It only takes the sound of glass breaking to remind me of the taste; wet concrete and burned rust. Last week I sat in a bar facing a drizzly street and stared at my own reflection for hours as humanity shuffled by. The gangly barman, who’d been hopelessly flirting with his co-worker, dropped 125mls of cheap Merlot onto the floor and his cheap shoes, and I snapped out of the polished glass and tasted her again. Felt the crunch under my teeth, the cherry blossom breath and chipped nails.
Walking side by side amid the slush and dirty snow our words are just a duel – fencing stabs and slashes as we prod and poke and look for the weak spots. In boxing terms I am the slugger, throwing out haymakers and uppercuts with all the subtlety of the Las Vegas strip. She was always the cruiserweight, picking her moments and trying to open up an eyebrow here, a lip there. As we walk down the alleyway, the overhanging trees seem to lean in as if to pick up our conversation. She kicks away the needles and chuckles at the crude spray-painted dicks. I step around the soiled clothes and an upside down shopping cart blackened by fire and the futility of bored youth.
I throw my arms out and affect a ridiculous swagger; I’m hoping to connect with her hand but she slides it into her pocket and smiles. The haymaker swipes wildly over her head and with a sigh and a shake of the head I feel the skin on my cheekbone worn down to the fibres. One more direct hit and it’s over. Blood down to my chin; towel thrown in. Clean wins across the board.
When we reach the old outhouse – a public convenience boarded up since the 70’s when the neighbourhood turned in on itself – she produces a torn up soda can and a cigarette lighter and asks me if I want to share. We venture inside this weird time capsule, a dirty ceramic box covered in dead matter and the failed dreams of a thousand wasted childhoods, and she flicks the disposable under her chin and pokes her tongue out. One step forward, no fear.
She pulls me in against the wall and I almost lose my ankle on an old bottle of toothless cider. She lifts up my shirt and hers, pressing our stomachs against each other. I’m cold but she is warm – fucking glowing – and I feel our molecules join and awkwardly mingle like Royals stumbling into a working class wedding. I can taste the cherry blossom and the flecks of concrete stuck into her sticky waxed lips as we consume and devour. Writhing and slithering around to her neck, I inhale her long hair and smell bonfires and melted plastic, aerosol cans and cheap weed. She grapples with my belt and I feel a snap in the back of my head, the breaking of a padlock with bolt cutters that opens a sealed door and floods my skull with light. I’m grabbing at her jeans, yanking everything down for a fingertip glance of her, as I feel her chipped nails scraping down my own.
I lift her up onto an old sink and it holds, parting her legs wide, yelps echoing into cobwebbed corners and out of the open door. It’s over in a matter of minutes, but here I am over two decades later and it still isn’t over… it has never finished, and never will.
She loved breaking windows. I miss that glint in her eye as she found an aerodynamically perfect pebble or lump of old brick that could bring down plate glass like all the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. She burned everything that couldn’t move and a few things that couldn’t move fast enough. She spilled wine over my shoulders and left stains that will never wash off – and truth be told, I am in no hurry to try.
Everyone in the bar cheers, in that curious way we all do when the barkeeps break something they shouldn’t. I’m remembering those cat’s eyes glinting in the midnight moonlight, as she proudly held up a piece of old roof tile, flat and triangular, in front of a garish clothes shop window. I remember as she looked back at me with such pride, like all her Christmases had arrived at once. She kissed it, she drew her hand back, and the shattering could’ve woken up God. Then we ran. We always ran. And she always ran faster. And then one day, after so many broken windows and bonfires, after our molecules had joined and we’d gasped ourselves into each other, the light disappeared. There were no more clear starlit nights – only intense cloud and breathlessness and headaches. Only the dark corners in dimly lit rooms where I always imagined she’d be sitting, chuckling at my cluelessness, in hospitals, offices and libraries. Always I expected her to be there.
I can’t remember our last words in that old outhouse but they weren’t profound. If I knew they would be our last I would’ve made more of an effort. But so it goes.
I am forgettable.
You remain imperishable.