22.2.15

Run


Image copyright www.rustyrambles.com

The ducks are going crazy. Jennifer comes at them full stride, the cords of her hoody swinging in a rhythm with her feet springing up and falling down, and her breath passing in and out. The ducks flutter their wings and quack, spinning indecisively as they wonder which way to back off. They eventually scatter themselves more or less evenly either side of the winding path that Jennifer follows towards the bridge. The wind stings her ears, and her ankles ache, but she knows it’ll pass. She picks up the pace as she runs over the bridge. Her trainers make a different crunching sound when they hit the ground, which has changed from tarmac to pebbles.

Two hours earlier she was cleaning her room. She picked the photo frame off the bedside table and wiped its front and edges. With the image now in HD, she thought to herself: you knew this would happen. And then she thought: I know. She knew the smile on her face in the picture was a half-smile. A half-smile on the happiest day of her life. Jordi’s beaming grin didn’t look right, either. Not next to his half-closed eyes. It was as if he was halfway through blinking when the shot was taken, but that’s just how he looked that day. She remembered the smell of whisky on his breath when his uncle Victor twisted the lens of his camera and told them to “say cheese!” You knew this would happen. I know. She shared this conversation with herself for a moment, before she returned the photo frame to the bedside table and moved the dusting cloth to the skirting boards.

Jennifer gets stung and scraped by the tall weeds hanging over the path. She feels sweat on forehead and temples, and her heart’s beating faster, making her dizzy. But she carries on at the same speed, making clouds of yellow dust rise in her wake. On her right is the park, and snapshots of its cricket pavilion and dog walkers are presented to her through the windows of space between the trees that she passes one by one, with every sharp intake of breath. To her left are the locked doors and closed curtains of the backs of people’s houses, and up ahead there’s a gate that’s slightly ajar. It creaks further open in the breeze. The hinges scream over the clinking of tools and the vague sounds of human stirring. When Jennifer passes the gate she turns her head and catches the eye of a man who’s building a birdhouse. He nods and winks at her. She’s seen him before, and it means she’s around 15 minutes into her route. Or maybe more like 13 – this feels like one of her quick days.

She sat there on the sofa with Jordi after dinner the previous night. Their plates on the coffee table were smeared in the crusting leftovers of a meal she’d made sure took a long time to prepare. She was always looking for distractions in the house. A warm yellow glow from the hallway beamed under the door. It fought with the flicker of the TV screen on the wall. They’d been sleeping in separate beds for a while, but now this too was becoming difficult. She looked across at him – at his feet pointed towards each other, his hand positioned limply over his crotch, his head stuck forward as he squinted at the TV – and realised she found even the way he sat repulsive.

Everything’s now running completely in sync. Her legs feel strong, her heart rate has normalised, her breathing is so steady that she could probably hold a conversation if she wanted to. She’s not even really sweating much anymore. Air passes smoothly in and out of her lungs as waves of euphoria crash up and down her back and around her shoulders. She knows she’s been out a long time, but she can go further. Much further. She crosses the road at the traffic lights, and now she’s on the home straight – towards her street, her house, Jordi, the usual. No, not this time, she tells herself. Come on, not yet.

Two weeks ago Jennifer was crying in her bed. It was two in the morning and she wanted to sleep. When she’d started crying, five hours before, she was relieved, because she knew it was possible for someone to cry themself to sleep. But she couldn’t. She just stayed up crying, and awake, like a baby. She’d tried to talk to Jordi, but whenever she brought up a problem that wasn’t a short-term practical one, he’d tend to stare off into the middle distance and then shuffle out of her way at the earliest opportunity. Hearing his footsteps coming up the stairs, she decided to try one more time to summon something caring in him. She couldn’t remember a time when he’d ever looked after her, but she figured he must have done at some point. Maybe if only at the very beginning, when it was all about good first impressions.

“Jordi?” she said.

She heard him climb the final few steps then stop at the top of the landing, outside her room. He pushed open the door and swayed a little.

“What’s up?” he said.

“I need help,” she said. “Can you help me, Jordi?”

He didn’t ask what the problem was, he just rubbed his eyes and nodded.

“I know I’m something, physically at least, but then nothing really,” said Jennifer. She didn’t feel like she was making much sense. But then she couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken to anyone.

“I feel like I’m someone else’s vague memory,” she said.

“Did you read that somewhere?” he said.

“No, I made it up,” she said.

“Sweet dreams,” he said.

They weren’t.

Jennifer sits on the bank of a river, catching her breath. She’s miles from home. Her feet, ankles and legs – her whole body – have refused to move another muscle. She watches strands of freshly mowed grass float in the water, and thinks about jumping in, as the lonely leaves on the birch trees rattle against damp bark, hissing at her.

About a year before, Jordi came home early from work. He flicked his loafers off at the door and walked into the kitchen, where Jennifer was stood by the fridge. She looked at him and knew instantly what had happened.

“What?” said Jordi. “What is it?”

She sat herself down and closed her eyes. Drumming her fingers on the table, she tried to strangle the rush of impending trouble that fluttered around her body. After a few moments she opened her eyes and saw him reading a letter. It was short, and he quickly returned it to his pocket.

“I’m so sorry, honey. We’ll be OK,” he said.

“How?” she said.

“I promise we will. You’ll see,” he said. “You’ll see.”


———

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19.2.15

Misshapen Pearls




1

He weaved between the slow-moving traffic that snaked all the way back to the supermarket car park. Engines growled, fumes rose dramatically into the cooling air. Drivers’ faces conveyed varying degrees of impatience and despair. Brake lights flickered along the bends and straights of the road, like a strip of trickling blood half-caught by the moonlight.

Crossing the road, he wondered quite how on Earth he’d be able to recognise a woman he’d never previously met. Why hadn’t he thought to wear his glasses? His vision wasn’t too bad, but the evening was quickly darkening, and he was struggling to tell whether the blurry figures in front of him were walking towards or away from him.

“I’ll be by the bridge,” she’d told him. “White top. Jeans.”

“Give me 15 minutes. I’m in my jammies,” he’d replied.

There wasn’t far to go now. He could see the bridge up ahead. Its cobbles, stonework, its streetlights. And, wow, her. The woman waiting on the bridge was unmistakably her. White top. Jeans. He inhaled deeply and breathed out through his nose, and then smiled when he realised she’d seen him. He continued at the same pace, watching her figure take its form as he drew closer. First he saw her pearly white smile, and then everything else followed. It was a bedazzling display of natural beauty.

“Hello!” he said, and went for a handshake.


2

They were holding hands across the table when the waitress came over with the bill. After finishing off their beers, they paid up and left. They decided to go for a walk down by the river – the night was still young, after all. She linked arms with him and off they went. It was the first time they’d really walked together like this, and they found that they regularly had to re-adjust to each other’s speed. He kept forgetting that she, wearing heels, was struggling to keep up with his pace. But at least they didn’t have far to go.

At the riverside they found a bench to sit on, and he pulled a joint out of his wallet. She put her legs across his lap as he sparked up. They passed the joint back and forth, and spent the next half hour in deep conversation.

Then something caught her eye. Something right in front of them.

Startled, she pointed and said: “Just look at that.”

He followed her eyeline across the river, and then he saw it too.

“Wow,” he said.

An old medieval tower’s reflection glimmered majestically in the black water.

“That’s beautiful,” he said. He exhaled and passed the joint.

“Just think how long that building has been reflected in that water...” she said.

“A thousand years?” he said.

As she shook her head in disbelief, he looked at her and was spellbound by her vision and passion – characteristics that he defined himself by. It was the first time he’d seen them so alive in someone else.

Later, they spent a long time kissing goodbye at the taxi rank, and he thought of her all the way home.


3

“Come over here and join me on the sofa!” she said. She’d surprised him by trying to kiss him earlier, and he wasn’t sure what to expect next. But he walked over and sat down next to her anyway.

“You know how I feel about you,” she said. “Listen, do you not think this can work?”

She climbed on top of him and looked into his eyes.

“Do you think we should just be friends?” she said. Her tone suggested she didn’t think so.

He knew how he felt about her, but he couldn’t find the words. He shook his head and exhaled as he thought about what to say.

“No, I don’t,” he said eventually. “I want you.”

She smiled. “Really?” she said.

“I do! I want you.”

She sighed and threw her arms around him. He held her just as tightly. They stayed in a strong embrace for a while.

“Just me, in bed, yeah? No one else,” she said.

“Of course!” he said.

They looked towards the open bedroom door and then exchanged glances. He raised his eyebrows.

“Sweetie, I would but I just don’t have the time!” she said.

He looked at the clock and knew she was right. 20 minutes was nowhere near enough time.

“Who do you think you are, Marilyn bloody Monroe?” he said with a smile.

They both burst out laughing, in relief as much as anything. They were back together.


4

The dawn crept in through the curtains and cast a watery blue glow over her still face. It must have been about 5am and they were laid down, side by side, looking at each other. Just looking at each other. Deep, infatuated gazing. Outside, the raindrops raced each other down the windowpane. It was as if they were the only two people awake in the city. It was as if they were the only two people on Earth. He stared into her icy jewel eyes, and she stared back for a long time without even blinking, the corner of her mouth occasionally twitching with excitement.

They had made love several times in the night, and they had never felt this close. Like they were one person. A singular entity, on the same voyage. At that moment, they both knew they were involved in a deep union that was truer and purer than anything they had experienced before.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”


5

She gasped when she saw him. Then, after taking a deep breath, she felt his forehead with the outside of her hand. He was cold. She touched other parts of him – the tip of his nose, his ears and neck. Everything was cold.

She placed her face onto his chest and began to cry. She sobbed for a long time, her tears absorbed into the thin white sheet that covered his body.

It took her a few moments to notice his right hand moving, ever so faintly. He was using his last ounces of energy to wriggle his fingers. He wanted to hold her hand. Without hesitating she grabbed his hand with both of hers. She passionately kissed his palm and held it to her cheek.

When she did this, his memory was jolted back into life. He remembered all the times he’d touched her cheek. He recalled the first night they spent together, when he’d stroked her soft skin and looked deeply into her eyes. He recalled their wedding day, when, after the ceremony, he’d run his fingers along her jawline and tenderly kissed her eyelids. He recalled wiping the perspiration from her face after she gave birth – and then thought of their children, and grandchildren, who’d all been to visit him earlier.

He held her gaze and mustered the best smile he could, and she smiled knowingly back.


———

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