A full moon tonight. I anticipate a no-show; the view occluded by coagulated, thick porridge cloud. But when I open my front door to venture outside and walk toward the dark, wet-rimmed basin of meadows, in the curl of neighbourhood cul-de-sac, between roofs of two houses, a knocked over cup of cappuccino spills into the sky. Moon, a bright foamy incidental drop floats in slow creamy swirls of liquid darkness.
In this fluid world an image rises: a beautiful young woman in a train carriage. I hadn`t noticed that she was there earlier, one of several corner-of-the-eye moving shadows – passengers choosing seats. But she must have been, ever since our departure from the station. So, here I am returning from an always unnerving ‘bathroom visit on a train’ experience: the automatic sliding door; an unwanted embrace; doubt and fear of whether the door will lock, unlock; the motion of the train; to sit or stand? Rivulets of soapy water and piss curl, writhe, overlap like a coiled slumber-disturbed nest of snakes. Mucky shoe prints merge, begin to lift away, become an historic universal sole above once sparkly white floor. Now, I’m walking unsteadily between rows of seats which seem to wobble like loose teeth in a big, open-mouthed yawn, smile. The train speeds, judders and jolts; its carriage swings gently from side-to-side like a pregnant cat’s belly.
There she is. Cinnamon sprinkled onto long, molasses hair; her complexion, oiled olive wood; enough of a gentle smile to intimate friendliness; perfect, lipstick-less lips. Her dark, chocolate eyes appear to wait, anticipate, hold mine. Is she looking at me? I turn around. There must be a much younger, more attractive person behind me. The cliché of my action realised, my mind turns around too. She is looking at me. My heart does a double-kick drum beat; fever glows behind my ear lobes; heat prickles the few hairs on my chest with a light sweat. I do nothing.
Arriving at my home town station, I get up from my seat. The young woman, still sitting two rows away from me, initially a post-daydream background blur, now frosted glass, now crystalline, HD-ready – beautiful. No. Stop there. No. She’s at least twenty years younger than me; that makes me old. Old enough to be… no, stop there too. Deeper thought will only exacerbate existentialist woes; taking a walk on an almost-set concrete path, then a surprise splash of reality will arrive like an ice-cold drink thrown in your face. I’ll carry the moment home and nurture it for a while, this, our unborn child. Wait. There she is again, a soft form elegantly positioned on one of the foyer’s battleship grey and blood-red, metal seats. With that same look she turns around to follow me toward the exit, then along a length of hand-smeared, fag stub-stabbed, rain-beaded glass façade.
Look at me. Look at me, you idiot. Come on, Yusef. Yeah, I clocked the ‘Hello my name is: badge’. I bet wearing it makes you feel that weird mix-up of embarrassment and pride, right? I’m not stalking you; I’m waiting here for my taxi to arrive. It’s cold outside; it’s cold enough in here. This seat’s freezing, and those oh-so-sensitive automatic doors opening and shutting don`t help. The invisible eye of the sensor’s acting like a kid who’s discovered what curtains do for the first time. Why are they opening now? Surely it can’t be triggered by a few leaves blowing across the taxi bay? Okay, okay, I said I was waiting for a taxi, right? Well, I’m actually waiting for my dad to pick me up, okay? But, if I told you that, it would just make you think I’m a young, naïve girl, wouldn’t it? Hey, I’m young, but I’m old enough for you. Yeah, I live with my currently happily divided parents; but hey, economic necessity and all that, post-uni, between jobs, part-time study to pay for. I’ll get my own place eventually. Everything’s cool, right?
Look at you, staring at the moon as the clouds budge out of the way for a millisecond; simultaneously trying to forget me, and dwelling on the moment in that little melancholy way of yours. Poetic guy, hey? Yeah, me too, I’m a poetic girl. You see? I know you, because you’re like me.
You probably think that I’m too young, right? I’m not stupid, blah, blah, blah… ‘age difference’, ‘what would our families think’, et cetera, et cetera. This has nothing to do with our families; this is about us. Don’t you get it? I know you feel the same as I do. Look, there’s an obvious connect here, not just a dodgem car bump of chemical-hormonal reaction. We’ve seen some of each other, you know? Yeah, however brief, due to your lack of eye-to-eye commitment, shyness, concern about age. Hah, age concern, right?! No, we’ve seen character, intellect, warmth; we’ve seen the soul. Availability is key, sure thing. Listen: I wanna yin-yang with you, you handsome lanky lunk of self-denial; you errant, miscellaneous, beautiful man. I can tell you’re single; single guys are always easier to read than single girls. You look so ‘please, Mummy, I’m lost’; your blushes and awkwardness dead giveaways. The fact is you’re free. It takes two to tangle, to tryst. Try it. Take a risk; be brave, honey.
Late autumn, early winter. I arrive at an intersection, of sorts, where wealth meets, well, dirt-poor, to put it frankly, if a little insensitively. Like most borderlines – invisible, yet a difference always tangible. I watch three guys shuffle by, stooped like wind-blown garden canes. Hands are stuffed into pockets, just a glimpse of pinked white haloes, the nakedness of their wrists. Destination performed in silent mutual agreement. These guys wear heavy woollen coats, the colour of coal; well-worn coats where the wool has bobbled, fuzzy outlines appear on shoulder seams and arms, reveal vague chase-me traces of land on horizons. I notice a star or satellite appear in the slowly clearing sky like a splinter of glass flying away from a bottle neck break.
There’s an unreachable heart-shaped red apple at the top of a solitary tree in Valentine Road. One isolated fruit in upper, wiry untamed branches; thin tangles like desperate fatigued arms, webs of veins and arteries. No intermittent touch of care to nurture and create a plentiful yield of sweetness and strength for this tree.
Another Christmas due, and I know it’ll appear all too jack-in-a-box soon. Families in my neighbourhood have already prettified windows with garlands and slow-pulse LED snowflake and icicle lights; uncertain, hesitant shifts of colour like a reader looking for the right page. I feel so alone. Why? My parents are with me, or rather, I am with them. I have friends, so why do glimpses of other people’s lives like the warm, tantalising glows from strangers’ living rooms with apparently happy families inside make me feel so sad? It is theatre I’m watching, isn’t it? Are these families content all the time? Is all life theatre?
A short walk from my parent’s house, across a gravel drive and around the block, feels like a long, long ramble – in my mind at least. That apple tree hasn’t made me feel any less lonely. There it stands, neglected, yet it still bears fruit. I should Flickr and Facebook a pic of that one at the top. It’s large; a proper burst of blood red. I’ve got a stupid idea in my head that if I were tall enough to reach up and twist it free, all of my dreams would come true. Hah! What a big, stupid kid I am. I can hear someone walking nearby through the leaf-covered path. The sounds are all scrunches like crushed crisp packets and broken biscuits. Come on, Mara, girl, pull your leggings up, get your act together, sharpen your senses, be sweet now.
The shallow skid of pond is semi-iced; parchment paper patterned with greasy shadows of grass and leaves. Nearby, a working men’s club with windows of sheet metal and padlocked doors; a sign; black, rusted twelve-spoke mine wheel; the clock that tells you nothing, tells you everything; a simple profile of miners, angular in shadow, spade-dig at a forty-five degree bank of coal, forever digging the now, or the past. I walk past it towards what the club folks call Adam’s Tree. I see a familiar face, and my own Adam’s Apple bobs involuntarily in an awkward gulp which drowns my breath. An apple at the top of the tree remains firm, intact, red as blood. A few other fruits, sparse, decay on lower branches, moistened, rain-darkened, colour of burnt toast. God, Yusef, stop being such a drag-heels mope-along, man.
If I reach out to it, do I reach out to you? Carol song in the distance wraps around me, forms a halo of melody and nostalgia, tremulous, tentative: spider on her silken web. I feel so not alone – Merry Christmas.
‘Weren’t you (on the train earlier),’ we both begin a start-up stutter, knowing that we know the answer already. So what happens now, a Happy New Year?