how about that?

    It’s perfectly polite. You don’t look at me much as you speak. I want to laugh out loud because there was a time when you’d almost make me uncomfortable because you’d be staring at me for so long, in my face or my periphery, your enormous almost-black brown eyes boring holes into mine until you were digging behind them - or roaming over every inch of me as I lay beside you in bed, both of us wriggling and gasping for air. I’m quietly disappointed because I thought you’d gone by now; almost two years ago you told me you were moving to Bristol because there was ‘nothing left’ for you in this town, no stone unturned or without your unique mark carved crudely into it, nor smoking embers lingering on the beach, enough hearts left forlorn and bubbles burst in bathwater. You told me this so earnestly as we stood on the busy street beneath the bunting in the late afternoon sun, that you were done and eager for a new chapter - yet I caught your eyes travelling over me more than once in my ridiculous party outfit, the ruffled gingham dress with the entire back and more than half the midriff cut out, even from behind my orange-tinted ‘retro’ sunglasses. Orange, with a touch of rose. Since then I’ve driven past your window several times but only once dared to look in, to see your garish window adornments were gone and in their place dusty, faded shutters, ghosts of where they’d sat, and did I spy a stack of boxes beyond that? I assumed you’d moved, but maybe I got it wrong, and someone had moved in. Someone who was bold enough to ask that you take the tacky figures and broken fan off the sill. Someone whose opinion mattered enough for you to actually do it. 

Yet still, here you are. Soaked in sweat - it’s spilling from your head and dripping off your top lip, trickling through your dark stubble, while that silver bobble piercing below gleams in the sun. I’d worry you’d swallow it, way back when. Then there was a brief time I’d wish you’d choke, on your own stupid decisions and thoughtless lies. I remember suddenly your tendency to sweat, to drench your clothes and sheets as you exerted yourself. I pull myself in from pondering on the pools of sweat we’d lay in, on your mattress in the absurdly sunny turret - don’t linger on that. Don’t wonder how many more he’s had on that mattress since you. On the chunky wooden frame you both assembled one night, kindly donated by two friends who were taking the next step and moving in together so obviously had no use for a second double bed; they happily pulled up in their little van one evening and unloaded it onto us. Their relief at getting rid of it was visible, the excitement for their future together palpable. It buzzed in their air between them as we all gathered on the pavement that warm, dark evening. We never considered it. Taking that rumoured Next Step, the big plunge, which was really simply sharing a space. No, it was never on the cards for us. Various friends would ask when it would happen and they’d laugh when they were met with shrugs, tell us how silly it was to live literally a few metres and a wall of wild brambles apart - opposite sides of the road, my big ugly block loomed behind your dilapidated house, your bedroom window visible from mine - and not consider cohabiting. Not even for a moment. That should have been a sign. A bright signal in the distance, perfectly visible across deep murky waters. This won’t be it. 

Now I’m standing here looking upon you because you are somewhere I used to live; a cosy, safe environment I’d return to after a day of work, where I could peel my outdoor face off, fold up my smile, sigh, curl up and rest. I don’t walk by my old home very often these days, but I’m sure there’s still some sign of me hidden in there, even if it’s just a patch of sunlight on the mantelpiece, soil crumbs amongst the floorboards, scratches under the windowsills. The old postie still waves to me in the street, so that’s something. 

That old paper smile was hastily applied as I saw you approaching, but it seems to be working. As you tell us about your upcoming tournaments, your workout regime and shifts schedule, how you’ve been up for 24 hours straight after receiving a text with news you didn’t want to read - attention-seeking perhaps, but more likely they’re just words filling the space, falling out of your mouth between heaving breaths as the sweat makes tracks down your neck because you’re still recovering from blading up the steepest hill - I think ‘oh yes, your life is continuing. How about that?’ 



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