Musician’s Ears

The steam from our tea curls in the air around her chords that still the monotonous march of reality that we fight against every day. That other reality – the one forced upon us; the one deemed to be mandatory and so easily choked upon by passengers on this vehicle of society. I suppose to them we look like the still from a film noir: something that could never truly be real. Tobacco, skins and a box of battered filters spread themselves against the cold tiles like a trail of breadcrumbs revealing our path of not giving a fuck about what is best, or right. Cold coffee is starting to stain the sides of the cafeterie and the jars we use to drink it out of. The table is sticky with honey and croissant flakes. Henry David Thoreous’s Walden lies ontop of a copy of The Economist that is waiting its turn to line the makeshift litter box of the homeless man’s kitten I accidentally adopted that grows in size and cockiness every day. Little shit has even figured out how to open my bedroom door, so I have to blockade myself in for any peace.

My friend sits perched on the edge of my sofa gently playing guitar to welcome the evening and the fatigue that keeps us so conscious of our every day, no two of which are ever the same. The guitar is not hers – it belongs to another musician, a man, who I have known for a mere fifteen days; his guitar has been here for the past thirteen. And just six days ago, he moved into my home for a temporary infinity before he leaves this place permanently. I suppose it’s fitting that I only feel free enough to allow someone in so intensely (and literally) when I know this freedom will not become a trap. Like a bird dancing through the air below the forest canopy. And yet, this time, it is so tempting to break through, and I can feel myself spiraling upwards, torn at by the leaves of rationality that send threatening warnings about the weather overhead: about the storms, and the darkness, and the vastness. But I am not one to be caged. Not even by my own nature.

I came face to face with my reality last night, and how fitting the absurdity of it intertwines with the cigarette smoke that drips from my nostrils, perhaps equally pleasurably and destructive. I was sitting in the shower, holding the water to my forehead and letting the increasingly cold water rampage over my shaking body. He was stripping the bed. Once the water became unbearably cold I gathered my thoughts enough to turn it off and pull myself up, grabbing my towel through the open door. Wrapping it around me, I saw through the crack in the door the pile of sheets and airing matress, and heard the man who had just powerfully and gracefully wrenched a chasm in my consciousness making tea in the kitchen. And, like the first shock of ice breath on a winter’s morning, I was savaged by the memory of the only other man who had carried me over the brink and stripped the sheets without a word. Swaying in my shower, my forehead found solace on the cold tiles and I finally realized, two and a half years too late, that I had loved that man, and that it was always going to be our fate that our two nights together would be the only temporary infinity we could offer each other, in our mutual states of fear and aggression and pain.

The heartbreak was silent but the tears were not as they streamed out over my still-wet face. I hoped my sobs would be caught in the cold box and not reach the ears of this man who was also destined to leave. My chest beat against the folds of my damp towel as pain, shock and unfiltered love fought against the cloth when I realized I love this man, too, and perhaps my destiny is always going to be to love those who cannot stay – those I need to run from. I had always felt I was uncomfortable in reality because my life was alien to others’, but with my burning face pressed against the tiles I realized how peaceful and comfortable I felt as an alien, and that the distraught was born from trying to pretend I wasn’t. My life story sat on my skin between the droplets of French water, and for the first time I didn’t try and rub it off.

Perhaps the kettle wasn’t boiling loudly enough, or perhaps musicians have especially sensitive ears, but suddenly I felt a soft hand on the back of my neck as his lips fell against my shoulder. I shivered against his kiss and both hands came to my shoulders without a word without a word, massaging as another sob echoed against the ceramic. I didn’t try to face him. I had nothing to say, because sometimes words can mar as oppose to express, and more than I had expressed in years was shaking out of my body. He gently tilted my head back and I felt the rubber drag of my hairbrush combing my short, wet hair. I thought this small act of kindness, of consideration and understanding, was the warmest silence I had ever felt as he teased out the non-words between my hair with his own. He brushed it back from my face so I could not hide, but I stayed facing away as I grabbed the corner of my towel to exfoliate the salt from my face. Eventually I turned to him. We looked at each other, as we so often do, the only difference being our eyes were level with me standing on the raised platform in the shower. But the added height gave me no insight into his inscrutable face, and I feared what he could be thinking of me and my outburst. Now I realize the inscrutability was my searching for what was hidden, even though he hadn’t once threatened to hide from me, not from that first morning when he showed up at my apartment with croissants and cigarettes after finishing his DJ-ing shift at the club I had danced in all night.

‘Come on,’ he said gently, invitation flooding his eyes and soft smile. I nodded, suddenly brusque, threatening to be overcome with shame. Sensing it, he backed out of the bathroom after placing a kiss on my forehead to allow me space to get dressed. I hastily toweled and put on my clothes, shaking my head in embarrassment. I remember catching sight of my face in the mirror – my face flushes in patches whenever I cry, as if the tears could mark out particular areas for my skin to flame, and I shook my head again in frustration, knowing my emotions would stay painfully red and raised for at least another hour.

When I went through to my kitchen he had made a tea that was waiting patiently next to a rolled cigarette. I was at once grateful and horrified at the lack of things I could busy myself with. My movements sharp and large, as if I could take up enough space to erase the immediate past by filling up his vision, I refilled the kettle and tried to tidy the already clean table. He gently caught my arms and directed me towards my bench-seat before taking the black plastic chair opposite.

‘Es-ce que tu veux parler?’ he asked as I lit my cigarette. I laughed with unnecessary bitterness, shoulders shrugging even as my head nodded. He waited patiently as I stared out of the window beside me, seeking the answers – the right words – in the cold night air.

‘I….’ I said after five minutes.

Another five passed. ‘Attends,’ I mumbled, pulling on the end of the cigarette. He did.
My eyes flickered and brow furrowed. Occasionally a grim smile would flash across my face. The struggle to be honest danced with the fear twitching on my skin, but I didn’t try to hide it. Perhaps anything I couldn’t say he would guess – or at least know I was trying.

‘J’ai pensé sur quelq’un,’ I started quickly, words tumbling out violently before the long peace of silence. He didn’t move.

The false starts shot out of my mouth like gunfire and he seemed to catch them gently with his gaze and lower down to the floor to rest. Something I have noticed since living here is French speakers are far more at ease being honest than Anglophones; their language doesn’t allow for the same potholes of mixed meanings and unclear structures that we so readily hide within. And so when the truth taps at the back of my teeth, requesting release, it is a painful and almost uncontrollable surrender to a language that I normally play with to create the fantastical or superfluous. Honesty allows for no such ploys, though, and so the evacuation of words in such a pure manner that decomposes basic structure feels violent and frightening to someone who can normally lie so successfully, even to herself.

‘There is a man in Scotland,’ I eventually sighed. ‘The only other man who’s been able to do that to me. You remind me of him.’ I started rolling my fourth cigarette. ‘Well, you’re not similar at all and you’d probably hate each other if you met, but the – situation – made me think of him. Even the way we met… I saw him one night in a club and immediately knew: Yup, him. The same way it was with you.’

I fastened my gaze to the sky above the rooftops opposite, but could see his stillness in my periphery. Once again he didn’t move. I jumped on another thought rushing through the melting tunnels of my rationality.

‘I’ve been in relationships with men I wasn’t in love with. I was even engaged to one I loved but not in love with. But I was never with this other man. We only spent two nights together after a two year build up when we were with other people. But I just…’ I glanced at his impassive face to see he was still with me. Perhaps it was the lengthening shadows, but I thought I saw a tug of encouragement pull at his lips. ‘But I just realized I love him. And I last saw him over two years ago.’

He nodded this time when I looked his way. Another thought raced past and out of my lips: ‘There’s so much I’m expected to be, and we’re surrounded by such normalised definitions of love and relationships but I don’t think they’re for me. I don’t think they’re going to be my story. So right now I feel an amalgamation – t’a compris? – of the comfort in moving further into an authentic acceptance of myself and a pain at realizing how uncomfortable I was trying to force that other way upon myself as I move further and further from it.’

He leaned forward then and picks up his phone. My breath caught in my throat fearing this was his preferred method to show he was either bored or didn’t care. Anger tightened around my heart that had been glowing only moments before and I could almost hear the screech of bars being pulled across it. He put his phone down, unlocked, on the table and came back to my gaze. I looked down and saw Google Translate open with the word ‘further’ typed into the English box. My cheeks flushed and my head hung in shame for a moment as I smiled at my own readiness to push the big red destruct button. At that thought, the honesty he deserved burned at my lips.

‘I didn’t cry because you’re leaving,’ I said levelly, finally holding his gaze. ‘That’s fine – of course it is. I cried because this seems to be the narrative I have chosen for my strange and beautiful life.’

The cadence in my tone signaled to his musical ears that my monologue was over, but as the minutes dragged out I crumbled in his large brown eyes and averted my own down to the floor. What could he say? All I asked was for him to be witness, not secondary care-giver, to my honesty.

‘You have no reason to be sad,’ he eventually said in his slow, soft French voice, ‘if it is your choice.’

I look at him and nod before returning to the shadows outside, thinking perhaps I managed to lie even through my honesty; loving this man and his stillness certainly does not feel like a choice to me.

One man’s hero is another man’s daughter

The glare from my screen attacks the dead space around the laptop like an aggressive, white-blue rainbow. I vaguely remember my eyeballs beginning to ache a few hours ago, but like most symptoms of today’s world it was relieved with perseverence and ignorance. The phantom work emails that reeled me back to my login page after I got home have long since been replaced by news sites and social media.

I shiver at my kitchen table despite the warmth, as if the blue light has seeped its way into my skin. A few years ago the ‘experts’ stopped describing Britain’s summers as “unseasonably hot” when they realised these new seasons are the permanent off-spring of global warming. Wet winters and humid summers mean for a soggy year-round affair in the capital. As if to prove it, a drop of sweat trickles from my stiff neck and down my curled back. The Hunchback of Bethnal Green – I would claim it in a heartbeat if I was the only one of such posture.

The anxiety of my birthright as a twenty-first century citizen whines in my head as I scroll through my newsfeed, greedily consuming celebrity news and and stories of the championed 1% who either have enough money to tantalisingly buy their own privacy, or self-market themselves as leaders of their field. At one point the internet was hailed for making the world a smaller, more manageable place. But then the top dogs of their home kennels realised they needed to be top dogs of all the other kennels, too. Nobody cares anymore if you take home the prize for kareoke at your local pub each week; not until those pipes can take you to star on a world stage.

Despite my name and face being plastered all over the internet I, like almost everyone I know, am an unknown. I exist in the public consciousness as nothing more than a government statistic. My Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are a pre-emptive memorial for exactly that; some of us only exist in memories. And most nights, that “some of us” becomes only me by the time I go to bed.

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The photo of a colleague triggers thoughts of tomorrow’s group presentation, but the disruption is quickly dismissed. There is little point to add minutes now to the preparation already done; within a year of graduating university it became clear I had no glorified career path awaiting my innovative footsteps. Baaa. I yawn, closing Facebook and turning to Twitter.

How many raindrops does it take to cause a flood? Exactly how many raindrops fill your throat before you drown? Is it gradual? Or is there a moment when one drop reaches a height in your larynx and you suddenly start choking? For me, each innocuous tweet is like a raindrop, and it isn’t until my clock flashes 3am and the anxiety has drowned out any idea of what I’m doing in the world that I realise just how violently its waterfall newsfeed crashes into my brain.

But I can never stop myself. Like a sober addict eyeing up a dirty needle with one last morsel of his former self begging him “no”, I dive in – or dive it in to me. So as per my nightly routine I search for #TodaysHeroes and my screen floods with pictures, anecdotes, information, obituaries, condolences and biographies. Each biography burrows its way into my arteries like plaque as I endlessly subject myself to the green grass on the other side. My chest tightens when I read of a man who was beaten to death after stepping between a gang of men and a young woman in Manchester. His blood stained the pavement as she escaped. Hot pools form in my eyes when I see the photos. How lucky, I think.

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I lose another hour to the details of a couple dying from smoke inhalation after rushing into their neighbour’s burning house in Dundee to help evacuate the young children, and a young woman dying from a severe allergic reaction after performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on her best friend who choked on an M&M. Their names and lives are forever embossed as #TodaysHeroes. People will mourn the world’s loss of such brave, intrepid, selfless souls for years to come.

The weight of who I am not hangs around my shoulders like a moulding fur by the time I close my laptop in the small hours of the morning. It will be light soon, and then I will dress, go to work, perform, receive the biggest adulations of my life in the form of a pat on the back, and return home completely devastated by the averageness of it all. My safety and my imagination wear on each other daily like two thugs contained in facing prison cells. I am the victim they left behind to salvage a life in what we all know to be a harsh reality.

I crank out of my hunch and stretch my legs, yawning. Just as I stand, a loud scream rips through the balmy night. My knees lock to keep myself from falling as my senses crackle in the dark. Fear gulps at my eardrums but the adrenaline spiking in my chest propels me to my front door and down into the stairwell before I have the chance to think. I throw my body down the stairs of my building and wrench open the front door. As I run out into the night, I hear other front doors slamming shut on the street. I put my head down and run towards the park, racing the other phantom heroes.

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The park is just minutes from my door but those few minutes are all it takes for it to be swarming with pyjama-d citizens. A bubble have formed around the entrance, all turned into face the evidence lying on the road. I squeeze my way into the group, standing on my tip-toes to try and get a better view. I accidentally knock into another woman beside me and she throws me a frown. I smile apologetically and offer an ice-breaker.
“Has anyone called emergency services?”
“Ambulance and the police are on their way,” she replies stiffly.
I nod before adding, “And the press?”
“The first guy here tweeted it to the BBC,” she nods.
“Good, good,” I mutter, still failing to see over the heads of the crowd. Suddenly, they part slightly and I spot an opening as someone backs out belatedly rubbing sleep from their eyes. I squeeze in before the crowd swallows it up again.

I push closer to the front with a little more belligerence this time. Over the buzz of the crowd I hear a soft sobbing. Breaking through the front line, I finally see the owner of the sobs illuminated in the harsh light of a few iPhone torches. The young man is bent over the body of a young woman, muttering to her softly through his tears. Even though she is dead, her body still pumps blood through the gash in her stomach.
“Romeo and Juliet,” I gasp to myself.
“That’s what Twitter’s calling it,” the man to my left answers. “Some bastard tried to mug him and she got between them when he pulled out a knife.”
“Oh my god. Do we know who they are?”
“Don’t you recognise him? He’s an actor.” My eyebrows shoot up.
“You’re right! I’ve seen him in films! I thought he was in L.A… Was the girl his girlfriend?”
“Just a fan, I think,” the man sighs, glancing at the time on his phone. “He’s drunk – I guess she saw the opportunity to help him home.”
“Were they in the same bar?” I ask. The man nods. “Smart girl,” I whisper.
“She’ll have the headlines tomorrow,” the man agrees, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Wonder how many people will wake up tomorrow thinking ‘it could have been me’?”
“Or ‘should have been’,” I counter.
“Not everyone’s made for history,” the man says slowly, shaking his head. “Give her her dues.” He nods at the body of the girl as sirens fill the air. The line of the bubble begins to break as more and more people move away to make room for the imminent police and camera crews. The man looks at his phone again and yawns.
“Right place, wrong time,” he rumbles. “Suppose we’ll have to try harder to be here before the scream next time.” My chin bobs slowly as I watch someone mime to the saved actor for a selfie as the siren wail becomes unbearably loud.
“Good luck!” shouts my temporary companion as we split apart to make way for the policemen running towards the scene.
I give him a thumbs up. “Hope you make it,” I sing-song to myself as I back into the crowd, allowing it to swallow me up and expel me out near the police cars. It’s bad taste to hang around a crime scene once the press arrive. There’s no glory in being the almost-hero.

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Realising just how close we all were to existence, the dejected crowd shuffles home in silence, leaving no footprints. I stand for a moment, letting jealousy prick tears from my eyes as the knowledge I have to go on as nothing replaces the adrenaline. As I turn away with blurred sight but clear vision an unmarked police car pulls up and an older man and woman get out clutching coffees. I turn back to watch them, scraping away the tears as I move into earshot. From their dark clothes and weathered faces I assume them to be the detectives.
“-third fucking sacrifice tonight.” The man growls into his coffee. “Honestly, why don’t these people just kill themselves?”
“Suicide suggests you don’t want to live on  – and what these people want, more than anything, is to live on,” the woman answers, narrowed eyes surveying the scene as she slams her door shut.
“Weak attempt at immortality, if you ask me. More like a fucking hangover from Christianity.”
“The sacrifice or the fear of suicide?” She deadpans as they march towards the body.
“The belief if you’re not special you’re not fit for heaven – heaven now being a fucking hashtag.” His colleague snorts a laugh and they duck under the tape the officers erected around the famous actor and the dead girl who can never now be accused of wasting her life because she gets to live forever as his Juliet.

I go home and think about killing myself, but realise I can’t do it because I’m not worth dying for. After hours of weeping and bemoaning Juliet’s luck, exhaustion takes me under and I sleep through my morning presentation. Panicking, I call the office. It turns out it doesn’t matter because the boss isn’t in either. His daughter was killed last night. Her name wasn’t Juliet, it was Julia. I hope they can update her biography on #TodaysHeroes

The seed

When I was a child I kept a seed under my bed. It had pushed through my left tear duct when I was huddled in my bed with the covers pulled over my head. I felt it slide down my salty cheek and come to rest right near the corner of my mouth. Too afraid to turn on the lights to look at it, I let it rest there for the night as I lay curled like a bow, quivering every time I heard footsteps march past my door.

In the morning I plucked it from  my face and scrambled to the morning light to get a closer look. It was about the size of the nail on my pinky and oblong like the pencil case I was always forgetting to take to school. I stared at it for a few minutes, ashamed of its ugly, puckered brown skin and terrified in case I would squeeze another out in front of someone. I didn’t know anyone else who cried seeds. So I put it in an empty shoebox under my bed and left it there for the day until I knew what best to do.

It stayed in that shoebox for ten years. For the first few months, every time I cried I would push my knuckles into my balled up eyes to stop another seed from falling out, but none ever came again. I learnt how to stop crying so much that way. But when a tear did fall from my wide, blue stare I checked the seed under my bed each time only to see it had grown ever so slightly.  Eventually, it sprouted roots. I remember biting my lip looking at my little seed with brown fibres twisting out of it, wondering how it lived on. In my heart, I knew it must be brave, so I stole soil from my friend’s parents’ garden that weekend to line the box with.

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I was thirteen when green shoots started twisting out of it and growing lengthways along the box. I couldn’t figure out what kind of plant it was because it was growing in all sorts of strange twists and shapes in its cardboard cage. I was still collecting soil for it but knew it needed sun too, so in the summer months I would jump out of bed at sunrise and place it on my windowsill for a few hours before anyone else was awake. But the moment I heard the march of footsteps I would scramble to throw it under the bed. The shame had grown so much that I felt sick whenever someone came into my room, thinking they would know of the deformed secret that grew under my bed. But when it was just us, alone, watching the world rise to the sun’s call, I would stroke its little misshapen growths with a tender finger and shelter it from the truth.

Eventually it got too big for the little shoebox, so when I was 16 I got a boyfriend and stole the big box his mother’s microwave had been delivered in. When he asked me why I wanted it I shrugged and mumbled something about Halloween before telling him to forget it. His eyebrows were drawn and he opened his mouth to push the question so I threw myself on him, thinking if he ever knew about my gnarly flower he would never want to kiss me again. When I left that night I snuck back to raid his bins and take the box. I think he knew, but he never got the chance to finish his question. When he stopped trying to ask any questions after a year he became confused as to why we stopped having sex. I was exhausted. We split up.

Flower is a generous name for the weed that was budding in its bigger box. It grew petals of all different colours but they would always blacken by the time the bud uncurled and fall off mid-bloom to decay among the roots and soil. I tried cleaning out the flowers but they only fell faster and faster and eventually the stems grew little thorns that cut my hands whenever I scooped them up. So I left them to rot in the box and simply didn’t let anyone in my room because of the stench. It made me retch at first but then I became used to the pungent odour of the compost. I didn’t have to bring it fresh soil anymore. So I stopped checking the box.

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When I became an adult and left the echoes of the hallway I took the box with me. I couldn’t stomach the thought of it being found but I also couldn’t abandon it somewhere. It hadn’t seen daylight in years and I thought the sun might scorch its leaves off if I was to plant it somewhere. So with every room I moved into my condition was the bed be high enough to fit my box under. It traveled with me through life like that for years, its growing shape and weight bearing down heavily on my thoughts and decisions. But still I didn’t open the lid to check on it. It had been years since I sent a tender finger down to stroke its waxy stalks; I spent my time receiving the icy touch of strange fingers on my own skin. But their fingers felt like thorns and still the creature twisted below.

In my twenties my heart was snapped like a twig and I came home to find compost scattering out from under my bed and the roots twisting into my carpet. It was too big for its box now and I could not fit another, bigger home under my bed. I knelt down, retching, and tried to scoop the decaying flesh back under the bed but more roots only shot out to bury themselves into my floor. I howled and screamed at it, scratching my hands open on its fierce thorns, but still it advanced with each tear that fell. I sent my hand under the bed and grabbed at its rough trunk to pull it out but it stayed fast. Wrenching, I managed to snap one of its budding branches and cracked it in my hands, mashing it between my palms before shoving the mixture of compost, petals and blood into my mouth. It ripped my throat raw, but when I vomited it up it was whole again.

I couldn’t let anyone into my home because it grew up around me like a rotting cage. Its roots anchored in my floor and its branches grew up my walls, leaving buds hanging from my ceiling like teardrops of carcasses. Every night they would drop on me and every morning I would wake up drowning in them, choked with their dead flesh that stopped me screaming. I would stay try and stay away and be choked in some other fashion but was always driven back by the morbid desire to be witness to the carnage, always waiting for someone to discover it, even when I stopped looking at it. I kept my eyes firmly shut whenever I was at home, but I could feel its leaves tickle me as I tiptoed across my room. Its smell hung trapped in the shadows that built with my refusal to open the curtains. Overpowered, we huddled together like that for a few years.

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One morning as I was walking back to my monstrous secret I passed a man tending to his garden. He was so still and focussed but his eyes betrayed a shine of bliss I had to stop and watch. He was carefully tending to a rose bush and cutting some of the stalks with a fearsome pair of scissors. I gasped when he snipped through one of the stalks and caught the bud in his hand. He looked up at me and smiled before placing it in the garden bin beside him.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“I’m pruning the roses,” he answered gently.
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
“The rose bush? No,” he smiled. “I only do this because I care for it. I want it to grow into the most beautiful, healthy being it can. And it can only do that if we let go of some of its older attempts.”
“How do you know what ones to prune? What if you make a mistake?”
“Life always presents us with difficult decisions and we are too quick to forget the resilience of the small or the beautiful. This bush weathers the night, storms, all four seasons, and the poison my neighbour puts on his lawn. She is the master of acceptance and rebirth and already has everything in her own nature to survive. All I can do is help, and while I may make a human error, that error has love at its root and the rose will always bloom more beautifully when fed with love.”

When I got home that night I opened my eyes to the blackened and depraved jungle scene for the first time in years. I reached out and stroked the knotted vines on the walls and let the full length of my foot sink down into the decaying petals. I pulled a pair of scissors out of the grey pencil case I had owned since I was a child and picked my way over to the window. With shaking hands, I snipped the buds that hung from my ceiling and covered the curtains. When the buds were cut free they evaporated before they hit the ground. Smiling, I worked harder and faster, cutting through the vines with care that stretched across my curtains. Sweating, I broke through and pulled with all my strength at the material, wrenching them apart. The afternoon sun streamed into my room and I saw my plant was not black – it was a deep, rich blue. It seemed to shine in the light and gradually the compost began to evaporate like the buds. The stench lessened and I continued along the wall snipping at the buds and vines that were old and withered. I worked all night until only the trunk was left under my bed and the marks on my wall from where the plant had dug itself in. Exhausted, I collapsed in bed for a few hours.

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When I woke up, some of it had grown back and the smell had started to creep into my nostrils again. Remembering the old man, I set to work again with my scissors and cleared the room in half the time. I pruned the plant every day for a year until, one night, nothing grew back in the time I was asleep. In the morning I knelt down under the bed and pulled at the box that had long collapsed and become a damp and broken cardboard graveyard. Looking into its wreck, I saw a tiny rosebush blooming up at me. I ran out and bought a pot and filled it with soil from my garden and planted the rose bush in the pot. It lived on my windowsill for a few months, and I eventually showed some friends my beautiful miniature miracle. With every person that smiled upon it, it grew bigger, until I supposed it was time to plant it outside.

I cried when I was finished patting the soil around its thorny base, but rainbows shone in my tears and I caught them in my smile. The red roses seemed to grow even more beautiful in that moment, and from the centre a white one bloomed forth and curled towards me. I placed out my palm and its soft head bent forward over it and brushed my skin with its dewy petals. When it withdrew and turned to face the sun I saw a tiny seed sitting in my palm, no bigger than half the size of the nail on my pinky. I closed my palms around it and whispered three words. Then I tilted back my head and dropped it into my mouth. It traveled to my heart and grew its roots there.

When I was a child I kept a seed under my bed. Now in my heart there is a rose that blooms all year round.

 

© Rachel Donald 2016

 

The river and the lake

Her elfin hands are tiny against the white expanse of keyboard they dance over, pacing out a story with the flat ‘clack clack’ sound that somehow transforms into the thump of bass drums resonating out of the bellied-worlds of each word she types.  Before tonight, her orchestra belonged to a circus parading its entertainment to add laughter as the choir’s mezzo voice. That changes today – today she leads them like the pied piper into an unknown crack of darkness that normally shuffles out of sight when the troops walk by.

For some reason, the image of a hooker backlit in an Amsterdam window springs to mind, because are not all performances the same?

She thinks I am brave for what I publish. I have yet had the balls to tell her so often my words pour out in the tumultuous roar of poetry because I know they are safe in that misty structure, like each water drop that makes up the fluidity of a river, beautiful because we cannot know its beginning or end, its shape OR depth. Beautiful because we cannot hold it or mark it or understand it. And that is where I hide in my poems – in the spaces between the words that flash like spray only to disappear against the sun’s fierce light that we so willingly believe shows and never hides. But everything about a river at noon forces those who look upon it to shield themselves from its ferocity behind glasses, or on a bridge, even in a conversation. I find a poem much the same, vainly clutching to the hope it will be looked upon and never known – truly – because only the writer, much like the water, knows where to look through the surface and see the black bottoms, hard and insoluble like plaque. IMG_5943

And so I am jealous of how calm she seems, now, diligently tapping out her dreams in available sentences, her feet crossed before her and mouth slack as she opens herself to be seen. Still – like a lake hidden among the foothills of the Scottish highlands, comfortable in its equanimity but ready for the dip of a walker’s toe or the soft delight of a lover. I crack my knuckles like gunshots but she is somewhere else now – there – somewhere death is to be cherished, and being held in a soft palm the most excruciating pain. I can be touched at the opening but I have long lost the ability to be cupped.

We both recognise the crack of darkness, “the box” and its fearful, fated opening. But rather than a cube in my stomach I feel iron chains tight in my chest, clamped around a prism of darkness where my heart once sat that strains against the links and snaps at the heels of its dancing monkey captor, growing closer each year. While its release would not be the death of me, the thought of the scars it would leave on others as those chains whipped back, hot from its anger, and dug themselves around another’s heart like vampiric leads makes me build stained-glass houses around it like a Russian doll set.

She finishes and looks at me with a smile, and tells me she wrote about something else and did not open the black box today. I realise her chains are just heart strings. Perhaps mine are too.

© Rachel Donald 2016

A murder in Paris

It was raining when I woke up in Paris, but by the time I left my friend’s flat laden with 20 kilos of British life on my back the sun had wiggled through the clouds making my journey much more pleasant – albeit more sweaty – through the city.

After a few kilometres my knotted shoulders were begging for relief, and my brain gasping for a cigarette, so I settled down in a café near the Bastille to watch la vie en France go by and indulge in the delights of a French baguette and espresso. I joked to my friends online it was the season to carb-load. With still a few hours to kill in the centre until my bus left for my new life in Angers I settled outside the café with a cigarette in hand, speaking to the waitress in both English and French whenever our understanding in the one language became blurred by our not-so proficient levels in either. Of course, her English was undoubtedly better than my French but I ploughed through my embarrassing attempts at the passé compose, bequeathing the responsibility of my terrible language skills to the British education system, considering my shoulders had burden enough for one day laden with the philosophy books I insisted on bringing. Perhaps I thought the painful experience of lugging them on my travels would encourage the idea they were worth reading; they had sat on my bookshelf for months, only thumbed intermittently whenever a full moon hung low in the sky and triggered an existential crisis in my childhood bedroom, surrounded by the photos and trinkets that had survived my cold dismembering of the past. And in one final act of renouncement, I had not packed any remaining memorabilia to take to France, utterly determined whatever I found there would be beyond the wildest dreams of those who knew me and had presented me with gifts over the years, as if creating a jigsaw of my identity through photo albums, jewelry and ornaments. Perhaps it is selfish of me to leave all of that behind. Perhaps it is brave. Somehow, in Britain, I felt the two had become synonymous, and where I was going I would need courage, not carved wooden elephants.

As I was speaking to the waitress, who had a delightful technique of yelling “Bonjour!” to passing citizens in a bid to attract them for lunch, five men walked past in camouflage combat gear. It could have appeared comical if not for the huge, monstrous, fat-barrelled guns slung across their chests. I asked the waitress who they were and she said it was the military police. For the first time, Paris’ recent history shrouded the beauty of its ancient history like the raincloud had only hours before, sitting like a big bellied beast over the point of the Eiffel Tower.

I watched Parisians greet the men with guns as they stalked past, feeling alien on a street full of pained and angry humans. Stubbing out my cigarette, I backed into the cafe and took my seat at the window, opening up Twitter in some bid to distract myself from the personified unrest that had marched past. Courage, I thought to myself, scrolling through my newsfeed, thinking of the story I had pitched to my editor exactly a year ago about the Charlie Hebdo killings. The word evaporated from my mind when I came across the breaking news of the suspected terrorist shot dead in the North of Paris only an hour before.

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Spikes of adrenaline punched my stomach and raced around under my skin like 1000 volts of electricity. My eyes shot up as that grey cloud seemed to pierce through the roof of the café only to see the waitress repeating her aggressive greeting and the customers savour their extensive lunch hour. I’m not sure what I expected, even now. A shared glance of panic between me and the old man pouring over a broadsheet just one table over? A noticeable tension in the maître d’ mirrored in my hunched and twisted shoulders? With all the sterotype of French unflappability, Paris and its citizens were continuing on with their day in a manner that seemed implausible and untrue to me, the young woman, who had never before found herself in the presence of an attack on fellow humanity. The distance of such events had always been stretched out by the media like dough, in the spaces between their letters that hung like a white flag under which I could preserve my safety as the rest of the world was torn apart. Now, as the word “PARIS” glared out at me from the screen, all I could see were the angry, black curves of the letters and the white spaces faded into nothingness for a citizen of some other country to enjoy.

Wishing to feel the smooth finish of the wooden elephant’s trunk under my thumb, I called my friend Hannah who I would be meeting later that day in Angers; surprisingly, the sound of her voice did nothing to quell the panic bubbling in my throat. I told her I couldn’t feel my knees.

“But when can you ever feel your knees?”

The grateful laugh shuddered out of me as I clung to her bodiless words. She assured me she would see me soon. I murmured some kind of disbelieving response and motioned to the waitress to cancel my second espresso, feeling I, myself, might explode if given any more caffeine.

A few hours later I filled my lungs deeply as the bus pulled out of Paris en route to Angers, battling with the dodgy Wifi onboard to check the updated story. As I saw the photo of the robot poking the man’s dead body I shook my head and gazed out at the dregs of daylight surrendering to the forthcoming night and allowed myself to think about him, and what he had wanted – what he had believed. Again, it was only when my absolute safety was given back to me in circumstance that my brain offered up any attempt at empathy for the dead man who seemed to have declared war on my fallible existence just that afternoon. For that, I hated him and his suicide vest.

It was only as the bus shook apart any attempts at sleep as it took me further and further from the war and the jigsaw pieces sitting in my mother’s house that I finally saw the robot prodding a dead human being, wrapped in all the same fallibility as my own that just clung to him more visibly in the form of a fake vest.

First Love

‘You’ve just got to grow big balls when you’re young and hold onto them.’

We were sitting in a café in Bruntsfield that is entirely deserving of the accent on the “e” considering the owner was, at the time, rattling away in French to another customer whilst wrapping up a four foot long baguette. The tables were small but the atmosphere charming and sophisticated, even the lettering on the menus covering the walls betrayed a French superiority and charm. The tea was average but the price tag high, and I jealously watched my best friend butter a flaking croissant, cursing the Christmas weight gain I had one week to lose. I always blamed his athletic frame on that pesky Y chromosome of his that surely fired up his metabolism far more successfully than mine, rather than acknowledge his immensely active lifestyle that included both long distance running and cycling, because that would make being thin achievable, and then I was failing.
‘That’s the trick,’ I continued, ‘I’m far more fearless now than I was at seventeen or eighteen.’
He nodded, brushing French pastry from a beard that had sprung out of nowhere in his first year of university and was now his defining facial feature. Somewhere in the past three years my chubby, shy, bare-faced friend had charged his way into manhood with grace and a fair amount of masculine sex appeal. To women he was mysterious, brooding almost, a gravity of sorts. A calming sober man with a raucous drunk Scottish accent and a love for all things, beautiful or not. A passionate presence whose rare absence was always noted because of his constant and charming smile. On paper he seems like the muse of all Alpha males – to me he was just a hopeless fucking romantic that still wasn’t entirely sure what to do with all the testosterone flowing around his body.

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‘Well now is the time, if any, to be fearless and selfish,’ he said, meeting my gaze with the warmth and wisdom that comes from being right-brained. I watched him wet his pinky and delicately dab at the flakes of his breakfast, and it struck me again how dissimilar we were in so many ways. We had some things in common- intelligence, over-active imaginations and boundless emotions. But where Neil’s emotions could be described as stretches of fields and bodies of water, my own were more aptly associated with caving systems, and though I enjoyed spending most of my time near the surface, he was one of the few people that sent me digging for gems – and for that, to me, he was priceless.

My reciprocal value was the unyielding belief that he was the best person in the world. We struck a rare balance that, truly, we only shared with one another. Where I was rash, he was passionate; where I was irrational, he was reason; where I was lucky, he was hard-working; where I was manic, he was laughing; where I was addictive, he was romantic; where I was distant, he was tactile – when I was sad he was there. We were both aware of our chronic independence from and, equally, dependence on one another. If there was one thing mutual and unchangeable, it was that we were very much in love. But, unfortunately for me (as I wailed to other friends), it was utterly bloody platonic.

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‘Life would be so much easier if we were sexually attracted to each other,’ I would mantra to my girlfriends.
They would laugh and respond: ‘Probably not for him.’
We would hypothesise the passionate and hopeless love affair that would last me until my dying day; it would be the kind of love that made you question the necessity of food, or money. Of course, it helped that he was studying to be a doctor.
‘Tell you what,’ I grinned, ‘you earn all the money, take us travelling, and I’ll write the stories.’
This was met with a: ‘Absafuckingloutelyfuckingnot.’
‘Go on, you know you’d enjoy it.’
‘The whole working-to-live oxymoron is problematic enough without involving you in the financial equation.’
‘Problematic for you, maybe.’
‘You’re not even kidding are you?’
‘Why do you think I infiltrated a group of medical students at uni?’ I deadpanned. ‘It’s just common sense.’
‘And they know you’re planning on living off of them?’
‘They’re not idiots, Neil – what the hell am I going to do with an English Lit degree?’
‘Anything you want.’
‘Fuck off,’ I laughed, shrugging off my impending unemployability with an arrogance that astounded even myself sometimes.
‘Well, what do you want to do?’ He asked, knitting his eyebrows together, trying to disguise the fact he enjoyed my high-risk attitude.
‘I’ve been thinking about investigative journalism, but the landscape of it is changing – it’s all going to be freelance and internet based, and I fucking hate computers, last thing I want is to be chained to one. So I’m unsure. Ideally, I want to make money doing something I love.’
‘Well, yeah, that’s the dream, Rach.’
‘It’s the educational, informative aspect of journalism I like,’ I said, sitting back in my chair, gesturing with my hands as if trying to conjure my future career from the air, ‘Digging out truths, catching out lies, informing the public, inspiring them to make change in their own lives.’
‘What about teaching?’
‘I could never teach kids just to get them through their exams, especially in English – I hate that formulaic crap.’
Neil sighed and placed his mug on the saucer in front of him. ‘You know there’s more to teaching that that – you have to inspire people, encourage them, support them. I had crap English teachers that ignored me because I couldn’t do it until one of them told me I simply had to love books or my life would always be empty, and they were right, and I’ll never forget that advice.’
I made a face at the melodramatic cliché but ploughed ahead. ‘I know, I know but it’s just not for me, although I agree some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met have been teachers – remember Mr Intihar?’
‘Ah yes, the crazy Canadian who spent more time playing the banjo than teaching his students.’
‘Our kind of man,’ I nodded. We paused and I glanced out of the window onto the quiet street, watching dog-walkers and runners make the most of the brisk but sunny morning, and the occasional student crawl into one of the many cafes, still bloodshot and hungover from Hogmanay. This city, my favourite in the world, was slowly coming back to life after New Year’s and, feeling immeasurably lucky to be a part of it, I couldn’t help but smile. Like Neil, one of my dreams was to eventually end up here – it was just a shame Edinburgh demanded so much money.
‘I want to live the bohemian way and travel the world for a few years and have affairs with poets and musicians,’ I said decidedly.
Neil sipped on his tea, shrugging, ‘Well that’s doable, Rach.’
‘Mmm,’ I grunted, pouting slightly and swirling my own cup of tea before finally admitting with a small smirk, ‘Only problem is that it slightly conflicts with the image of myself in a penthouse in London, single and very much successful.’
Neil snorted at me. ‘Yeah, they don’t match.’
I bit and rose to the challenge, my smile growing wider. ‘I graduate in six months at 21! Still very young, right? So I can fuck about for a couple of years, figure stuff out, stumble upon something I love and then be very successful at the age that people normally come out of university at.’ I blew on my cooling tea before hitting the cadence: ‘I have the gift of time.’
He put his head in his hands, acting out the role he had perfected over the past five years, pretending not to thoroughly enjoy my irrationality and spontaneity, pretending he didn’t fine well know I would have some form of back-up plan up my sleeve – just as I pretended I was entirely fearless and not at all jealous of the vocational tag the majority of my friends had attached to their degrees.
Neil raised his head and put his fists under his chin, trying not to smile. ‘Thank god you are genuinely smart and perceptive under all your bad decision-making.’
‘Rash- not bad – rash,’ I corrected. ‘All my rash decisions have been my best ones. Well, the sober ones at least. Hey man,’ I put my hands up in defence as he shook his head and rolled his eyes, ‘just blowing off some steam post-engagement!’
‘Oh please, you were the exact same six months ago – apart from the fact you were actually engaged.’
‘A minor detail,’ I said looking at him. We both burst out laughing.
‘Six months ago,’ he said quietly to himself before looking up with amazement. ‘And in six months you can genuinely do absolutely anything you want, anything at all.’
‘Sure – there’s no future I don’t see myself as successful in, I’m just not entirely sure what to do in the meantime,’ I chuckled.
Neil looked back down into his mug, thoughtful and still, presumably searching for his own future.
‘I really am jealous of you, Rach. You have options and choices-‘
‘And no money.’
‘-and decisions and independence and-‘
‘I’ll be living off baked beans.’
‘-the ability to see the world, to just go travelling-‘
‘As a stowaway.’
‘You can simply do everything-‘
‘Can I have a loan?’
‘I’m serious, Rach, it’s so exciting. Me? I’m constantly aware of the slog the next four years is going to be – finishing medical school, then struggling through the crippling foundation years. And I’m starting to forget what for. I had all these dreams – I was going to tour all of Europe on my bike, finish the Alps, live abroad, do some charity medical work – but my grades aren’t great so the next realistic option to take time out is after FY2. Four years! And that’s the first decision I might get to make. Before that they send me where they want, when they want. I might not even get to do my first choice for my speciality. Thank god I don’t want to do orthopaedics any more, ten-to-one chance of getting into that. Obs and gynae is only three-to-one, so fingers crossed.’
‘Neil, mate, you’ve got your fingers crossed to look at vaginas all day every day for the rest of your life- no wonder you’re depressed.’
‘Rachel! It’s more than just – there’s babies! Birth! Babies! It’s beautiful!’
‘It’s minging.’
‘You’re ridiculous.’
‘No, clearly my ovaries just aren’t crying out as hard as yours.’ I looked up at my best friend – despite his bravado he was thin, tired, and where his eyes used to shine with excitement and anticipation they now seemed glazed over with the weight of his prescribed future. ‘I know it’s not helpful, but it was always why I couldn’t do medicine- they take away every decision a new adult deserves.’
‘And your incompetence in biology had nothing to do with it?’
‘Whatever – unless you’re told otherwise why wouldn’t you think your liver was next to your kidneys.’
‘Because your kidneys aren’t even in the one place, for a start.’
‘It’s cosy – “Love Thy Neighbour”.’
‘And your organs don’t talk to one another.’
‘Maybe yours don’t,’ I said, bouncing my knee and looking around the café, trying to avoid the gaze of the lemon tart. Finishing my tea in one swift gulp I topped up both of our mugs from the teapot, successfully spilling the majority of it on the table. ‘Bugger,’ I muttered, before yelling over to the waitress: “Excusé moi!”
Neil leaned back stretching looking completely unsurprised. ‘You don’t speak French, Rach.’
‘Yeah, I only just remembered that,’ I blushed, trying to help the amused waitress mop up the mess. When she left Neil pointedly pulled the teapot towards him and filled the rest of our mugs with milk. He still looked strained.
‘Are you happy?’ He clasped his hands together and rested his forehead on his fists softly shaking his head. He exhaled and his knuckles turned white as he pushed them harder against forehead, as if trying to force all the pain out through the back of his skull.
‘I haven’t been happy for a long time,’ he said eventually, looking up over his knuckles into my eyes.
I leaned in towards him, not allowing him to drop his gaze. ‘You need to see someone, and start running again, and eating more.’
‘I know. I know. I know.’
‘I hate seeing you like this, my love.’
His knuckles whitened and his eyes closed briefly. ‘I hate seeing me like this, too.’
I paused briefly, nibbling the inside of my cheek before continuing:
‘And if this relationship-‘
‘I know.’
‘-if it’s problematic or draining you-‘
‘I know.’
‘Love isn’t enough, you know.’
‘I do know.’
‘Do you?’
‘If things don’t drastically improve in the next six months-‘
‘Good.’
He rested his palm over his mug of tea briefly before picking it up and taking another sip. I mimicked. He gazed into it again and I waited.
‘Everyone has their problems though, Rach.’
‘Not this much, this young,’ I retorted.
‘She’s an anxious person-‘
‘I’m sure that’s helpful-‘
‘But an amazing person and I do love her.”
I folded my arms. ‘Like I said, Neil-‘
‘I know, I know. Now is the time to be selfish.’
‘I’m glad you know that now.’
‘You learn after the first relationship-‘
‘And therein lies the problem…’
He sighed and put his mug down, finishing my sentence: ‘It’s her first.’
His patience amazed me – despite my impending financial doom I couldn’t be paid enough to be someone’s first significant other, partly due to the guilt I still felt towards my first boyfriend and his heartbreak. The first one is when you learn and break the rules, push the boundaries, test your own limits and other people’s limitations. It’s a time in your life when you learn to be completely dependent on someone – and after that relationship you learn that independence is just as good-
‘If not better,’ Neil concluded.
He had been in love multiple times in his young life – very much in love – and now he was learning how to balance such love with reality, so he told me. I believed it meant he simply wasn’t in love anymore, not in the way that he deserved to be. His bold heart had no interest in reality, but this balancing act was a good one to practice for his imminent, pressured future, so I kept my opinion to myself this time.

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Well, apart from the night we cracked open a bottle of vintage port we had stolen from my uncle’s cupboard. He was entirely unphased by my reaction to his love life, and instead preferred to focus on the hilarity that was my own disastrous dating attempt.
‘Wait! What! You’re telling me you met someone on Tinder! On a dating app!?’
‘Woah, it started out I was going to write an article on it-‘
‘And ended up with you in Edinburgh on a date with a Canadian! How?!’
‘Ummmm, he is seriously fucking hot?’
‘But terrible in bed.’
‘Oh god,’ I had moaned, clutching the port to my ashamed bosom.
‘Let me get this straight,” Neil said, spreading his hands like some kind of fucking messiah. ‘You’re going on a second date with a Canadian despite the fact he was terrible in bed, forgot his wallet and told you for a second date he was taking you to the theatre but, as it turns out, hasn’t actually managed to secure tickets just because he is “seriously fucking hot”?!’
‘Oi! If you had seen that jawline-‘
‘And not only that! But he’s told you he’s not seeing anyone else and you’re spending your days side-stepping his delving into your dating habits because you are sleeping with all of the personal trainers at your work.’
‘Not all of them-‘
‘And you’re also hoping that they don’t talk to each other about you-‘
‘Ideally-‘
‘And for the piecé de resistance you’re occasionally sleeping with an Irish man who you treat just as badly as he treats you, who you love to hate and refuse to admit you have feelings for because you don’t want to enlarge his already massive ego which is the male equivalent of yours.’
‘I DON’T have feelings for-‘
‘This is excellent – only you!’

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‘I’ll be fine,’ he said now looking up at me. ‘I promise.’
I smiled softly at him and gave his forearm a quick squeeze. ‘You better,’ I threatened.
‘What would I do without you, Rach?’
‘Probably be less hungover and have much less interesting stories. Whereas I would be dead without you.’
He picked up my hand and stroked his thumb along the back of my hand, acknowledging all the love I had for him in that clammy, hungover grasp. My body still ached from our twelve hour New Year flat-crawl bender. We had demolished what must have been litres of whiskey and rum, and at 5am a lone White Russian had demolished me. I rang in the new year with a complex and quite possibly permanent aversion to semi-skimmed milk. I had even quit drinking for the upcoming week before my 21st (an eternity for a student), completely and utterly convinced I could shift half a stone in that time, and would then continue with my healthy approach until I looked like Jessica Ennis. Or Jessica Rabbit.
‘I’m actually thinking of getting a PT qualification before I leave Aberdeen – something worldwide, transferable, you know.’
‘You’re really taking this whole post-break-up-workout-body-reinvention thing seriously. I’m very impressed. Although I still can’t believe you weightlift.’
‘And I can’t believe I squat more than you – come on, let me get you in the gym.’
‘Let me take you running up a big hill, then.’
I shook my head furiously leaning away from him, holding my palms up in front of me. ‘No, no, no, no I hate cardio.’
‘So you kept saying as we were walking between the flats on Hogmanay.’
I finished the dregs of my tea and stood up to pay the French stereotype behind the counter. It was a small thank you to Neil for putting up with me for two nights, as well as lending me his clothes. Or, rather, allowing me to steal them.
After paying I slouched back into my chair, sighing melodramatically. ‘Hippy or lady of leisure? I want both.’
‘Well you have six months to make up your mind – do you have any genuine plans?’
‘Well it looks like this China thing will be around September time,’ I said, cracking my knuckles and looking at my watch. ‘Christ, it’s only nine fucking thirty, we really are getting old.’
‘What China thing?’ He asked, leaning forward and scratching his beard.
‘I’m moving to China,’ I said distractedly, checking my phone, utterly bemused by the fact we had been awake for two hours already. Glancing up I noticed Neil’s jaw had dropped open and the rasping noise of his scratching had ceased as his hand hovered below his left cheekbone. He frowned at me and I frowned back.
‘What?’ I shrugged.
‘Since when were you moving to China?!’
‘I thought I’d mentioned it? It’s a bit random, I sort of got offered it through a friend – took it on the spot – still to get it finalised, mind, but it looks like it’s going ahead. Actually really excited.’
‘Doing what? What job?’
‘Teaching English as a foreign language for a year.’
‘You don’t want to be a teacher, you don’t have the qualification even!’
‘I do when it’s in China. And I have a Masters in English!’
‘You will have an Honours degree in English Literature…’
‘Exactly.’
‘That’s really not the required qualification.’
‘They don’t need to know that.’ We both paused and stared at each other, understanding the gravity of the situation – or perhaps lack of it. Here I was, making the first move away, and there may be nothing to ever tether us together, to the same place, again. The future was tangible, imminent. Milestones, junctions of life that we had always been aware of but never truly realised were now entirely applicable, and I was storming in one direction relatively heedlessly, unsure if I would ever double back. The life we loved to share – the life that involved running drunkenly through the Grassmarket, dancing down the Royal Mile at midnight, getting thrown out of the poshest hotel in Edinburgh for stinking of weed – that life, and its antics, were about to morph into something that had responsibility for a shadow, something that would never change back.
‘We’ll still do daft things together, right?’ I asked my best friend.
‘We should probably stop at some point,’ he smirked.
‘Which is exactly why we won’t.’
He laughed, crossing his forearms over one another on the table, absently stroking the side of his mug and holding my gaze for longer than most people dared, and longer even than other friends had the time for.
‘Congratulations about China, I’m fucking thrilled for you.’
‘Thank you,” I nodded. “Also, if you don’t visit me I’ll cry.’
‘Christ, if I have the time, eh,’ he groaned, dropping his head forward and placing both palms behind his neck. The morning light coming through the café window cast him in a halo, but his shoulders seemed small even in his winter jacket.
‘Get yourself seen to, my boy. Don’t forget, you’re going to be the best doctor I know.’
‘I’m going to try,’ he said.
‘You’re going to succeed, ‘I responded, lifting his chin and gazing at him with utter devotion.
I grinned mischievously and cocked my head to the right. ‘Remember,’ I said, ‘I’m always right.’
He laughed warmly and we both stood to pull on our hats, gloves and other winter paraphernalia. Like a true gent, he held open the café door for me and we walked down the street side by side in comfortable silence, shoulders hunched against the wind.
‘Fuck,’ he said suddenly, looking ahead. ‘Communism’s not going to know what’s hit it.’
I giggled, tripping over my own feet. ‘I’ll do my best not to get arrested.’
We continued on together and I linked my arm through his. ‘Neil?’
‘Yes, Rach?’
‘See if I do get arrested-‘
‘Here we go-‘
‘-will you bail me out?’

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© Rachel Donald 2016