I loved the way she said “balloon”. She said it as if she were blowing bubbles.

I had been infatuated with her since I was seven years old, from the first moment I saw her dance into the playground as if she had wings. She seemed to hover above the asphalt, a radiance in her smile and warmth in her eyes as if she was merely waiting for all the joys that the world was sure to bring her.

As for me, I was a surly little girl at that point, or so my teachers used to say. I was often to be found in the darkest corner of the playground, hidden in the shadows of the chimney stacks rising like sentries from the factory roof next door. I pressed myself so closely to the depths of the gloom that my cardigan and skirt would be smudged with the soot that clung to the walls. I was an observer, a collector of moments that I would hoard jealously to myself and  recreate furiously in my notebooks as soon as I got home.

Maddie, oh Maddie. She was the light of my life for thirteen years. Unlucky for some, for her, most people thought, as her light infused me with joy and my darkness forced her to deal with practicalities of life. To everyone else, she lost some of her vivacity, her enthusiasm for the world, but to me, when we were on our own, she shimmered like heat haze on the horizon.

The plane was two hours late. I had shuffled in my seat, crossed and uncrossed my legs, picked at a hangnail until it bled. ‘Come to me, Maddie’ the words had reeled endlessly in a constant circle of unrelenting obsession, as if I could will the plane to pick up speed, to land in my lap and deposit my desire right here, right now.

The stain on the wall is all that remains. I go back there sometimes, to the playground, to my past, to Maddie. If I run my fingers over the bricks, pockmarked with age and beaten and crumbled with wind and rain, I can almost feel her gripping my hand in glee as we daubed the wall with bitumen from the caretaker’s stores.

“Maddie ❤️ Rosie”

It was still there, all these years later.

All these years after the plane never landed, all these years after my own heart shattered into a million tiny fragments and I closed my notebooks forever.

You see, Maddie did love me. It hadn’t been a one way street.

Even if her flight never returned her to me, my love for her had been returned a thousand-fold.