In the winter of twenty-nineteen,
I began thinking about Cody.
In the winter of twenty-nineteen, I began thinking about Cody. I had recalled those nights not so far from here, where we once lay together. The trees were bare, stretched out behind our window, and the sky was always so blue. While I thought about it, I could smell that air again, like treacle, through our open window, and it had breathed across layers of dust. And your bed- slightly warm against my back, and my hands were always in yours, and you’d nestle in my neck, too,- and your record player would sit on the cabinet beside us, where you would always play such soft music.
These days, when the rain would spill into my room, it would spill quickly, and crawl through the ink of the sketches on my desk and push them away. I would come home after work and see the aftermath and swear to clean it up the day after. Sometimes, when that day came, I would swear to do the same.
Well, I had told myself to stop thinking about you. I had told myself that most days while filing through the sketchbook you forgot about and left in the wardrobe beside my shoe box. With the softest touch, I would turn the pages, as if even the thought of haste would ruin your work, and I would fall in love all over again with those garden sketches- our garden, where we would always lose Casey’s ball and find it with some other thing we lost a few months ago. I would wonder whether you were sketching some other man’s garden, now.
If it hadn’t had been for that knock at the door, I might well have spent the entire night just like that- my gaze bound to your work, imagining the ghost of your hand retracing those lines. I tore myself away and placed your sketchbook back where you left it.
When I opened the door, Emily didn’t speak. It was raining, though. It felt like it always was.
I just stood there looking at her. I wanted to move forwards and hug her or say something or do something that anyone else in that situation would’ve done already, but I didn’t. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I tried to lift my arms, but they stayed where they were. Then, Emily moved past me. I closed the door behind her, with the lock and everything, and I pushed against it with my shoulder because it always got a little bit stuck. Then, I followed her through the hallway.
In the living room I dried her hair. By that time, she was drinking chocolate milk- heated up in a pan, the way she liked it. She’d taken off her coat, too, which I didn’t recognise, -this swollen thing which made her look much wider than she was and looked more like a dressing gown than a coat, anyway,- and she’d dropped it on the floor by the couch.
When she finally spoke, she spoke quietly, and lifted the warm mug, with both hands, against her lips. She said, ‘I’m scared of fireworks, now. The noise, it hurts my ears. And, where I’m living, people put fireworks in letterboxes. I like danger, but not like that.’
‘Why do you like danger?’ I asked, still looking at the coat.
‘Dangerous situations.’ She said.
‘Dirt bikes. Fire. Fighting.’
‘But why, though?’
‘Probably the adrenaline.’
When we were kids, we told each other everything: secret dreams and games only we knew how to play, and whole languages we made up during lunchbreak, and places we’d sometimes go when we were sad, like the library, or the corner shop. But, right then, while I rolled that towel over her sodden head, and noticed the ends of her hair had hints of a deep purple dye, I had tried to remember when the last time I saw her was. I tried to remember what colour her hair was, then.
‘So, what did you want?’ I asked her.
‘Why did I have to want something?’ She said.
‘You’ve not called, not picked up- I tried to phone you, we all did. Nothing, for three… four months, and now you’re here talking about fireworks. I know you probably want something, and you’ll have been doing stuff you don’t want us to know about, too.’
‘Is it money?’ I asked.
‘I didn’t come here because I wanted something from you.’
After a moment she stood up, and when she did, she pushed the towel away a bit with her elbow. I stared at the back of her head. Her hair was still dripping slightly, in lines, down her neck. She said, ‘Sometimes I don’t want to be me.’
I said, ‘Yeah, I’m the same, I-.’
‘Don’t talk to me, now.’ She said, ‘Just listen. Please? Don’t… make this about you… again. Just listen to me, yeah? Just… Lately I’ve been feeling alone- a lot- like, more than usual. University’s weird. The people I work with… This girl, she asked me to go out for Halloween. I went- I did- and I’m proud of myself for that, but… I left early. Got a taxi. I couldn’t handle it- my body it wouldn’t let me. I want to be better at talking to people, but my body…’ Emily stopped for a moment and fought to breathe the air back into her lungs. Then, she started again, slower this time, ‘I’m sorry I’ve not been the perfect sister to you. The perfect daughter to him. I’m never going to be you.’
Her words hung in the air, as if they’d been dragged along the walls. The stains of what she’d said painted the room.
So, I folded the wet towel up and placed it on the arm of the couch, and then I sat beside it. ‘I don’t want you to be me.’ I said, ‘Half the time I don’t even want that. But, really, when you think about it, you and I have only got two options here, and we’re done thinking about the other one, right? That stuff’s behind us now.’
Slowly, Emily nodded her head. She was still staring at her chocolate milk, which she’d hardly touched.
When I placed my hand on her back, she moved away again, - just a little, but enough to notice. I placed my arms by my side, then wrapped my fingers around the front of the couch. I rolled forwards.
‘How long you going to be here for?’ I asked.
For a moment, she thought about it. She raised the mug to her lips, again. She said, ‘Don’t be surprised if you wake up and I’m not here.’
‘That’s fair.’ I said. ‘That’s enough.’
The rain battered the window. There was this heavy feeling in the room. The air felt sharp and pushed right through my throat, like a skewer. When we stopped talking, the rain was all we could hear. I said, ‘I’ve always kind of liked that noise.’
‘The rain?’ She asked.
‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘I don’t know why.’
When she finally sat back down, Emily sat a little closer to me. She rested her head against my arm, and breathed deeply, slowly. She stared at the wall. She looked right through it. I held the back of her head in my hands, and closer to her scalp her hair was still a little wet. She moved, calmly, against me.
‘When I look back at my life,’ She said, ‘it doesn’t feel like mine. I remember things, but they- it’s like it’s not my memories. Like I used to be someone else. Like I’ve just been different people, and… looking back at my memories, they aren’t mine. I don’t want to think that they’re mine.’
Moving my thumb against her neck, I fought to unknot her hair.
She said, ‘I think I’m going crazy.’
‘You’re not going crazy.’ I said.
‘You’re already way past that.’
‘Heyyy,’ Emily pushed against me playfully, and I almost fell off the arm of the couch. I caught her gaze slightly, though, and when I saw her eyes, I saw they were a bit red. Her mouth, though, had started to turn up into a smile. She said, ‘I’m being serious here.’
‘Me too! Fuck. You, even crazier? The world would end.’
She said, ‘I think it probably would.’
I smiled into the back of her hair, then rested my forehead against her. When we stopped talking, the rain’s patter filled the room again. ‘What happened to us?’ I asked.
She thought for a second, then started to laugh. ‘I have absolutely no idea.’ She said. ‘I think we just… grew apart, or something. It’s hard to stay in contact, and stuff… with them, too. They never made it easy, you know?’
‘I think it was their mission statement not to.’
‘You think?’ She smiled and looked up at me.
‘No,’ I said, ‘not really. I probably used to think stuff like that, though.’
She lowered her head again.
‘I think they tried,’ I continued, ‘but… I think they were just bad at the whole marriage thing, and, like, being decent human beings to one another, after it. I think they tried, though. I really do.’
Emily nodded, sleepily, against my arm. She murmured, ‘It was always one or the other.’
‘Yeah, but… I don’t know. I think it was probably just their way of dealing with things.’ I said. ‘How is she?’
‘She’s gone back to making cakes.’
‘How’s she doing with that?’
‘I don’t remember.’ Emily said. ‘How’s dad?’
‘Better than he was, like… he can talk about things, now. Before, he just… like, he pretended she never existed and stuff, and refused to even talk about her. So, I guess he’s getting there?’
‘But it made things really difficult, just… pretending she wasn’t a part of all those years, what was it like twenty years? Pretending like she was never a part of our lives, either, and you wanted to live with her, and I couldn’t even talk about her. It was difficult.’
‘She has a dog now.’
‘It’s… What was Casey?’
‘She’s one of them.’
The rain started to die down. That rhythm against the window slowed, and the streetlights came on outside. Its warm glow sighed into the room.
I said, ‘I think, at the time, I… probably blamed them for a lot of stuff.’
Emily curled herself right up, and muttered under her breath, ‘What kind of stuff?’
‘Like not seeing you. Not… trying… when I was in Uni. It gave me an excuse, I think, not to try.’
I said, ‘I think I probably could’ve done more.’
Gently, Emily straightened herself up. She held my hand in hers. She said, slowly, ‘That’s really dumb.’
‘You’re probably right.’ I nodded, and she smiled at me again. ‘Can I ask you something?’
‘Even if I wake up… and you’ve disappeared, again, would you text me sometimes?’
She said, ‘Of course.’
I couldn’t really tell whether she was happy or sad, but Emily hugged me anyway. She held me tight, and started to shake a little bit, so I held her tightly too. ‘It’s okay.’ I said.
‘I haven’t drunk chocolate milk in years.’ She said, and her voice fluttered when she spoke. ‘I was gonna not say anything, but…’ She breathed in, heavily, ‘It tastes really bad.’
As her arms wrapped around my back, this rush of memories I faintly recalled returned to me- Emily and I in the garden, with Casey, and we found worms in the mud and scared each other. I remembered birthdays and Christmases, and videos of each-other we’d watch through the camcorder, and sleepovers- long nights, too, where we’d struggle to sleep and comforted each-other instead of telling our parents- long nights we’d spend together, talking about our plans for the future.
When she let go, Emily rolled back on the couch, and she looked kind of happy. Her eyes were red, but she was smiling.
‘So, are you done being depressing now?’ I said.
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. ‘What?’ She said.
‘If I’ve only got tonight with you, I don’t want to be talking about depressing shit like looking back at your depressing ass life, yeah? What do you wanna watch? We’ll put something on. Or we’ll listen to something, just… Or we can just sit here, yeah?’
‘We can sit here.’
She said, ‘You might want to move off there, then, before your butt gets, like, cramp and stuff.’
‘Nah, I’m taller than you this way.’ I said.
‘For real, you’re gonna-?’
‘Okay.’ She smiled, ‘Okay.’
We sat and watched television until she fell asleep. When she did, I waited a little longer. Then, gently, I moved from beneath her, I went upstairs, and I went to sleep, too.
In the early morning, the door downstairs slammed shut. I rolled out of the duvet, and moved, half-asleep, to the window by my bed.
I watched the shape of Emily walk down the driveway. At the end of it, she stopped. I thought maybe she would turn around and say goodbye, and I’d see some tiny features of her face in that low light before sunrise, and I’d wave, and she’d wave too. But instead, she pulled out her earphones, untangled them by her feet, and moved past the other houses.
When she was gone, I sat back down on the side of the bed, and stared through my bedroom window, where the sunlight never quite came in. There was the sound of wind, circling around the house like a hungry shark, and howling, and the sky still looked quite dark.
On the windowsill was a cutting from a tomato plant, which had been brought in for winter, and it was sitting in water. The roots had spread out, like dripped ink, and curled back on themselves against the glass vase. At the fork of the cutting, a few dead leaves had been rolled with silk. In the water, a caterpillar bobbed against the stem.
I reached over to the bedside table, grabbed my phone, and typed out a text message to you. Hey, It read, how are things? Then, I placed the phone back on the table, and lay down in bed.
Moments later, its screen illuminated the ceiling. I’m just colouring. wbu?
Sounds therapeutic. I typed back, I’m still in bed.
It really is. It’s really lovely. There was a pause, and then another message came through, Are you okay?
I pressed my finger to the screen of the phone, and moved the message, just a little bit, so the phone didn’t lock again. Then, another message followed: Honestly. I thought for a moment, unlocked the phone, then slowly typed out a response.