Standing at a bus stop in Brighouse, years ago, an hour after a job interview. Wearing a shirt and tie, black trousers and shoes. Stood there on a cold grey day wearing my long grey coat, a size too big for me. I bought it in a charity shop in York, with a girl I used to know. I wonder where she is now.
Stood at this bus stop in Brighouse, thinking about how the interview went, running it over in my head, worrying about nothing. My hair was shorter then, neater. Back when I used to have it cut regularly. And then this girl, a few years older than me then, twenty-five at a guess, walks up and stands under the shelter, waiting for her bus I guess. Her dress is thin, white with pink flowers on. She wears brown sandals and a cardigan and she carries a bag that looks very old.
I light a cigarette and I look at her and I try not to stare. Her legs are a different colour to her arms, brown from what must be hundreds of scars. All those scars, they looked old and painful and like they were once very deep. I try not to stare at her and in this I fail utterly. The scars are in neat rows, up as far as I can see, to the hem of her skirt and seemingly beyond, down to her ankles. My guts disappear as I try to count them, and I catch myself and look upwards guiltily at her face. She is looking away, down the road. She doesn’t notice me and once more my eyes are drawn to those scars. Each one of them must have been at least half a centimetre deep.
I want to talk to her, but I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know how she would react, for there are few things ruder than asking a person about their scars. So I just stand, and smoke, and every minute or so my eyes return to her legs.
People move at the bus stop, those sitting they stand and gather their belongings, and we all look down the road to see what is coming. I drop my cigarette and stand on it and join the queue with change in my hand. Once more, finally, I look at that woman. She stands there, waiting, and I get on the bus and I pay. I take a seat by a window. From the corner of my eye I can see her hair. I don’t look at her this time. The bus lurches and we are moving and I turn just once in my seat to look one last time at her. She’s still staring down the road, past the traffic lights, past the supermarket car park. We are away. She is gone.
I wonder if she’s still alive.
I hope so.
We were standing by the banks of the river, with smiles on our faces, some time back. Some small time at the end of a weekend that had nothing to remember it by. Arm in arm. The first time I told her I loved her. Staring out, the both of us, to the far bank where people laughed silently through the glass of the coffee shop. Everything seemed invested with dramatics and with bravery, and as was always the way with the most important things, I had spoken, and the words had left me before I quite knew what was happening.
I remember she was humming a song. She was singing gently to herself and I only caught words occasionally.
“…the pain of someone you love…”
And I kissed her with the tips of my fingers on her cheek, and as our faces pulled away and stopped inches from each other, I couldn’t see a thing. Blood in my eyes, something shaking inside me, and the feel of her hand flat on my cheek. And I thought she smiled then. I spoke and my voice it was quiet.
“I love you.”
I felt her hand move just a little on my face, felt her fingers, and she spoke as softly as I’d done.
And we kissed again, once, and the blood it had drained from my eyes when I opened them again. We stood for a long while there on the banks, neither of us speaking. I didn’t realise it at the time, didn’t realise that she hadn’t said that she loved me. But her voice had been enough, her hand on my face had been enough, her lips on mine enough. A week later she’d said it.
I had a dream last night that the grass was on fire. Everybody burned but me. The mothers and children and rapists and dogs scorched black and thinning in the heat. The sky was bright heavenly blue and the ground was three feet deep in ash and soot. Everything burnt. I breathed in my friends and the air burned. I walked through Manchester and Edinburgh. A body with its spine snapped backwards/laid out like a horseshoe. It went away quickly when I woke until I stood in the bathroom with blood running down my arms. There were hot fast red lines on my arms and on my chest. Someone pressed a tissue into my mouth and my breath was hot through it. I sat on the cold floor. Remembering my dream. Shaking. Rain picking the window and slipping down. The hot tap ran into an empty sink and down a plughole and nothing else happened. Naked sat on the floor. Nothing happened. Rain talked to me. Felt the arteries a breath under my skin. Spit in my mouth sat there dry like water over glass.
The curtains were open, the lights were off, and I was drinking again, half of the way through that bottle of expensive whisky I’d bought up in Scotland a year back. The bottles that I’d kept apart from all the rest, the one I’d kept in the closet for some reason I couldn’t remember. It had stopped raining hours ago, around midnight. Bouncing between the channels, I’d found a Channel Four documentary about internet chat rooms for the suicidal. Teenagers looked at an unseen interviewer and spoke in small voices of their personal tragedies. There were shots of fingers on keyboards and empty bottles of prescription pills. I stared.
The adverts came on and I turned the channel, just for a second, just so I wouldn’t get pimped at. Just so I wouldn’t see shampoo and deodorant and fuck-me hair bookmarking those scarred kids. So I turned the channel, just for a minute, away from the suicides and onto a twenty-four hour music channel. “Hey Ya” rang from the speakers and I couldn’t stop laughing. True story. That’s the last thing that I remember. I suppose I must have fallen asleep there.