by Jennifer Evans
I watch them from our balcony. All dressed in velvet and satin, various shades of black, red and green. The kinds of Christmas parties we used to have. Their fingers grip stems of crimson wine glasses, tongues swilling Rioja around their cheeks. Only four of them, five perhaps. Intimate.
Three sit on a leather sofa with a white fur throw. They laugh through crunches of chutney-lathered cheese biscuits, eyes glistening with the spark of a collective joke. Bodies jitter in recognition, hands shaping the essence of their words, shoulders pulsating up and down to the rhythm of the music on my record player. The soundtrack to The Terminal, from the Classics of John Williams album Jo bought at a car boot sale. The clarinet solo drifts over a sea of cellos that send goosebumps over my arms. It speeds up, into a jaunty melody that their conversation matches: loud, hasty. Out of their mouths quaver triplets ripple through B major in an arpeggio of chatter that rolls across the courtyard and stops at my feet. Lost in the knit of the blanket covering my toes. I can’t see what they do next.
My coffee is cold. I take a sip anyway, letting the bitterness catch in the back of my throat.
“You want breakfast?”
Jo’s voice lingers on the French doors. She leans between the open door and the wall, with a rustle of paper in her hand. She stops on a page, cracks the spine, and speaks into my back.
“Clown in the Moon, Dylan Thomas.” She pauses, waiting for an objection.
“My tears are like the quiet rift,
Of petals from some magic rose;
And all my grief flows from the rift,
Of unremembered skies and snows.”
She does this almost daily now. She selects a book from the living room collection, most of which I had before I even met her. Dog-eared relics from university, back when I thought I was going to be the next Sylvia Plath. I took it upon myself to memorise as many pieces as I could, spending evenings with a decaf tea and my poetry books. Maybe some part of me knew what would happen.
“I think,” I hook the words onto my lips. “Think… that if I touched the earth, it would… break and… tear? It is… no, When I— The beauty of— Oh, fuck.”
“Pause. Think about it. Start again. I think…”
“If I touched the earth, It would… crumble? For it’s… for I am..” I squeeze my eyelids to sweep the words from the dusty corners of my library. “It’s — dammit.”
“Take your time, love. Let it come to you.”
“… It w— it would— no, it would… crumble. So terribly, so—oh, fucking—I can’t—”
“You can, love.”
“No, I can’t fucking remember it, Jo, alright? I can’t — I don’t even like this poem anyway, why would you—?”
I feel my face growing redder with embarrassment and frustration, feelings that always coursed through my veins too strong. Feelings only made worse by the accident, which Jo knows, but hates.
“Just tell me,” I say, rougher than intended. She knows not to argue.
“I think,” she says, “that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,”
“So tremulously like a dream,” I whisper in unison with her.
I rarely dream these days. It’s something the doctors said would happen. I have one recurring dream that I am a toddler learning to talk, and nobody hears me. I am 57 and perhaps the same is true now.
Jo comes up behind me and wraps her arms around my neck. I can feel the tickle of her hair on my cheeks.
“Who lives opposite us?” I ask her.
“I don’t know,” she says, lifting her head. “I’ve never seen the blinds open. Could be empty for all I know. Or maybe it’s Scrooge. Tomorrow he’ll be standing on the balcony calling for the largest turkey in the city.”
She chuckles and lets go of me, stepping back towards the flat. “You coming in? It’s freezing.”
“In a minute.” She hesitates; I can hear it. “Go,” I say. "I’m fine.”
Ebenezer Scrooge. I’d almost forgotten that tomorrow would be Christmas Day. The children left years ago for Australia and Spain. We always said we’d get out there to visit them, although I suppose we won’t now. Jo likes to cook a turkey anyway, for just the two of us, and then takes the leftovers to the shelter while I’m listening to the Queen’s Speech. What a dull day.
I lift myself out of the chair. There are three steps to the door. Arms outstretched, I take them slowly. It should be around here. I’m about to call out to Jo but I stop myself— you can do this. You need to do this on your own.
I take another step forward. My hands are shaking. They flap and grab in front of me, grasping empty air, and then I finally reach something. It’s not the door; it’s soft, warm, squeezing my own tight grip. She’s got me. Tears rush from my eyes, and I hold her other hand with mine, letting her guide me into the house. She pulls me in and, despite my tears leaking onto her t-shirt, I rest my head on her shoulder. She slides the door shut and cuts off the morning breeze. Turning my head towards it, I stare: into nothing, into everything, into the friends who laugh in the abandoned flat facing us. I stare into what might have been, what used to be. But it’s morning: the clouds are out, the day is long, and there are no parties here. Tomorrow will be Christmas, and Jo will have made a turkey; she will tell me that she loves me, and we will recite another poem. Christmas Day will take its leave, ghosts and carols in hand, and we will not know what lives ahead.
About the author
Jennifer Evans is a writer from Pontypridd, Wales, who has also lived in New Hampshire, Los Angeles, and Dublin. Her writing explores themes of otherness, home and boundaries, and the ways we use our privilege and power to navigate the world. She is particularly interested in stories of queer existences, processing trauma and challenging the structures placed upon our lives. She is currently working on a novel with the support of a Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary. She is a Taurus, and she acts like it.