His earthy fragrance draws me to him once more. I cannot resist it. Ever.
I must be close for it to envelop me. To take me to his places and my places together. The innocent moments in my recall. The thoughts that are only forever mine. The thoughts that will die with me.
I remember his nectar on a beach in Texas. And on a funfair in Oklahoma. I seek it out every night in his bed. I eat with it; dance with it and belong in it.
Forever, as far as I know. But who am I to decide?
It was the smell that caught my attention first, that wet Saturday afternoon. I’d caught her out by arriving early and she was still drying her hair.
The sweet-shop smell of her shampoo still fresh in her warm hair as she came to the door.
Over the years, I’ve rarely experienced that delicate bouquet, and when I have, a vision of her, half-dressed in her bedroom when we were together.
And I smile inside a smile I secretly hold dear within me, all these years later.
And then, I chose to end it all, after all we went through.
The sunsets were dazzling, every day that I was with her. It was as though all the difficulties in the world faded from our perception on those days and we were filled with only delight.
When she left, on that cold November evening, that life ended, seemingly forever for me. I found a life that was only bleak and numbing. A life that has remained that way for the last 17 years and counting.
Until yesterday, when she returned at last. Even though she was broken, I could work with that and, once more, the sun rose each morning.
She could hear the seagulls crying. Or were they laughing?
They could hear Gilly crying. Or was she laughing?
It’s all made up, for each of us, man or beast, by our subtle perceptions. We make the most of what our senses tell us. That deciphering of sensory stimuli that protects us through our lives, sometimes helpfully; sometimes not.
In Gilly’s mind, she was wearied of seeing both sides. One for her reality and one for the individual clients she worked with every day.
Her mind was made up. She would taste the dark side. She would cross over.
The problem with going through life one day at a time, each in order, was that Michael had no past pleasures to enjoy, nor any hope for the future.
Gurus might tell you that this is the only way to live – ‘in the moment’ – but he found it isolating and shallow. He found no depth to his life.
It was without worry and without regret, of course, but it was without the magical moments of memories.
It provided no possibilities that his world could improve and that there might, sometime, somewhere out there, be other humankind left.
When I was born, the only person who knew, other than my mother, was the Earl.
He kept us well fed and hidden in the warm barn for several days, respite from the worst of the winter.
I was ever grateful and if he hadn’t, I would not be at the auction. I would not be buying that very barn, as well as the Hall and the grounds. I would not be able to repay the old gent by clearing his debt.
I would never have survived to let him stay there, warm, for the rest of his days.
As I left the donor centre, annoyance rose inside me. So many people had told me that a white car was not going to work and how I’d argued. But here I was, spitting on a clean handkerchief and wiping another mark off the door panel. As I stood, I sawthe something under my windshield wiper. A shiny white card, with writing on it.
Like all bits of advertising that get stuck on my car in car parks, my first instinct was to throw it away. For some reason this time I didn’t, but placed it on the passenger seat.
As I would find out later, it was one of those decisions where your life shifts in an instant.
Thank you for giving blood today.
As a regular donor,
we want to specially honour you.
Come along here at 10 tonight,
and go to the first floor
I’d always been very proud that I committed to donating, so this was wonderful. I would be recognised for my contributions at last. I had no doubts that I would be there.
Over the rest of my day, I forgot about the date I had that evening. Work was busy and it was not until I packed my bag and saw the card that I thought about it again.
She came to me every week. A crowd of skinny dark faces parted as I walked to her, alone in the impeccable dark blue suit. Perfect in a thousand other places.
“I love you.”
The smile appeared amidst the heat and dust.
“I know.” She took my hand and led me to the cottage by the sea.
“What about Erica?”
She always asked. In my guilt, she looked at me with a knowingness she never explained and in those moments she held me all the tighter; loved me all the deeper.
I left her in the morning. Took the 13 bus home in thirteen minutes. Up the stairs, the apartment looked the same as ever. And it would never be the same again.
Stared at by faded families of generations past on the mantelpiece, the very frames made me cry for the first time.
I would go back to her later in the day, after a freshen-up and a rest. I took my time to savour the quiet, for I could feel the difference already and I wasn’t sure that I liked it much. Our life, which had been so wonderful, was changed now forever.
I’d need to create other photographs – in new frames – in the times to come.
“When did it happen?”
“Last week. Monday.
“She’d felt off on the Saturday, but thought nothing of it. So she soldiered on.
“Truth is, she should have realised from the time before.”
“Where was she?” Continue reading