A Smile to Slay the Masses

What Mel Did - Bronson, A smile to slay the masses

Bronson and I would have been married 21 years tomorrow. It would also have been his 61st birthday. Six months ago, I started scribbling a personal memory for a magazine on “How We Met.” That scribble turned into this personal essay.

I’d intended to get rid of him somewhere between the church service and Denial, but every day I found new reasons to hold on. Bronson was once again my dirty little secret.

By the time Anger kicked the door in, I was belligerent in hanging onto what I had left of my husband. I’d already given fifty percent of his ashes to his mother in America, which we spread from the family motorboat around Sakonnet Lighthouse, Rhode Island. Starting up the engine for home on that grizzling grey day, the boat stalled. I sat in bowed-head misery as we bobbed on the Atlantic Ocean waiting for someone to fix the predicament. With a full tank of gas before we left, there was no reason we should have stalled for those miserable 10 minutes. My sister-in-law reckoned it was Bronson’s way of saying goodbye. Rain or tears of fury ran down my face that such an important sign had not been saved just for me.

I first met Bronson (later to become “Bronnie”) when he visited the London office where I worked. His blonde hair, blue eyes and disarming ways fluttered around the room like strips of gold leaf paper. I had recently come from a difficult relationship and believed myself immune to easy charm. Besides, Bronson didn’t need me. From day one, his adoring acolytes, as I named my colleagues, anointed themselves in his aura like holy water.

I think it was my indifference which made the difference. On subsequent visits, Bronson made a point of gifting me his first glance, his first smile and his first hello – all wrapped up in his well-bred, American boy-next-door affect. Cats, knowing I disliked them, often paid me similar attention. This tomcat enjoyed making the people around him purr and, like Exocet missiles in heat, the acolytes waited to spray as soon as Bronson tired of the game of winning me over.

“Why don’t you like me?” Bronson asked one day.

I had not heard him come up behind me.

“You like yourself enough for all of us, Bronson,” I replied.

“Don’t mind her,” one of his parishioners chirped from across the room, “we like you, don’t we girls?” Bronson turned and rewarded the chorus of giggles with a smile to slay the masses.

“I’m not sure your adoring fans could bear to share you,” I said, and turned back to my photocopying. On his way past, Bronson put his head close to mine and whispered out of earshot of the others, “Not every man was put on this earth to hurt you.” My body tensed and I stared hard at the papers I was holding, for once incapable of a sarcastic riposte – of any response. I turned to look at Bronson but he was gone.

After some time, Bronson and I reached a truce of sorts. Working late, we were the last ones in the office and I invited him to join me for supper at the nearby Meridien Hotel. Yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) and Dinkys (Dual Income No Kids Yet) often grabbed a late bite in its plush surroundings before returning to their respective rungs on corporate ladders. I guess I was a Yuppie whilst Bronson was definitely a Dim (Dual Income…and Married).

“Listen,” I warned him, “this is a simple function of eating. Don’t read any more into it, okay?”

“Understood, ma’am,” Bronson twinkled, grabbing my coat from the back of the door and holding it aloft for me to fall into.

At dinner, I twiddled the gold crucifix I always wore around my neck, listening to a sensitivity in Bronson’s voice I had not noticed before. He was married with a young child and they all lived in the countryside. He was born in Providence, Rhode Island (to WASP stock, I joked), and was the oldest of three brothers. His middle brother had committed suicide. I repaid his vulnerability with one of my own sad stories.

During the rest of dinner, his casual office ways morphed into a childlike and flattering interest in all things me. Even when there was nothing left to tell save the minutiae which makes up a life, his attention never wavered. Not even when a minor celebrity and her near-transparent dress attempted to catch his eye. I felt powerful. Like the only woman in the world able to hold this beautiful man’s attention. I slept with him after dinner.

In the days following, Bronson perversely made himself even more agreeable to the acolytes in the office. “Otherwise, they’ll suspect,” he said, but I burned with resentment I was no longer singled out for his special and public attention. I wanted the world to know he had chosen me, ME, even if that knowing revealed a skank, a whore who slept with family men. The vulgar words shamed me, but not enough to stop my descent into Bronson’s life as his dirty little secret.

At one of the many send-offs for my husband, I don’t remember which, someone eulogised that Bronson always made them feel like they were just the person he had hoped would come around the corner in that precise moment. It felt unkind to tell her he had made everyone feel that way.

Most of our friends and family often forget it rained on 11th June 1997 – Bronson’s 40th birthday and our wedding day. I picked a date we could single out just for us in the years to come. We were married in an enormous white marquee in our English countryside garden, and I have two favourite memories from that day. The first is Bronson dancing with his ex-wife and our combined three children – eventually to become four. The second is when Bronson took me in his arms to dance to the song we had been practising for weeks. Enveloped in his chest in that moment it was just us and the world faded away.

No-one forgets where they were when Bronson died of a heart attack 13 years later on 15 January 2010 at Liverpool Street Station, London. He died surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers; people who didn’t know he had a smile to slay the masses. He died without me, who did know.

The next bargain I made is that I’d hold onto Bronson’s ashes only until the British church service was over. Then the American memorial service. Then numerous tribute events people and colleagues, some of whom I didn’t know, wanted to hold in his honour. I filled eight years with reasons to secretly hold onto Bronson’s ashes.

In our courtship days, I never quite got used to sharing Bronson. Pushing to legitimise our relationship, I wasn’t to know I would one day long for our illicit moments together. I wasn’t prepared for the others with their own legitimate claims to my charismatic lover. His family, colleagues, his frequent business travels and love affair with Africa. Then there were the deeply bonded friendships he had cultivated over several years. We would sometimes meet his closest friends for a drink or dinner, with varying degrees of comfort I wasn’t his wife. Their shared memories did not include me as I hoped to become one of the memorable stories and not a clichéd anecdote.

After all ceremonies were through, I and Bronson’s ashes moved from our country farmhouse to a city apartment that didn’t know me or know me when I was an “us.” I returned to work and the children returned to their lives across different parts of the globe. Bronson and I had often talked about our empty nest adventures when it was just us again. We had not known he would be in a porcelain urn when we made the trip.

One day, in a low and depressed state, I did think about freeing myself from Bronson’s ashes. I mumbled to the children I was thinking of spreading the last of them near the village ocean where they had been born and their father Chairman of the local RNLI. Once again sharing him with his deep love of the sea.

“You what, mum? You’re not thinking of doing that without us, are you?”

“Yes,” said another. “It still hurts you spread daddy’s ashes in America without us.”

I was guilty as charged. I vaguely remembered some well-meaning soul had deemed it would “All be too much” for the children. As I was running on vapours at the time, it didn’t occur to me to check the validity of that statement with the children. A newly minted widow, I took all well-meaning decisions at face value.

“No,” I said, “of course not.”

This was not the moment to tell them I had since scattered 10% percent of Bronson’s ashes in the garden where we had been married.

Amidst the indecision to do the right thing by everyone, I have done nothing with what remains of Bronson’s ashes. And in that long, drawn out nothing, I have accepted I may have become irretrievably attached to having Bronson with me. Just us again.

But what of rights when I had rejected a sacred moment where it would definitely have been just us again.

Distraught at the thought of identifying Bronson after the accident, my brother went in my place. A few days later, guilt and tortured reasoning drove me to change my mind about seeing him.

“I won’t tell you what to do,” my brother said, “but I’ll only say that Bronson took a hard fall when he collapsed.”

A kind way to warn me that part, if not all, of my husband’s face may have been bashed away when he fell. The thought of seeing Bronson’s beautiful face damaged made acid bile rise up in my throat.

“Maybe I should remember him as he was then,” I said too quickly shirking my gruesome wifely duty.

One day, the conversation in the office turned to converting dead people’s ashes into jewellery. Apparently, the bereaved were commissioning their dearly departed into tasteful necklaces, bracelets or a ring, perhaps. I thought the idea macabre and tasteless – this coming from a woman who had stashed her husband behind an armchair for eight years. But it was certainly one way of keeping a dearly departed near. Flippant office banter which led to a resolution.

I will keep a percentage of Bronson’s ashes until my own demise, asking for my remains to be mingled with his. An afterlife of exclusivity if you will, where I can once again enjoy my husband’s unwavering attention.

And I will trust the universe gifts me the portion of Bronnie’s ashes which contains his smile. A smile which could slay the masses gifted just to me.

 

 

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1 Comment

  • The depth of your love and your loss and your beautiful writing make me ache with sadness. I hadn’t realized that two of your children were yours before you met Bronnie. For some (unknown) reason I thought he had two children and then you had two more together. I think it’s lovely and entirely appropriate that your ashes are eventually mingled with Bronnie’s smile for eternity. Los of love xxx

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