It’s crowded, the last of the summer sun is glinting through the window. Riotously warm, as if we were abroad. So everyone is a little bit skimpy in their clothing and a holiday atmosphere has settled on the place. The door is wide open and the beer garden is heaving.
We sit across. Animated. It’s a good laugh and heady with the heat. There is a feeling of whimsy over the pub since the three musicians started asking people to join in. Six pints down and just beyond tipsy. It’s reaching peak fun.
There was initial desire, of course there was. Passing and interested, nothing more. But tonight there is a shift. It’s tangible and I can feel it. The earth literally does move, which I didn’t expect and it’s hard to ignore. It’s an ‘Oh shit’ moment and no mistake when the room spins 360, because, I cannot, absolutely cannot, go there. There is slight terror. Danger territory has just been reached.
The alarm bell that should be ringing has been replaced by the sound of drums and all I can see is the mole on his neck and all I can hear is my breathing over his voice.
My eyes wander errantly to his midriff and ‘Oh shit.’ I swallow, burying the thought deep.
I really should go, he should too. We see that clearly. But we don’t go, there is one, maybe two, more drinks more and that is when we leave.
It’s hard to leave but my feet do move and my head moves. My heart, thumping wildly, is a little slower.
We stand on the side of the road as we part for the night and I want to call him back with every fibre of my being but I am entirely frozen. This is a fixed point in time I will not forget. I promise myself right now that I will try, but it will replay over and over again, I know that, even now.
His living situation is less than ideal, there will be another time if this is a thing. This is a thing. It’s definitely a thing. It could be a thing.
In that moment, I’ve hardly felt more trapped than I do right then.
And, he’s gone.
The bus is two stops away, so the app says and I send two messages.
The reply comes quick. This feels like a thing.
The other reply does not come at all.
I’m still looking at my phone as the bus arrives. But it’s not the bus, it’s a taxi, and I’m not getting in it. I’m going over it. It’s thrown me half-way up the road, careered to a halt, and I’m definitely no longer at the bus stop.
I’ve not seen him in months, which makes the event even stranger.
It’s 2am. He is phoning me from what sounds like an airport. Apparently, he’s in Russia, he’s had a terrifying day, after losing his passport, and being accused of plagiarism. It hardly sounds terrifying, but nevertheless, I’m the one he wants to phone.
We’ve still never touched, been close but never touched. Firmly, in the friend zone, but, still, I dream and I wonder, does he think of me too.
Probably not. Not in that way anyway.
But he is tonight.
For some reason I want to check if he’s eaten. He’s had a marmalade sandwich.
Russia must be like Japan, with the strange sandwiches at their airports. Have you ever eaten a strawberry sandwich? I have.
Better than no food I suppose, but unless you’re Paddington Bear, that’s no meal at all.
We talk for a while, but I’m really sleepy and I need to put my shoes on. So I go to do that, sightly confused by that thought.
When I awake and look at my phone the top story on the news is all about a crash on the Tran-Siberian Railway. But I’ve just spoken to him, so I know he’s ok.
I flash forward to another evening, later that summer.
It’s one of those summer evenings that never seems to end. Everyone is on the cusp of being drunk again and we’re all getting more elaborate. It’s still warm, the setting sun is casting long rays of bright light and shadows in places. It’s like being inside a kaleidoscope. Magic, and if we all don’t feel like we’re 20 again, we should. It’s that kind of night.
Paul is off for a fag somewhere and the four of us are sitting at the picnic bench debating if we want a cocktail bucket for the road or a rum and coke. I don’t really want to go home, I can’t think why.
I can think why.
He returns and gestures to the bar, off we go. Two buckets, a rum, a whisky and I don’t know what he’s having.
He lightly nudges me with his shoulder, “you want to come over?” Obviously. He’s all super cool.
“Yeah, sure,” so am I.
Tricky in the company we’re keeping here but something can be worked out. So long as it’s not awkward eh? We return to the table and chat resumes. The whole time I’m thinking about how to make an escape. I’ve no idea what we’re talking about now.
Getting a taxi is a pain and when we do Daniel wants to come too. The third wheel. So there he is and there we are and he is so much more drunk than the rest of us. It’s a bit frustrating, but it is what it is. Our arrangement has always been this. Casual, absolutely no pressure and so here we are.
“Another drink, anyone?”
I’m at the counter. Am I pouring wine? Where I’m standing looks over into the next room, where predictably Daniel is now passed out on the too small sofa. His right leg over the arm and his left arm and leg jutting out ragdoll-esque.
Paul is behind me and is stroking some fluff from the nape of my neck. There is a familiarity to this and a warmth that courses through my veins like Sambuca.
Suddenly there’s a wall with a pane of frosted glass in the middle. Now I can’t see the room, it’s a different kitchen entirely and I’m against this wall. Whose kitchen is this? The kissing is almost frenzied, it’s been such a while, and we’re ravenous. Tortured almost. If it was that serious, which, it ISN’T. In the end Daniel goes home, we bundle him into a cab, and bundle ourselves into bed where it all begins again, always like the first time. Sensual and slow.
As we lie on the bed afterwards I feel so content and wish we’d just come here from the start. Sleep comes in drifts and waves and I’m warm and soft. I’ll stay awhile. When I awaken I don’t recognise the curtains. The room is gloomy and pale, I can hardly think. That’s when I realise that I’m in my own bedroom. And I seriously begin to wonder; did any of that happen at all?
I’m tired. Why do I feel so heavy, like my legs can’t move? How can you be together yet apart? I feel so alone. Why is it so cold? My mind swirls. Whose voice can I hear, not yours, his? When will I feel warm again? Is there a good time to talk? Where am I? It’s cold.
We sit by the sea on a cold winter’s day. Your hat is the colour of raspberries. It’s bold and I like it. You sit with your hands hunched Into pockets. It’s not at all warm.
That’s the third time this week I’ve been hurt and I’m sitting here beside you, hiding my bruised wrist under a big cable knit cardigan, the colour of mustard.
It’s bold and I like it. I feel trapped under the weight of the situation I’m in. Why can’t I break free? What is stopping me, the children, my legs are like lead again. We have a nice time, saying things, not saying things, the truth hiding in the silence. Our light is dying though. Waning to an end, I can feel a shift in the sand underneath us. Quite literally, like that night that never was. The one where the room moved. I am drawn back to it. Most thoughts end in frustration.
If I could only clear the fog between us. Only I can do it, and yet I cannot. Then this would be different. It wouldn’t be cold, there would be no grey. Only soul warming light…sunshine… filtering through plate glass.
I open my eyes and you are gone, of course. I realise that I must have dozed off after you left me on the bench. My legs have gone numb in the cold.
I see them clearly, he’s on the street and he’s bumped into Daniel. They are talking. He raises his hand to his mouth, puts his hand to his head. Bad news.
How can I see this but not be there? Daniel walks away, he’s wearing strange, purple and yellow clown shoes, how bloody weird, and is holding a ukelele. He hates the ukelele. Paul stands still, leaning against the fence where the quiz night flyers go.
Paul hears from Dan that she’s in hospital, a completely chance encounter with him when he bumped into him on the street. That explains a lot. It’s been a busy summer, true, but the silence from her was getting a little odd. He had actually messaged her twice. Slightly unusual for him to make the first move in any arrangement, and the lack of response is now explained. He’s been stock still on this spot by the fence where the quiz posters go for 5 mins now, his legs leaden.
Twice recently he’d looked at her and had felt a spark of a deeper feeling, but the timing was never quite spot on. Like that night in the pub, something, for sure, but not momentarily possible.
That was the last time he’d seen her, for weeks and weeks now. He wished he’d written a better reply to that message. Always thinking of exactly what to say, just when the moment has passed.
Would it have made a difference? He wonders what happened exactly. All Dan knew was an accident, a coma, not waking up…
He is no longer on the street, but rather lying atop his bed. How did he get home?
He realises that he can’t remember where he’s been for the last few weeks. Something about a trip to Russia? Was he in Russia? Marmalade? He’s never eaten the stuff.
Not likely to either.
What is happening?
He feels heavy. Like he’s stuck here forever.
Is this happening? What is happening? He’s in shock, he must be in shock.
Suddenly there is a hand in his hand. He can’t see the owner. It is just a hand. It squeezes, a thumb slowly strokes. Release and then, he’s not sure which, but one of them lets go. He sits up and fully knows he needs to go and see her.
On the last day it is decided that I’m going to make it and so inevitably they decide to switch off support to my life. There is anger in the room, something is causing a disagreement. But this is not my problem. Not anymore. If only they knew that I can really feel this hand in mine. It’s the first time I’ve been really aware since I got here I think, but it’s too late. This is no longer my circus, these are no longer my monkeys…I always liked th…
She squeezes once, for real this time, too late.
And then… no more…
As he leaves the hospital he feels completely empty. Whatever it was between them was unspoken and yet he is shaken to the core by what he’s felt in there. Time has slipped away from him with an unyielding brutality and there is nothing to repair it now.
No phone call, no turning round in the street to change a mind, no text. Nothing. It’s done.
The moment is not only passed, but literally dead.
They were confused by his presence. He knows that. So was he. There was a serious awkwardness in the room. Anger, even. He might as well have been naked the way everyone stared, but he needed to be there. If there was one thing he was sure of it was that, he’d have regretted it for the rest of his life. He was sure once or twice that she was being hurt and he can see as clear as day, right now, that she was. He is certain that if he’d taken more care, she would be here now because he’d never have let her leave that street corner alone. He wanted to kiss her, he should’ve kissed her. He knows this will haunt him forever. And as he squeezed her hand in the hospital, he was sure she’d known he was there. He tried to say, but no-one wanted to hear him.
He hoped, through tears, though months too late, that finally, in the last moments he’d gotten his point across.
Ace of Hearts: friendships, relationships, emotions.
Jack of Clubs: problems, solutions, logic, a young person, message.
Eight of Hearts: Relationships, friends, emotions, health, the body.
Laura Cooney is a writer and spoken word poet from Edinburgh who has work published in print and online. Her first collection Motherbunnet is due for release in September courtesy of Backroom Poetry. She’d love to connect on Twitter @lozzawriting and on her blog at www.lozzawriting.com, where you can read her past work. When she’s not doing ‘lots of writing’ she’ll be found with her daughters, as close to the sea as possible. There will be ice-cream!