All this time (3)

4.17 PM

You walk back from the bar, a drink in each hand. You smile, a grin that slips sideways as you get closer. For a second the air shimmers and flares, a bright magnesium glow around you, and I have to look away.

The world has always looked different with you in it. When I saw you walking up the stairs, when you looked up from your phone – I’m here. At the rooftop bar. In the corner – and found me, it was that same sudden, silver glow. Clouds blocking the sun, and every particle of light directed at me.

I forgot, for a second, how to breathe.

And now you are here. Awkward hellos out of the way – our first hug all angle and impact – and the first few minutes of conversation navigated. It’s nice see you. It’s nice to see you, too. You look good. So do you – nice glasses, by the way. Yeah, I finally gave in and admitted I’m getting old. Ah – me too. Empty wine glass lifted in a toast to that, and you jumped up then – Let me get you a drink. I’m dying for a beer.

Both forgetting we said we’d meet for coffee. In the sterile safety of afternoon.

All this time (2)

3.29 PM

There is a table free in the corner. There are two perfect rings melting on its wooden surface, the trace of glasses and people here before me. Two drinks set down across from each other, and I wonder about the drinkers, why they were sitting in the corner of a rooftop bar on this Tuesday afternoon. A long-time couple enjoying an extra long weekend in the city, perhaps? Or local students, trading their lectures on Art History and Foreign Policy for gossip and beer? Maybe two people on their first date, an afternoon catch-up, which always seems safer in the beginning. Forgetting that drinking with the sun can bring a lull to the senses. A softening of the edges, an inching open of doors sealed shut when veins and minds are clear.

That first meeting is so terrifying in its possibility. The idea of someone that precedes them, the idea of what they might become to you. I understand why people need to drink the calculation away. Sober and hopeful is its own kind of naked. There is nothing to protect you from the future you, the imagined you. That better version, beckoning, and ready to disappear with the first disappointment.

It is better to be drunk and fully clothed when life throws you maybe this time.

I wasn’t drunk when we first met. My hand kept trembling when I picked up my wine glass; I had to keep setting it back down so you wouldn’t see the shaking. There was something happening under the skin, a quickening. I thought – after – What was that?

It took years for my question to be answered.

I order an expensive glass of Pinot Gris, ask for ice to be added, and the Barman honours my request with a frown. I need this wine to last half an hour, far too long to be a purist. The first sip tangs on my tongue, and I put the glass down reluctantly. The temptation is to drink it fast, let the sun-yellow liquid bolster my nerve. I’m not losing it, am I? That nerve? Sitting here on my own, hair damp at my neck from perspiration. In my casual, pretty dress with straps that like to slip, fall – as they both do now – from my shoulders. Exposing them, leaving them bare.

This view you could seldom resist.

This isn’t about nerve at all, I remind. The worst happened – and you survived. You don’t need courage after that.

The worst. Losing you. That resignation. Which felt more in the end like losing me.

I never did explain why I left. Or more importantly, what kept me away. I trace my initials on the condensation of my wine glass, watch their form fade, then disappear. Thinking of you. Of that time, before.

There are minutes now, not hours, to go.

All this time (1)

2.03 PM

It is too early to leave. I need to wait another hour at least. I have been thrown one of those unseasonal days this city is famous for; it is all shimmering air out there, when the date suggests it should be something more autumnal.

It is too early to shower, even. I half undress anyway, slide off my grubby t-shirt, and pace my bedroom topless, hands reflexively going to my chest. I’ve never been sure just what my neighbours can see. The way the window is positioned, angled so oddly, they either have a direct line of site – or no view of me at all.

Funny to think I might have been watched for two years now, so easily. Someone knowing my routine, someone waiting for me to wander into my bedroom, to strip down at all of the 6 pms I’ve spent here. I never can keep my clothes on after work. I need to immediately shed them, like the day I had to wear them for. In hindsight, curtains would have been a sensible addition. But I have always been loathe to shut out the light, it is filtered enough already by grey buildings, and city clouds.

Whatever survives, I want to let in.

I could shower. Maybe take a longer one than usual, or wash my hair. Then, just before I go, if I’m too sticky from this afternoon air, I could jump back under the water for one last minute. Use those expensive lotions I have been saving, let their scent wash over mine, soak gardenias and white lilies into my skin.

The scent of you is dangerous.

You said that once and I couldn’t breathe. A revelation offered, a telling of truth on the stand. It is not what you were known for.

I remember you in sentences. Not much more than that, these days. You’ve been shifted to somewhere deeper in the brain, I suppose. On occasion, something else fires, a memory pushed to the surface, something textural, something I can feel between my fingers. But it’s mostly just words. A passing comment you left behind.

They generally come to me like this one, hovering out there on their own. Ellipsis, more than explanation.

I shower. Wash my hair and then immediately regret it. This new conditioner worked better a week ago, softened my hair, made it almost silky. But now as I dry myself off, I can barely get my fingers through its length without one knot then the next resisting. Shit. I need my hair to co-operate. I need to look polished, cool – and my hair has always been my give away. Evidence that I’m not quite ready.

I turn the shower back on and step back under the still hot water. I’ll massage the conditioner in more vigorously this time. At least it gives me something to do as time ticks its way toward you.

Till we drowned

You would keep your landscape pristine forever.

But I have broken you apart a thousand times all the same. Crashed against you, cracked through your surface and swum in your veins till we drowned. I have been your natural disaster, your flood and tempest, the violent wind that scattered your bones. I have held you under and pulled you back up, submersed you for a different salvation.

I have conquered your landscape. And surrendered you mine.

Have you ever noticed how the sun splinters itself on water, my love? Not everything has a desire to be whole …

(the love that I loved)

The possibility of you

The possibility of you sustained me over lifetimes. Through every lonely, dusty summer, and the tempest of our winter nights. Season upon season of your warmth and withholding. Such famine and feastings of the heart, endured.

The famine and feast my heart endured.

(That cracked continent under my skin, owing all its hungers to you).

You. The possibility of you. And me there with my finger held high, hoping I might read the weather. Will I need to wear my boots today? Will you open the door; will I be let in? When I fall, shivering into your arms, will it ever be both of us shaking?

Or will you always be colder than I remembered.

No matter now. All of that breath, and all of the holding. Now I’m ready to let it go. I’m ready for this slowest, saddest season. As I finally replace the possibility of you. With what you say – and what you do.

Balloon Girl, Red Heart by Banksy

The Girl with the Red Balloon – Banksy

(I love you. But I don’t want you anymore)