We meet at a bar. It’s swish and quiet with chrome stools that make it look surgical. Sanitised – it is not a place she will like. So much time has passed I wonder if I’ll recognise her. Is someone waiting for her outside, or back in a home they share. I want to ask who sleeps in the space her limbs are yet to take up in the cool sheets? I have been impatient and London seems tired of Summer already – the body heat of strangers pushed me along Haymarket.
We don’t hug like old friends when she sweeps in. Instead she places a kiss on my cheek like a maiden aunt. I awkwardly accept.
Quickly we order gin and tonics and make plans to have dinner. Learning how to talk to each other again. I say, I think you sound different and she says, I’m always the same. She sits close to me and despite our bodies showing time I am 15 again – shy and red cheeked, the cling of sweat forming on my back. Flicking her hair as an extension of her body it reaches across the room. Under that golden varnish the memories lie. She looks closely into my eyes when I say, Does your body remember?
Most days are better now my hair has grown back. People look at me for the right reasons again. My mouth dries when I realise she is talking about cancer. How have I watched her move through adulthood from far away without really seeing.
She asks me about love. I say Always. Deeply and stupidly. Heartbreak, at least once every year. We laugh, breaking the air of secrets. University, work, promotions, flatmates, mortgages. All peeling open before she dazzles me with the ring. On the black enamel bar the diamonds shine, much better than the hazy photo she shared on Instagram. He would die for you then? She crosses her legs and sighs. I offer a cigarette she refuses No, not any more. We don’t smoke. I used to be her We.
Croggy-back on a mountain bike down to the Tees. Screaming gulls. Chasing her golden shadow through the reedbed mist after dusk fell in the never-dark of Summer. We called for the Glassensikes Hound and waited…
He loves me in a way I don’t need to worry, she says. I listen as she goes round the milestones and rituals. Wedding plans – a castle in Italy, Springtime, tripping quickly over his family connections like stepping-stones. I don’t ask if he has met hers, I can tell she has them zipped up somewhere dead. Playing the beautiful orphan again. It has always suited her. Will you come? She asks. Tapping on her glass she can fill my mouth with words if the spells are right and the mist is in descent.
The world has grown, not just around us but through. Time frays at the edges while the bar staff start clearing glasses and looking at their phones— we talk, melting another decade into minutes as the ice cubes shrink. Another round? I say, wondering why I am keeping her at a striking distance.
I say, We never saw the demon, even after waiting hours as the mist rose up from the reeds. I know she remembers but I catch myself anyway. We ruled the old stream – stalking hauntings, willo‘ the whisp – headless men on horses – women in white wailing in alleys of the old houses along Grange Road. Places we kissed and held breath waiting. Brick and mortar, tarmac, boundary stone and trudge. We became the tales – galloping horses running through fields at night.
The gin has made me maudlin. She says, You are still chasing ghosts. She smiles, moon-eyed and white pale. I say, Of course there were no real ghosts back then in Glassensikes. Then nudge her in the ribs with my finger like I used to. She feels thinner now, less of herself. More of someone else.
Lindsay Bennett Ford is from the North East of England. Her work has recently been published by Bandit Fiction, Perhappened and The Cabinet of Heed.