Two Travellers

 “You’re sitting there, looking just like 6am, and I’m wondering if this balcony is big enough for the both of us.”
So he stands up and sits down closer to me, blowing down the straw in his glass, watching the bubbles erupt on the surface of his Coke. I toss my hat over the edge and into the sticky, cinnamon-scented night. We watch it float, a heavy feather that comes to rest poolside, alongside a young girl transfixed by a swarm of ants swimming in the discarded remains of a Pepto-Bismol pink ice-cream.
“When did you know it was love?” I ask him.
 “When I asked you if I was boring you, and you said: a little.”

 “The Tiber looks like a balled fist from here” he grumbles, re-arranging his feet against the kerbstone, “and where are your hands going?”
 He’s caught me trying to quietly slide an extra biscuit from his jacket pocket – we’ve been rationing one out every half hour since we missed our flight. Money and tempers are short.
 “Everyone’s a photographer nowadays” he sighs, watching a wasp wrestle with the heat.
In an effort to lighten his mood, I remove my spectacles and pull his favourite silly face – the one with the tented cheeks and crossed eyes.
 He smiles that stupid shit eating grin of his, and we’re flying again.

Her, Him, and The Kid

3.01pm 03.01.92
I'm only ever truly in the moment when I'm with him, she thinks, holding The Kid up to the light, enjoying the inevitable squeal.
Look at this thing!
It seemed, to her, to exist in a world of neverending tactility, a soft ball of perpetual astonishment - utterly thrilled by the supermarket, or a dog.
Yesterday, she had sat watching him lead The Kid around the garden by one of its ridiculous hands, wobbling on their feet, as if in a snowglobe being softly shaken by its creator.
And - if only for those few moments - she had understood everything.

6.30am 01.01.1990
At least that's what I think he said - a train swept by, brushing his words away with it.
"Can I see you tonight?"
He definitely said that.
"You can see me now"
"I know, but, I was just making sure"
 He set off - smiling - a step ahead; the almost feminine clack of his boot following him. I increased my pace, to match his stride, and we walked into the morning, quietly bursting.

You're perched on a branch of a leafless tree, inky marble eyes examining the scene. Doilies of snow evaporating on your feathers, in close-up.
The small circle of mourners huddle around the open grave, shaking hands held out in prayer, as if warming them on a fire.

Mother chews her on bottom lip, eyes screwed shut, face twisted, frame shaking.
Father hasn't shown, as expected.

11.12am 11.01.99
She stands slightly behind the group, screwing her hands deep into the pockets of her coat, balling her fists, feeling foolish and not knowing why. The pain has been coming in waves since it happened - foamy splashes of grief  slowly eroding the walls of her empty stomach. Every morning, without fail. But not this morning...

7.59am 11.01.99
She hadn't really been awake or asleep the entire night. She sits, cross-legged, on her half of the bed, watching the alarm clock, waiting for it to sound.
She could have stood in the shower until she shrunk, but the water was becoming hard, and she had a face to put on.
I look like a child she thinks, examining herself in the mirror. The downy hairs on her back and arms stand in relief against the sun. She has two pimples on her chin, and one long black hair growing from her left nipple.
Rolling her tights carefully up her thigh, she takes another look, and leaves the house. Her house.

12.08pm 11.01.99
There was just enough reality in him to get by she thinks, watching his family pick apart the carcass of the buffet. Slabs of cigarette smoke press suggestively against the ceiling, slowly curing the air. She fingers a burn-hole in the cushion of the chair she is perched on, and lets her head loll, enjoying the warmth of her chin on her breast - eyes closed - allowing scraps of memories to creep up her spine, and rest between the crook of her neck and the base of her skull.
She pushes her head back into them...

A dozen little fleshy pillows danced around their living room, wearing birthday cake lipstick.
Once all the goodie-bags had been dispensed, and parents telephoned, they both led The Kid into the kitchen, to give him his "big" present - a childrens gardening set. The Kid had been pestering for one ever since it saw her sweeping leaves into exciting heaps last Autumn.

When she awoke the next morning, his half of the bed was empty. Swiftly padding down the stairs, and into the lounge, she found him and The Kid curled up in a ball, wrinkle-free foreheads just touching. They'd made a nest of leaves and discarded wrapping paper.
Don't forget this, ever.

The first thing she noticed about him was the piece of glitter that lay nestled in amongst his eyelashes, like a plastic piece of eight. His face up close robbed it of all meaning, so she fell into him. Their smiles clumsily matched, he stood on her foot, and the music increased in volume:
"the colours red and blue"
"You've got glitter in your eye" she laughed, screwing one eye shut, theatrically concentrating on plucking it out
"There you go...Gone"

11.35am 11.11.09
There he goes she thought, as the casket sank through the scaffolding, and the sky pressed against her head.
These fucking shoes, she thought, heels pinched.

11.35pm 31.12.89
She can't be here alone, he thought. He hadn't even seen her with any friends, let alone a boyfriend. She'd been in pretty much the same spot all night, at the corner of the makeshift dancefloor, awkwardly flapping her arms to the music, looking for all the world if she was trying to fly out through the window.

12am 01.01.90
The first thing he noticed was how alive she seemed, up close - a painting on the wall of the party. She opened up her face and body, all her energy switching from dancing, to him, in an instant.
Her forehead against his, now, warm and smooth - completing the circuit.
"ten days of perfect tunes"
"I love this song! Let's dance?!" she shouted at him, holding his shoulders
"I can't!"
"Just follow me!"
So he stood on her foot, and that was that - out of the window, over the streetlight orange snow, and into the night, hearts and lungs full to bursting.

They hover above a circle of teenagers, throwing marble-sized snowballs at one other. They follow endless black tire-trails, scraped in the snow, circling the streets. They watch a couple watching a firework-display, smiling faces briefly illuminated purple, or blue. They swoop by dancing shadows, framed by steamed windows. The muffled thud of a thousand parties - the heartbeat of the city.

They feel all this, without understanding it.

Just two little birds, and a New Year

Andrew and Lily

Dear Lily,

 You should see the sky tonight – a perfect Germolene pink. Got me to thinking about that drink you used to love, Root Beer, and how I’d tease you about how it tasted like antiseptic cream. Do you still like it? I went to buy you some, but it’s impossible to find.
 How are you? Wait, do you remember that man that would always sit in the same corner of Landsman’s? The one with the face like the hull of a ship? I’m looking at him as I write this (his nose looks like it’s about to have a heart attack). I passed him on the way to the gent’s earlier, and he was mumbling into his fist about collecting a package. Naturally I tried to find a reason to linger by his table, but I think he’s suspicious of me when I’m without you. I’m suspicious of me when I’m without you, so I don’t blame him. Anyway, he’s just pulled out a foreign newspaper and a pair of scissors. Will keep you posted.
 Ah, my coffee is here. Do you still take more sugar than coffee? I was reading an article earlier about the coffee trade in Nicaragua and how... Oh! Guess who just walked in?! That lady who used to sit and suffocate love letters all day with that horrid perfume? (You once said it sat in the air like a bad joke), then seal them with an oily circle of lipstick!? Remember? Well, she just materialised from within a cloud of ylang-ylang and furniture polish, and is now walking purposefully walking towards Mr Carbuncle. Maybe she’s the package?

If it wasn’t before, then table 3 is now definitely officially my favourite.

 How is the new job? It must be so enlivening living in such a big city. I envy you! I was there about a month ago, but I wasn’t sure if I should come see you, as I know you’re busy... How is your Mum?
 I’ve been considering taking a holiday soon – somewhere warm and light. Maybe you could come with me? Remember Greece? The sky sat so high there. It’s low and heavy here, now – pressing against Landsman’s windows... Oh, I miss you Lily. An advert for nail varnish came on the television recently and I thought about that time you painted my toe nails (candyfloss pink, if I remember rightly), then made me go to the shops wearing flips-flops (laughing at me from a distance the whole way)... and I swear my heart clenched like a fist at the memory. I’m going to end up like Mr Carbuncle over there if I don’t see you soon. I know I shouldn’t be saying this (or even really sending this letter), but the days have started to pinch in the middle without you, Lily - like a belt pulled too tight at the waist.
 I’ve included my new address, and some articles I thought you’d like, plus the names of a couple of Root beer stockists near you that I found on the internet. Seems it’s easier to find in the city.
 I love you. Remember,
                                     Dad x

Terence And Iris

 Terence can’t remember the last time he was on a bus. The driver seemed irrationally angry when asked to take Terence to the restaurant, but they eventually reached a position of mutual understanding. This pleases Terence, as he feels comfortable with a world that is open to reason – his house was becoming increasingly unreasonable towards him, in all honesty, so he is glad of a little alfresco adventure, even if he isn’t entirely sure what exactly he is supposed to be doing. Still, it is nice to be doing something. Sat up here, on the top deck, he can visualise the patchwork of the city more clearly – he begins assembling a jigsaw of houses in his mind, all the while keeping count of the people passing by behind the glass. He thinks of being a boy, and how the bus timetable could keep him quiet for hours, the colour-coded routes criss-crossing like the sticks in a fresh game of Kerplunk.
 After roughly amount of time on the bus that the driver mentioned would be necessary, Terence recognises the street name that the anonymous caller gave him, and exits the bus.
 Terence looks up at the restaurant – the blue and white sign above the door is written in what he recognises to be Hellenic typeface, and reads:


Terence enjoys the sign for a while, hesitates, and then pushes open the door. Terence supposes the restaurant has just opened for the evening, as it is customer-free. A heavy-set young man wearing a crisp white shirt greets him:
 “Table for one, Sir?” the man says, pointing a single large finger in the air.
 Terence stares at the man, and pulls a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket. He lifts his own finger, as if to say “please wait one moment”, and then studies the information the anonymous caller had given him. After a few seconds, with a confidence that surprises even him, he states:
 “I am looking for an Iris”
 The waiter, now beginning to suspect that he has a strange one on his shift, folds his hands, and replies:
 “We mainly serve food here, Sir – may I suggest you try Interflora, just up the high street. They stock a wide variety of flowers, and-“
 “I think Iris is a woman - or a girl.” Terence interrupts. He isn’t enjoying this, already.
 Just as Terence is trying to decide whether or not the man is making fun of him, the kitchen doors swing outwards, expelling a gust of warm air, and a young girl.
 “It’s okay Peter, I’ll handle the customer” she exclaims.
 The waiter grumbles, and sinks into the kitchen, swapping places with the girl.
 “Hello, how can I help you?”
 Terence wants to answer, but he is suddenly brought to mind of a documentary he once saw about the manufacturing process of luxury Easter-eggs.
 “Would you like a table?” the girl asks.
 “You have very nice eyes”
 With a kind gesture that Terence is immediately grateful for, the girl pretends to mishear him.
"A table for one? Certainly Sir!”
 The girl takes Terence by the hand, guides him to a well-appointed table at the back of the room, sits him down, and then takes the seat across from him. She rests her head on a fist, at the temple, and smiles. Her face is ovals and almonds, Terence thinks. And then giggles at the thought.
 “Are you laughing at me?!” she asks, without a hint of hurt in her face.
 “No, I was just wondering if your eyes were real. I know that people can get injections into their lips and foreheads. Also, I saw a woman holding a dog smaller than her breasts, once. So, I know it’s possible”
 The girl laughs (a sound that Terence believes he could sleep in) and she takes one of his hands in hers.
“I have the feeling that this won’t be the last piece of advice I give you” she smiles, “but you don’t have to say every single thing that pops into your head, okay?”
She says this in exactly the manner that it needs to be said, and - for the first time since he left the house today - Terence is sure that he isn’t being made fun of.
“I spend a lot of time in my house, you see. Talking to just me.” He tells the table, not looking up.
When he looks back up again, she is wearing a grin almost as big as her eyes.
“Come on, there’s something I need to show you” she says, pushing her chair back.
“Terence returns the smile, and stands up straight, whispering:
“You’re Iris, right?”
“Yes Terence. It’s Lovely to meet you. Really”.