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(A long short story of 34926 words)

Loving Imogen


by Mari Biella

When Daniel finds two runaways hiding in his cellar, he is charmed by their youth and innocence. As he soon learns, however, Imogen and Leo are hiding a dark secret. LOVING IMOGEN is a novella of approximately 32,000 words.

Rosemary is for remembrance, they say, and it is true. It is unfortunate, then, that it reminds him only of his folly.

For folly it certainly was. Only a saint or a simpleton would leave his door key beneath a plant pot, and since he cannot believe himself a saint he is forced to conclude that he is a fool. He could blame his forgetfulness, his habit of losing things, and a childhood spent locking himself out of the house, but none of these excuses would allay his foolishness. It is surprising, perhaps, that nothing worse happened – the newspapers carry breathless reports of violent robberies and assaults every day – but horror, he has learned, can come in some rather beguiling forms.

He is older now, and at least marginally less foolish, and day and night he keeps the door locked, and the windows fastened. Charity collectors, political candidates and religious visitors all get equally short shrift when they call, which they rarely do – word has spread, perhaps, that the cantankerous old fellow at 10 Riverview Terrace is unreceptive to their various messages. No one, he thinks, has cause to visit him now. He has retired from his teaching job. He has no close family or friends. He holds no particular religious or political convictions. He is not without charitable instincts, but instead of making small donations during his life he has resolved to bequeath a large sum to various good causes in his will. There is no one else to whom he might leave it, after all.

And so here he is, amidst the debris of a spent life and a dead love, an ageing man for whom no one cares.

‘An unenviable position,’ he admits, standing by the kitchen door and watching the dusk gather over the hills. ‘Most unenviable, indeed. But I must have seen it coming, mustn’t I? Even at my happiest, I must have known that it would end like this. And yet the knowledge did nothing to stop me. Stop talking to yourself, you fool,’ he adds, and falls silent.

Taking refuge in the past, the common consolation of old age, is not easy in his case. His life has contained little of glamour or glory; it has, on the contrary, been entirely ordinary. His early ambitions all withered, one by one, as he confronted the fact of his own mediocrity. In the end, he settled for a quiet life in a sleepy town, just as he settled for teaching the great works of English Literature rather than writing them. Love? He enjoyed a few little affairs, none of them very abiding or satisfying. They all let him down in the end, as surely as life and circumstances and his own character failed him. In short, his has been a humdrum life, led by a commonplace man.

Except for Imogen, that is. Only she ever seemed likely to temper the base metal of his life with gold, and even she proved false in the end...

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