I’m trying to lose us – the old us. I’m trying to lose us the only way I know how. My fingers scurry the landscapes of his flesh, looking for signposts that will lead me out of Regret.
His body is my map. He has shown me the best roads to get to the centre of Forget, and I’ve driven steady for the last couple of months but every now and again you appear in my lane. I never hit the brakes on time. It’s all a crushing mess.
Tonight I’m old songs and brittle bones. A good chorus will split me clean in two. I’m humming a tuneless melody to chase you from my mind, but you tiptoe all around my senses.
The sky is an impenetrable dark blue and I’m shaking lyrics off me onto Fleet Street’s pavements. They’re lodged in the places I forgot about: the nape of neck, the back of my knees and on my elbows. I unstring a lyric from the bottom of my foot and who else but Etta James? She wails into the night and I see you slow dance in the patterns of my cigarette smoke.
We start here, at the train station. You’re lost in this place that is nothing-in-particular. Industrial buildings flatten out into stretches of fields and farms – it is neither city nor country side – but somewhere in-between.
You’re asking for directions and wrestling with your backpack. Your hair is long: two thick plaits that fall below your waist. When you walk past me I catch your scent, and as I watch you leave I can’t put out that heat that burns holes through my cheeks.
Perhaps I’ve willed it into being with the constant day dreams of you, but we have ended up in the same house, and I no longer notice how secluded Swan Gove feels.
This evening Stacey has us cornered in the kitchen. Stacey, the insomniac housemate with a taste for the supernatural and a habit of twirling her hair when she speaks. You pick out all spades from her deck of cards: an ace for your past, a two for your present, and a four for your future.
‘You know what the Queen of Spades means round here right?’ you laugh, high cheekbones raising into your eyes and a faint dimple appearing on your right cheek.
We get drunk in an old man pub, avoiding old men stares. Tonight we’re stripped of hints and innuendos. Our friendship is spilling out and stepping into something else. Your lips brush against my ear as your whisper uncurls.
‘We should really give them something to look at,’ you say, tilting your head towards the table closest to us.
You hold my face in your hands and run your thumb across my bottom lip. When you kiss me for the first time, you don’t close your eyes and there is something ravenous about the way you stare, as if you could consume me entirely if you wished.
This is where you fall in love and it comes out like a hiccup. The evening has pulled all the colours from the place and stringed it across the sky. You’ve cut your hair into a bob that hangs just below your chin, and you’re wearing dark purple lipstick that makes your mouth look like a bruise.
Tonight we’re room service, laughter and stolen stares. When you say ‘I love you’, we bite into the silence as if it’s a new taste, trying it out on our tongues and swallowing cautiously.
I string my I LOVE YOUs around your ankles and pull you to the foot of the bed. You guide my hands to your inner thighs. I hear you inhale and give way. Your breath is hot against my skin and your teeth sink into my shoulder blade.
We’re tracing my childhood through the landscape. There are homemade stools and cardboard signs posing as corners shops on the sides of the streets, and drivers ignore the traffic lights as 4×4 pump music into the humid air.
Tonight I’m stuffed with secrets and chapatis. We’re at a bar. You’ve brought a necklace with the map of Uganda. It rests against your chest. You have wine stained lips and you chuckle as you mouth your I LOVE YOU across the pool table. It matters who knows here.
The water is asleep, but the earth is slowly trying to swallow up all the buildings, with the trees that scratch at bricks in the wind. They have climbed up into the hills. The cathedral is on heaven’s gates, occasionally peering down through the clouds towards us.
Today we are canoes and oars. Today we are second-hand book stores and picnics by gravestones. Today we’re long held kisses and climbing crumbling castles in never-ending fields. Today we’re leaking secrets. Today it doesn’t matter who knows.
The roads are steep and winding. The streets have funny names that slide underneath my tongue and will not come out right. There are more hills than shopping malls and houses have kennels.
Tonight it does matters who knows. The air is suffocating and I’m finding it hard to think. Your Dad is kind eyes but compressed lips. Your Mum stares at her shoes and asks to have a word, in private, but you just carry on. I’m not sure when you stop talking but I know that something is broken.
We’ve made a home at the end of Fallow Field. You collect vinyl records, vintage hats and books that you never read. When you get drunk you put on a vinyl and dance around our small living room.
Tonight you’re wearing a velvet, off-the-shoulder blue dress, which falls below your knees. Your hair is in pin curls that drop to your shoulders and your fringe is swept up from your forehead, with a beauty spot drawn on your left cheek.
We should probably talk about some things, but lately I’ve been losing words. Dropping them in long conversations with old friends or at nightclubs and I haven’t any spare left-overs for you.
We’re listening to Etta James and you’re trying to connect the only way you know how. Your back is against the door frame, your hips move to the song and your free hand slides the dress higher with every movement. Tonight, you’re slow dance, cigarette smoke and a waiting heartbreak.
I’m looking out the plane when it comes, and this time I am certain. I’m watching the clouds, waiting for a signal. You have one hand on my lap, and the other hand is scrolling through old pictures of us on your phone. Perhaps it has something to do with being no-way-in-particular, but when you kiss me with your eyes closed, I know that I’m going to leave you.
Today we’ve consumed with a greed the narrow streets and arching bridges. The churches for dead saints with stained glass, that dot the horizon. The Plazas with statues’ that stand still as Gondolas pass by in the water.
The water here is alive. It exhales onto the pavements where old couples on benches memorise the colour of the sky. One day the water might sneeze flooding everything in sight, but not tonight. Not tonight.
Tonight you’re sweat, silk and hotel soap bars. Tonight you hold me between your thighs with a new desperation that is close to a plea. Tonight you’ll try to patch us back together with wet kisses, but something will be lost and you won’t notice it sink as we stare at the Bridge of Sighs.
When I say it, you pretend not to hear, but your mouth tightens around its edges and your breathing has sped up. You form words that get stuck in your gums, and your chin twists as you try to push them out. Nothing comes.
I’ve let go of you. Bit by bit. I dumped the smell of you on the bridge to the Docklands. Those phrases you would use when you spoke in your sleep, I left them in a nightclub in Shoreditch.
Somewhere in Bethnal Green, a stranger will slip over the feel of your skin. I scrapped it off my finger tips on the back of a bus stop and I dropped your voice inside a broken guitar at the Deptford High-Street market.
Tonight I’m free. He is firm hands, whispers and imploring eyes. I think he has kissed whatever remains of you off of my flesh, but when he curls himself around me for the night, there you are.
About the Contributor
Sanya is a London-based short story writer, poet and Blues enthusiast. She is currently undertaking a year-long publishing programme with Spread the Word, as well as working on a collection of short stories.
The Other Side of Paradise - Stacey-Ann Chin
Poetic, beautiful and tragic all in one. The story follows Chin from her childhood in Kingston, Jamaica and ends with her eventual move to New York city. Through-out the book she tackles sexism, racism and homophobia. Abandoned by both parents, and surrounded by people that consistently take from her, this is a struggle not so much in finding herself, but laying claim to who is she. The book is gritty and there are some parts that are hard to stomach, but these are cushioned in with moments of humour and over-all I think the memoir is well constructed. I chose it because the book consistently deals with loss, in its many variations. There is also no sugar coating. Although Chin writes beautifully, she tackles some harrowing themes in a way that will make any reader feel uncomfortable. Because they were uncomfortable. I think this is why I particularly liked the memoir.
More from Issue Four:
- Ghosted by Max Dunbar
- Daisies by Sadie Nott
- Rasp by Hazem Tagiuri
- Greenwood by Clyde Liffey
- Exit Vania by Myriam Frey
- Cwtch by Jane Roberts
- Starfish by Lorette C. Luzajic
- Awshukh; Disease by Dipika Mukherjee
- Gabriel by Hannah Stevens
- Footprints in the Snow by Louise Mangos
- Changing Rooms by Ian Dudley
- Crow-Light by Sean Burn