The Vastness

It was the morning of your leaving. That’s when I knew I was sinking. Lost at sea.

You walked into the chilly gloom – taking my breath with you. I don’t think I ever felt so naked. I closed the door and just stood there – shaking. It was the dam breaking. It was everything. Like a higher power – and me becoming lost in it.

I was washed away. Dissolved. Erased but immediately reborn. But not the same.

And it was you – you who taught me not to fight the tides.

You who said surrender – so I did.

We had our forty four hours. Crammed our fevered love between commitments. Me to mine. You to yours. Dusty old tale.

And then, in fitful blackness, the thumb grimed radio crashed to life – static and flashing numbers. The dream was over. The news was out. You winced in the ugly light as you scurried into your clothes. I was barely out of bed in time to see you off.

Next week? I smiled – trying to sound off-hand.

Travelling, you said – eyes downcast. Sad.

Which was how I felt.

We stood in barely awake silence. “I’ll call,” you promised – but even that was tired.

“I love you, Bret,” I said to your back as you started down the carpeted corridor. You turned and smiled. You held your hand over your heart. Tapped it twice. Beats in time. It said what you never could.

Never did.

They say that words are close to worthless – to a point I agree – yet what that little sentence would have meant to me.

I only ever wanted a single piece of certainty. All manner of chaos could have whirled around that.

Of all the gifts you gave, none were truly mine.

I spent the day trailing luggage. Trying not to spend money. I walked for hours – burning off the energy of abjection, glad for the anonymity of the city. I got to the station in time for the rush. It was like being an ant. The swirl and the smell of it.

Then I saw it. The Runaway Circus flyer pasted to a pole. It made me brake. Feet killing me. Eyes popping. The image was weathered, edges lifting. Someone had run a key across it.

But there it was – your perfect face. Unalive eyes still piercing. Mouth still kissable.

A line from Alana’s review shouted at me. “Get a babysitter. The kids won’t like this one.”

I was choking. So much crushed into a faded rectangle. All of you and I rolled flat. Posterised. The ephemerality of it all was undeniable. We are bright and colourful for a while, until time and fresh attractions condemn us to the layers.

I wanted to tell someone, “I was there that night. I know that guy.” As if that might save us from the inevitable diffusion of memory.

But who would care – let alone believe? I’d be the delusional bag lady of pedestrian tittle tattle. That tired, menopausal harpy. Coming off the high. Going down.

Disoriented, I searched for an out. The grubby electric light of a nearby hole in the offered the quickest escape. I stumbled towards it – perpendicular to the crowd – dodging their urgency – until I slumped into warm cracked vinyl seating and caught sight of myself in the finger-marked glass. I was an exhausted hologram hovering amongst the foot traffic. Diaphanous. All gone but for traces of hunger.

Was that all I was? A thing that wants? A cipher of desire?

Was I so small? And what possible force could so easily render me thus? How had everything been so abruptly and irrevocably changed?

But I already knew the answer to that. It was the vastness. And there is no defence against the vastness.

I had found this out at sea – as a girl on the brink of bleeding. Four weeks between worlds – between innocence and something else.

Four weeks. As long as I’d known you.

I looked away – frightened. The truth too brutal. I exhaled an audible sigh.

The approaching waiter caught my eye. He was my age. Looked like he ran the joint. Smelled of coffee and disappointment. To him, I must have been an obvious case. “You right, love?” he asked, his eyes searching me a little. He looked down at my bags. “Escaping?”

Maybe I knew I could trust him. Either way I was sobbing inside twenty seconds.

Frank had obviously met his share of teary travellers before. The train out of town is a long line of tales. He barely flinched – and I had water, coffee and a sneaky tipple on the table in no time. He lit up a cigarette which I smoked like oxygen.

Then I blurted out a breathless version of you and me. He hmmed and nodded, poured me another drink – which I swallowed whole.

Heartbreak is heartbreak – no matter how you describe it. The specifics simply prove the universality. We like to think we all have a story. In a way we do – but it’s the same one.

Frank ended up waiting on the platform with me. He already knew what loneliness was. I would find out later.

The train was another kind of voyage – a different kind of ocean. The vastness was inside me. And there was only light – and what it shone upon.

In a state near delirium I saw myself fidgeting in the tight, uncomfortable seat like cattle in a cart, rocketing across the night.

Amongst the snores and groans of strangers and the rhythmic rattle of the rail, I snatched half formed dreams of relief between fully conscious nightmares.

The miles ticked by – me going one way, you the other. Soon we would be separate shorelines. Or perhaps we really just stood still and the universe expanded between us.

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