It had been two years since they last met. There had been phone calls, of course – the last time he answered an unknown number, and it was her. He managed to be vivacious for a minute or so, but the silence grew and expanded. Like it did back then. He looked around the room, phone pressed to his ear, eyes unfocused in embarrassment, like he doesn’t want to see… the focus pulls in, he sees a drawer at the bottom of a wardrobe they bought together. Letters in there. Anchors from the past.
She was back. Back in the country for a few days, and would he meet her, meet her for a old-fashioned wander around, galleries etc. like in the beginning. When he could talk well, and endlessly, touch hands on grass embankments in covered reservoirs, broken into, in cider-driven hedonism, after a walk through the graveyard, laughing at the photos and epigrams. “Your soul soars to the sky” said one. He said:
“At the Funeral Director’s shop, they should have a gravestone in the window with “Your Name Here” written on it!”
Her hand had brushed his shoulder at this, and drifted down the plaid of his front, traced along a line. A flash of sunset sky cast that lens-flare vision, across her face – she was looking right into him, her lips burst apart in sudden blackness of her mouth, and he heard the first laugh. She looked up and from under her eyebrows, her snub nose tracing an unknown pattern in the air between them, and he felt the shocks from her fingers.
His soul smiled to itself.
But lets go back to the end. That song had been in his head all day, an infernal internal loop – “This is the end, my only frien- This is the end, my only- This is the end, my oh oh ohnly friend the end.” Their flat was too small, she was endlessly throwing him out of one room, then coming in to stare in silence, give silent lectures, whilst he felt like his skin peeled – to break one silence, wearing only a sweat ravaged shirt at 2am on a summer’s night – he clenched his fist, and for the first time in his life, punched. Except this was aimed at hurting only himself – his hand went through the glass, it fell away and blood droplets spattered the laminate floor, and last week’s Guardian looked less liberal.
“That’s mine! How dare you do th-”
“I fuckin’ bought it!”
“No you didn’t, you’re always fucking broke, you loser!”
“How, what –
“Yeah, congratulations, gone even further – violent now!” Well well done.”
“Look, its because you won’t let me get any sleep – just fuck off!”
“I don’t want to be in a relationship with you any longer.”
“Good! Fuck off!”
She walked out, and the way she slipped sideways out the door, the little wiggle of her; left right – made his eyes wet, pressed a button on his heart. He drew a slice of glass from between the knuckles, and started to clean the rest up, scooping it onto Boris Johnson’s fucking face.
Morning comes to the futon, and she has left. He gets up when the light won’t relent. Bleary, bleary, bleary. Splash water on face, spray face with cold shower head. Looking in the mirror, as his eyes yellow, the tap drips and the cistern refills. This is the end, my only friend, the end. What a song. He takes a piece of tissue, cleans a smudge from his own image in the mirror, wipes the water from his eyes, and drops it in the toilet. Presses flush but it doesn’t.
He has to collect a letter for her from below the flat. The postman delivers them to the hardware store. There are too many people in the hardware store. Forget the mail. I’m not going in there, workmen don’t like me. They resent me not working and having a good time. If this is good. I’ll go to the launderette. I’ll wash away my sin. Need to get some cheap washing powder. 99p in the purple packet in the shop. Hand fucking stings. And that was the day.
She returns later. Both sitting with backs to the wall, feeling vast and expansive in the tiny room, he straightens the gingham tablecloth and hides the tomato sauce stain with a salt cellar. This could be alright. This every day, a pizza from our new local, a few Stella, really takes the edge off. Look out the window and you can see the cemetery.
It doesn’t last long. Those cans. Where is my phone? She’s taken it. She punched me in the stomach. Shouted “What is wrong with you?” I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I get down on my knees and pray, look out the window into town, have to crane my neck to see. I can see along way from here, I always feel the possibility when I look over this town. I could go anywhere here. And I will.
And he did. For two years. Moved onwards; in fact, made a 180 degree turn. Back to University, off to do a Masters, gave up the life there, the small flats and soundsystems, the private views and private booze. He has a profession, he has a house, he has a new relationship and, as he sees her approach, he has an erection.
She winds her way along the pavement besides Kings Cross. She ducks behind a pillar, and looks out, that joyous gaping smile again. Grab her close to you (not too close) and wonder what is the Right Thing.
“How have you been?!” they say in harmony, and look into eyes, search.
“Good! I was thinking we could go to the British Museum?”
They march along, stride along, long coats swishing, body swaying side to side, that little special movement she has… Static electricity and the spark of new…
They don’t dwell at the exhibits. He likes that. Lets get this done as soon as possible. Get back to his girl. His new one. He never knew it could be like this. She never makes him shout, make him fear, make him doubt his reason for being here. She is absolute light and warmth, lying in tall grass on hillsides in summer, the quarry down below, a butterfly comes to land, flexes its colours and leaves, leaves a retinal trace that drifts across the blue blue sky, only a thought of perhaps ice cream later, the rest stretches into infinity as this moment returns, and he knows it can be accessed again. Right now-
Because, after all, it was this girl standing in front of him that gave him those images in the first place. Camping, that summer, that place. Happiness? Desperation? Or MDMA?
They go to a cafe in Holborn, stand in front of an array of cakes, the glaze treacly-glinting, winking, almost sending a free trial of their taste into his mouth – he can almost reach them, almost feel them on his tongue, and dear Lord I can’t what is this we left its wrong it was bad that night oh no I’m sick she’s mean, she’s so nice, it could be so nice in our papers nest of a Sunday morn, cinnamon swirls and pancake rolls and little errands for art supplies…
When walking towards the park, she says:
“Is this alright?” and intertwines her arm in his. He says:
“Yes.” and smiles to the trees.
They go up the hills over London, stand next to others and look down, and he feels a little of their old power. They could have done anything. Then why didn’t they? Why has both of their lives become what they always wanted since the drew their lines apart?
Is it possible to become close again? Can the early rush of a fire crackling and catching, a train accelerating, a pill kicking in, a memory being laid down, etched on your memory, put in the permanent store, becoming a life-defining moment – can that all happen again? They descend the hill, trying not to walk too fast, feet slapping down as the start to break into a run, then a trot, making horse-like purumph! sounds, kicking and snapping twigs, puffing out clouds of autumnal air. Until they reach the Tube station, and he says he has to go home now.
By the barriers, the pulls him aside and says:
“All this time, I’ve always felt that you were somehow there. My lovely, I’ve known and felt and tried to signal that to you. But really realising this only happened now when I spent a week on my own driving through the deserts. With pure clarity and intuition, you were somehow with my on the way, and I know that I have to be with you. Let us be again.”
Oh my word, dear readers…
“I know, but, my darling, what we had was amazing because we both got a lot from it. By the end, we were both on the paths in life we always wanted. Our time should remain a precious memory, but it cannot be revisited or regained. Always forward.”
She wraps her arms around him, and he reciprocates. He hears the gasps for air, between the clatter of trains and announcements “We are currently running a good service.”
Am I a fucking psychopath? I feel absolutely nothing.
“I don’t want to say goodbye.” she manages into his front, then looks up, eyes red and gleaming. He holds her by the shoulders and moves them both a little to the right, in case someone wanted to use the Tube Map. That was his only concern, and this concerned him. He could hear the trains deep below, taste their metallic breath, wanted to be encased in that warm breeze that licked up the stairwell. “182 Steps – For Emergency Use Only”
“By-o.” he said, sort of to himself.
This word, it may not mean much to you. You may not even think it a word. But for our man, it was linked to her, and to him, and this was theirs. They started saying it when the went on holiday to Snowden one year, and it would be whispered popping up out of sleeping bags, and later, each morning before work. She didn’t want to say goodbye, but this word –
His eyes fill with tears, he feels them on his own hand, his arms around her shoulders. He sees people though the blur, and doesn’t care, for this is true loss and they have never had something like this. His life splits into two parts at this point, all Her or Not-Her. All Them or Not Them. As the lift doors beep shut again, the doors to their planned life close. Shared houses, families, friends, holidays and dreams start racing off on separate lines. Like when you look out of a Tube window and see someone in another train surge toward you, at first blankly looking into the darkness, then seeing you, their eyes widen as you almost touch, almost crash – smile, then thunder away, into the blackness of your own tunnel.