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.


The art of dying


“I’ve only had one affair. She should count herself lucky.”

Needless to say, I choked on my coffee. Who wouldn’t? It’s not the kind of thing you expect to hear in a village coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon. Is it?

I dabbed my lips with the edge of my napkin, sneaking a quick look at the two men sitting at the table next to mine. Large cappucinos – check. Pains au chocolat – check. Deceptively understated chunky knit sweaters – check. Levis, artfully worn at the seams  – check. Floppy dark hair, slices of silver gray enhancing rugged good looks – check.

The usual suspects.

The speaker’s confidant nodded in agreement. “Damn right she should.”

I couldn’t help myself. In two ticks I was by their side, towering over their conspiratorial forms. They looked up in unison, shadows of guilt passing over their faces. I’d seen it before, but in entirely different surroundings. Big city pubs and bars were more my usual haunts, but needs must.

“Only one affair?” I demanded, trying to hide my grin. The question always put them on the back foot.

“Err, yeah. Not that it’s any of your business,” The Cheater, caught unawares turned defensive.

“Oh don’t worry! I’m not judging – except that really, if you’re going to cheat once, you might as well do it again and again and again. Carry on where you left off, right?” I let the question hang in the air, watching confusion reign over both of them.

“Piss off, love, why don’t you. My marriage is none of your business.” The Cheater made as if to stand up and I backed off.

“OK, OK. I’m going…”

I backed off, and sat down at my table again, making like I was absorbed in a phone call. I’d have made a fantastic actress.

“Biggest mistake of my life, Andy, to be honest. Once is once too often, I reckon.”

The Confidant nodded in agreement once more. “Yeah mate, she’s a good one, your Sarah.”

My work was done.