Here we are, in some sort of afternoon. Dusk whirls high, out of reach, grading backwards from the windowsill. I’m lying upside down. The world, as I know it, strains to regain its balance.
Your words have just left for their destination, rugged up, sugar-coated, for their journey across the room. Time sticks to me in muddy clumps. I have to gouge the minutes from my hair, scrape the seconds from my mouth.
Dust motes careen in the waffle-hatched light, still spinning from the breath you expelled. They are amoebas spinning softly in some oblivious world. I hear you. I crane my head back. You’re looking at me, still the wrong way up. If only your words would invert their meaning too. Sofie. Play it backwards. So it isn’t say it isn’t so.
Sunburn stripes, high water marks. Sand socks baking on my bare feet. Lungs dried up, forehead ready to rain. This is summer anger. I sit with your heavy gourmet ice cream. Raspberry syrup fills the crook of my thumb.
You stand with your back to me, leaning against the guardrail, your hair blowing out at the river. The city looms back from the opposite shore. These are our days out together. Taking silent hostility off its leash to let it get some sun.
You shift your weight under your dress and we both watch a ferry glide past. An optical illusion: a young girl standing on the deck waves, believing you and I are side by side. I remember the shape of your cheeks. Raspberry red pools at my feet.
My study has its moments of perfect light. Fat grey clouds chew the sun thoughtfully, leaving a muted monochrome behind. Like the mood in Renaissance paintings: soft luminosity nestled in the dark. The paper in front of me glows. I swivel my shoulders and settle down to work properly for the first time all day.
After a while, a reflection works its way across the pages: two refracted circles. A shaft on sunlight slanting through a snowglobe. You place it in my hands, smiling. On its base it says Sofie’s Holiday, and they’ve spelt your name properly, with an F. I shake the globe, and over snow-capped peaks, watery winds swirl impossible snowflakes.
You have been watching me work, with your gift. My heart swells with an old sensation: I am wanted—I am needed—by you.
From the depth of sleep I shoot awake. Your fingernails are cold, as you press them, one by one against my lips. Your dying parts pressing against my most alive. Somewhere above us, stars creak in vacuum cradles. My heart is gunpowder. Your body in an arcing bridge. Your weight, suspended above me: your hair, falling in fireworks inches from my face. I feel your heat, breaking against me. I have stepped too close to the fire. I am out of safety’s reach.
We’re locked together, joined at every point. The single focus of your eyes—on me—is what I feel more, even as we both release. My mind says this is love. This impulse of thought—this tiny synapse—is the only one in life that ever echoes in my soul.
The porch light flickers on as I walk under it. Moths hurl themselves above my head; they collide so violently I’m sure their wings must break. The sky has tied itself into indigo. A line of palms sway black silhouettes.
I leave the front door open and walk the long spine of the corridor. In the kitchen, the phone sits innocently, its cord offering me a curly noose. She’d held my fingers in hers, pressing the pen just hard enough to leave a mark. Now the back of my hand burns with her name. Strange how she spelt it. My other hand carries eight magic numbers; the ink has leached, picking out a jigsaw of skin.
I close my eyes, burning as I wet a day’s radiation. My heart bell-hammers in my chest. Hands shaking. I dial the numbers, and a distant tone burrs. I wonder where her phone rings. I wonder what it has stopped her doing.
Something starts—in the middle of a life’s beginnings and endings—with a change of air cutting through a half-open window. Nothing so momentous as an accident or an argument, just a breeze that blows its way past my glass of iced tea, disturbing the beads of condensation.
A subtle change that lifts my eyes to the other side of the café. By the window is a young woman. The sun has discovered her like a spotlight, finding its way through a crack in the clouds. Her hair wings out: orange and red. My hands play chords on the tabletop. A water-filled tip jar shimmers ribbons at the ceiling. I watch the strange fire of her hair. She sits unmoving as the strands obscure her face, weaving and wrapping in ember threads.
The breeze changes and all the moisture falls from my glass. It moves, deliberately, towards her. I surprise myself, as much as anyone, when I follow it.