I could sense it, your happiness. It made me drift away, and I told myself that was as it should be. I closed my eyes and let your memories fade out like dreams. And all the while, my thoughts were divided between stasis and why it is that some people stand out in a sea of blurred images, sharp and visible only to a few others, emotional markers that show us that some of our decisions are the right ones.
I have not asked you why you sought me out again; part of me does not want to know the answer. My cynical self, my tired self, knows that it is because I am still the oracle. I am the patient one, that listens with no judgement through a screen.
C died the day before you came back. I spent five hours straight crying, more than I would or had done for any person. Some would say this was nothing, this death. But the death of any-thing which is innocent of the weight of a lifetime of self-awareness, bad decisions or guilt just causes more pain to those of us who are burdened by them. Maybe it is because we wish to be as simple as them. Maybe it is because good souls are always the first to depart, good flesh the first to return to the earth. The Japanese understand the wisdom and innocence of animals, and I think of C now, as some ghostly maneki-neko sitting in my window, beckoning in good fortune.
Your turmoil brings you back. She is pulling you this way and that, hurting you in a way that hurts me. I am not sure if you are telling me everything or treading carefully, out of fear that I may be dismissive. We both know that you disappeared as much as I drifted away. You have even apologised to me, something I was not expecting or even wanted, but it touches me that you did. I am light about it, waving it away. I am not sure why it affected me so. I scold myself for my sensitivity, but part of me wishes you had never come back; you see, I could not bear it if you left again.
We talk almost every day. I tease you for changing your profile picture on a near daily basis. I put in a request for something a bit French existential author, you in black and white, preferably smoking. You delight me by showing a picture of yourself in monochrome, wrapped in a coat and smoking, like one of my favourite photos of Albert Camus by Henri Cartier-Bresson. You have only seen my face and legs, the latter only because I was showing you my shoes. They’re quite magnificent, you say. Technically known as ‘leave them on shoes’. You won’t say fuck in this context to me, I suspect because I went too far the last time we spoke. I hadn’t meant to, but my own frustrations got the better of me. You said it felt like being unfaithful. I felt terrible, apologised immediately and offered to go. You said the problem was you liked it. Then you said don’t go, so I stayed and we spoke for six hours that night.
I told you on Christmas about the story I wrote for you. I always meant to be honest, but I didn’t know how to say it. And when you left, it seemed natural to let it fade away too, only to be discovered by lonely readers feeling the same ache. I don’t know what made me tell you. Maybe it was because I felt close enough to you, that night, messaging you in a dark cold gar-den whilst half-drunk on champagne and whisky, wishing I had a cigarette. There was no doubt you were surprised. I think you were touched. I don’t want to pry too much, or ask what you thought. It was my gift to you. I tell you that you are the subject, but that the emotion comes from a couple of other relationships. This is true, and not true. It started out that way, but you pervaded even these memories. A poet, on reading it, humorously remarked that he didn’t know if it was a story or a slap in the face.
We talk about your books, you show me a sweet poem you wrote and tell me about the story you are working on. You think like a child sometimes, simply and beautifully. I tell you I would read to you, a book from my childhood called The Phantom Tollbooth. You say you would like that. Words are intimacy, remember. You have read me, and I have read you. You are a complex man in a complex situation, and for all that, you produce things of perfect clarity. I find it ironic that you are the one that gives me perfect clarity when I write, but perhaps it is appropriate. Even a storm has its calm centre.
You say you can’t remember the last time you were happy. Or if happiness is something you will ever have. You seem to think you don’t deserve it, like somehow the bad things you think you are and have done mean that you should be denied it. And yet you confide that what you want is simplicity, no games, just love. You make me want to cry in frustration. I want to shake you and make you see that we are all flawed, permanently and deeply. We are complex and our situations are difficult. But happiness is not difficult. We can be all these things, and still be happy, and loved. You walked out on something that couldn’t be fixed, and now you’re trying to stay with someone you are trying to fix even though you know, deep down, you can’t. You cling to the brief and small periods of brightness she gives you in the hope it will sustain you through the next downpour. Your guilt is eating you alive, and even though I’ve never felt your face in front of me, I can still feel your sadness.
I offer you the only thing I can. I tell you that you can be vulnerable with me, that you can breathe with me. I want you to feel safe with someone, because I feel like you want it, that you need it. I know that to be that upset is to feel like you are holding your breath. You say that you don’t know whether you are coming or going. I know what it feels like, the confusion of who you are, what you are doing, what is right and wrong versus what you wish for, deep inside where you cannot tell anyone else. We live our whole lives making mistakes, becoming more scared, not knowing when the right moment is, or who the right person is to say yes to. We flip through the retrospect, regretting our missed chances.
I make the mistake of telling you that if you were free and you were attracted to me, I would pursue you. To my surprise you say you would do the same. I angrily dismiss you, saying you are telling me what I want to hear; you say this isn’t true –as if! –and part of me wants to believe it. The other part of me can’t believe it. I have always thought of this as one-sided. This is what I am afraid of. But I wouldn’t hurt you for the world, and it scares me that for someone I haven’t met, I understand you as well as I understand myself. It confuses me that I should want someone as much as I want you, without knowing your real touch, only sensing it. I tell myself to kill my feelings, bury them deep in the dead part of my heart before they hurt me so much I will not be able to look in the mirror out of self-loathing.
I do not know why I cannot tell you anything but the truth, but this is a lie. I told you, that Christmas night, that I could never write about you again. But you bring out in me the best and worst of all my feelings and memories, their most gorgeous and most painful highs and lows. I write because I cannot hear your voice, because I cannot touch you, because you be-long to someone else. I can make one promise to you: all the words I write for you, belong only to you now and no other.
But this is a lie.
About the Contributor
Tomoé Hill lives and writes in Kent. Her most recent work has been in The Stockholm Review, Open Pen and Minor Literature(s).
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho - Sappho
What could represent poetic loss with all its beauty and sadness better than the removal of words? The reader must fill those spaces with meaning whilst at the same time acknowledging the impact of their absence.
More from Issue Six:
- Give Sorrow Words by Anna Vaught
- Pull me in by Melissa Fu
- Variations on Girl with a Red Balloon by Tessa Torgeson
- Written in Advance by Nathan Fidler
- Mrs Fox by Marian Womack
- Tomorrow by Vivienne Burgess
- The Kulaks Of Chelsea by Tadhg Muller
- Some Kind Of Happiness by Heidi James
- Dust Covers and Margins by Jennie E. Owen
- Sitting, Standing, Mending by Alison Jean Lester
- Ghosts by Catherine Mitchell
- And I was filled with such delight by Catherine Edmunds