Under a single yellow streetlight the hill rises above us, filled with buried treasure, dead leaves and rotten mattresses. We lie back on the grass uncomfortably – maybe it’s wet or maybe it is just the cold. One hand on your goosebumped knee, and my little finger teasing the hem of a maroon dress. As the sun falls and backlights you golden, I see a dark oval where your face used to be, ink blossoming in water into a sudden blindness. Stumbling and anxious for sensation, I feel the warmth of your breath growing on my cheek. As the abyss swamps, like a tar tsunami across my pupils, I smell candy milk bottles and Marlboro Lights. Cracked lips connect with my dry mouth, and a rough tongue sparks between my gums, probing and inquisitive, swimming around behind my teeth looking for a mate… looking for a fight.
Later that evening, I rattle-rattle-rattle my spray can and coat the walls of houses in your name over and over again until it is a mass of red. I think back to that video you showed me of someone putting a shotgun in his mouth. The colours, man. Perhaps I drink too much, perhaps I should lay off the blotter acid, but I dream about red and purple for six months. I dream about the haunted face, blood pouring from his lips like the saddest clown. He slumps and breathes involuntary, as his body – confused from having the brain violently removed – falls back on basic instincts, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to kickstart a car with no engine, no driver, no destination…
Which brings me onto you. Fucking ghosts. There’s nothing unreal about you. I still have the welts and the stings, the burns and the missing teeth. Ghosts glide through walls, but you hide every day behind walls, and trees and cars, ready to pounce when I am unaware. And I am always unaware.
I understand now why your hair didn’t smell of shampoo but singe. I understand why you stole lipstick but never wore it – just decorated the outside of your bedroom mirror with eagles and serpents spilling their intestines in a Promethean loop. I understand everything now, ten years too late….twenty years too late…. thirty….. I need to stop counting. Longing is distance times memory minus interaction. I fight to keep the longing at bay, harder than I ever had to fight against your tight wrist clamps. I know I’ll only be disappointed when I find out you now have nineteen kids and play squash at the weekend, driving a BMW with the air-con just so; because to me you’ll always be the girl who set my balls on fire whilst I slept.
Our life was a play; just us two unaware of the captive audience. The third act twist came from a single observation. We walked hand in hand, our footsteps in perfect sync, down a narrow Walk For Lovers and bordered by the half-demolished shells of old terraced houses looming over us, eyeless with bleached ribs like desert corpses. No windows, no gardens, no kids or ball games, just burned spoons and lightbulbs, cans of aerosol and empty glue tubes. We found our old makeout spot, an alleyway connecting the back gardens, and snuck down for an effortless fumble. Under a dripping oak, leaning against the old wooden fences bleeding black with rot and rainwater, you found our ancient initials miraculously preserved in bold white chalk. You pushed me away – my fingers still deep in your new lace knickers – to look closely at this fossil. Tilting your head, you murmered softly; Huh… I didn’t think we’d last this long.
So now I march to the hill alone, searching the grass like a tracker, trying to find where we lay and left green angels. When I eventually find the spot I’m dismayed; there’s no memorial here – no pathetic tree with a plaque, no beacon, no illuminated sign with illustrations of our embrace, bookended and bracketed by our years. Not even a statue of you, head cocked, face cosmically obliterated into total darkness, freckles shining like constellations across your cheekbones.
I sit down, my back to the hill, facing the sky.
And I raise a glass of sunbeams, to the ones that went away.
Happy New Year to you all x