Love on Wheels, Part 1

Set in the turn-of-the-century, a small town in the city of Vancouver, in southwestern British Columbia, Canada. Here, is the story of a deeply moving love affair between Tristan Haze, a critically acclaimed Canadian writer and his lifetime love, Victoria Clair, only daughter of a popular chocolate maker.

“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” Plato

April 1920. It had been such a long time. Finally this day, he was on his way home. Home… the thought of his parents, the smell of “Clair Chocolates”, the lovely oak trees, the shades, the quiet balconies, the countless paths suitable for walking and getting lost and the jetty… So many things flooded into his mind all of a sudden as he began to draw nearer to home. Of course, there was Victoria and… the bicycle. Memories… He painfully wondered how she was now and if life these years had been good to her.

His eyes had been staring for a long time through the coach windows. The evening sun glared radiantly across the plains. With the wild horses racing by, he realised how much he actually missed this picturesque site near the Coast Mountains. Six years away from home had done much change to both Tristan and Vancouver. Especially now that the war was over and everything was being reorganised, activity strived everywhere. But Tristan was never caught up with the world’s materialistic excitement. During the war of 1914-1918, he had served as a soldier and participated in several battles. Death and grief, victory and conquest, he had experienced it all. Towards the end of the war, he had been severely wounded and spent almost five months recuperating in Italy.

After the war, he worked as a correspondent for the “Toronto Star” and settled in Montreal for the last two years. That was where he had worked hard and contributed much to the Canadian literary society. He started out working as a small reporter for “Vancouver Sun”, but later he ended up with “Toronto Star” as he preferred their liberalistic view of journalism. Since then, he had been contributing numerous war articles to newpapers and journals everywhere in British Columbia. He wrote deeply about death and grief, all his experiences in the war as well as his own disappointments with life. His themes focused mainly on human weaknesses and the ugliness of life. He felt very strongly about expressing his concerns for the century’s social problems. As Canadian writers began to gain worldwide recognition, so was fame coming up for Tristan as well. Now as a man of thirty one years, he was finally making his way home as a respectable and successful writer. During the war, he had suffered and been through much psychological traumas. Two years of living and working in one of Canada’s largest metropolitan region, he had had enough of city life. Thinking of home in the suburbs, a small town almost hidden away by the dense forest growth, the idea of serenity certainly appeased his tired soul. He longed to escape the harsh reality of war and society…and life.

It had been a tiring flight from Montreal to Vancouver. Now on a train across western Canada to his home town, the clanging bells and the lonely wail of the steam whistles as well as its bursting engines did not do much to calm his nerves. He was actually feeling wary about returning home and what there was to be awaiting him. Victoria…

Both Tristan and Victoria had grown up together since young. Victoria’s father owned one of Canada’s most popular chocolate factory—“Clair Chocolates.” The family had been in the chocolate business since Victoria’s great grandfather’s time. Tristan’s father worked for the Clair family. He was the factory’s chief manager and a very good helper to Victoria’s father. Both Tristan and Victoria’s families had known each other for generations and their fathers were long time friends. They lived together in the same little town. They played together and studied together. After Tristan graduated from high school, he spent some time helping his father at the “Clair Chocolates” factory. He got to see Victoria almost everyday and they enjoyed memorable times making chocolate together. Everything they did, they were together. Eventually, they fell in love together. But to Tristan, these belonged only to the past. Victoria could never be together with him anymore.

He gave a short sigh and decided to keep the pen and notebook that he had been holding in his hands. He was thinking he could make use of his travelling time to write a draft for a new inspiration which he had before he left Montreal. But now, his mind is just too occupied with home and Victoria…

He swiftly opened his suitcase and as he placed his writing stationery back among his other documents, he could not help but noticed the letter. It was a letter written by Victoria’s hand and with her perfume on it. As he opened the letter once again to read its simple contents, he simply could not conceal his sadness. Since the time he left home due to the war, he had written countless letters to Victoria, reminding her of their love. It had been six years and this was the first and only time Victoria had ever written to him…

“Dear Tristan, It has been six long years. How have you been? Please come home. I want to see you.
Your love, Victoria Clair.”

Just by the familiar smell of her perfume, it was enough to bring back the remembrances of their love. He took out a silver locket from his shirt pocket. The picture of Victoria glancing back at him was comforting enough. He knew that all this time throughout the war, Victoria had never left him and he had never abandoned her. He was only waiting for a time to compensate his injuries, to understand his denials and to grieve his failures. His lovely Victoria could never be the same as before. Somehow, he felt that he had been the one who had ruined her, deprived her life and changed their future. The hurt was an immeasurable amount of pain. He thought he would die in the war, but he somehow survived. He thought he would never have the opportunity to come home to see Victoria again, but now it was her request of him. Perhaps, even the last of her wishes.

From the next cabin emerged the train conductor in his splendid uniform. He looked almost like the train’s captain himself. With his confident stride and a fatherly smile on his face, he slowly approached each passenger on board to check their train tickets.

“Sir, would you like more wine?”, a stewardess posed to pour Tristan more wine. With his thoughts interrupted, he turned his head to face the stewardess. He thought she had appeared charming in her little white apron. He thought he saw Victoria again and smiled.

“Oh, no, perhaps later”, he politely replied. “I’d like a few moments by myself though.”

“Oh, I understand, sir. Do excuse me.” The little stewardess hastily made her exit out of Tristan’s roomette.

Just then, the jolly old conductor popped his head at the door. “Sir, I’m sorry”, he smiled, “Your ticket, please.”

“Oh, yes, certainly. Now where is it? There, here you go.” After alittle search, he found his ticket in his overcoat pocket, creased among his other literary notes.

“Has been a long journey, hasn’t it?”

“Yes… but, I’m going home.”

“Oh yes, it’s always wonderful to be going home!”, the conductor laughed. “Say, the war’s been cruel, but everyone has a family. Welcome home, Mister Tristan Haze. Most certainly, my warmest welcome to you.” There, he offered Tristan one of his huge bear hugs, making Tristan quite uncomfortable with this unexpected warm gesture.

“Yes, yes… It does feel good to be home. Thank you.”

The conductor left Tristan in his roomette by himself again. Clutching the previous silver locket in his hands, he decided that he was going to make it home this time to see Victoria. No matter what he had to face, he would have the courage that he needed. Before long, the train finally pulled into his destinated station. He bid farewell to the good old conductor and alighted from the train. Immediately, he was caught up with the commotion of the frantic passengers. People were rushing everywhere. Some rushed to get their belongings, while others rushed to meet their loved ones at the station. Tristan could have informed his family of his arrival today, but he thought otherwise. He wanted to pay Victoria a surprise visit. Besides, he did not really want to make his return into anything of a celebration. He knew that by Victoria’s sudden request for him to come home, there was certain to be something amiss.

After picking up his luggages from the porter, he gradually made his way out of the small station. Stepping out into the setting sun, he could not help but feel the change in the air. It certainly felt wonderful to be away from the city once in a while. Even the people were different. He noticed children playing games across the streets. Women and men sitting by the country styled side-walk cafes drinking tea and chatting loudly. But everyone was in their relaxed manner. There were laughter and kind words, nice people everywhere. It was a quiet and peaceful little town.

However, to get to his home, there was still a long walk from the train station. He remembered the afternoon walks he used to take with Victoria, those years back. It would have been lovely to reminisce those good old times, but he saw no point in walking the path home alone by himself now. Besides, it was gradually getting dark. He had hoped to get home before dinner time. He caught a bus ride that would save him the walking journey. Along the bumpy ride, looking out at a surrounding so familiar and yet so strange, Tristan could not help but once again travel down the memory lane. Victoria…

©1998 Jessica Yeow