We always met in the dying summer, when unpicked peaches fell on the ground. The ants sucked up the sweetness of the overripe and bruised fruit and danced on the black ground by my feet.
You are on time, you did not need a reminder of our rendezvous. I sit on the same weather-beaten bench, chipping away flakes of pine green varnish. You come and sit next to me, sullen and antsy. You scan the surroundings, looking for change. You look all around, but you do not look at me. Instead, your hardened hand grabs a tuft of my dress, fingering the cherry-blossom pattern.
“You look old,” I say, each word like a needle.
“You are nothing special yourself,” you snort and scratch your unshaven face. Your shirt is too big for your frame and it has become yellow around the collar. You need someone to care for you, but I don’t want to ask how you are living or who you are living with. You see me stare at your wretchedness and you let go of my dress.
“Maybe we should stop meeting like this. What’s the point anymore?” you ask.
“We come because we still care, don’t we?” I ask and reach for your hand and hold it tight. We used to hold hands when we danced. We used to hold hands when we sat on the couch and watched the television, when we walked around the duck-filled pond, when we watched the school performances.
Your hand still feels like home, but that home is lost now. It didn’t burn, it just crumbled away, day after day. Only our shells remain, shells of the people we used to be.
“So, is life treating you kindly?” you ask, the words heavy with accusation. I was the one who chased you away, I was the one who couldn’t bear to look at you. Your presence sucked the air out of every room, it was a reminder of the one thing we were both trying to forget.
“Life is fine.” That’s all you need to know.
“Do you think he knows that we come together like this? For him?” You cock your head towards the little tombstone across from us, the grey slab dirtied by heavy rains.
“I’m sure he does, he coils us together on his birthday, makes us a family again.”
“Would have been twelve,” you say and get up, turning away from me. Your hands are pawing at your tears. You pull some marbles from your pocket and leave them out for him – as if he is there amongst us. I think it’s stupid, but I don’t admonish you. I don’t have the strength any more.
When you return to me on the bench, your eyebrows are furrowed and your eyes are glassy. You pick up one of the fallen peaches and rub it against your shirt sleeve. You are starving, but I don’t offer to feed you. You take a bite out of the over-ripe peach and wipe the juice from your chin.
Maggie Jankuloska is a Macedonian-born writer living in Melbourne, Australia. She is a mother, book hoarder and manuscript wrangler. Find her on Twitter – @maggiejank.