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You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Hair black like charcoal, eyes bluer than the sea. Skin warm, russet like sand, softer than cotton. Voice low, calm – a buzz in my head. I loved you. I always would love you.

But you didn’t love me.

I watched you grow into a man – a wonderful man, a gentle man, a man who deserved the world. I was your friend. You were mine. I thought we’d always have each other.

But you didn’t want me.

We laughed so often, you were always so fun. Your presence was intoxicating, you were intoxicating, a drug bittersweet like ecstasy, twice as harmful. I became addicted. I needed you, always.

But you didn’t need me.

When you told me you loved her, I cried. When I left I thought you’d chase me. I thought you’d call for me to come back. I thought you’d liked me. I thought we’d been friends. I thought you’d miss me, like I still miss you.

But you didn’t care about me.

When you married her, I died. That could’ve been me. That should’ve been me.

But you had no idea.

I don’t know why I never said anything. It was easier that way. I learnt to hate you. I learnt to hate everything. I wasn’t your friend anymore.

And yet here I am, standing on your doorstep. It was easy to find you. Here I am, hand raised, fingers clenched. I am about to knock. I wonder what you’re doing inside. Are you eating dinner? Are you on the telephone? Are you tucking your children into bed? Are you watching TV? Are you fucking your wife?

I knock.

There is a silence which engulfs the moment between the sound of my knuckles against the blue plywood and when you pull it open.

I must’ve been quite the sight. My heart is in my throat. I cannot speak. You’re wearing a collared shirt and a tie. Your hair is parted evenly. The stubble on your jaw is neat. You look important, unlike me. I am a mess. Filthy, haggard, faded. Your mess.

Your name is on my lips. I choke on it. Your mouth drops. Your eyes widen. You know me. I fall into you, unable to stand any longer. I am weak. You are strong. You catch me with both hands. Effortless. You cradle me to you and like a child, I don’t resist. You smell like you always used to – sharp peppermint and warm cologne. You smell like home.

You are saying my name, but I don’t hear it. She is calling to you from the dining room, but you don’t hear it. Your kids are watching you crouching over this nameless girl, this strange woman, this intruder. But you’re not thinking of them. I am in your arms and I am all you see.

That’s what I’d like to believe.

~

You are in my arms and you are all I see.

Where have you come from? Why are you here? Where did you go, all those years ago? I have so many questions. I hold you to me. You’re warm, shaking, shuddering, trembling. I am shaking too. Only then do I realise that you are crying.

My family is watching me. I can feel their confused stares on my back. How do I explain this? Can I explain this? I’d always loved you.

But you hadn’t loved me.

You’d been too beautiful, too good. You’d never have considered me. I thought we’d been friends. I’d thought you liked me. But then you left – disappeared – and was never heard from again.

Until now.

Your tears have stained my shirt. You smell like dirt, of sorrow. What happened to you? Why did you leave? Your nails dig into my skin but I feel no pain. I hold you closer. I try to speak, but words fail me. You’ve done it again. You’ve left me speechless.

My wife sends the children away. She is a good woman, but she was never you. She never told me my bad jokes were bad. She’d never tell me if my tie didn’t suit my shirt. She’d never say if my haircut didn’t suit my head. I thought you’d tell me not to marry her. I thought you’d cared.

But you hadn’t.

When you left I broke, but nobody could know. I said nothing, did nothing. I am the shell of a man.

I help you to the couch. My wife is standing behind me, watching me. What do I say to her? She wants to know. She wants to know everything.

I never told her about you. You weren’t her problem to worry about. I say your name. It’s dry on my tongue. I haven’t said it in a long time.

You look at me. I look at you. You’re a mess. Is this how you left? Were you upset? Were you mad? Was there something you wanted to say?

My wife murmurs my name. I hang my head. She asks me who you are, what you’re doing here. I tell her you’re a friend, that I know as much as her.

‘She’s upset the children.’ Her words were blunt. Always blunt. Always about the children. The children, the children, the children.

I close my eyes.

‘Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?’

I tell her I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why you’re here.

‘But who is she?’

I open my eyes. You’re still looking at me. The tears have ruined the make up around your eyes. Your hair is dishevelled; your lips are cracked. Your skin is paler than my shirt. You’re sick. You’re in pain. You need help. You should’ve gone somewhere else. But here you are, sitting on my couch, because you need me.

That’s what I’d like to believe.

~

I sit across from you and your wife like a child in trouble for misbehaving. Both of you watch me with blank expressions, I gaze at the floor. It’s a nice floor – beige carpet, except not quite beige, maybe cream. I don’t know. I never cared much for colours. In fact, everything in your house seems beige. The walls, the furniture, your clothes – did she do this? I bet she did. She’s a very beige human being. Bland. Tedious. Dull to look at. Beige. I think about colours. If I was a colour, I’d be grey. Gloomy grey. Sad grey. I think about you. If you were a colour you might be brown. Brown like shit, like mud, like clay. And like those things, you’re malleable. You shift your shape according to how people want you to be. People squish you, people stretch you, people roll you around until you’re a perfectly formed ball of conformism. Your wife rolled you. She stretched you out, she squished you. Look at your life. Are you even happy? I don’t think you are. I don’t think you are and you know it, and so does she. Why are you still with her? For the children? The fucking children. The result of a feeble attempt to keep your marriage together. Stupid. You’re stupid. This is why I left. You’re an idiot. You’re a coward. Why don’t you acknowledge how you really feel?

‘I’m aware you and my husband have met before …’

She’s speaking. I close my eyes, bite my lip. I don’t want to hear it.

‘… but we don’t approve of you coming into our house in such a state. I don’t think anybody would approve of such a thing. If you need help –’

She’s trying to be calm, she’s trying to be cool. She’s trying to act like I’m not a threat. Am I threat? I wouldn’t know. You married her, not me.

‘– there are plenty of more than capable clinics we could take you to in the morning.’ She pauses, her eyebrows pull together. She glances at you, unsure of what else to do. You’re staring hard at your feet, hands clasped together, lips pressed thin.

‘We want to help …’

Her words are empty. She doesn’t want to help. She just wants me to leave. I know this. You know this. I smile, and it unnerves her. She rises, crosses her arms over her chest. ‘I’m going to make tea,’ she says. ‘Would you like some?’

I say nothing. Neither do you. She walks out of the room. I hear her open cupboards in the kitchen. I hear the kettle boil. I hear the teaspoon clink against the china. She hesitates in the doorway, looks at me, looks at you, murmurs something about work, and is gone.

For a long time we sit. We do not speak. Are words needed? I watch you the entire time and it makes you uncomfortable. I am your past. I am the cloud at the back of your mind. The grey cloud. The ominous cloud.

And then it happens. Four little words fall from your lips, voice thick like glue. You do not look at me.

‘Why are you here?’

My eyes narrow. I am angry. My chest tightens. My throat closes. My teeth clench. I inhale. I open my mouth.

‘You still don’t know?’

It was hardly a question. You know. You’ve always known, and yet you don’t respond. I see the shame on your face, the embarrassment, the regret. Your silence angers me. I feel it bubble, I feel it boil. I feel it rise in the back of my throat.

I hate you.

If I was a colour, I think I’d be red, not grey. Red like fury, like rage. Red like a flame, vibrant and untame. You’d still be brown, ugly and dull. Dirt. The colour of dirt. It was fitting, really. Fire can scorch the earth. Fire can hurt. I’ll set it all alight and not care to think twice.

You look up, but I’ve already gone. I’m crossing the street, I’m disappearing into the night. I’m miles away, soaring high above your head. You wonder if you’ll see me again, and the answer is simple.

You won’t.