ingeborg was doing, if she was dating anyone. As long as she wasn't dating anyone, I could handle it. I knew one day I'd go back and she'd be waiting for me.

The winter wind is icy and I desert my post at the fountain. I turn up the collar of my jacket and look for a café where I can sit down with another coffee in the warmth.

I walked up the familiar street, whipped by the wind, and looked up at the house. I knocked on the door, holding my breath. A tall, blonde woman opened the door. I recognised Ingeborg's mother. She narrowed her eyes in polite confusion.

I put out my hand. 'Frithiof Herrmann, Frau Traugott,' I said. 'I lived down the street with my parents some years back. They still live there.'

Frau Traugott smiled in recognition. 'Of course! How are you?' she asked. 'Why don't you come in?'

I walked in after her, as petrified at twenty-six as I had been at five.

'Tea or coffee?' she asked.

'I'm fine thank you,' I said. 'I actually just came to ask after Ingeborg. I am staying with my parents and I thought I might say hello.'

'Oh, then you didn't know?' asked Frau Traugott. 'She's married!'

Some say love it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.

I gratefully walk into the café. It's empty except for one couple sitting at a table and holding hands. The girl looks almost exactly like Audrey Hepburn. Weird. I take a seat next to the window and watch the rain stream down.

'Frithiof!' gasped Ingeborg, opening the door. 'What are you doing here?'

'I came to say hello,' I replied. 'I was in town and I thought I'd see how you were going on.' I noticed Ingeborg wearing maternity clothes and a slight bulge. I felt as though I had been winded.

She led me into the living room and poured me a coffee. Strong, one sugar, no milk - the way I'd always liked my coffee.

We talked for a while about what we'd been doing.

'So,' I said at last; 'you've married. Sigurd Ehrlichmann, isn't it?' She nodded and there was an awkward silence.

I looked away at a painting on the wall. 'It's a print of Sigurd in the Forge of Regin,' Ingeborg said, following my gaze. 'It was a wedding gift.' I then looked at the painting of a woman next to it - it looked as though it could have been Ingeborg in another life.

'It's called Ingeborg,' she said. 'Another wedding gift. Frithiof, he's very sweet and he loves me, but... Frithiof, I don't know what to do,' Ingeborg whispered. 'I thought you'd never come back, and Helge wanted me to marry Sigurd because he's a CEO. I had no choice,' she choked. 'And now -' she broke off, looking down. 'I'm having Sigurd's baby.'

I clenched my teeth in anger, and said nothing.

'Frithiof,' said Ingeborg, 'say something.'

She was killing me.

'Frithiof, I still love you,' she said. 'I said I always would, and I swear I always will.'

I would have kissed her then and there. But I couldn't - she was married.

'Tell me you love me,' she said. Her brown eyes looked at me.

I couldn't help it. 'Ingeborg, I still love you. Can't you just divorce Sigurd and marry me?'

Ingeborg shook her head. 'I didn't mean that,' she said. 'I can't divorce Sig —'

'I work for Deutsche Bank as a financial adviser!' I said impatiently. 'What can your brothers object to?'

'I object,' she said.

What? I sat in complete shock. She continued quietly. 'For the sake of my baby.'

I just looked at her, disgusted. I couldn't believe it - one minute telling me she loved me, and then refusing to get the divorce the next.

'Don't,' she whispered. 'Don't look at me like that!'

I looked at her coldly. 'You never loved me enough to stand up against your brothers. And never enough to wait for me.' Her jaw dropped.

'Frithiof,' she said, her voice trembling. 'I have always wanted to marry you. I never wanted to marry anyone but you! You never called or wrote or anything. I waited for four years. I had no idea where you were. You never answered any of my letters and you changed your email address. I had no way of contacting you. For all I knew, you had found some other girl,' she paused, a tear - the first I'd seen, she'd been so calm - in her eye, 'and had married her. There was no way I could wait any longer. I needed someone who loved me, and I thought you would never come back. I thought you'd found someone else, or had forgotten me.' Her voice dropped to a whisper. 'Please understand that, Frithiof. I will always love you.'

I stood up.

'Frithiof, please stay!' she said, grabbing my arm. 'I have to talk to you!'

'Mrs Ehrlichmann,' I said, 'I have to go now.'

'Don't call me that!' she said, looking at me, hurt. Like I care, I thought savagely.

'Good-bye,' I said, removing her arm. As I did, I caught a glimpse of the ring I'd given her on her right hand.

'What's wrong with you?' Ingeborg asked. 'Why won't you understand? Here I am, telling you I love you, asking you to stay to help me and talk to me - but you're just walking away.'

'And you won't divorce a man you don't love to marry the man you say you love. What the hell am I supposed to think, Ingeborg?'

Ingeborg's face fell. She slapped me. 'Fine. Get out. Get out of here!' she whispered, her voice deadly cold. 'Don't come back!'

I turned and left, my cheek smarting.

I courted lovely Flora
She promised ne'er to go.
But she turned unto another man
Which filled my heart with woe.
She robbed me of my liberty,
deprived me of my rest...
Then go you faithless Flora, the lily of the west

Sipping the scalding coffee, I watch the couple at the next table. I can see the ring on the girl's left hand. It's similar to the one I gave Ingeborg. The rain continues to pour down in buckets.

All I could see were Ingeborg's brown eyes filled with tears. All I could hear was her saying, 'Please understand that, Frithiof. I will always love you.'

For six years I'd been fighting for her, and now she was married and pregnant. What was this? 1850? Why did she have to go and marry anyone in the first place? I'd sworn I'd get past the brothers somehow, but no. She just married the first guy her brothers told her to.

'Bitch!' I whispered violently.

But then I saw the brown eyes looking at me, crying out for help.

I stared at the picture of her on my desk. All I could think of was Sigurd. And the baby.

I decided to get a transfer to Cologne and live with mum and dad. I often saw Ingeborg. Sometimes at the shopping centre, sometimes out walking. She was usually with Sigurd, and it hurt, especially when I saw her walking her son in the pram.

I joined the local soccer club. I soon discovered Sigurd was a member. We eventually became friends, but we never really spoke of Ingeborg. I suspect that even then he knew who I was, but he never said anything about Ingeborg's engagement to me.

Life fell into a routine. Sure, I was always looking out for Ingeborg, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. On Sunday afternoons, I'd sit on the front veranda, waiting for her to drive past on her way to her mum's house.

But one Sunday, she didn't drive past.

I sat in my usual place, waiting. Ingeborg should have been driving past soon. She was late... an hour late.

After another half an hour, the phone rang, and mum came out. I looked up.

'There's been an accident,' she said, her voice shaking. 'Ingeborg and —' her voice broke off.

Tortured by nightmares, I couldn't sleep. Frau Traugott had called mum about the accident. Ingeborg had been driving and had several broken bones and a concussion. But Sigurd and Johann - the baby - God!

The rain clears and I start walking again... just going anywhere I feel like. I try to find the end of the rainbow in the sky.

Two months after the funeral, I walked to Ingeborg's house. She was sitting on the front lawn, reading. 'Frithiof,' she said, smiling as she stood up. I could see that she had been crying. I hugged her.

'Frithiof,' she whispered. 'I knew you'd come.'

'Of course,' I said. It had taken me forever to persuade myself to go back to her. But then I was with her, and I couldn't let her go.

'But I can't marry you Frithiof.'

I froze.

'I love you, and always will, but I can't marry you,' she continued. 'The way I treated you was awful... and then I married. And now my husband is dead and my son, my little Johann, is dead. Frithiof, our roads divided the day I married Sigurd. We can't go back now, no matter how much we want to.'

I knew she was right.

Ingeborg took her ring off and gave it to me. She was pale, but calm.

I kissed her a last goodbye.

The skies are clearing and the rainbow vanishes. I walk down the Via Dei Fori Imperali and come to the Piazza del Colosseo. I stroll across the grass and look up at the massive two thousand year old ruin. The timeless Colosseum.

I take the rosemary from my pocket and smell the fresh fragrance once again. The memories flood me once more, but they are pale, and only memories - memories of a painful, yet pleasant, interlude of my life, and insignificant in the saga of humanity.

View or add comments on this story

Back to top
Back to list of stories

Web www.fictionontheweb.co.uk


Home Stories Poems Site Reviews Writing Tips Charlie Fish