Adrian was standing at the back of a metal-worker’s forge. A demonstration of decorative ironmongery skills had just ended and as the heat of the fire died down, the large crowd was still murmuring its admiration. Suddenly, a voice tinged with irony filled the space. ‘We are soon going to take some photographs for publicity use by Visit Scotland. So if by chance you are with someone you perhaps shouldn’t be, then you might want to leave now’.
Several pairs of eyes looked at each other in flickers of mild alarm. Some couples quietly drifted apart and made for the exit by different routes. But Adrian’s companion, Amanda, held his gaze from the far side of the workshop. Weaving her way through the crowd she strode purposefully towards him. Entwining her arms around his neck, she kissed him extravagantly, perhaps for just too long to be convincing. ‘Stuff this for a game’ she laughed, as she took his hand and moved towards the door, winking saucily at the photographer.
Excitement over, inside the car Amanda studied the route as they headed for the next stop on their itinerary. It was to be the studio of a ceramicist in the western hills, a specialist in making non-functional pieces in vivid colours and mixed media. Jewellers, willow weavers, watercolourists and cushion makers were also on the carefully prepared route, for later in the day. Such was the variety of their annual visit from Manchester to Galloway to spend time at the much acclaimed three day open studios event, known as the Spring Fling.
They had been doing this for the last five years. It had all started from a slightly drunken heart-to-heart at a college reunion. Since then, Adrian’s spouse, Sarah, had come to believe he was on his yearly ‘writing retreat’: re-drafting and finessing his latest academic paper for publication. Knowing how important this was for his work, Sarah seemed totally understanding and never complained about the arrangement. Two days before, Amanda’s partner, George, had cheerfully seen her leave on what he took to be a long-standing, once a year, wild camping trip with some of her old friends from school.
Amanda and Adrian’s time at the Spring Fling was a whirl of meeting artists, makers and creators of all stripes. The slightly prurient pleasure was to see these people in situ, to enter their inspirational places, and to connect their work to the sites of its production. Some lived up pot-holed tracks in tiny bothies, others in handed-down family homes of faded grandure. Many offered delicious home-made cakes, scones and good coffee, to a steady stream of visiting arts and crafts enthusiasts from far and wide. The weekend was a cultural tour de force with a dash of anthropological observation thrown in for good measure. All in all, the Spring Fling never failed to disappoint.
Nor did the personal excitement of Amanda and Adrian’s special time together. Yet they were quite rational about it, functional even. Meeting only once a year, their relationship never developed to another level and remained firmly in its metaphorical box. It was an arrangement that suited each of them and about which they were utterly discreet. Save for the odd lapse, like at the metalworker’s.
Of course, they comprehensively enjoyed sleeping together for three nights each year, delighting in bodily re-acquaintance and the re-newed frisson of smell and touch. Yet they lived untroubled within these parameters and never transgressed into any talk of a life together. Between each Spring Fling their text messages were sporadic and largely innocuous. Two former college pals keeping in touch for old time’s sake.
On the last evening this year, they made for a favourite seafood restaurant, tucked into an old warehouse by the harbour in a small fishing village. The scallops and lobster there were fresh from the sea and the owner had a surprisingly good wine list to match. Taking no chances, they had booked a table in a small alcove that ensured privacy, but didn’t spoil their view of the adjacent tables, and the boats beyond.
It was a scene almost clichéd in its charm. They had once said it would make a wonderful post-impressionist painting: Diners by the Harbourside. Tonight, as previously, it was engaging and full of life; but eager to order, they quickly turned their attention to the menu, choosing their preferred dishes along with a regular bottle of Macon Lugny to match.
Only as they sipped the perfectly chilled white wine and smiled in appreciation at the amuse bouche, did they lift their eyes to survey the animated scene before them.
Then it happened.
‘Look’ said Amanda, anxiously pointing with a sideways movement of her eyes. Adrian waited briefly before casually turning his gaze towards the harbour window. There, sitting at the best table, was not (as he had instantly feared) some third party acquaintance, but rather, champagne flutes in hand, an adoring couple, each staring into the others’ eyes in barely concealed mutual passion. Two lovers, quite openly displaying their shared intensity of feeling in a way that Amanda and Adrian scrupulously avoided. The Spring Flingers looked at each other in mute astonishment as the full realization slowly dawned.
Then the man and woman at the window leaned in, kissing gently and lovingly. There they were in a moment of complete bliss. A new type of Spring Fling was being enacted before the onlookers. The loving couple was Sarah and George.