Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
AN: Hi friends! Many of you know I am working on a short film. I've written four short essays relating to each lead character, and I would like to publish them and send them out to people before I do. In theory, these are essays each of the narrators would have written for publication in newspapers/magazines etc after the crimes of the lead characters become known to the world, so they're not supposed to be all encompassing and aspects of the characters of the narrators themselves left vague. The biggest thing I need help on is making each voice distinct and ensuring that the essays (which can't really get to be in any longer than they are) make you want to know more about each character.
I first met Margaret Kelly in 1964, when she was eighteen and I was twenty and we were both competing in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. I’d grown up a poor boy in Manchester, and had never expected for my love of swimming to turn into any kind of viable career. And yet, there I was, having arrived in Tokyo earlier that morning. Later that night was to be the opening ceremonies, and each of us had a few hours to ourselves. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country, and I was simultaneously exhausted from the long trip and energized because I was finally there. After settling in my room, I decided to take a dip into one of the pools, thinking it would be refreshing and quiet. As it turned out I wasn’t the only one who had the same idea.
When I got to the pool, a female figure was cutting through the water. The first thing I noticed was how fast she was. She could have beaten me in a race easily. Then, she emerged. Tufts of red hair poked out from under her swim cap. She looked like a redheaded Julie Christie. We caught eyes then, and I realized I’d been standing limply there the whole time.
“Hi,” she said.
I didn’t respond. She smiled at me. It was a beautiful smile. “Did you want to get in the water?” She asked.
I took off my trousers and shirt. In my swim briefs, I sat next to her at the side of the pool. “Are you competing?” She asked.
I nodded. “I’m Owen. From England.”
“I can see that,” she said before she blushed. “From your accent, I mean.”
We looked at each other for a moment, each of us trying not to laugh. “And you?”
“I’m Margaret. From the US.”
“I can see that,” I responded.
She bit her lip. “I’ve never been to England. But my mother named me after the Princess. I’m Margaret Rose,” she said. “Just like her.”
“It seems to me like you were destined for something great.”
Margaret blushed. “I hope so.” In that moment, we became aware of noise coming from outside and realized it was the combination of reporters and athletes all getting settled and ready for that evening. She smiled again. “I can’t believe I’m here. It’s kind of crazy.”
“Me too,” I said. “It’s the first time I’ve been out of England.”
“Same for me,” she said. “I mean America. I’ve never been out of America.” She blushed again. There was something different about her. She wasn’t like the girls that I’d known back in Manchester. She seemed freer, more sure of herself. Maybe this was the difference with American girls. “When are your events?” She asked.
“They start Tuesday,” I responded.
“Me too. 100 meter backstroke is first up,” Margaret said. She took a deep breath. “Until then it’s train, train, train.”
I realized that I had no idea what time it was. Locally it was probably late morning, but it felt much later. She was probably jet lagged too, but all I knew is that I was hungry. So I asked her if she was settled in her room and she said that she was. And, much to my shock and surprise and joy, she accepted my invitation to find a place to eat.
“Have you heard of Nicola’s?” She asked.
I shook my head. “It’s a famous pizza parlor. I remember hearing about it a while back.”
“Let’s go,” I said. I liked pizza as much as anyone, but I was confused as to why, when we were newly in a city filled with so much unique food, she would want pizza. I was afraid to leave the Olympic Village, as I did not know a word of Japanese. But as it turned out, Margaret had spent the last few months learning a few basic Japanese words and phrases. Enough so that we could call a taxi. And as she told me at the restaurant, she was scared and nervous being in an unfamiliar place, alone save for her coach. The pizza was a tie to home.
“I just think about my family and how they’re all going to be watching me on TV. I want to make them proud.” For a girl who would become known for her carefree and confident demeanor, I sensed a real vulnerability in her then.
“You will. I know you will,” I said.
“You’ve known me for two hours,” she replied.
I was the one who was blushing now. “We’re competing in the Olympics. So few people ever get here. They’ll be proud of you no matter what.”
“I know. But I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t fantasized about standing up on that podium.” She laughed, as if to pass off what she had said of a joke, make it less serious, less personal of an admission.
“I think we all have.”
“How’d you get into swimming?” She asked.
“Mum and dad made me take lessons,” I told her. “I couldn’t get enough.”“Same for me.”
Throughout our meal, we talked about anything and everything. Our families, our lives, our favorite films and music. I had known Margaret for two hours, but it felt like it had been much longer. We connected in a way that I had with few other people. And it was clear that the waiter, through broken English, assumed that we were a couple. He asked us how young people such as ourselves had the means to travel all the way to Tokyo. I took this as a sign that we didn’t look like we could be athletes, and I didn’t know what to make of that.
By the time we finished eating, I looked at my watch and realized it was only two o’clock. I was going to need to rest if I was make it through the opening ceremonies. I told Margaret this, and she expressed that she’d do the same.
Our ride back to the village was considerably more quiet, and the feeling of being close to her was intoxicating. If I hadn’t already, I was going to fall in love with her. These feelings only intensified when, later that night, during the opening ceremonies parade, the US athletes were to be right behind us. I heard her call out for me, and she gave me a smile and a wave.
The problem was that I did not share how I felt. I was completely and totally besotted with her, but I reasoned as that there was no feasible way for us to maintain a relationship across continents, my feelings were not worth sharing.
As it turned out, once events started, Margaret had nothing to worry about. She won the gold in the 100m backstroke, the very first event she competed in. Before long all of the papers were abuzz about who this eighteen year old girl from Chicago was, where she came from, and how she was so good. Later that night, I saw her back at the village. I’d had a terrible day, coming in dead last in both of the events I’d swam. My coach told me to rest and that tomorrow would be another day, but I had done fine work of convincing myself that, while I’d been a big fish in a small pond at home, that didn’t translate to having what it took to succeed.
“Congratulations.”She thanked me and asked me how I’d done. With a shrug, I told her.
“That’s all right,” she said. “You’ll do better tomorrow.”
She surprised me with a hug, and I walked back to my room with a skip.
In the next few days, Margaret would take home two silvers and a bronze. With my last event I was determined to take home at least one medal. I swam as hard as I could, but I ended up just barely missing out on bronze to take fourth place.
I was embarrassed, defeated, and ashamed. You weren’t supposed to come back from these things empty handed. I was consumed with doubts about whether or not I was meant to do this in the first place. Then, later that night, I ran into her in the food court, and I must have clearly been down. By then, there were still three days before closing ceremonies. Three days to waste away. I must have clearly been down, because she asked me what was wrong. I told her.
“Stop,” she said. “It’s like you told me. You made it on the team. A lot of people didn’t even get that far. You were .02 seconds away from a bronze medal. That’s something to celebrate.” “So then let’s celebrate,” I said. It came out of my mouth before I’d had the chance to think. “We made it through our first Olympics. And you, Ms. Kelly, are an Olympic Gold Medalist.”
She beamed. “Yeah I am.” We resolved to change and meet later at the entrance of the village. When I saw her, my heart nearly stopped. She’d done her hair up and was wearing a black and white dress that make her look like Ann-Margret. I wore a simple shirt and pants. It was a warm night, and the city called to us.
“Tonight,” she said. “We’re just two people exploring the city. We’ve earned it.”
I smiled. I called our taxi, and on the way over, Margaret expressed to me her concern that someone might recognize her. She’d spoken to at least a dozen reporters in the past few days, been photographed even more. And yet if anyone did, they pretended not to, because no one approached us.
After dinner we ended up in a quiet park. We sat down on a bench and it was all quite lovely in the moonlight. Nothing but us and the sound of wind, crickets and the distant cityscape. As we sat, my heart was pounding out of my chest.
“I wish we didn’t have to leave so soon,” she said. “I’m going to miss this.” Then, she turned to me. “And you.”
I wanted badly to kiss her, and I only realized that she’d likely been signaling me that it would have been all right for me to do. And yet, I did not understand this at the time. I was consumed by my own self doubt, by the fear of her rejection. After a certain point, she looked away. “We’ll write,” I finally said.
“I’d like that,” she said after a long pause.
She was in a sullen mood for the rest of the night, and then I was oblivious as to why. I justified it by telling myself that there was no way we could have dated anyway, that it was better that we hadn’t become attached. And yet, not kissing her that night is one thing I know I will always regret.
We saw each other one more time, as we were getting ready to leave. Both waiting for taxis to take us to the airport back home. Margaret appeared with her luggage beside me and said hello. I anxiously said hello back.
"Sad to be going back?” She asked. “Will be nice to see Mum and Dad again,” I said. She smiled tiredly. “You?”
“It’ll be nice. Until next time, right?”
“I have feelings for you,” I said suddenly.
Margaret seemed genuinely shocked as she looked at me, her eyes wide as she searched for something to say. “I have feelings for you, Owen,” she said, staring at me for a long time.
“But?” I managed nervously.
“But I’m going back to the States, and you’re going to England. I don’t see how this would work.” I knew, in that moment, that she was right. We embraced tightly. “But who knows,” she added. “Maybe someday we’ll see each other again.”
She got into the taxi and waved at me as I watched her drive away. I realized in that moment that even though we had mentioned we’d write to each other, we had never exchanged addresses. I took a deep breath. Maybe it was for the best.
On the plane home, I thought intensely about everything. About her, about how I hadn’t won any medals, about how the whole thing had been a wonderful experience but there was a part of me that felt like I hadn’t belonged. I wondered whether I had a future in swimming. About how Tokyo had been such a unique city and that I wished I’d gotten more time to explore it.
Once I returned, the banality of home life quickly began to make the Olympics seem like a distant memory. And yet I realized in 1966 that I wasn’t cut out to be an Olympic swimmer. Even the following year, when You Only Live Twice was released in cinemas and made me relive Tokyo, and her, all over again, I knew that I would not be returning in 1968. That, of course, was the year that she took home three gold medals and really became a star. I’d read that she had a boyfriend and didn’t think much of it. I was happy that she had found someone. That same year, I realized that I loved children and decided to become a history teacher. My past had become a fun fact that students would shareamongst themselves. In 1970 I read that Margaret had become engaged to her boyfriend. By then I was married myself, with our first child on the way. And yet, I held out hope that one day we would see each other again, not as lovers but as friends who had once been there for each other through and exciting yet difficult time.
Then there was the news the following summer. That horrible news. I immediately began sobbing when I saw it on television. Not her. Not the bright, smiling girl I had once known. No one deserved to die like that, and least of all her. Even today, it is something that I struggle to make sense of. I wished I’d tried harder to reconnect with her. That maybe she had been expecting to see me in Mexico and didn’t know what to make of me not being there. Part of me assumed that she would always be around. In the years that followed, my wife and daughter helped me through some very difficult times.
I didn’t know Margaret like her family did, or her many friends and least of all, her fiancé. It would be unfair of me to compare me not even being man enough to kiss her to the life that they were preparing to create together.But even in the two weeks that I did know her, she touched my life and I will never forget her.