September 1920, England.
It's late afternoon and the sun hangs low in the sky, the beautiful golden light it casts gilding everything as the lengthy day finally draws to a close. The air is comfortable, and it seems that the day has accepted its inevitable end, leading to this: a golden hour of peace.
Two men walk hand in hand through this picturesque scene, the cool breeze ruffling through their hair and the yellowing leaves. Illuminated by this searching light, any imperfections are recognised and smoothed, blonde hair spun into gold, and brunette glinting as bronze. But whilst these men are idealised as statues of precious metal within the raw beauty of nature, at the core they are still human. Their inherent flaws, and the societal odds stacked against them, have made this journey to satisfaction hard, but their reward of companionship with one another is worth more to them than any earthly wealth. Much like the burning heat of the sun, their relationship consumes as it creates. Both must give, but they do so willing for what they can nurture in the other. It is not a question of opposites, light and dark, push and pull, but true complementarity.
The two reach a sturdy wooden bench and Raleigh asks Stanhope to sit alongside him. He turns, looking him in the eyes as directly as he can, given the poor design of park benches in regard to holding heartfelt conversations and the ache that twisting aggravates in his back. He takes a deep breath.
"Don't be upset," he warns as he dips his hand into his jacket pocket, pulling out a fine silver chain. As the sunlight catches it, it seems almost to wink conspiratorially. It bears a heavy burden, a dull, warped hunk of metal that contrasts heavily with the delicate chain. When Raleigh had first seen it, in a jar on the side of his hospital table it was stained with his own blood. Now it had been scrubbed clean and a small hole drilled into it to allow it to be strung. It might be petty, but seeing it subdued in a way paralleling his own injury gave Raleigh a faint sense of pleasure. It did feel almost ironic, that the object that nearly took his life should come to be a symbol of their fidelity.... but he was getting ahead of himself.
“I say Dennis… I don’t want you to think that I am being morbid, or anything like that, but the two of us … in a strange and indirect way. well, we owe our lives to this piece of metal. And I thought that perhaps, though in hindsight it might seem a little bizarre, but I thought that..well.. that it might make an appropriate gift to ask you to spend the rest of your life with me.” He continues earnestly, “So, please don’t be upset, but what I am trying to say is… will you not marry me?
For a second Raleigh seems to be considering throwing himself into the large ornamental pond that was another of his mother’s ‘essential’ installations. Perhaps, if he was lucky, he’d dash his brains out on one of the rocks he had used to bed the primroses into. He bursts out, desperate to rectify his perceived error, “but you know-erm- marry me in, uh, I guess, uhm, an official con-firmation of our commitment…way? Please.”
Stanhope, who had looked a little overwhelmed a few moments before, now looks amused. His eyes glint. “Jimmy, don’t look so distressed. I’m still here aren’t I? If the sight of you in your great-aunt’s hat, you know very well the one I mean, though I’m still not sure where the old bat got that vulture… no-don’t shake your head at me- I’m making- this is a serious point!”
They laugh. The pendant dances in Raleigh’s hand. Stanhope folds it into his, and speaks again, softly and with more gravity. “Anyway Jimmy, if the sight of you parading around in that get up couldn’t scare me away, then what makes you think a world war, several near death experiences, certain disownment and imprisonment if we are ever discovered, and possible damnation regardless are going to do?”
Raleigh gently smacks him in the arm. “You are still an arse,” he says with a chuckle. “Even after all these years.”
“Mmm,” says Stanhope, scooting so that the two are parallel rather than facing each other, and slinging his arm around Raleigh’s shoulders, a comfortable weight. “But hey, at least now I am your arse.” He places a chaste kiss on Raleigh’s cheek, who takes the opportunity to fake anger and mutter about exactly what the other can do to his arse, even as he wriggles closer. They settle.
And as the sun finally sinks behind the horizon, its golden fingers reluctantly withdrawing from the scene, it briefly reduces the two to a flat black silhouette against a sky that is bleeding fire. And in that second there is something about them, nothing that can quite be placed, not quite a weariness of eye, nor a proudness of posture; no tears glimmer in their eyes. Yet, for this minute second alone, these are more than ordinary men. Heroes, tyrants, victims. There is an odd sense of poignant sorrow, as though perhaps they are missing someone, but no, more like some pieces of themselves. But, in a blink of an eye, the moment has passed, and in the dusk, they are simply two ordinary men once more.