Not Today

Louise Ashton

Throughout their entire relationship John had clung to September as either a promise, a threat, an ending, or an understanding that there never would be one. Tesserae of imaginings, his anxiety offered him a multitude of potential goodbyes, cries of revelation, silent departures. Often, he thought of August. Their departing kiss, long anticipated like the final knot in a shoelace. A decision not taken lightly, or made in haste, but overborne, weighted and reshaped. He tried to imagine the train station. Certainly not Kendal, Carnforth perhaps… though that brought with it certain agitations. Work colleagues appearing, an abundance of knowing faces pretending not to know.

It was unfocused. Though the destination would be secure. She had been preparing to leave for Edinburgh all summer and with each passing day it pooled around their ankles like rising water. Neither of them had mentioned that it was only two hours away, paling in comparison to the monthly drive down to his father’s house in Cheltenham. Already, gentle regret settled around the flat like must, or mildew. It clung to him as they made love, pungent in his sweat and searing his tears. The promise of an impending end.

He’d accepted her departure before they began and often wondered ashamedly if that had impelled him to pursue her. Temporality.

Sometimes love is only ever supposed to be short-term.

The clock lay face down on top of the television with the batteries beside it. It was an alteration that she’d made on her first visit and he knew that on the 1st September he would set it going once more.

‘Morning.’

She stood in the doorway, bare from the waist, bandy legged. She was small, and she had been smaller still when he had first experienced her nakedness.

‘Tea?’ he enquired, eyes upon her and unmoved. He’d made it five minutes ago, extracted the tea bag in haste, afraid that she’d woken up too soon then strained it again just to be sure. She nodded slowly, her leporine eyes fixed, telling him things that she would not.

The couch was a weathered aubergine, lighter in places from the friction of their helpless embraces. She extended her legs across his lap and accepted the tea. He touched the skin on her ankle and wondered how it would change. Three weeks ago, the rain had fallen for four days without ceasing, protecting them like a shield of promises. Privately, they had listened to Miles Davis and made love here for the first time. Quietly, hesitant at first. Considerate, both aware of the potential for injury, the scars that they would inflict. Then obsessive, urgent and pleading, months of need and want and resistance ripped in to each other. Devastated and liberated synonymously, shared breath. The silent understanding afterwards, the air that surrounded them coloured with fear and relief.

She blinked, the sunlight shone on her exposed cheek like an open wound.

His most recent article lay on the coffee table ready for editing.

Hope – or its continued reappearance – is a damaging emotion.

That was the premise.

 

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