It was raining as usual. Since autumn set in the rain had been almost constant. She had hardly seen the sun in over three weeks.
All the same, the weather fit her mood.
She was waiting for the bus. It felt to her as if all she had ever done in her life was waiting. For the bus. For Her. For the bus again. Benching. Waiting for the bus. Waiting for Her. Benching. Waiting. For Her.
The rain weighed down her otherwise fluffy hair, and the drops on her glasses made it impossible for her to see. She took them off. Not that it helped in the least bit. It just made the world blurry instead of blotched.
She heard the bus before she saw it turn the corner. The orange lights of the text were a blur and she couldn’t read the destination. It didn’t matter – only one bus ever stopped near her apartment. It was that one or none at all. The only alternative was walking the 10 kilometres in the rain. She got on the bus.
One time the bus had overtaken a seagull flying low. It had remained soaring right next to her window for almost half a minute. She had seen the yellow beak, the white plumage, the grey and black on the wings up close before it ascended out of view again. Almost half a minute it had hung in the air, seemingly motionless since it moved with the same speed as the bus. Had it thought the bus a fishing boat that might eventually provide it with lunch? She didn’t know. She had never previously known that seagulls could be that peaceful. The ones she had seen on her father’s fishing boat had seemed ferocious creatures only bent on destruction. They would attack out of nowhere, and sometimes even go for a fish she held in her hand. Their eyes and beaks had terrified her, and their shrieks were deafening when heard at such close distances. Nothing at all like the melancholy cries she heard while laying in bed waiting for sleep to take pity on her after a long day on the fjord. Those cries would always remind her of home. Every time she heard them here she would stop and listen. They would come from far off. This city was supposed to be close to the seashore, but it was nothing in comparison with her hometown which had had a symbiotic relationship with the sea – the town and the sea interwoven so completely that it was hard to tell where the boundaries were supposed to be. This city was at least 5 km removed from the sea, which didn’t sound like much, but she could feel the distance in her bones. It wasn’t home. It would never be home. Not without the sea. And not without Her.
She stamped her bus card and went to sit by the window. The rain had turned to sleet, and was now whipping the grimed window, making lines in the dirt. Winter was rapidly approaching. Another year come and gone without Her. Another year come and gone, just waiting. Waiting for something that might never happen, far removed from what she knew and cared for.
It had happened ten years ago. She would never forget. Nobody can forget the day that changes the course of their life. She had sat on the bench near the port. It was evening. The streetlights had illuminated the puddles in the gutter and made them shine with a deep gold in sharp contrast to the blackened asphalt of the road. The wind had stilled at long last, and the gulls had silenced when the last fishing boat had made its way into the port. No more food to be had – she guessed they had figured they might as well get some rest till the show started over the next morning.
She was waiting for her father. He had not yet left the boat, and she didn’t feel like going down there. The wood of the pier was wet and she was afraid she might slip and sprain her ankle again like the year before. When she stretched her leg she could still feel the pain sometimes. When she ran she would sometimes have to stop because the pain shot up through her leg. The nurse had said it might never fully heal. It had been too long before the bandage was laid – too much time had elapsed before they finally brought her to the hospital. Her mother hadn’t wanted her to go. She hadn’t seen the point. If Sheridan hadn’t made an improvised bandage immediately after the accident she might no longer have been able to walk. The thought scared her, and every time it slipped into her mind the wound threatened to rip wide open all over again – not the ankle, a much more severe wound indeed; the resentment she felt towards her parents.
It was chilly, and she raised her knees to her chin and hugged herself in a fetal position on the bench in order to keep warm. Her breath made fluffy white clouds in the air in front of her.
And then she saw Her. Walking down the dark street with her mother. The hair lit up by the streetlights, forming a halo of far more magnificent beauty than that of the saints’ in the stained-glass windows of the church. So beautiful. So ethereal. She held her mother by the hand as they strode down the pavement. Sometimes she would skip and jump to avoid puddles. Her mother would scold her. She looked around her, and then their eyes met. A pair of precocious grey eyes, already forming wrinkles at the corners from the much contact with salt water and sea winds were met with their exact pair of opposites – a pair of warm brown – and green-speckled eyes, like fertile topsoil waiting to be planted with flowers in early spring. Lush and humid, warm and welcoming. Immensely frightening, in a way she could never have predicted.
The thrill of joy and the pang of fear she felt the next day in the schoolyard when she realized that this girl, this ethereal being with the all-too-earthly eyes were to start in her class the same day was beyond expression. Ten years had elapsed since that day, and they were still the same emotions. And still beyond expression. The only difference now was that she had already had and lost Her. No, she corrected herself, not “had” and “lost” – she had experienced and was now waiting to experience again. All the same, the emotions hadn’t changed the least bit. Thrill and fear. Love and pain. Same as ten years ago.
She watched the bus drench an unfortunate biker with water from a rain puddle. She watched as they turned corner after corner on their way towards the city centre. First they drove past the city sign, and out of the city. Then they drove a few km through a wasteland of forest and meadows and a stranded bridge construction project. Then they passed another city sign, re-entering the city. And then the houses started. Suburban neighbourhood after suburban boring neighbourhood after yet another. A few supermarkets, a bar, a tank station. The bus was half empty and nobody seemed eager to get off. They rode on all the way to the central station before anybody demanded the doors opened. The rain had cleaned the windows at this point. But what did it matter? The grime would return the next day, unless the rain started again.
The canteen was halfway empty too. Nobody spoke a word this morning. A few smokers made pathetic figures outside, trying to use their scarves, books or anything at hand to shelter their precious burning incense from the rain, not to mention themselves. She imagined they’d be drenched to the bone in the ten minutes time they spent out there, and for the first time she felt happy that economic reasons had forced her to quit the habit three months earlier.
She warmed her hands on the coffee cup and looked around. It would be a boring day today, she could see as much simply by merit of her classmates’ faces. Drained of energy before they’d even started on the day’s tasks. She drained the coffee cup when Sheridan materialized in front of her.
“’Morning,” he said, dark smudges under his reddened eyes. He seemed to have had as awful a night as she had had herself.
“Good morning,” she answered, her head empty of every waken thought, only slowly beginning to speed up thanks to the coffee. A bit of sunlight and heat would’ve worked better, but seeing as that was impossible, coffee was usually the safe way to achieve a similar effect.
“I had a nightmare,” he told her, leaning in confidentially over the table. “I dreamt that my father came back to life.”
“For real! He came back to life! What a scenario. I think it’s the first time I have appreciated a law of nature – the one about people not being able to return from the dead, you know.”
“Jesus did though.”
“Yeah, but that’s different.”
A silence followed. For a moment she caught herself wondering whether or not she should ask him for a cigarette, but she managed to stop herself. She’d quit, all right. Time to move on. She had even asked him to help her maintain the decision to quit. He probably wouldn’t give her one anyway.
“Aren’t you going out?” she asked, gesticulating towards the drenched smokers outside the window.
He shook his head. “Nah, I’d rather live. And besides, it’s the end of the month.”
It always was. She didn’t need to ask any further questions, he didn’t need to answer.
Sheridan was the only friend she had been able to maintain since childhood. Since her hometown. Since one year before Her. He was the only one who hadn’t been scared off by the whole story – though probably only because he’d had bigger problems of his own. Not that she cared. A friend was a friend, and seeing as she only had one she couldn’t afford being picky. She had to accept him for who he was. And he too had to accept her. It was a silent agreement between them not to question the parts of the other’s life that they couldn’t understand or agree with. They couldn’t afford losing each other. They had no one else. Not at the time being at least.
Drinking their coffee in silence, as if by mutual agreement, they stared at the raindrops whipping against the windows. A depressing sight.
It was he who finally interrupted the silence: “Have you heard from Her yet?”
She took one more sip of coffee and glanced at the clock. There was only a few minutes left. It would be a short conversation, fortunately.
“Didn’t she say two months?”
“She didn’t mention a timeframe for her plans. Or her plans at all. You know she never does that. I’m not sure she even has a plan.”
Silence ensued for a moment.
“Do you think she’ll come back? For real, I mean. Do you think so?” He cleared his throat and looked down at the graffiti on the table.
“I don’t know,” she muttered. “I don’t even think she knows it herself yet. She never could make up her mind you know.”
“Yeah. I know.”
One small project was all she had to fill out her time with. Only the rain in itself; the knowledge that there was no going outside anyway, made it anything approaching exciting.
But much to her surprise, the rain had stopped by the time she left for lunch, and a faint sunbeam was showing from behind the heavy clouds, which slowly but steadily seemed to be dispersing. No short of a miracle.
Sitting down in the canteen again, for lack of other plans, she ate lunch with Sheridan.
“Are you going home for Easter?” he asked.
“I don’t think so. The forecast says there’ll be another Spring storm. You know the weather there as well as I do. There’ll be a flood if the water level rises the slightest bit. And those storms are bad. Last year the whole island nearly flooded.”
“You are making up excuses.”
She didn’t need to answer. She didn’t attempt to either.
“So, what’s your own excuse?”
A faint smile, ending in an ugly grimace flit across his thin, pale face. “Same as yours, I guess.”
“You don’t really need an excuse. Your father’s dead anyway.”
“My sister says she would like to see me.”
“Why? She never cared for your existence before?”
“I guess she’s discovered me.”
“We could go to the capital instead. See a play. Go to a concert. Something. Anything, really!”
She laughed, a harsh chuckle that didn’t come natural to her. Sometimes she wondered whether she had been able to laugh a good, natural laugh as a child, but she could no longer remember. Everything that had happened back then was a blur to her. Except Sheridan tying the bandage around her foot, although his father, and hers, both yelled at him not to. Except that incident one year later; seeing Her in the street.
And here they were, ten years later, and nothing much had changed. They had moved to another city, tried their hardest to forget. But it had turned out to be impossible for them both. Their memories and their pain stuck too deep, and had long since become a constant presence they couldn’t shake off despite longing to.
Easter came and went. Each one of them passed their individual excuses (exact replicas) to their remaining family members, and apologized unwillingly for delaying their visits again, and kept their fingers crossed while stating that they would try in the summer.
Neither wanted to take the trip. Unless it was to attend yet another funeral, they both knew that the other would not return home.
Her mother commit suicide when she was very young, and her father had died in a boating accident five years ago. She was fifteen then, and working as a cleaner she managed to stick it through high school until she eventually got a chance to flee the place. She had no siblings, but her grandparents had allowed her to move in with them. She had leant onto Sheridan – but he had needed her support as much as she needed his. He had plenty of problems of his own without also having to carry hers.
The true story about what happened between him and his parents the night he ran away remained a deep secret even to her. She only knew that he had appeared at her doorstep with no possessions and a blackened eye that night, and that he had stayed at her house the last year they went to high school.
Selling her father’s fishing boat had brought her enough money to rent the apartment she now lived in, as gloomy as it was, and selling her parents’ house had ensured her some economic stability – although it wasn’t worth much, being situated in an area that was known to be flooded about once every year.
Being inseparable, Sheridan and her had enrolled at the same university in the same city. Comfortable far away from their hometown, not by distance, but by the obstacle of the sea, seeing as the politicians couldn’t make up their minds to connect the islands with a bridge.
Initially she had been reluctant to leave, despite the memories the place held. She feared that She couldn’t find her if she moved. But She did. Whenever a new love interest let Her down She came running back. Despite everything. She always laid great plans that nobody else were a part of, least of all her. And when they didn’t work out She always needed a shelter and a shoulder to cry on.
Sheridan had said that she shouldn’t put up with it. And she knew in her heart that he was right. But she had only once been in love, with this woman, and she couldn’t yet imagine loving anybody else – even if the love wasn’t returned, which she had long since stopped believing it was.
She should have stopped waiting when she stopped believing. But she couldn’t. She was a drowning person hanging onto a straw – a weak and vulnerable one.
Despite Sheridan’s disapproval, he didn’t press her. He for one understood her desperation. He had witnessed it develop right from the beginning.
She would never forget that morning in the school yard when she had tucked at his sleeve and gasped: “There! That’s the one! The one I talked about earlier. The girl from last night.”
And he had turned his head in the appointed direction, taken a look at the subject, and said: “What’s the big deal?”
What was the big deal then, really? Nothing except the burning sensation that started in her chest, and the cramps in her stomach, and the shortage of breath that seemed to happen every time she was around this girl which she thought so remarkable although everybody else didn’t seem to notice her at all. She had plain hair and plain skin, and until She hit puberty for real and certain places on Her body started to swell, there was nothing to indicate that She’d ever make a man turn her head any more than she herself was capable of.
As for herself, she knew that she was born ugly. A fact she had come to embrace fully the first time after they had moved when She suddenly showed up on her doorstep, Her hair drenched with rain and her eyes full of tears.
“He threw me out!” She’d cried. “He said I was using him. I don’t know what he meant! I’m a student, and he’s a banker! Why shouldn’t he pay my rent? He can afford it so much better than me anyway! He should hardly notice the money was gone! Why would he say such a thing?”
That day, when she saw the girl she loved, Her hair dyed blonde and Her face drenched with streaks of diluted make-up despite Her natural beauty, she embraced the fact that she herself was ugly. It suddenly seemed like a blessing – to be made to rely on oneself rather than on others. Others were only waiting to let you down anyway.
She kept repeating this to herself in the years to come, but despite fully realizing the truth of the words, she forgot them the minute She showed up, which She did, time and again. Her hair changed colour, and somewhere along the way She also convinced someone to get her a boob job. But the eyes never changed. The earth-and-wood eyes. They maintained that same old power over her. That, even despite the fact that she could still remember, as clear as if it had just happened, the day nearly eight years ago when She came to tell her a great secret, and she knew herself deceived by Her for the first time.
“I lost my virginity yesterday!” She had whispered in her unwilling ear. She hadn’t wanted to know, but the eyes had held her captive. “Isn’t it great? When is it your turn?”
The words had been as revolting to her then, as they were now. Even after having done it they still sounded revolting to her – because of the person who uttered them, and the way in which they were said.
She had run away, not wanting to hear the whole story, but of course she was later forced to listen to it anyway, all of it. She wouldn’t let her go. She told the story as if it was a great adventure, despite the reluctant and disgusted audience.
When she had told the story to Sheridan he had told her the truth – a singular ability of his that it seemed to her very few people mastered.
“She’s no good for you,” was the opinion of the 14-year-old boy, accompanied by a decided nod that was unusual for him. He was normally quiet and reluctant to speak his mind, but on this particular issue he had not for a second been in doubt. “She is not your type. And She will never be with you.”
The truth stung, and back then she had refused to listen to it. The rest of elementary school and the first year in high school she had held onto her dreams. But the second year in high school, when She got tired of fooling around with just any boy, and started digging for gold, and altered Her appearance to meet that end, she had been crushed.
That night, swiping the floor of the doctor’s clinic where she worked at night, she had thought of the disparity in income between her and the men She went after. And she had known it was hopeless. But she had comforted herself – had told herself that she truly loved Her, and the men didn’t. To begin with, this had been a comfort to her, but by now even the hope contained in this thought had subsided. She was alone in dreaming of love, for She didn’t believe in it. The only thing She believed in was escaping her upbringing, and leaving everything that reminded her of her roots behind – which was something she couldn’t help Her with, seeing as she herself symbolized just that.
She knew that it was not an unreasonable desire – the desire to escape. After all, She had had an addict for a father and an absent mother – but then what? As if she and Sheridan had had an easier time.
No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t understand the reasoning, but being a dreamer herself it was nonetheless far from her to reject the dreams of another. Even when they didn’t work out to her advantage.
She still sometimes tried to comfort herself by saying that She would come to her senses and accept what She was and find some peace of mind that required no further escapism.
After all; Sheridan and she herself had done it. They were pressing on, although they were tired and heartbroken. So perhaps it was only a matter of time after all, before She would join them.
It was three months since She had taken off the last time. As usual, not mentioning Her destination. Perhaps She had met another guy online. At least She hadn’t stolen any money this time. Not from her anyway.
There was no knowing when she would show up again, if ever, and they talked as little as possible about Her. In general, it was better for them to talk about the present. What to do here and now. Today. What movie to watch. What bar to visit. What tasks to do and which to save for later. Which books to read. What exhibitions the museums were showing here and now. What to cook tonight.
Sheridan had managed, by sheer luck, to find an apartment in her neighborhood half a year earlier. The first year-and-a-half they’d spent in the city they’d lived far apart and neither had liked it. It felt unsafe seeing as they didn’t really know anybody else, and didn’t really trust other people enough to want to get involved with them either. They preferred sticking together like they’d always done.
Having him across the street felt safe and secure. And after he’d moved they’d made a habit out of eating together every evening. It was the only way of ensuring they both got something decent to eat in the first place. They really didn’t care much about their diets, despite both being decent cooks. They took turns, spent every second evening in his apartment and every second in hers. And after making the “1 Pizza A Week, And No More”-rule, they’d finally managed to secure a stable, and relatively healthy home-cooked diet for themselves.
Each with their own income, hers as a freelance graphic designer, his as a telemarketer, they did fine. Not great, but well enough to get by. Neither of them were able to think too far into the future at the moment. Only the present existed, and that required survival skills – and money counted as a survival skill.
She still had the inheritance from her parents, but she didn’t want to spend it. She took out a little bit now and then for a new computer, or an occasional short trip, but otherwise she didn’t like to touch it. It was her only security and she had no idea what more troubles life held in store for her. She might need it yet.
They managed, in other words. Both loathing their jobs, they nonetheless did them skillfully because they had to, as well as attending lectures because they had to, and then returned home to sleep. Food, work, study and sleep was the main ingredients of their days. If they went out they usually did it together. They both had cultural interests, and they shared them happily. It was the brightest element of their lives after all.
But despite their shared love of art, she had never revealed to him that she wrote poetry. She was afraid that he’d find it ridiculous, and be as dismissive of it as her teachers and her family had been. They had all discouraged her – all but one: Her first (and only) boyfriend whom she lost her virginity to, mostly just to prove to herself (and to Her) that she could. Although not entirely uncomfortable, she nonetheless didn’t feel any desire to repeat the act, but she did since everybody else seemed to consider it natural. There was really only one person she wanted though, and that one person wouldn’t give Herself to her without a reward. Either it was homework to be done, or some other favour in return for the act. At present, it was housing for temporary periods of time in-between better offers.
But there was no point in complaining. Her complaints uttered themselves in poetry only – poetry she showed to nobody. Her ex had been the rare exception. And she chose to reward him because he alone seemed able to appreciate the anguish that lay behind the words, instead of simply dismissing the content, the effort, and the feelings themselves.
He’d looked the poems over, and said: “You have talent. Use it wisely,” and it had sounded miraculous to her.
That’s how it had come about. And although she hadn’t exactly been against seeing him, which she did for over half a year, she never felt anything resembling love for him either. She respected and valued his advice on her artwork, and she was able to appreciate him as a friend, but not much more than that.
There was only one person whom she loved. Unfortunately.
That evening, the rain started again, but it didn’t come down as hard as earlier. They were sitting at the dining table, Sheridan and her, eating a stew that he had cooked. They had both taken the day after off, deciding to attend a classical concert. In preparation for this undertaking, they had put Mendelssohn on the stereo. “Fingal’s Cave” sounded in the background as they were eating. They both loved this piece. It was hard not to – it reminded them of their hometown. When listening they could practically hear the water splashing against the bulwark and the boats, and the raging summer storms howling through the narrow streets of the town.
It was a marvelous piece, carrying the strength of the sea seemingly in the notes. Written by a genius – no lesser mind could have conceived of a piece of culture exhibiting traits of nature like this music.
They listened and ate in silence, until the CD went on to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concert in E Minor. Then she got up and turned the music off. The heart-wrenching shrieks of the violins always brought her to the brink of tears, and she wouldn’t allow that to happen in front of others. Not even Sheridan.
Walking to the window, she opened it slightly to allow in some fresh air. The weather was way too hot and pressing. They’d been expecting thunder for a while without result – just rain and nothing more. Rain alone wouldn’t take away the pressure and heat though.
She looked down at the street. A girl was walking past with a key in her hand. She didn’t look familiar. Strange thing. She knew most of the people in Sheridan’s immediate neighborhood from similar evenings, standing in a similar pose by the window and watching them go about their business. Perhaps the girl didn’t belong. After all, she’d been at it herself too when she first came to the city. Walking aimlessly around, pretending to be near a non-existing destination, hoping that nobody would question where it was. Nobody ever did. Nobody cared for strangers around there.
She could hear water trickling down in the sewers way down below her. Soon it’d start gurgling as a sign that they were over-filling. The gutters would fill up soon if the rain didn’t stop.
Thunder. They needed thunder. If it could relieve the air of pressure, perhaps it could have a similarly calming effect on her.
Sighing she turned around to look at Sheridan. He smiled at her, knowingly, without speaking. A state of depression is not something you can easily speak of. There are no words fit to describe it – none that’ll make it understandable for people who haven’t tried it – and people who have tried it don’t need to hear the explanation. They just understand.
“It’ll be good to get away – even if just for tomorrow,” she said. He nodded.
Turning to the window again she watched a car pass, its roof carrying three bicycles. The rain made the car shine like fish scales. Coming too close to the gutter it sent a cascade over a cursing passerby with a useless umbrella. But in the heavy rain it was hardly possible to separate the shower caused by the car from that of the clouds.
Thunder. Why wasn’t it coming? Looking up at the heavy overcast sky she sighed deeply as she closed the window again.
It came in the night. She woke up with a start at the sound of the loud crash. The rumbling noise dragged on and on, seemingly coming from everywhere. The stars had been extinguished by thick, black clouds. Worse than any rainclouds she’d ever seen around there. The air was electric. Her hair was glued to her pillow, and she could hear the buzzing and crackling sounds it made as she moved her head. Afraid to breathe she lay still, awaiting what had to happen.
And then it came. A whizzing sound, a loud crack and a sharp flash of light. The shock of it sent chills up her spine. It had struck right outside her house. She was in the middle of the thunderstorm. Horror-stricken and unable to move she smelt something burned. The crack had overpowered the splitting sound of the tree in the park outside her window, but there was no mistaking it. A sacrifice had been made that night.
Gathering courage she slipped out of bed to look. Split in two and blackened, but barely smoldering – the dampness prevented it from burning.
And then the sky let loose for real again. The electric tension in the air that made her hair stand just a second before vanished on the spot, and for the first time in a very long time she felt the rain to be a relief. No amount of sunlight could’ve made her feel better at the moment. Opening her window wide she didn’t care if the rain wet her pajamas. Laughing into it she felt as relieved as she imagined nature itself must feel on such an occasion.
Pouring down as it ought to only do in tropical regions, spilling over into the street as the already full sewers couldn’t take the added water.
Laughing to herself she observed the scene. The static electricity gone, the pressure gone, and the eerie yellow glow that seemed to have tainted everything before gone as well, the world seemed beautiful at long last. The rain pouring down seemed to her as life-reaffirming as the shoals of glimmering fish she’d observed underneath her father’s fishing boat until he’d pulled them up out of the water in the nets – and left them to die in the sun.
The sun was cruel. Rain on the other hand, rain was a blessing. It cooled one’s blood, it possessed a soothing empathy that showed itself best when it came in time to hide one’s emotions with its built-in camouflage.
The laughter turned to tears.
Getting up early the next day was difficult, having spent hours by the window as she had. Her whole body felt heavy as she struggled to get out of bed and finish her morning routine. Two cups of coffee helped a great deal though.
In the light of the occasion she put on a pair of jeans and a blouse that was slightly better-looking than what she’d normally wear. Normally she’d simply pick the first the best out of the closet without even looking at it, whipping it on and leaving the house not even noticing what she was wearing. It didn’t matter anyway. When you aren’t good-looking, you might as well not care. If people can’t see you for your personality you don’t get a chance anyway.
But today she carefully picked an In Wear top with beads designed to look like a cluster of grapes adorning the shoulder. That’d have to do. Looking in the mirror she almost found herself presentable.
A quick call to Sheridan’s apartment told her that he was awake and getting ready. All was well.
Looking out she saw that the sky was clear for once. On this day she didn’t care. She’d finished crying the night before, and didn’t think she’d need the rain any time soon, as convenient as it was otherwise.
The sun was sneaking a shy glance above the horizon, and she caught a bit of heat as a weak beam of light struck her kitchen window through a haze of evaporating moisture. There would be mist today for sure. She didn’t mind it. She was going by train, not by car. It wouldn’t be a problem.
Sheridan showed up five minutes later, rucksack slung casually over his shoulder, and they set out towards the bus stop together. It’d be a two hour ride, bus and train combined, to get to the capital. They’d armed themselves with some beer cans each to pass the time, in case the conversation should grind to a halt midway.
Two little brown frogs lollopped across the still-damp pavement as they came walking along it. Freezing solid in their tracks for a moment at the sight of the giant humans approaching them, unable to decide whether acting a rock or making a dash would be the safest choice, they remained for a moment or two, before first one, then the other, took off in different directions into the grass, followed by rustling noises and a trail of darker green.
They stood and watched for a little while, in no particular hurry – thanks to the weather. Then, remembering their destination, they picked up the pace again.
Quickly reaching the bus stop, Sheridan wiped a small piece of bench dry for him to sit on. She didn’t feel like sitting down herself. Strolling leisurely around the place she thought of the frogs – normally they kept hidden near the lake in the park. Lake was an exaggeration at most times, but when the rain came down as heavily as it had done the past few weeks it did turn into a proper lake. In mid-summer it was usually near to drying up – the swampy bottom could be seen through a thin layer of water. But these days, undoubtedly, there would be plenty of water for the frogs to bask in. Perhaps it was close to their mating season? She wouldn’t say she knew much about frogs, except observing them hop awkwardly across the pavement once in a while. How they actually lived, she had no idea.
Eventually settling down near the bench she noticed that Sheridan had dozed off. The bus was due in a few minutes, and she wondered whether she should nudge him when the bus going the opposite way arrived. In good time, obviously, as she observed from its slow speed, it stopped across from their stop, and stayed put for a short while, allowing someone to get off. Then –
She didn’t even get angry. Not this time. She knew the day was spoiled – but then again, most of her plans were generally spoiled, and almost always for the same reason.
Nudging Sheridan decisively in the side, he started up and stared reproachfully at her, and then, when he caught her facial expression, looked across the street at Her.
“Oh, no,” he muttered.
She didn’t have to explain anything to him. That was the benefit of having known somebody as long as they had known each other. He’d seen Her come and go, and it was no new thought to him. And although she assumed he detested Her, he had never previously voiced a complaint.
She didn’t respond to it either. What was there to say, really?
Crossing the road, coming towards them, the doom of every plan she had ever laid – she had nothing to say. It made no sense – indeed, nothing at all made sense. And in a way, she did not want it to make sense. In a way, she was happy, in a way, she was sad, but most importantly – she did not care anymore. A strong feeling of apathy overcame her at that moment. What did it all matter anyway? What did it matter what help She expected to get this time, or why She needed it? What would it matter if She finally took off for good with a rich guy and left her alone? Would either situation ever give her the peace of mind she longed for?
In this moment, she stopped believing in it.
“Hi,” She said, in the same voice as always. Smiling a seemingly good-natured smile, she nodded acknowledging at Sheridan. “Am I disturbing? It looks like you were going somewhere?”
She expected them to call off their plans. Sheridan caught her eye and gently shook his head. There was a hard look in his eyes. She had a feeling that he had had quite enough of Her, and the unstable nature her own life naturally, inevitably would have for as long as She showed up to disturb it at irregular intervals.
For a moment she wondered. She had looked forward to both things. She had looked forward to the concert – and she had hoped and prayed that She would return. But now nothing really mattered. Two people she cared for were there with her, and she could not appease both. And in reality, she did not want to appease either. She wanted to pack her things and run off – as long as the rain stayed away, she could sleep outside. Later, perhaps, she could move southwards. Italy or Spain perhaps. Way out of harm’s way, like the frogs on their way to the lake. Run or get trampled.
She felt two pairs of eyes examining her. She didn’t care anymore.
“Are you going to leave me standing here all day? Let’s go home?” a familiar voice said to her, accompanied by a slight giggle.
“We are going to a concert,” another voice replied.
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’ve come a long way off – I need a shower and something to eat. I can’t attend a concert now!”
“You aren’t invited either. It’s just the two of us.”
“Oh, please. You never grow up, do you, sweety?”
Wondering to herself since when She’d picked up the habit of using “sweety” as a demeaning nickname, another one in a long line of nicknames She had bestowed on Sheridan over the years, she thought that she ought to speak.
“Yes, sure. Sheridan, you don’t mind going alone, do you? I know it’s last minute, but you know I wasn’t expecting visitors, and I really don’t know where else to send Her.”
A look of hurt was what met her, but at that very moment the bus arrived, and Sheridan got on without a word.
She observed it leave, a trail of exhaust fumes in its wake. Then someone gently pulled her sleeve.
“I can’t believe you’re so hung up on him leaving. Get on with it,“ She laughed, “come on now, you’ve kept me waiting. Let’s go home.”
You’ve kept me waiting! Biting her lip to stop herself from screaming, she pretended not to hear Her words. And she knew right then that she would have to settle it once and for all. There had to be an end to it. How else could she get a life worth living? What was the point of clinging onto someone so self-involved?
A deep breath taken, as they walked towards her apartment, she braced herself for a fight she’d never thought she would be able to start. But Her words, and the hurt look in Sheridan’s eyes, yet another plan spoiled, and the sudden apathy she felt, that she hadn’t known before, told her that it was time to act. If she didn’t do it now, she would never find the courage again. And the funny thing was, it was not courage at all. It was a fatalistic sort of apathy – the feeling that nothing mattered anymore, and the feeling that (although she knew that she would care a great deal later) at the moment she did not care in the least bit about the outcome of the fight.
That song. It kept ringing in her ears. Rialto’s “Monday Morning 5:19”. How often hadn’t she listened to that in the past, while waiting for Her to show up. “At first I guess she’s gone to get herself a pack of cigarettes, a pint of milk, food for the cat… but it’s midnight now and she’s still not back!”
Listening to the running shower she imagined the scene from the song. Sitting there again at 2 o’clock in the morning, imagining Her in the back of someone else’s car, just like the song said. She had done that so often. Sometimes even angrily masturbated to the scene, even though she preferred forgetting that as soon as it had come to pass. Sometimes the scene would turn violent in her head – and sometimes she turned it that way deliberately because any other way it would’ve been unbearable to watch. And when the anger kicked in she would scream into a pillow, unable to clearly distinguish between pleasure and pain.
And now it was reverted back to the beginning of the cycle again. She was back. She was now in her shower. Naked. She was hers tonight.
The question was whether she should postpone the fight for tomorrow and give up on the sex altogether, or…
“At half past two I picture her in the back of someone else’s car. He runs his fingers through her hair. No you shouldn’t let him touch you there!”
No, nothing – neither thing – could be postponed.
As she opened the door to the bathroom, she was assaulted by steam. It immediately made her clothes cling to her body. Adrenalin pulsed through every fiber of her body as she silently closed the door behind her and approached the shower. She had her back towards her. She was humming to herself, unable to hear anything as She was in the process of washing her hair, and the water was running down over her face in clear, translucent streams.
She was every bit as beautiful as that first time she’d seen Her. Her body had warped into a more female shape with full, round breasts and a nice, curvy back.
Suppressing a sigh at the sight of the curves she saw in front of her, her memory suddenly reverted back to the second-to-last year in elementary school. The changing room after gym class. Her naked body with the then-budding breasts next to her. The aching desire that had come upon her when seeing it, and the anger that immediately followed, knowing that She was willingly sharing this body with anybody She came across who might be interested as long as they had a penis and some money to offer. And the knowledge that she herself would never get to touch it – unless she either had something useful to offer Her in return, or simply refused to take no for an answer. And that’s how it all had started. Somehow, it felt fair enough that it would have to end in a similar way.
It’s Monday morning 5:19, and I’m still wondering where she’s been, cause every time I try to call I just get her machine. And now it’s almost six a.m., and I don’t want to try again. Cause if she’s still not back then this must be the end.
What’s the point in regretting something unless you have some belief that the feeling of regret in itself will redeem you? There’s no point in regret when you don’t believe in redemption.
If She voiced any protests she didn’t hear it. She chose not to.
Carrying the limp body into the bedroom she no longer cared whether She wanted it or not. She was not even sure whether or not it was really this time, or the last time, or the time before. She could not really differentiate between the early-teen girl she had angrily held and touched in the changing room such a long time ago, or the grown woman she was now pinning down on the bed.
What did it matter anyway? She had ruined enough of her life. Or to be fair, they had ruined enough of each other’s lives. It had to end.
Tears don’t fall quite as heavily as rain, and they taste more salty.
Gently licking them off Her face she tucked Her tussled hair behind the ears and gave Her some time to breathe.
“Don’t come back again this time,” she told her, softly. “I can’t go on like this. You’ll have to find another place to go. I won’t sit around and wait for you anymore. It isn’t even me you want anyway. It’s just attention and money. Face the facts. There never was a proper relationship between us. We both ought to know that by now.”
The earthly green eyes emitted a strange light underneath her, especially now that the tears illuminated them.
“You never wanted a relationship either,” a whispered reply reached her from far away. “You just wanted sex. You never cared for anything else.”
“That’s you, not me.”
“No, that’s you! Only you!” The eyes were slits. Green slits, like a cat’s eyes while hunting in the dark.
“What in the world are you talking about? You’re the one going hunting for it for months at a time before returning here. And you only stay to make a full recovery, economically and emotionally, before you’re out on your way again.”
“Has it never occurred to you that it might be the other way around? That I might go away to save myself, because you behave the way you do? That I really want to be with you but that you’re making it impossible? Just what did you do to me now?”
Sliding down to the floor off the bed, she sat down with her head in her hands, rubbing her forehead.
“You’re infuriating me, just like you’ve always done. I was going to show you the door. And I wanted to make it absolutely clear, that’s all. I may have lost my temper a bit, and I apologize for that, but at least it ought to show you how I feel.”
“What do you mean, every time?”
“You say the same, every time I return here. You do the same, every time I return here. And it just gets worse. At least in the beginning you didn’t jump on me immediately after coming back. You gave me a couple of days of tenderness and love before that jealousy of yours kicked in.”
“I never wanted to hurt you. It’s all those guys you’re after, I just can’t stand it. I can’t stand thinking about what they’re doing to you.”
“I can’t stand thinking what you’re doing to me. That’s much worse than anything they’ve ever done, because it is you I love! If I hadn’t loved you I would never have returned to you at all after the first time.”
Getting up and leaving the room, she opened a window and stood naked in front of it to let the cool breeze dry her body, still sticky with sweat from the ordeal.
There was a knock on the door. Sheridan, she thought. Going over to open, she remembered being naked at the last minute, and threw a robe over herself.
Sure enough, it was Sheridan. He looked at her expressionlessly, then sighed. “So you’ve done it again?” he asked. It didn’t quite sound like a question.
“Didn’t you get on the bus? I saw you get on the bus?”
“I got on, and I got off at the station and walked back. I needed some time to think, and I figured the two of you might as well. If I had known you’d jump on her straight away this time I would have run instead.”
“Tell me I’m not as bad as she thinks!”
“I can’t tell you that. You lost your temper often. Too often. Sometimes she would come crying to me for a ticket immediately afterwards, and sometimes I would give it. But I didn’t want to talk to you about it. Honestly, I can’t say which one of you carries the most blame. You both suck at relationships. You really do. You are too jealous and too bad-tempered yourself , and She is… well, She is as She is. Flighty. It’s a bad combination. It was never meant to be.”
“It doesn’t matter now. It’s over now.”
“You definitely managed to scare her off. The only surprising thing to me is that it took this long.”
“I didn’t realize it would work that way. I never thought myself abusive. Not in the least bit. But every time She came here I would think to myself: ‘This time must be the end of it’, and in a way it seemed fit to me, making it end the same way it started. I didn’t think it was wrong. Not the first time at least. I mean, I always felt that She instigated it by making me feel the way She made me feel. I always blamed Her for it.”
“I know you did – but it is a bad excuse. Especially after so many times. Did it never occur to you that you repeated the pattern?”
“No. I always thought we’d avoided disaster the times She chose to stay, and I always felt that it was the end when She left, and when She returned anyway… I guess I thought it hadn’t been as bad as I thought since she still wanted to return.”
“You were wrong. You were terribly wrong.”
“How much harm did I cause Her?”
“Difficult to say. You never technically caused Her much physical harm, but emotionally I cannot answer your question. Only She can, and She’s gone now. Gone for good I believe. I hope so.”
“Do you think She’ll change her mind this time?”
“No. She told me this was the last attempt. She never said something like that before. Before, she’d just say that She’d have to go away for a while. She never made it sound final. But this time She did.”
The apartment felt empty after Sheridan’s departure. Every little thing that She had left lying around there over time was gone now. There was only her own stuff left, and as it turned out, they didn’t even fill out half the space.
The thought came back to her again. Grabbing a rucksack, stuffing some things into it and just disappearing for good. Never to return.
Opening the window she looked down into the park. A frog, or perhaps two, were croaking in the distance. Probably by the lake.
The lake that wasn’t much of a lake. More of a swampy mud-hole full of reeds. Calling it a lake was an exaggeration. It’d be a hyperbole if she were to use it in a poem. But she had never written poems about lakes, only about Her.
“I could write about her,” she thought to herself, “to keep her with me somehow, despite everything!”
And then she stared out of the window. “I could drown in that lake,” she thought, “but what good would it do anybody?”