9. December – All About Eve Nottingham, December 1996.
A short story.
This feels true. It isn’t, of course. I know that. She would know that. The details are all wrong and nostalgia and memory aren’t the same thing. But you don’t know that. All you need to know is that once upon a time we tried again. Failed again.
I think it must be the time of year; it had started in late Autumn. Back then we were two chronically shy souls tentatively finding each other; the falling leaves marking our own inexorable falling in love. There was an awkwardness between us, somehow in us, at first which held a certain naïve charm. An innocence. I don’t know, maybe we were just foolish kids. It had ensured that those beginnings had run on from October into December, two months of careful courtship – our painfully slow reaching for each other as old fashioned as that word implies.
So this time of year always brought it back, the magical blaze of the beginning sustained over those months that ran from fireworks to fairy lights – the world alive with lights in the darkness.
It had ended a handful of years later in the same span of months; still those clear, crisp skies, and the aging sun hung low, but now with a snap and bite to the wind. Still discernibly Autumn but withering into Winter.
And now here I was, lost and lonely, reaching for her again across the years, looking for what we’d once had. Choosing to be blind to the reasons why it had failed the first time, the second time, all of the times. I reached for the phone, dialled a number. The brief silence before the dial tone sounded was enough to give me pause and I hung up, put the phone down again, picked up a bottle of cheap red wine and poured another glass.
Eventually I reached again for the phone. Dialled a number.
She had stayed for the weekend as usual – it had become our habit over the past six months. She’d even stayed on Sunday night which was less common as it meant an early start for her long drive back south to make it to work on Monday morning. Neither of us could have known for certain that it was our last night together, lying there squeezed together on my single bed. If we had would it have been different ? Would we have made love, reconciled to the end and spending those last moments lost in each other ? Perhaps we’d have talked, spent the time making sure we were right that this was the end, that there wasn’t some way we could make it work that we’d missed ?
I don’t think we’d have talked. We’d never spent our time together talking, never found a way to open ourselves up honestly and ask for what either of us needed. We wrote, that was what we did. Even in those beginnings we wrote to each other, exchanging letters in person, the sender waiting nervously as the recipient read. It was the only way we found to express ourselves. The next day would bring a reply – a conversation played out over days, in slow motion, that might have taken minutes if we’d been able to break the silence. Perhaps we imagined ourselves characters in one of the Austen novels we’d been studying. Maybe we were just foolish kids.
Things had briefly flared again in those last months, occasionally a spark catching flame in the dying embers, but ultimately turning to ash. Picking our way back across familiar ground felt good at first, a small reminder of the rush of being sixteen and falling headlong into first love. But we weren’t sixteen this time. Besides, even when we had been the evanescent rush hadn’t sustained us once that initial thrill had passed. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not denying the truth of what we felt that first time: it was something extraordinary. You only fall first once and we fell so hard we were left gasping for air. But this time ? Could it be taking our breath away again ? Were we just clinging on to the feeling of being in love or were we really in love ? That I even wondered seemed to suggest an answer.
She left before dawn as I slept.
When I got up I found that she’d left a letter. Carefully placed where it couldn’t be missed. A letter to say all of things that we couldn’t say. Just like in the beginning, just like always. It was a letter of the future, talking of all the things she would do, all the places she would go, all the dreams she still had. She wanted to move on with her life and was asking if I wanted to come along.
I knew that I didn’t.
I knew but it broke my heart all the same.