Her Absence

Hey you.

I know it’s late. Or at least it is for now; you’re probably reading this in the morning, wondering what was so important that I had to call you so many times tonight. Last night. This is confusing. It’d be a lot easier if you were online to chat to. Why aren’t you online? You’re always online!

I hate you being so far away.

Ok, full disclosure: I may have been drinking tonight. “When haven’t you?” I’m sure you’re thinking. Well as it happens I’ve been cutting back of late. There are a ridiculous number of calories in beer apparently and I’m trying to lose a little of the weight I’ve put on since moving back home. I’m putting my weight gain down to lack of exercise while drinking; there’s just not enough space between the bars compared to where we live. Where we lived. If we were still back in the old flat I’d have probably walked my nascent beer gut off by now. I can almost hear you let out a derisory snort at that. You’re probably right: I was getting a little lazy towards the end of our time at uni. It’s nice sometimes to pass on the clubbing and just settle in the corner of a bar for a night and chat shit until kicking out time, isn’t it?

I know you’re less keen on that than I. “Old before your time,” you said, right?

Anyhow. I was making an exception tonight and having a few drinks with an old friend in town before the party in some of the old haunts. I was disappointed to find that a few of them have undergone the obligatory attempts at gentrification since I left. They’ve had a go at trying to make things look a bit more modern, which (the logic of this escapes me entirely) involves making them look a more rustic. They all used to be typical British pubs but now they look like sets in a period drama with an ersatz rural look. Everything too impeccably placed. Blackboards everywhere. You’d probably like them. There are still some that, thankfully, have retained their old, grim sort of charm and haven’t altered a lick since I left. We mostly stayed in those, getting lost in memories.

I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time with Jake since I left for uni. Things feel a little more awkward between us than they were Back in the Day. We don’t have all that much in common any more. The things that used to unite us when we were young and drunk and stupid – the music, the movies, the sense of hatred for this fucking town – seem to have grown old and stale. We don’t listen that trance stuff we used to go mental for and whereas I gravitated towards more indie and rock he started listening to hip hop. I guess that just happens as you spend more and more time apart; you don’t influence each other as much. And of course the big, yawning chasm that has opened up between us is the fact that he stayed here after college, choosing to work for his dad instead. I can’t slag the place off any more; his disdain for the place has ebbed away. Anyone can talk shit about their home – it’s their prerogative. Outsiders don’t have that right. It’s like we’re no longer on the same side and so we don’t have the trust we used to. Untended that tends to wither and die. So all we did today was remember things together, nestling beneath the comforting old blanket of shared nostalgia.

Sorry I’m rambling a bit aren’t I? Long story short: it took a few drinks to break the ice. We were already half cut when we left the last pub, and then we smoked a couple of joints in the park. Just like we did back when we were still in school. It was a bit tragic – we’re a little old to still be doing that, but we just chalked it up to old time’s sake. Also to be frank we were low on options: Jake still lives with his folks. As, I suppose, do I now. It was a good bonding exercise, as tinged with sadness as it was, but we may have overdone it somewhat. Jake figured that being heroically would be the best way to endure the banality of the provincial summer BBQ. Well, he didn’t quite put it like that. Sadly he is not as eloquent as I.

Lower that eyebrow missy – any higher and it’ll fly away.

It was late afternoon by the time we made it to the house. I can only imagine how red our eyes must have been when we knocked on Mrs Whittaker’s door. If she noticed how messed up we looked stood swaying on her doorstep she was nice enough to keep it to herself. She invited us in and we headed through the house to join the party. The whole impromptu barbecue party that breaks out in every third garden across Britain the moment the sun dares to peak from behind a cloud is not usually my scene, as you know, but the ‘rents employed all sorts of emotional blackmail to get me to promise I’d go along. The novelty of having me home doesn’t seem to have worn off yet. They pestered me until I caved and agreed to pop along after the pub, with the intention of leaving as soon as was polite.

The scene in the garden was exactly as you’d expect. A typical English barbecue. You know the type: paper plates and kitchen towels, ‘red sauce’, Tesco basics bread rolls with something black that may have once resembled meat nestled awkwardly in between. No, wait, hang on: you probably wouldn’t have been to those kinds of parties, would you? You poncy southerners probably nibble on quail eggs and discuss culling the poor whilst dipping you focaccia in hummus or something similarly ludicrous.

I miss hearing you get mad at me.

For your benefit then dearest I’ll give you the run down. In the middle of their terraced garden, between two shoulder height red brick walls on a recently trimmed lawn stood a gazebo. Beneath that, circling a pale green plastic garden table were a scattering of matching garden chairs (with a few wooden dining room chairs mixed in to make up numbers) filled with the same friends from the local pub that have frequented these things since time immemorial. I immediately recognised the Potters lurking by the wall on their own. They live a few doors up from my mum and dad. Nice folks: they looked after our dog whenever we went on holiday and watered the plants and whatnot. They tend to hang around in the background at parties, speak when spoken to and leave relatively early. Over ‘helping’ Mr Whittaker and my dad manage the barbecue was Ted, who’s contribution was in a purely advisory capacity, whilst his wife drank too much Rosé sat by the table and rambled at anyone who’d listen about how much her daughter was just like her. The fact her daughter had clearly decided to spend her day elsewhere didn’t seem to make any odds. I decided right off the bat that I wouldn’t get trapped by her under any circumstances. Then I spotted my dad’s mate Eddie under the gazebo doing his best to stress test a lawn chair to breaking point. To be fair he’s one who does change: he somehow seems to defy the odds and get larger every time I see him. Eddie is the kind of guy who makes me doubt the theory of evolution. I mean, what evolutionary advantage could you possibly get from being that fucking lazy? And yet he has bred. His genes will live on.

Sorry, I know you hate it when I judge people. You should meet him someday though so you can tell me how right I am.

Anyway, there were plenty of familiar faces. The barbecue itself was at the end of the garden at one side of their wooden shed, with the gate leading out to the back street at the other. As it was unlikely anyone would be entering or leaving that way I decided that this little alcove was the spot where Jake and I would take up residence whilst we got over the weed. I’d barely had time to suggest this to Jake before my Mum had appeared from behind us to started fussing over me. She asked me what was wrong with my eyes. I pleaded hayfever and she had an antihistamine and a glass of water in my hands quicker than you could call, “bullshit.” She’s been running a small pharmacy out of her handbag for as long as I can remember. Once she’d tended to me she looked at Jake and asked if the pollen was getting to him as well. Instead of taking this obvious excuse he claimed to have a summer cold instead and started melodramatically sniffling. She must have known at least one of us was lying, but she didn’t let on. I think she just ignores any information that might incriminate me in some way. I’ve come to terms with the fact I’ll always be an unruly kid to her, however many letters I add to the end of my name.

We had a quick chat with her about where we’d been in town, which inevitably led to her taking us on the traditional guided tour of memory lane. She explained how the pub we’d just left had been called something else back in her day and used to run a reggae night she was fond of. I never knew she was into reggae: I suppose I just assumed she was into Patsy Cline forever. You never really think about your parents being young and tearing it up, do you? Though I suppose given how straight laced yours are you wouldn’t have to worry about that. I don’t imagine your dad was much of a punk before he joined law school, and somehow I can’t see your mum necking acid in her youth. The idea of your mum tripping makes a weird sort of sense though; it would explain those oddly psychedelic cushions all over your living room. I bet when you go out she just gets melted on mescaline and just stares at them for hours at a time, finding the meaning of the universe in some luminous stitched swirl.

Now, you’re either giggling at that or not talking to me for a while. Or should I say still not talking to me.

Once we’d been given a local history lesson we managed to pick up a couple of spare chairs and some beers and made it over to our spot in the corner. I gave my dad a wave, but he was too busy monitoring the temperature of the coals to pay me much attention. I was somehow just about keeping it together. I think. I was determined to be as anti-social as possible and keep our lack of sobriety a secret until an appropriate time to exit. But sociability was inevitably forced upon me when Mrs Whittaker’s son Johnny came over. I’ve never quite got the measure of that guy. He’s incredibly geeky and odd, a keen war gamer and card collector and all that. And yet he dresses like Patrick Bateman and has managed to climb pretty high in the council for a man his age. I just don’t understand how he functions so well in a work environment: he seems so awkward in social situations. I can’t remember what we talked about: I think Jake had a Batman t-shirt on so we were definitely talking about Batman films at one point. He just rambled on about it until I realised I was too baked and too bored to pretend to be interested and so he shuffled off.

He kinda reminds me of Ben, y’know? And you know how much I liked that guy. I know you’re thinking, “that’s because he hit on me that one time.” And that may form part of the reason I dislike him, I admit. But seriously, the man was such a cock. He must be – you don’t walk into an internship a couple of steps below your dream job without having an innate dickishness to you. Arseholes always land on their feet. So to speak. I can’t believe you said he was cute. You always had the worst taste in men.

Lucky for me, I guess.

Shortly after interruption to our peace and quiet came another. Our next tormentor’s name was Mike. We weren’t introduced; I think he just saw my longish hair, assumed I liked rock music and wanted to chat to us. I say to us, but it was really at us. He seems sound enough but he’s the kind of guy who’ll tell you that he used to be in a band within about five minutes of meeting you. Which is exactly what he did. I think they were called White something. I can’t quite remember now. That’s going to bug me all night. Apparently they were kind of a cheesy rock/metal band. Y’know, like Iron Maiden, Guns and Roses and all those 80s guys. I imagine he once had a mullet. Probably a proud blond mullet the colour of the sun that would windmill around his gurning visage as he played some, “tasty licks.” Between the roll ups he seemed to like to have perpetually sticking out of his mouth he gave us an extended history of ‘back in the day’. He seemed to be talking through us, explaining how they scored a support slot touring with, “Priest” with this far off glaze in his eyes. At first I put that down to the cans of Stella he was hammering, but there was something more to it than mere drunkenness. He spoke of those times as if they were just yesterday; like the intervening years had never happened. Like he’d just woken up 20 or so years later and was yet to come to terms with it.

He seemed to catch himself rambling on now and again and stop to ask us something, but his lack of interest in our response was barely concealed. He asked if I was in a band, and I explained the situation with the guys. Another thing I’ve left behind. I can’t believe how much I’ve lost at times. We were getting good, y’know? That track we recorded in our flat (the one you said sounded like, “a drunk Abba with fuzz pedals,” you wee heathen) got some decent coverage on a few websites. And now I’m a million miles from all of them. That hurts almost as much as being away from you. I can’t help but feel if we were all still in the same place everything would be so much easier to stitch back together.

He asked if I was planning to form a new band. I pointed out we hadn’t technically broken up. I think he was trying to convince me to let him manage this hypothetical new band. Or, god forbid, let him play in it. Can you imagine me playing with a late 40s hair metal guitar wizard? Jesus, that would be the worst thing ever. I quickly tried to change the subject. Jake must have noticed how annoyed I was getting because he piped up to talk with Mike about the music scene in the area. But still he seemed only half there when talking about anything but the old days. He seemed alright and all but I was glad when he shuffled off to pick at a plate of barbecued chicken and talk at someone else.

When he’d gone me and Jake just looked at each other like, “what was that about?” We decided that before anyone else could attempt to lock us into another awkward conversation we should make a quiet exit for another joint. I was still regretting the last smoke we had before arriving, but if felt like the thing to do. I guess I was feeling bummed out after finding myself baked off my face and cornered by Mr I-Coulda-Been-A-Contender with his greying hair boring me shitless with his stories of band life from almost three decades ago. It gave me a powerful craving to get messed up. I know you’d have disapproved of that, and if I’m honest that’s part of the reason I did it. There has to be some silver lining to being this far away from you.

There’s a secluded alley round the back of the Whittaker’s street which we slunk off to and sparked one up. Jake was freaking out a bit; the fear had dropped on him like a lead cloud. I think it was Mike that brought it on: I could feel it too. I pointed out being more stoned probably wouldn’t help but he insisted it would chill him out a bit. You’d think after all these years he’d been smoking he’d know better, but that’s really not Jake’s style. He’s a bit like you and Sambuca.

I hope you meet him one day. I think you’d really like him.

Lord knows what we talked about at that stage; most likely those random stoned non-sequiters that seem hilarious or incisive at the time but utterly ludicrous shortly after. You know the ones: I know you don’t smoke much these days but you must remember. Like that time at Gaz’s when we smoked that epic long joint that he put like sixty quid’s worth of gear in. We spent ages babbling about if fish ever felt cold in the sea (because the sea is so cold, remember?) and we decided we’d make our fortunes designing coats for fish. Do you remember? You were giggling so much on the floor I thought you were actually going to wet yourself. I guess it’s not quite so hilarious written down.

Do you remember how that night we slept entwined in a sleeping bag next to the bay windows staring up at the moon? I do. I remember how the moonlight glimpsed off your cheeks as you smiled. And I remember being amazed at how incredible it was that in the infinite reaches of space and time I should find myself there and then. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as lucky as I did as I fell asleep with my arms wrapped around you. The odds of finding something so perfect seemed infinitesimal. Lottery win after lottery win after lottery win; I had a billion winning tickets pulled tight to my chest.

Sorry, I promised myself I wouldn’t get too sentimental.

When we got back to the party we were utterly ruined. Jake was barely able to open his eyelids; he’d become a grinning husk shuffling behind me. I was a bit embarrassed by him, truth be told. I know I wasn’t exactly playing it sensible but he was acting like we were still 16. Thankfully everyone seemed to choose not to see him. Apart from Ted who knew the score and took a break from passing on his wisdom regarding heat distribution to pick on him and freak him out. I managed to shoo him away with the promise of skinning up for him later on. I never did though. I can’t be arsed wasting good weed on arseholes like that anymore. If I had all the ‘twos’ and ‘foursies’ back from every tool who had jumped in on a smoking session uninvited I could get baked for a year.

I was hoping we’d get a bit of peace after that. Me and Jake went and loaded up a couple of paper plates with semi-blackened burgers and sausages as soon as the barbecue was clear of people then grabbed another 4 pack of some shit lager or other and bunkered down in the corner once more. But our peace wasn’t to last: no sooner had I sat down than I spotted an ex of mine. Amy. She must have arrived while we were out smoking. Remember me telling you about her? I’m sure you do: you certainly sounded jealous enough whenever I mentioned her. I kept telling you that she was just an adolescent relationship. Yes, it lasted 4 years, but those years from fourteen to eighteen are just a warm up for when things get real, aren’t they?

She’s with someone now, anyway. Amy. They’re engaged. I was planning on avoiding her as long as possible since I’d moved back home and I was really hoping not to see her at that point. Making small talk with someone when you’ve seen each other naked is painful enough without being baked as well. But I made eye contact by accident and felt obliged to go sit on a dining chair and talk with her for a while under the gazebo. The sun was half way set at that point and the glow of the coals was becoming the brightest thing around. She asked me what I was up to, how my degree went. That kind of thing. I told her about us. She said you sounded wonderful and hoped that we work things out.

I can’t imagine why you got jealous of her when we first got together. She and this town are too entangled to pull apart. I felt envious of that whilst I was with her, the way she identified with a place so clearly. It’s part of her. I came to resent her for that. She became like an embodiment of this town, its avatar, to me and I wanted nothing more than to leave the place behind. You and I, we wouldn’t have that problem. You’re like me: you don’t need a town or a place to define yourself.

After our slightly awkward exchange she went to re-join her fiancée (who I want to call Keith but I might just be making that up) and I noticed that Mike had cornered Jake again. Poor guy didn’t know what to do. Even from across the garden I could see that he was on the verge of losing it, but Mike didn’t seem to notice at all. I got in between them as soon as I could and Mike switched to rambling at me instead straight off the bat, transferring the conversation from him to me without skipping a beat. I assume he noticed how Jake wasn’t really up to conversation, but carried on anyway. I guess he just wanted to talk to somebody.

“I was just telling you friend Joe about the tour we did with Priest,” he said to me with a mouth full of chicken wing. Jake was ether too stoned or couldn’t be bothered to correct him. “Fucking crazy times man. We were only with them two weeks, but I could tell you some stories mate. You probably wouldn’t believe me.”

So he did, and he was right; I didn’t. He ticked all the expected boxes: tales of groupies and orgies and drugs a-go-go. All those old school rock and roll clichés were reeled off one by one. His eyes seemed distant and glassy as he recounted them. We could have been anybody really. I found myself wondering how many times he’d told these tales to strangers in pubs and at parties. After a while he partially answered that for me.

“I’m sorry if I’m ranting a bit guys, I barely get to talk about this stuff these days. Not since our daughter was with us anyway. It’s so quiet around the house now..”

This took me aback a little. I had no idea that he had a kid. He hadn’t mentioned it before, and in total he must have been talking to us for a good hour or so at that point, not including the break. He wasn’t dressed like a married man either. He was wearing exactly what you’d expect a middle aged rock guitarist to wear: double denim, black t-shirt, black boots and all that. But even rockers start to wear more ironed stuff when they’re married. I’m not saying all women should do the ironing before you start clubbing me with volumes of post-feminist theory, dearie. Men can iron perfectly well too. I’m just saying they’re more inclined to make the effort when there’s a woman involved. And he was a bit of a mess.

I hadn’t noticed his wife was there this until he looked in her direction after bringing up his daughter. She was sat with my mum and Mrs Whitaker on the end of the table closest to the house. After I’d spotted her I saw how she kept staring in his direction. I thought he might go up in flames under the intensity of her watchful gaze. But he was either immune or just oblivious. He kept on necking cans of Stella and chain smoking roll ups, pulling them from a seemingly bottomless tin of pre-rolled cigarettes, lighting each fresh one off the end of the last. He was just starting into a rant about the state of modern rock when she came bounding over with her arms folded. The only way she could have been more of a stereotypical northern housewife was if she had a rolling pin in her hand and rollers in her hair. You’d have loved her; I know how you loved all my ironic northernisms, or whatever you called them. But she didn’t seem remotely funny at this juncture.

“Michael,” she barked, “don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?”

“Not really, sugarplum,” he said with a crooked smile, rocking on his heels, “I think I’ve got room for a few more.”

She just stood their glaring at him. I gained a new respect for him for not falling onto his knees and begging forgiveness. Her stare seemed to have a physical weight to it.

“Don’t get too drunk, Michael. You’ve got to walk me home,” she said after a small eternity. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled under his breath as she walked away.

“That’s the trouble and strife,” he said in a terrible and inexplicable cockney accent. “Gowd bless her.” He laughed a wheezy laugh to himself for a moment. “Now she brings it up though I am out of beer. Can I get you gents anything?”

I asked him for some Stella and sent him wandering off. I looked at Jake who appeared to be shrinking into himself. He was in no state for drama. I assured him everything was fine and told him he should skin up. He told me he was in no state to walk so I got him to turn around facing the corner and I said I’d cover him. He agreed and slowly got down to business. It was quite dark now but they had a few dull garden lights on and I remembered Jake used to be good at rolling in harsh circumstances. I remember him rolling a 5 skinner in a gale by the river once, using me and our mate Brian as a windbreak.

And then a woman strolls up to me and announces she knew me when I was a kid. I was getting pretty damn sick of being talked to at the point. It doesn’t make sense to me that so many people would bother to speak to me. I know, I live here now. But I feel like I should be wearing a visitor’s pass. They say this is home, but it isn’t. It’s a place where I used to live. It feels odd that these people should know my name and treat me with such familiarity. They’re from a former life to me: they’re past tense, as I should be to them. They’re ghosts now, and ghosts shouldn’t smile at you and hand you a charred slab of meat in a floury bap.

I didn’t recognise her at first. Then she tells me she’s Kevin’s mum, and it clicks. I used to hang around that kid back in school as we were the only two players on the football team with half a brain between us. We drifted apart during college, but unlike me and Jake we never kept in touch. I can’t remember why – life just seems to work out that way, doesn’t it? People can be so important to you one minute, seemingly as vital as a pillar holding up the ceiling, and then one day they just sort of fade out of view. And somehow the structure holds. He added me on facebook a couple of years ago and that’s been the grand sum of our interaction since. I barely think about him these days. She asked me how uni had gone and what I’d been up to since I’d returned. The usual questions I’d answered a hundred times since moving home. I get the feeling I’ll be answering them until I get out of here again. I asked her how he was doing. So she told me, more frankly and in more detail than she probably would have if she hadn’t been drinking wine all night. It seems he got with a girl from the rough part of town (yes there are non-rough parts thank you very much) and fell for her. Before long he’d knocked her up and now he spent half his time struggling through a hellish on-off relationship for the sake of his little boy when they’re together and the other half trying to get access to him when they’re not. Now there seems to be a whole cast of unsavoury characters involved: her drunk stepdad, a psycho sister, another guy on the scene who’s some kind of steroid junky…the whole thing sounds like a colossal mess.

And the worst part is it seems he never made it to uni. I remember sitting on the roof of his conservatory smoking joints with him, talking about our big plans. He wanted to do a film course. He wanted to be some kind of auteur of course; I guess every film student does. But in his college courses he discovered that cinematography was the part of the process he was passionate about. Framing the perfect scene. I remember this zombie flick he made for his course; it was just a cheap played for laughs thing, as you’d expect from a college project, but I swear he’d nailed a couple of beautiful shots. The brief dramatic scenes were bathed in light just so, framed so poignantly. And then ruined by some trashed students mumbling over it.

Then he took a year out whilst I went to University. Now he runs his own one man photography business, lending his services out to anyone who’ll pay. It’s sad to think of that talent being used on nothing but his kid’s birthday parties, trying to keep the pissed up adults out of the frame.

I didn’t say any of this; I just stared in the middle distance in a sad little reverie. No words seemed to come to me. Eventually she said she’d tell him I’d been asking about him, and perhaps I’d like to catch up with him sometime? I suppose she wants him to spend more time with better influences. Try not to laugh too hard dear, believe it or not there are worse monsters in this world than I.

I said I would if he wanted to. And maybe I will. Though thinking about it makes me unbearably sad.

After she went Mike immediately made a reappearance. He must have been lurking around waiting for her to go. By the looks of things he’d taken his wife’s admonishments as a challenge. He seemed to be veering on the edge of being incomprehensibly drunk, and the look on his face suggested he was more than willing to throw himself off. He thrusted a four pack in our general direction and looked triumphant. I smiled and took one, not liking where this was going. It looked a lot like we were stuck with what would be the party’s main item of gossip, The State Mike Got In. I could almost hear the wittering the likes of my Mum and Mrs Whittaker would enjoy over this. I had no desire to be caught up in it: I’d prefer it if no one in this town ever spoke about me at all. But there he was. Jake had finished his lengthy skinning up session and was pushing 3 clumsily rolled joints into his top pocket, hoping Mike wouldn’t notice. He wasn’t that lucky.

“Planning on sparking up a few bifta’s are ya?” he said, the word ‘biftas’ forced his mouth in that alien way unfamiliar slang is. It sounded wrong coming from him and I wondered where he’d picked it up. “Go on then, light ’em up.”

Jake looked at him as if he’d asked him to do his best elephant impression. It seemed the mechanical action of rolling had given his brain something to latch onto. The paranoia had lessened: he no longer looked on the verge of a heart attack. I feared he’d say something to anger the volatile drunken creature we’d been lumbered with. I decided it would be best if I played lion tamer for a while.

“In a bit,” I said. “We can’t light up here, Mrs Whittaker is a bit…”

“-of a crusty old bitch, yeah? I get ya.” It was as if he was regressing to being an obnoxious teenager. His down with the kids act was a bit embarrassing, but I decided it would be wise to appease him given the state he was in. Which worked on one level, in that he didn’t have a meltdown. But it had the unfortunate side effect of making him so comfortable he felt able to resume his ranting about his band again. He went off on one, talking about how good they were and, as expected, how they genuinely were contenders. Then out of nowhere Jake spits;

“So how come you’re not, like, Metallica then?”

I flinched, expecting the mocking tone to be obvious. Thankfully Mike took this as an earnest question, or at least an excuse to head into the previously unmentioned maudlin part of the story.

“Well, one night we were playing Prague right. I think it was Prague…definitely somewhere like Prague. Anyway, we’re drinking this vodka we picked up in Poland, and someone bets our bassist Eddie he can’t finish this bottle. There’s, like, two thirds of it left. Of course Eddie was the real beer monster of the group and wasn’t going to turn down this bet. So he does. Glug, glug, fucking glug: down in one. Couldn’t believe it. He must have had a stomach of iron that guy, I never saw him throw up once, and he did stupid shit like that all the time. For a minute it looks like it hadn’t even affected him. We were all talking about him as if he was a superhero. But then…then it hit him. He couldn’t stand up straight. Couldn’t talk. He was just.. completely and utterly wankered. And we were up on stage in a couple of hours. So we tried everything we could: cold shower, cup after cup of coffee, a little bit of speed…nothing seemed to be working. But then, miraculously, it all comes together and he’s up. He’s not playing bass well, but a sloppy night is always going to be better than a no show, know what I mean? So we figure: yeah, that’ll do. So we take to the stage, Billy gave it a big, “hello Prague!” and we’re off.”

“30 second into our second song, Eddy stumbles sideways off the stage. His leg just goes from under him. I remember it clearly, I was watching him and he seemed to go over in slow motion. The way he landed would have been fucking hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. He lands right on his shoulder. Utterly ruins it. No chance of getting back on stage for a good 6 months the doctors say. And we couldn’t find anyone to replace him so…that was that. You don’t get two shots at something like that. Not when you fail that badly.”

“After we got back home kicked we Eddie out of the band. Which I thought was harsh, but I was outvoted two to one. And we were all so bitter about the whole thing it just wasn’t the same after that. We knew we’d blown it. One minute we’re playing in front of some decent crowds, y’know, getting out name heard, and then…it all fell apart. We all joined different bands after, but none did that well.”

He looked lost for a moment. The alcohol had clearly worn down his cheery front. But all I could think about though was the recently unearthed memory of that conservatory roof, my half-forgotten dreams…and you. I felt I needed to talk to you, to escape this madness and get in touch with something that makes sense again. I started planning my exit.

“Then I met Julie, and after a while…we had our daughter. So y’know, alls well and all that.”

I smiled, and when I turned to Jake I noticed his demeanour had softened too. Nothing like a good underdog story with a redemptive finish to cheer up fuck ups like us I guess. Then Jake asked a question,

“How old is she? Your daughter?”

The smile on Mike’s face seemed to harden into a grimace. He emptied the remaining lager from his can down his throat. “Let’s see,” he said, “she’d be…she’d probably be just a bit younger than you two.” The now empty can crushed under the pressure of his tensed hand. He threw it over his shoulder and into the neighbour’s garden.

“Oi! We’ve got bins you know!” Mr Whittaker yelled from across the garden. He laughed. An awful, borderline crazy laugh. “Sorry mate, not sure what came over me.” He cracked open another can.

Then he looked at us. “You wanna spark one of those? We can just go down the backs here. No one will miss us for five.”

I looked at Jake, and he looked at me, and I could see we both felt the same confused sort of pity that wouldn’t let us refuse. Before we know it we were in the darkness of the backstreet handing one round.

“I haven’t had one of these in years,” says Mike. “Takes me back. I had to straighten up a bit, after my daughter was born.” Jake had taken the first few draws and had his return ticket to mute town stamped for his troubles. He just nodded silently. And me, I was still trying to work out how to politely make an exit and wasn’t paying attention.

“I guess you have to when you have kids,” I said.

“Yeah, you got that right. Don’t ever have one: just have fun with your life. It’s not really worth it.”

“Ah, I’m sure you don’t mean that.”

He smiled, handing it back to me. “You’re right. I don’t. I miss her.”

“Where is she living now, then?” He ignored my question, looking a little taken aback by the strength of the weed. After a few moments he asked;

“You ever lost anyone lads?”

“I broke with my girlfriend recently actually.”

“How long were you two together?”

“A couple of years.”

“Ah, that’s nothing really. Me and my little angel have been together for around 18 now.” The way he just dismissed my loss made me surprisingly angry. I felt myself clenching my jaw as he spoke.

“I still love her.”

“Yeah? Well, that can’t be easy. It never is, losing someone.” He looked me in the eye. I could just make out the security lights reflecting in his. There was a sorrow there that snuffed out my anger.

“We were perfect together. I met her shortly after I started uni. I didn’t really want to tie myself down with a relationship, but she was so…perfect for me.”

(I do hope this doesn’t give your ego too much of a massage)

“You wanted to play the field, eh?”

“Yeah, that was the plan. But I was smitten with her. People figured we’d get bored with each other sooner or later but we lasted the whole of our courses. Being back here seems like a bad dream, y’know?”

Mike put his hand on my shoulder, which felt a little forward. But it was a sweet gesture. I don’t know whether he got where I was coming from or what I’m going through but for that moment it felt like he did. I reached up and kind of slapped my hand on his in appreciation. Then he asked:

“How come you broke up?”

And I didn’t know how to respond. How did we end up like this, Kate? Why did you leave me?

“It just…happened I guess.” That was the best I could muster. And even after that last talk in our flat, after we’d put all our things in boxes, the one where you told me you’d be moving to Edinburgh and you didn’t want me to come with you, where you told me that our years together were just some kind of hazy young phase…that’s still the only answer I can even begin to get my head around. It just happened.

“Bad things do, pal. They just do. It’s probably best not to worry about the what could have beens. They’ll eat you alive. Life goes on.” He sighed through the last part, as if he was unconvinced by his own words. It sounded trite and wrong but I could see he was trying to pass on some kind of wisdom. I think you have to really when you’ve gone through years of hurt and you see someone going through their own pain. You want to have some kind of comfort to pass on at least, some kind of small reward for enduring. But he didn’t. Not really.

After a moments silence I heard his wife shouting his name in the distance, and it quickly became obvious that the night’s main event was about to take place. And it was too late for me to drop out now. I was set to be an extra in it.

“Fuck me, can’t even have a toke in peace,” he said. But he made no effort to move. I offered the joint back to Jake, but he shook his head and kept looking at the floor, so I passed it back to Mike.

“Will she mind?”

“Oh yeah. She’ll mind.” her voice grew louder. I heard the gate open and could see her silhouette against the garden security light. She spotted us and started marching down.

“Should we get rid of it?”

“Nah, fuck it,” he said.

“What are you doing?” she yelled.

“Just talking to the boys.” He said it like he’d known us forever. “How about you, dearest?”

“Looking for you. Are you smoking?”

“It looks like I am,” he said.

“Is that cannabis?”

He didn’t respond. He was defiantly smoking away, like the baddest kid in school after being caught by the head mistress.

“Michael?”

“Cannabis?” he says, all innocent like.

“It is, isn’t it? How can you stand there doing that?”

“What do you mean?”

“After what it did to us?”

“Cannabis? What did cannabis do to us?”

“You know damn well what it did.”

“Weed hasn’t done anything to us love. Knock it off, eh? I’m just trying to unwind a bit.”

“I can’t believe you can just stand there doing drugs after what it did to-“

“-to our daughter? Come off it, you know that’s different. If it was just a bit of green she was smoking..”

“It’s all drugs. What’s the difference? It’s all the same!”

Jake shuffled slowly away into the shadows. I wished I could too but I was out in the open. Any movement I made would have been conspicuous.

“They’re not all the same though, are they? I know you’re upset love but this has nothing to do with our daughter.”

“If it wasn’t for drugs she’d still be..,” she trailed off for a moment. I could barely see her in the dark of the alley but I could hear her voice wavering as she struggled to keep talking. “And I wish you’d stop saying, “our daughter,” you can say her name you know-“

“-I know-“

“-her name was Sarah!”

“I know what my daughter’s fucking name was!”

The silence in the alley was thick enough to choke a man. Jake obviously wanted out as soon as possible but was scared rigid. Me, I didn’t know where to look. I noticed a crowd had gathered outside the Whittaker’s back garden to watch the show. The only sound to be heard was Mike’s wife’s sobs. After a few moments she walked past us, down towards the main road, without a word.

“Where are you going?” Mike asked, but she didn’t say anything. He turned to me and said, “I’ll just go and calm her down a bit and be back. You’ll still be here, yeah?”

“Uh, yeah. Sure. See you in a bit.” He set off in pursuit of his wife. And then as soon as he was gone Jake said, “I’m gonna go home, it’s all gone a bit weird.” I just nodded. I don’t know if I could have convinced him to stick around but all I could think about was trying to call you. He handed me one of the two remaining joints, gave me a meek hug and went shuffling off in the same direction the happy couple were going. I’m not sure if he knew where he was in relation to his house: he just wanted to avoid the crowd that had gathered by the gate. Me, I had no choice but to walk back up the alley and face them. It occurred to me when I was about 10 feet away from them that my Mum might still be there, and might have overheard them discussing weed loudly in the alley. Luckily she wasn’t; I’m not sure where she was but I’m assuming she went home. My Dad was there though, which means we’ll be having an interesting conversation with him sooner or later.

“What was all that about?” said Mrs Whittaker as soon as I was in earshot.

“Dunno, some kind of domestic. Something about their daughter.”

I waltzed past them as casually as I could and went and grabbed another beer on my way into the house. There was a tray of cold, miscellaneous barbecued meat no one had claimed in the kitchen so I filled a paper plate full of that and went and sat in the deserted dining room. Everyone had gone outside to catch the drama. I knew they’d all come back in now that the curtain had fallen on that, but I didn’t have the energy to walk home. So instead I nibbled on a badly burnt burger in the dark. I must have looked pretty tragic there. But all I could think of was how the taste reminded me of the kind of crap we ate at Glastonbury last year. Do you remember huddling around a camping stove trying to keep the torchlight on the burgers so we could keep an eye on them? You were too drunk to keep it steady, but you wouldn’t let anyone else do it. Inevitably they ended up like black leather, and no one would eat them. You decided to wolf them all down to make a point and made me help you out. I even pretended that they didn’t taste entirely of charcoal to aid your quest to make it seem like you hadn’t ruined them. We washed them down with gin and tonic to take the taste away.

I don’t know why I keep asking you if you remember these things: of course you do. I can’t be the only one focussing on these moments, wishing I was back there instead of stuck here alone.

After a few minutes chewing meat and bread and drifting gently through memories I decided it was time. I stuffed a couple of cans in my coat pockets and went out of the front door. I tried you on your mobile a couple of times. You’re probably in bed. Or maybe you’re out having fun. Without me. I guess I can’t complain if you are. I hope your night panned out better than mine, whatever it entailed.

I walked around to the bottom of the street and onto the main road that Mike and Jake had headed onto shortly before. I thought of how I’d told Mike I’d still be here and wondered if I should stick around. I didn’t know whether he’d actually be coming back. It sounded like quite the fierce argument was starting, but then again it seems like he really needs those booze addled talks. I suppose it’s a release, catharsis, something like that. Or maybe just a temporary distraction. I was afraid that I’d feel guilty about not being there if he turned up, so I hung on a while, though I wasn’t sure if I could handle details of Sarah’s story in this state. I tried to call you again, but you didn’t answer. So I tried again. I know you aren’t obliged to be on the other end of a phone whenever I need you. But even so I must admit I got a little angry. How could you ignore me after all we’d been through? I looked up and down the road for signs of Mike coming back. It had only been a short while and I didn’t even know which direction he’d be coming from. But the fact I couldn’t see him was enough to sway me – I had to talk to you, even if it’s like this with just me doing the talking. I guess I couldn’t bear the thought of you being out there having fun without me.

And here I am.

I don’t even know if I should send this thing. I doubt these ramblings will help anything really. I don’t even know what I’m hoping for from this. A return to dialogue, I guess. Perhaps even civil dialogue. I don’t like this place I find myself in, Kate. It’s a whole new world, and it doesn’t even bear a moment’s comparison to the one I left behind. All these people trapped here in amber…I can’t be one of them. I can feel it seeping over me, cloying at my skin, trickling down my throat. I can’t let myself be one of them. I need to go, to be, someplace else. I want to go back to how it was. You say it’s done, it’s gone, but I can’t believe that. I’m sorry I never told you how much you mean to me while I was with you. It’s true what they say about absence and the heart growing fonder. And it’s true what they say about not knowing what you have till it’s gone. All those fucking clichés parroted ad infinitum hold more truth than their sickly hallmark words deserve to. I hate that.

Is anyone else suffering like this, Kate? They must be. I can’t be the only one who’s done nothing but tumble back into the past since graduation. But everyone else seems to either be off having adventures or has waltzed into the job market as if it were an old jacket awaiting the contours of their body to just slip back into it. As if were as automatic as breathing. It isn’t that easy for me. Why is it for everyone else? And why is it for you? After all we’d shared I thought it would be at least a more little difficult for you to cast off all those days. Yet there you are in facebook pictures smiling from ear to ear as if we never happened. Employment status: works at NHS management scheme. Just like that. How do you all do it? I feel like an ant staring up at a steep hillside. In a world of giants stepping up and over it like it were no more trouble than breathing.

I’m not sure any of this is making sense anymore. This can’t be my life, Kate. I feel the promise, the potential, the possibilities ebbing away. What used to be an endless horizon seems to narrow every day. I daren’t imagine how small it could get. And all I picture when I wish for more is the place we used to be. Just let’s rewind a few months and plan things better. It can be done – I know you think otherwise. But if we want it enough, if we try hard enough, we can claw our way back. I know we can.

Call me tomorrow. Today. Whenever you read this. Talk to me. Please.

Yours. Always yours.

M

x

Her Absence

By

Jamie R. Jones

Text copyright © 2015 Jamie R Jones

All Rights Reserved

Hey you.

I know it’s late. Or at least it is for now; you’re probably reading this in the morning, wondering what was so important that I had to call you so many times tonight. Last night. This is confusing. It’d be a lot easier if you were online to chat to. Why aren’t you online? You’re always online!

I hate you being so far away.

Ok, full disclosure: I may have been drinking tonight. “When haven’t you?” I’m sure you’re thinking. Well as it happens I’ve been cutting back of late. There are a ridiculous number of calories in beer apparently and I’m trying to lose a little of the weight I’ve put on since moving back home. I’m putting my weight gain down to lack of exercise while drinking; there’s just not enough space between the bars compared to where we live. Where we lived. If we were still back in the old flat I’d have probably walked my nascent beer gut off by now. I can almost hear you let out a derisory snort at that. You’re probably right: I was getting a little lazy towards the end of our time at uni. It’s nice sometimes to pass on the clubbing and just settle in the corner of a bar for a night and chat shit until kicking out time, isn’t it?

I know you’re less keen on that than I. “Old before your time,” you said, right?

Anyhow. I was making an exception tonight and having a few drinks with an old friend in town before the party in some of the old haunts. I was disappointed to find that a few of them have undergone the obligatory attempts at gentrification since I left. They’ve had a go at trying to make things look a bit more modern, which (the logic of this escapes me entirely) involves making them look a more rustic. They all used to be typical British pubs but now they look like sets in a period drama with an ersatz rural look. Everything too impeccably placed. Blackboards everywhere. You’d probably like them. There are still some that, thankfully, have retained their old, grim sort of charm and haven’t altered a lick since I left. We mostly stayed in those, getting lost in memories.

I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time with Jake since I left for uni. Things feel a little more awkward between us than they were Back in the Day. We don’t have all that much in common any more. The things that used to unite us when we were young and drunk and stupid – the music, the movies, the sense of hatred for this fucking town – seem to have grown old and stale. We don’t listen that trance stuff we used to go mental for and whereas I gravitated towards more indie and rock he started listening to hip hop. I guess that just happens as you spend more and more time apart; you don’t influence each other as much. And of course the big, yawning chasm that has opened up between us is the fact that he stayed here after college, choosing to work for his dad instead. I can’t slag the place off any more; his disdain for the place has ebbed away. Anyone can talk shit about their home – it’s their prerogative. Outsiders don’t have that right. It’s like we’re no longer on the same side and so we don’t have the trust we used to. Untended that tends to wither and die. So all we did today was remember things together, nestling beneath the comforting old blanket of shared nostalgia.

Sorry I’m rambling a bit aren’t I? Long story short: it took a few drinks to break the ice. We were already half cut when we left the last pub, and then we smoked a couple of joints in the park. Just like we did back when we were still in school. It was a bit tragic – we’re a little old to still be doing that, but we just chalked it up to old time’s sake. Also to be frank we were low on options: Jake still lives with his folks. As, I suppose, do I now. It was a good bonding exercise, as tinged with sadness as it was, but we may have overdone it somewhat. Jake figured that being heroically would be the best way to endure the banality of the provincial summer BBQ. Well, he didn’t quite put it like that. Sadly he is not as eloquent as I.

Lower that eyebrow missy – any higher and it’ll fly away.

It was late afternoon by the time we made it to the house. I can only imagine how red our eyes must have been when we knocked on Mrs Whittaker’s door. If she noticed how messed up we looked stood swaying on her doorstep she was nice enough to keep it to herself. She invited us in and we headed through the house to join the party. The whole impromptu barbecue party that breaks out in every third garden across Britain the moment the sun dares to peak from behind a cloud is not usually my scene, as you know, but the ‘rents employed all sorts of emotional blackmail to get me to promise I’d go along. The novelty of having me home doesn’t seem to have worn off yet. They pestered me until I caved and agreed to pop along after the pub, with the intention of leaving as soon as was polite.

The scene in the garden was exactly as you’d expect. A typical English barbecue. You know the type: paper plates and kitchen towels, ‘red sauce’, Tesco basics bread rolls with something black that may have once resembled meat nestled awkwardly in between. No, wait, hang on: you probably wouldn’t have been to those kinds of parties, would you? You poncy southerners probably nibble on quail eggs and discuss culling the poor whilst dipping you focaccia in hummus or something similarly ludicrous.

I miss hearing you get mad at me.

For your benefit then dearest I’ll give you the run down. In the middle of their terraced garden, between two shoulder height red brick walls on a recently trimmed lawn stood a gazebo. Beneath that, circling a pale green plastic garden table were a scattering of matching garden chairs (with a few wooden dining room chairs mixed in to make up numbers) filled with the same friends from the local pub that have frequented these things since time immemorial. I immediately recognised the Potters lurking by the wall on their own. They live a few doors up from my mum and dad. Nice folks: they looked after our dog whenever we went on holiday and watered the plants and whatnot. They tend to hang around in the background at parties, speak when spoken to and leave relatively early. Over ‘helping’ Mr Whittaker and my dad manage the barbecue was Ted, who’s contribution was in a purely advisory capacity, whilst his wife drank too much Rosé sat by the table and rambled at anyone who’d listen about how much her daughter was just like her. The fact her daughter had clearly decided to spend her day elsewhere didn’t seem to make any odds. I decided right off the bat that I wouldn’t get trapped by her under any circumstances. Then I spotted my dad’s mate Eddie under the gazebo doing his best to stress test a lawn chair to breaking point. To be fair he’s one who does change: he somehow seems to defy the odds and get larger every time I see him. Eddie is the kind of guy who makes me doubt the theory of evolution. I mean, what evolutionary advantage could you possibly get from being that fucking lazy? And yet he has bred. His genes will live on.

Sorry, I know you hate it when I judge people. You should meet him someday though so you can tell me how right I am.

Anyway, there were plenty of familiar faces. The barbecue itself was at the end of the garden at one side of their wooden shed, with the gate leading out to the back street at the other. As it was unlikely anyone would be entering or leaving that way I decided that this little alcove was the spot where Jake and I would take up residence whilst we got over the weed. I’d barely had time to suggest this to Jake before my Mum had appeared from behind us to started fussing over me. She asked me what was wrong with my eyes. I pleaded hayfever and she had an antihistamine and a glass of water in my hands quicker than you could call, “bullshit.” She’s been running a small pharmacy out of her handbag for as long as I can remember. Once she’d tended to me she looked at Jake and asked if the pollen was getting to him as well. Instead of taking this obvious excuse he claimed to have a summer cold instead and started melodramatically sniffling. She must have known at least one of us was lying, but she didn’t let on. I think she just ignores any information that might incriminate me in some way. I’ve come to terms with the fact I’ll always be an unruly kid to her, however many letters I add to the end of my name.

We had a quick chat with her about where we’d been in town, which inevitably led to her taking us on the traditional guided tour of memory lane. She explained how the pub we’d just left had been called something else back in her day and used to run a reggae night she was fond of. I never knew she was into reggae: I suppose I just assumed she was into Patsy Cline forever. You never really think about your parents being young and tearing it up, do you? Though I suppose given how straight laced yours are you wouldn’t have to worry about that. I don’t imagine your dad was much of a punk before he joined law school, and somehow I can’t see your mum necking acid in her youth. The idea of your mum tripping makes a weird sort of sense though; it would explain those oddly psychedelic cushions all over your living room. I bet when you go out she just gets melted on mescaline and just stares at them for hours at a time, finding the meaning of the universe in some luminous stitched swirl.

Now, you’re either giggling at that or not talking to me for a while. Or should I say still not talking to me.

Once we’d been given a local history lesson we managed to pick up a couple of spare chairs and some beers and made it over to our spot in the corner. I gave my dad a wave, but he was too busy monitoring the temperature of the coals to pay me much attention. I was somehow just about keeping it together. I think. I was determined to be as anti-social as possible and keep our lack of sobriety a secret until an appropriate time to exit. But sociability was inevitably forced upon me when Mrs Whittaker’s son Johnny came over. I’ve never quite got the measure of that guy. He’s incredibly geeky and odd, a keen war gamer and card collector and all that. And yet he dresses like Patrick Bateman and has managed to climb pretty high in the council for a man his age. I just don’t understand how he functions so well in a work environment: he seems so awkward in social situations. I can’t remember what we talked about: I think Jake had a Batman t-shirt on so we were definitely talking about Batman films at one point. He just rambled on about it until I realised I was too baked and too bored to pretend to be interested and so he shuffled off.

He kinda reminds me of Ben, y’know? And you know how much I liked that guy. I know you’re thinking, “that’s because he hit on me that one time.” And that may form part of the reason I dislike him, I admit. But seriously, the man was such a cock. He must be – you don’t walk into an internship a couple of steps below your dream job without having an innate dickishness to you. Arseholes always land on their feet. So to speak. I can’t believe you said he was cute. You always had the worst taste in men.

Lucky for me, I guess.

Shortly after interruption to our peace and quiet came another. Our next tormentor’s name was Mike. We weren’t introduced; I think he just saw my longish hair, assumed I liked rock music and wanted to chat to us. I say to us, but it was really at us. He seems sound enough but he’s the kind of guy who’ll tell you that he used to be in a band within about five minutes of meeting you. Which is exactly what he did. I think they were called White something. I can’t quite remember now. That’s going to bug me all night. Apparently they were kind of a cheesy rock/metal band. Y’know, like Iron Maiden, Guns and Roses and all those 80s guys. I imagine he once had a mullet. Probably a proud blond mullet the colour of the sun that would windmill around his gurning visage as he played some, “tasty licks.” Between the roll ups he seemed to like to have perpetually sticking out of his mouth he gave us an extended history of ‘back in the day’. He seemed to be talking through us, explaining how they scored a support slot touring with, “Priest” with this far off glaze in his eyes. At first I put that down to the cans of Stella he was hammering, but there was something more to it than mere drunkenness. He spoke of those times as if they were just yesterday; like the intervening years had never happened. Like he’d just woken up 20 or so years later and was yet to come to terms with it.

He seemed to catch himself rambling on now and again and stop to ask us something, but his lack of interest in our response was barely concealed. He asked if I was in a band, and I explained the situation with the guys. Another thing I’ve left behind. I can’t believe how much I’ve lost at times. We were getting good, y’know? That track we recorded in our flat (the one you said sounded like, “a drunk Abba with fuzz pedals,” you wee heathen) got some decent coverage on a few websites. And now I’m a million miles from all of them. That hurts almost as much as being away from you. I can’t help but feel if we were all still in the same place everything would be so much easier to stitch back together.

He asked if I was planning to form a new band. I pointed out we hadn’t technically broken up. I think he was trying to convince me to let him manage this hypothetical new band. Or, god forbid, let him play in it. Can you imagine me playing with a late 40s hair metal guitar wizard? Jesus, that would be the worst thing ever. I quickly tried to change the subject. Jake must have noticed how annoyed I was getting because he piped up to talk with Mike about the music scene in the area. But still he seemed only half there when talking about anything but the old days. He seemed alright and all but I was glad when he shuffled off to pick at a plate of barbecued chicken and talk at someone else.

When he’d gone me and Jake just looked at each other like, “what was that about?” We decided that before anyone else could attempt to lock us into another awkward conversation we should make a quiet exit for another joint. I was still regretting the last smoke we had before arriving, but if felt like the thing to do. I guess I was feeling bummed out after finding myself baked off my face and cornered by Mr I-Coulda-Been-A-Contender with his greying hair boring me shitless with his stories of band life from almost three decades ago. It gave me a powerful craving to get messed up. I know you’d have disapproved of that, and if I’m honest that’s part of the reason I did it. There has to be some silver lining to being this far away from you.

There’s a secluded alley round the back of the Whittaker’s street which we slunk off to and sparked one up. Jake was freaking out a bit; the fear had dropped on him like a lead cloud. I think it was Mike that brought it on: I could feel it too. I pointed out being more stoned probably wouldn’t help but he insisted it would chill him out a bit. You’d think after all these years he’d been smoking he’d know better, but that’s really not Jake’s style. He’s a bit like you and Sambuca.

I hope you meet him one day. I think you’d really like him.

Lord knows what we talked about at that stage; most likely those random stoned non-sequiters that seem hilarious or incisive at the time but utterly ludicrous shortly after. You know the ones: I know you don’t smoke much these days but you must remember. Like that time at Gaz’s when we smoked that epic long joint that he put like sixty quid’s worth of gear in. We spent ages babbling about if fish ever felt cold in the sea (because the sea is so cold, remember?) and we decided we’d make our fortunes designing coats for fish. Do you remember? You were giggling so much on the floor I thought you were actually going to wet yourself. I guess it’s not quite so hilarious written down.

Do you remember how that night we slept entwined in a sleeping bag next to the bay windows staring up at the moon? I do. I remember how the moonlight glimpsed off your cheeks as you smiled. And I remember being amazed at how incredible it was that in the infinite reaches of space and time I should find myself there and then. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as lucky as I did as I fell asleep with my arms wrapped around you. The odds of finding something so perfect seemed infinitesimal. Lottery win after lottery win after lottery win; I had a billion winning tickets pulled tight to my chest.

Sorry, I promised myself I wouldn’t get too sentimental.

When we got back to the party we were utterly ruined. Jake was barely able to open his eyelids; he’d become a grinning husk shuffling behind me. I was a bit embarrassed by him, truth be told. I know I wasn’t exactly playing it sensible but he was acting like we were still 16. Thankfully everyone seemed to choose not to see him. Apart from Ted who knew the score and took a break from passing on his wisdom regarding heat distribution to pick on him and freak him out. I managed to shoo him away with the promise of skinning up for him later on. I never did though. I can’t be arsed wasting good weed on arseholes like that anymore. If I had all the ‘twos’ and ‘foursies’ back from every tool who had jumped in on a smoking session uninvited I could get baked for a year.

I was hoping we’d get a bit of peace after that. Me and Jake went and loaded up a couple of paper plates with semi-blackened burgers and sausages as soon as the barbecue was clear of people then grabbed another 4 pack of some shit lager or other and bunkered down in the corner once more. But our peace wasn’t to last: no sooner had I sat down than I spotted an ex of mine. Amy. She must have arrived while we were out smoking. Remember me telling you about her? I’m sure you do: you certainly sounded jealous enough whenever I mentioned her. I kept telling you that she was just an adolescent relationship. Yes, it lasted 4 years, but those years from fourteen to eighteen are just a warm up for when things get real, aren’t they?

She’s with someone now, anyway. Amy. They’re engaged. I was planning on avoiding her as long as possible since I’d moved back home and I was really hoping not to see her at that point. Making small talk with someone when you’ve seen each other naked is painful enough without being baked as well. But I made eye contact by accident and felt obliged to go sit on a dining chair and talk with her for a while under the gazebo. The sun was half way set at that point and the glow of the coals was becoming the brightest thing around. She asked me what I was up to, how my degree went. That kind of thing. I told her about us. She said you sounded wonderful and hoped that we work things out.

I can’t imagine why you got jealous of her when we first got together. She and this town are too entangled to pull apart. I felt envious of that whilst I was with her, the way she identified with a place so clearly. It’s part of her. I came to resent her for that. She became like an embodiment of this town, its avatar, to me and I wanted nothing more than to leave the place behind. You and I, we wouldn’t have that problem. You’re like me: you don’t need a town or a place to define yourself.

After our slightly awkward exchange she went to re-join her fiancée (who I want to call Keith but I might just be making that up) and I noticed that Mike had cornered Jake again. Poor guy didn’t know what to do. Even from across the garden I could see that he was on the verge of losing it, but Mike didn’t seem to notice at all. I got in between them as soon as I could and Mike switched to rambling at me instead straight off the bat, transferring the conversation from him to me without skipping a beat. I assume he noticed how Jake wasn’t really up to conversation, but carried on anyway. I guess he just wanted to talk to somebody.

“I was just telling you friend Joe about the tour we did with Priest,” he said to me with a mouth full of chicken wing. Jake was ether too stoned or couldn’t be bothered to correct him. “Fucking crazy times man. We were only with them two weeks, but I could tell you some stories mate. You probably wouldn’t believe me.”

So he did, and he was right; I didn’t. He ticked all the expected boxes: tales of groupies and orgies and drugs a-go-go. All those old school rock and roll clichés were reeled off one by one. His eyes seemed distant and glassy as he recounted them. We could have been anybody really. I found myself wondering how many times he’d told these tales to strangers in pubs and at parties. After a while he partially answered that for me.

“I’m sorry if I’m ranting a bit guys, I barely get to talk about this stuff these days. Not since our daughter was with us anyway. It’s so quiet around the house now..”

This took me aback a little. I had no idea that he had a kid. He hadn’t mentioned it before, and in total he must have been talking to us for a good hour or so at that point, not including the break. He wasn’t dressed like a married man either. He was wearing exactly what you’d expect a middle aged rock guitarist to wear: double denim, black t-shirt, black boots and all that. But even rockers start to wear more ironed stuff when they’re married. I’m not saying all women should do the ironing before you start clubbing me with volumes of post-feminist theory, dearie. Men can iron perfectly well too. I’m just saying they’re more inclined to make the effort when there’s a woman involved. And he was a bit of a mess.

I hadn’t noticed his wife was there this until he looked in her direction after bringing up his daughter. She was sat with my mum and Mrs Whitaker on the end of the table closest to the house. After I’d spotted her I saw how she kept staring in his direction. I thought he might go up in flames under the intensity of her watchful gaze. But he was either immune or just oblivious. He kept on necking cans of Stella and chain smoking roll ups, pulling them from a seemingly bottomless tin of pre-rolled cigarettes, lighting each fresh one off the end of the last. He was just starting into a rant about the state of modern rock when she came bounding over with her arms folded. The only way she could have been more of a stereotypical northern housewife was if she had a rolling pin in her hand and rollers in her hair. You’d have loved her; I know how you loved all my ironic northernisms, or whatever you called them. But she didn’t seem remotely funny at this juncture.

“Michael,” she barked, “don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?”

“Not really, sugarplum,” he said with a crooked smile, rocking on his heels, “I think I’ve got room for a few more.”

She just stood their glaring at him. I gained a new respect for him for not falling onto his knees and begging forgiveness. Her stare seemed to have a physical weight to it.

“Don’t get too drunk, Michael. You’ve got to walk me home,” she said after a small eternity. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled under his breath as she walked away.

“That’s the trouble and strife,” he said in a terrible and inexplicable cockney accent. “Gowd bless her.” He laughed a wheezy laugh to himself for a moment. “Now she brings it up though I am out of beer. Can I get you gents anything?”

I asked him for some Stella and sent him wandering off. I looked at Jake who appeared to be shrinking into himself. He was in no state for drama. I assured him everything was fine and told him he should skin up. He told me he was in no state to walk so I got him to turn around facing the corner and I said I’d cover him. He agreed and slowly got down to business. It was quite dark now but they had a few dull garden lights on and I remembered Jake used to be good at rolling in harsh circumstances. I remember him rolling a 5 skinner in a gale by the river once, using me and our mate Brian as a windbreak.

And then a woman strolls up to me and announces she knew me when I was a kid. I was getting pretty damn sick of being talked to at the point. It doesn’t make sense to me that so many people would bother to speak to me. I know, I live here now. But I feel like I should be wearing a visitor’s pass. They say this is home, but it isn’t. It’s a place where I used to live. It feels odd that these people should know my name and treat me with such familiarity. They’re from a former life to me: they’re past tense, as I should be to them. They’re ghosts now, and ghosts shouldn’t smile at you and hand you a charred slab of meat in a floury bap.

I didn’t recognise her at first. Then she tells me she’s Kevin’s mum, and it clicks. I used to hang around that kid back in school as we were the only two players on the football team with half a brain between us. We drifted apart during college, but unlike me and Jake we never kept in touch. I can’t remember why – life just seems to work out that way, doesn’t it? People can be so important to you one minute, seemingly as vital as a pillar holding up the ceiling, and then one day they just sort of fade out of view. And somehow the structure holds. He added me on facebook a couple of years ago and that’s been the grand sum of our interaction since. I barely think about him these days. She asked me how uni had gone and what I’d been up to since I’d returned. The usual questions I’d answered a hundred times since moving home. I get the feeling I’ll be answering them until I get out of here again. I asked her how he was doing. So she told me, more frankly and in more detail than she probably would have if she hadn’t been drinking wine all night. It seems he got with a girl from the rough part of town (yes there are non-rough parts thank you very much) and fell for her. Before long he’d knocked her up and now he spent half his time struggling through a hellish on-off relationship for the sake of his little boy when they’re together and the other half trying to get access to him when they’re not. Now there seems to be a whole cast of unsavoury characters involved: her drunk stepdad, a psycho sister, another guy on the scene who’s some kind of steroid junky…the whole thing sounds like a colossal mess.

And the worst part is it seems he never made it to uni. I remember sitting on the roof of his conservatory smoking joints with him, talking about our big plans. He wanted to do a film course. He wanted to be some kind of auteur of course; I guess every film student does. But in his college courses he discovered that cinematography was the part of the process he was passionate about. Framing the perfect scene. I remember this zombie flick he made for his course; it was just a cheap played for laughs thing, as you’d expect from a college project, but I swear he’d nailed a couple of beautiful shots. The brief dramatic scenes were bathed in light just so, framed so poignantly. And then ruined by some trashed students mumbling over it.

Then he took a year out whilst I went to University. Now he runs his own one man photography business, lending his services out to anyone who’ll pay. It’s sad to think of that talent being used on nothing but his kid’s birthday parties, trying to keep the pissed up adults out of the frame.

I didn’t say any of this; I just stared in the middle distance in a sad little reverie. No words seemed to come to me. Eventually she said she’d tell him I’d been asking about him, and perhaps I’d like to catch up with him sometime? I suppose she wants him to spend more time with better influences. Try not to laugh too hard dear, believe it or not there are worse monsters in this world than I.

I said I would if he wanted to. And maybe I will. Though thinking about it makes me unbearably sad.

After she went Mike immediately made a reappearance. He must have been lurking around waiting for her to go. By the looks of things he’d taken his wife’s admonishments as a challenge. He seemed to be veering on the edge of being incomprehensibly drunk, and the look on his face suggested he was more than willing to throw himself off. He thrusted a four pack in our general direction and looked triumphant. I smiled and took one, not liking where this was going. It looked a lot like we were stuck with what would be the party’s main item of gossip, The State Mike Got In. I could almost hear the wittering the likes of my Mum and Mrs Whittaker would enjoy over this. I had no desire to be caught up in it: I’d prefer it if no one in this town ever spoke about me at all. But there he was. Jake had finished his lengthy skinning up session and was pushing 3 clumsily rolled joints into his top pocket, hoping Mike wouldn’t notice. He wasn’t that lucky.

“Planning on sparking up a few bifta’s are ya?” he said, the word ‘biftas’ forced his mouth in that alien way unfamiliar slang is. It sounded wrong coming from him and I wondered where he’d picked it up. “Go on then, light ’em up.”

Jake looked at him as if he’d asked him to do his best elephant impression. It seemed the mechanical action of rolling had given his brain something to latch onto. The paranoia had lessened: he no longer looked on the verge of a heart attack. I feared he’d say something to anger the volatile drunken creature we’d been lumbered with. I decided it would be best if I played lion tamer for a while.

“In a bit,” I said. “We can’t light up here, Mrs Whittaker is a bit…”

“-of a crusty old bitch, yeah? I get ya.” It was as if he was regressing to being an obnoxious teenager. His down with the kids act was a bit embarrassing, but I decided it would be wise to appease him given the state he was in. Which worked on one level, in that he didn’t have a meltdown. But it had the unfortunate side effect of making him so comfortable he felt able to resume his ranting about his band again. He went off on one, talking about how good they were and, as expected, how they genuinely were contenders. Then out of nowhere Jake spits;

“So how come you’re not, like, Metallica then?”

I flinched, expecting the mocking tone to be obvious. Thankfully Mike took this as an earnest question, or at least an excuse to head into the previously unmentioned maudlin part of the story.

“Well, one night we were playing Prague right. I think it was Prague…definitely somewhere like Prague. Anyway, we’re drinking this vodka we picked up in Poland, and someone bets our bassist Eddie he can’t finish this bottle. There’s, like, two thirds of it left. Of course Eddie was the real beer monster of the group and wasn’t going to turn down this bet. So he does. Glug, glug, fucking glug: down in one. Couldn’t believe it. He must have had a stomach of iron that guy, I never saw him throw up once, and he did stupid shit like that all the time. For a minute it looks like it hadn’t even affected him. We were all talking about him as if he was a superhero. But then…then it hit him. He couldn’t stand up straight. Couldn’t talk. He was just.. completely and utterly wankered. And we were up on stage in a couple of hours. So we tried everything we could: cold shower, cup after cup of coffee, a little bit of speed…nothing seemed to be working. But then, miraculously, it all comes together and he’s up. He’s not playing bass well, but a sloppy night is always going to be better than a no show, know what I mean? So we figure: yeah, that’ll do. So we take to the stage, Billy gave it a big, “hello Prague!” and we’re off.”

“30 second into our second song, Eddy stumbles sideways off the stage. His leg just goes from under him. I remember it clearly, I was watching him and he seemed to go over in slow motion. The way he landed would have been fucking hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. He lands right on his shoulder. Utterly ruins it. No chance of getting back on stage for a good 6 months the doctors say. And we couldn’t find anyone to replace him so…that was that. You don’t get two shots at something like that. Not when you fail that badly.”

“After we got back home kicked we Eddie out of the band. Which I thought was harsh, but I was outvoted two to one. And we were all so bitter about the whole thing it just wasn’t the same after that. We knew we’d blown it. One minute we’re playing in front of some decent crowds, y’know, getting out name heard, and then…it all fell apart. We all joined different bands after, but none did that well.”

He looked lost for a moment. The alcohol had clearly worn down his cheery front. But all I could think about though was the recently unearthed memory of that conservatory roof, my half-forgotten dreams…and you. I felt I needed to talk to you, to escape this madness and get in touch with something that makes sense again. I started planning my exit.

“Then I met Julie, and after a while…we had our daughter. So y’know, alls well and all that.”

I smiled, and when I turned to Jake I noticed his demeanour had softened too. Nothing like a good underdog story with a redemptive finish to cheer up fuck ups like us I guess. Then Jake asked a question,

“How old is she? Your daughter?”

The smile on Mike’s face seemed to harden into a grimace. He emptied the remaining lager from his can down his throat. “Let’s see,” he said, “she’d be…she’d probably be just a bit younger than you two.” The now empty can crushed under the pressure of his tensed hand. He threw it over his shoulder and into the neighbour’s garden.

“Oi! We’ve got bins you know!” Mr Whittaker yelled from across the garden. He laughed. An awful, borderline crazy laugh. “Sorry mate, not sure what came over me.” He cracked open another can.

Then he looked at us. “You wanna spark one of those? We can just go down the backs here. No one will miss us for five.”

I looked at Jake, and he looked at me, and I could see we both felt the same confused sort of pity that wouldn’t let us refuse. Before we know it we were in the darkness of the backstreet handing one round.

“I haven’t had one of these in years,” says Mike. “Takes me back. I had to straighten up a bit, after my daughter was born.” Jake had taken the first few draws and had his return ticket to mute town stamped for his troubles. He just nodded silently. And me, I was still trying to work out how to politely make an exit and wasn’t paying attention.

“I guess you have to when you have kids,” I said.

“Yeah, you got that right. Don’t ever have one: just have fun with your life. It’s not really worth it.”

“Ah, I’m sure you don’t mean that.”

He smiled, handing it back to me. “You’re right. I don’t. I miss her.”

“Where is she living now, then?” He ignored my question, looking a little taken aback by the strength of the weed. After a few moments he asked;

“You ever lost anyone lads?”

“I broke with my girlfriend recently actually.”

“How long were you two together?”

“A couple of years.”

“Ah, that’s nothing really. Me and my little angel have been together for around 18 now.” The way he just dismissed my loss made me surprisingly angry. I felt myself clenching my jaw as he spoke.

“I still love her.”

“Yeah? Well, that can’t be easy. It never is, losing someone.” He looked me in the eye. I could just make out the security lights reflecting in his. There was a sorrow there that snuffed out my anger.

“We were perfect together. I met her shortly after I started uni. I didn’t really want to tie myself down with a relationship, but she was so…perfect for me.”

(I do hope this doesn’t give your ego too much of a massage)

“You wanted to play the field, eh?”

“Yeah, that was the plan. But I was smitten with her. People figured we’d get bored with each other sooner or later but we lasted the whole of our courses. Being back here seems like a bad dream, y’know?”

Mike put his hand on my shoulder, which felt a little forward. But it was a sweet gesture. I don’t know whether he got where I was coming from or what I’m going through but for that moment it felt like he did. I reached up and kind of slapped my hand on his in appreciation. Then he asked:

“How come you broke up?”

And I didn’t know how to respond. How did we end up like this, Kate? Why did you leave me?

“It just…happened I guess.” That was the best I could muster. And even after that last talk in our flat, after we’d put all our things in boxes, the one where you told me you’d be moving to Edinburgh and you didn’t want me to come with you, where you told me that our years together were just some kind of hazy young phase…that’s still the only answer I can even begin to get my head around. It just happened.

“Bad things do, pal. They just do. It’s probably best not to worry about the what could have beens. They’ll eat you alive. Life goes on.” He sighed through the last part, as if he was unconvinced by his own words. It sounded trite and wrong but I could see he was trying to pass on some kind of wisdom. I think you have to really when you’ve gone through years of hurt and you see someone going through their own pain. You want to have some kind of comfort to pass on at least, some kind of small reward for enduring. But he didn’t. Not really.

After a moments silence I heard his wife shouting his name in the distance, and it quickly became obvious that the night’s main event was about to take place. And it was too late for me to drop out now. I was set to be an extra in it.

“Fuck me, can’t even have a toke in peace,” he said. But he made no effort to move. I offered the joint back to Jake, but he shook his head and kept looking at the floor, so I passed it back to Mike.

“Will she mind?”

“Oh yeah. She’ll mind.” her voice grew louder. I heard the gate open and could see her silhouette against the garden security light. She spotted us and started marching down.

“Should we get rid of it?”

“Nah, fuck it,” he said.

“What are you doing?” she yelled.

“Just talking to the boys.” He said it like he’d known us forever. “How about you, dearest?”

“Looking for you. Are you smoking?”

“It looks like I am,” he said.

“Is that cannabis?”

He didn’t respond. He was defiantly smoking away, like the baddest kid in school after being caught by the head mistress.

“Michael?”

“Cannabis?” he says, all innocent like.

“It is, isn’t it? How can you stand there doing that?”

“What do you mean?”

“After what it did to us?”

“Cannabis? What did cannabis do to us?”

“You know damn well what it did.”

“Weed hasn’t done anything to us love. Knock it off, eh? I’m just trying to unwind a bit.”

“I can’t believe you can just stand there doing drugs after what it did to-“

“-to our daughter? Come off it, you know that’s different. If it was just a bit of green she was smoking..”

“It’s all drugs. What’s the difference? It’s all the same!”

Jake shuffled slowly away into the shadows. I wished I could too but I was out in the open. Any movement I made would have been conspicuous.

“They’re not all the same though, are they? I know you’re upset love but this has nothing to do with our daughter.”

“If it wasn’t for drugs she’d still be..,” she trailed off for a moment. I could barely see her in the dark of the alley but I could hear her voice wavering as she struggled to keep talking. “And I wish you’d stop saying, “our daughter,” you can say her name you know-“

“-I know-“

“-her name was Sarah!”

“I know what my daughter’s fucking name was!”

The silence in the alley was thick enough to choke a man. Jake obviously wanted out as soon as possible but was scared rigid. Me, I didn’t know where to look. I noticed a crowd had gathered outside the Whittaker’s back garden to watch the show. The only sound to be heard was Mike’s wife’s sobs. After a few moments she walked past us, down towards the main road, without a word.

“Where are you going?” Mike asked, but she didn’t say anything. He turned to me and said, “I’ll just go and calm her down a bit and be back. You’ll still be here, yeah?”

“Uh, yeah. Sure. See you in a bit.” He set off in pursuit of his wife. And then as soon as he was gone Jake said, “I’m gonna go home, it’s all gone a bit weird.” I just nodded. I don’t know if I could have convinced him to stick around but all I could think about was trying to call you. He handed me one of the two remaining joints, gave me a meek hug and went shuffling off in the same direction the happy couple were going. I’m not sure if he knew where he was in relation to his house: he just wanted to avoid the crowd that had gathered by the gate. Me, I had no choice but to walk back up the alley and face them. It occurred to me when I was about 10 feet away from them that my Mum might still be there, and might have overheard them discussing weed loudly in the alley. Luckily she wasn’t; I’m not sure where she was but I’m assuming she went home. My Dad was there though, which means we’ll be having an interesting conversation with him sooner or later.

“What was all that about?” said Mrs Whittaker as soon as I was in earshot.

“Dunno, some kind of domestic. Something about their daughter.”

I waltzed past them as casually as I could and went and grabbed another beer on my way into the house. There was a tray of cold, miscellaneous barbecued meat no one had claimed in the kitchen so I filled a paper plate full of that and went and sat in the deserted dining room. Everyone had gone outside to catch the drama. I knew they’d all come back in now that the curtain had fallen on that, but I didn’t have the energy to walk home. So instead I nibbled on a badly burnt burger in the dark. I must have looked pretty tragic there. But all I could think of was how the taste reminded me of the kind of crap we ate at Glastonbury last year. Do you remember huddling around a camping stove trying to keep the torchlight on the burgers so we could keep an eye on them? You were too drunk to keep it steady, but you wouldn’t let anyone else do it. Inevitably they ended up like black leather, and no one would eat them. You decided to wolf them all down to make a point and made me help you out. I even pretended that they didn’t taste entirely of charcoal to aid your quest to make it seem like you hadn’t ruined them. We washed them down with gin and tonic to take the taste away.

I don’t know why I keep asking you if you remember these things: of course you do. I can’t be the only one focussing on these moments, wishing I was back there instead of stuck here alone.

After a few minutes chewing meat and bread and drifting gently through memories I decided it was time. I stuffed a couple of cans in my coat pockets and went out of the front door. I tried you on your mobile a couple of times. You’re probably in bed. Or maybe you’re out having fun. Without me. I guess I can’t complain if you are. I hope your night panned out better than mine, whatever it entailed.

I walked around to the bottom of the street and onto the main road that Mike and Jake had headed onto shortly before. I thought of how I’d told Mike I’d still be here and wondered if I should stick around. I didn’t know whether he’d actually be coming back. It sounded like quite the fierce argument was starting, but then again it seems like he really needs those booze addled talks. I suppose it’s a release, catharsis, something like that. Or maybe just a temporary distraction. I was afraid that I’d feel guilty about not being there if he turned up, so I hung on a while, though I wasn’t sure if I could handle details of Sarah’s story in this state. I tried to call you again, but you didn’t answer. So I tried again. I know you aren’t obliged to be on the other end of a phone whenever I need you. But even so I must admit I got a little angry. How could you ignore me after all we’d been through? I looked up and down the road for signs of Mike coming back. It had only been a short while and I didn’t even know which direction he’d be coming from. But the fact I couldn’t see him was enough to sway me – I had to talk to you, even if it’s like this with just me doing the talking. I guess I couldn’t bear the thought of you being out there having fun without me.

And here I am.

I don’t even know if I should send this thing. I doubt these ramblings will help anything really. I don’t even know what I’m hoping for from this. A return to dialogue, I guess. Perhaps even civil dialogue. I don’t like this place I find myself in, Kate. It’s a whole new world, and it doesn’t even bear a moment’s comparison to the one I left behind. All these people trapped here in amber…I can’t be one of them. I can feel it seeping over me, cloying at my skin, trickling down my throat. I can’t let myself be one of them. I need to go, to be, someplace else. I want to go back to how it was. You say it’s done, it’s gone, but I can’t believe that. I’m sorry I never told you how much you mean to me while I was with you. It’s true what they say about absence and the heart growing fonder. And it’s true what they say about not knowing what you have till it’s gone. All those fucking clichés parroted ad infinitum hold more truth than their sickly hallmark words deserve to. I hate that.

Is anyone else suffering like this, Kate? They must be. I can’t be the only one who’s done nothing but tumble back into the past since graduation. But everyone else seems to either be off having adventures or has waltzed into the job market as if it were an old jacket awaiting the contours of their body to just slip back into it. As if were as automatic as breathing. It isn’t that easy for me. Why is it for everyone else? And why is it for you? After all we’d shared I thought it would be at least a more little difficult for you to cast off all those days. Yet there you are in facebook pictures smiling from ear to ear as if we never happened. Employment status: works at NHS management scheme. Just like that. How do you all do it? I feel like an ant staring up at a steep hillside. In a world of giants stepping up and over it like it were no more trouble than breathing.

I’m not sure any of this is making sense anymore. This can’t be my life, Kate. I feel the promise, the potential, the possibilities ebbing away. What used to be an endless horizon seems to narrow every day. I daren’t imagine how small it could get. And all I picture when I wish for more is the place we used to be. Just let’s rewind a few months and plan things better. It can be done – I know you think otherwise. But if we want it enough, if we try hard enough, we can claw our way back. I know we can.

Call me tomorrow. Today. Whenever you read this. Talk to me. Please.

Yours. Always yours.

M

x

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