I wrote this for the very lovely Hour of Writes. It gave me an outlet for a piece that had been jigging about in my head for a good while.
Here’s the story in full:-
Cold Sober. Lover.
She could hear the rattle of shop shutters, reaching up from the street below and the rumble of the week beginning. The unclear moment of waking had been physical, without thought, knowing only the certain warmth of human contact, her right hand resting on his waist. Early sunlight curved through the missing slats of the blind, the room easing from black and white through to sepia. For a long time she had laid there, one shoulder blade against the worn mattress, that one arm measuring her breathing, not wanting him to wake, knowing that he was a luxury.
In sleep his shoulders were soft. She wanted to see the dawn edge across the room and edged up the bed. Releasing the comfort of his waist her hip leaned lightly against the small of his back. His arm was scarred at the elbow; the skin on the forearm marked by a line of old healed stitches. From the two of them she could smell yesterday’s perfume and sweat.
The bedroom was just a bed and a chair; beyond that a pile of books, some festival posters, the unthinking blink of his laptop charging. It was exactly as she had dreamed. There was no wardrobe and only his shirt, had made it to the chair. It had brought indoors the cold of the outside when he’d finished work last night, the shell buttons loose against the worn fabric.
He’d put his keys next to the one key he’d given her, on the table by the door. She had put the shell back next to them. Whilst she’d waited she’d turned it in her hand, trying to hear the sea but catching only the depth of her fear. She’d paced and looked at a shelf of books and CDs, weary vinyl jammed between. The spines on the shelf had been out of focus, her body too full of blood rush and adrenalin. As other doors opened along the stairwell of the block she had tried to gather her reasons, remember how she came there.
The letter. Her letter, returned, left behind with a late delivery of tomorrow’s strawberries when she’d gone out on her break. Whatever he’d thought he had reduced it to this in writing: “52 Oak House, 10pm” and a key tucked inside the torn envelope. His seeming casual embrace and warmth at New Year returned to her. She wrote a note to cash up, lock up without her. The front of house man at the bar would not be happy.
In her mind there was no exact memory of how drunk she’d been when she’d left the letter in his van. And knowing the impossibility of being in someone else’s dreams she had still dreamed of him, between the nightmares of falling and the dead sleep of exhaustion. But she hadn’t been working that night, just in the bar with friends. It was too quiet to talk to him by accident, too busy to cross the room on purpose. He was with someone or maybe he wasn’t. She drank because she could not think. The letter was in her bag and she couldn’t remember why she put it there. She remembered the smell of cigarettes in the van, her loss of balance, the weight of the van door.
All but the last line she’d written sober. Cold. Written about seeing him for the first time in the café; how she had seen him read stories he’d created to an audience of others. She’d fallen first under one spell and then under another. In trying to put her feelings away she had put pen to paper, buried the letter under a pile of makeup. But more remained to be said. The days of a crush had become something older, stronger; she’d needed to explain it to herself. She’d written it into the letter. He’d got a job on the delivery run that came into her bar, she saw him too often, not often enough. She knew his quiet was unfathomable and unbearable. A casual embrace in a crowd was both the everything to her and nothing at all. The want of needing to hold him. She’d come to realise that even life’s grand loves are not all meant to be. The last line she wrote drunk, in the bar that off duty night. She wrote what needed to happen next.
“The next move is yours.”