Margaret Johnson says the last time our village had a summer as bad as this was in 1965. Robert Raymond says it was 1988 and I say it was 2002. I am right. I am right because that was the year that the storms brought a beautiful young man to live above the post office and I can still see him with the warm rain running off his cheeks, water drops sparkling on his eyebrows as he told me that he loved me. He didn’t mean it, but I believed him and that is what mattered.
I first saw him in late April, sprawled out with a book against an outcrop of grey rock at the foot of Pen-y-Ghent, just above Hull pot. He was thin as a whip with long legs and dark hair that was catching the late afternoon light. It was the kind of face that made you stop and stare and when he looked up from his reading he caught me doing just that. He threw down his glasses and looked back at me, smiling. He was used to stares.
“Have you read Kerouac?”
“Do I look like the kind of person who has read Kerouak?”
His smile widened.
I sat down next to him and he put his glasses back on and started to read out loud. Half an hour later I was still sitting there and it didn’t seem strange at all.
After that first meeting I got into the habit of looking for his dark blue waterproof up on the hills. We walked together in the rain and I slowly found out about him. I found out about his love of blues music, the way that a muscle in the side of his face would twitch when he was listening and his very limited wardrobe. In return I told him about…… well not much really. I just liked to hear him talk. After a few weeks of chance meetings that were nothing of the kind I thought that I had got to know him. You never really know anybody else though. I learned that.
He touched me for the first time as we climbed up the steep pile of rocks close to the summit. I almost slipped on the damp surface, made slippery by fine drizzle and he stretched out a hand to stop me falling. After that things changed very quickly. Three days later we kissed for the first time and after that nothing was pretending to be random or casual any more. I threw myself at him like a wet puppy dog. By the beginning of June he was soaked.
That July was a helter skelter of laughter, promises and tightly held hands. He could make me laugh. Always. I don’t remember why now, only the laughter. Laughter in a quiet corner while the raindrops chased each other down the closed windows of an empty pub. Laughter as we made things up about complete strangers walking past. Laughter as we watched a sheep defiantly trying to butt its way through a dry stone wall. After watching that sheep a single, quiet “baaa” from him at an inappropriate moment was enough to convince anyone within earshot that I was completely brainless. In a way I suppose I was.
Quite ordinary things were made special because I was doing them with him and before long doing things with him became the only point. I only existed in his presence, a pale, bewildered moth revolving around his flickering point of light. I could see nothing else. It was a lot for him to live up to.
I remember one single day up in Swaledale, a flashbulb memory of the kind of perfect August day that can come out of nowhere up in the hills even in the middle of the worst of weather. We lay, cocooned at the edge of a field full of uncut hay and wild flowers, wrapped up in each other, while cloud shadows chased each other across the tops of the fells. The scent of damp leaves floated over our heads. It was a moment where everything else seemed far away. We were in our own safe place and nothing could touch us. We could be like this forever. I said so. Forever is a dangerous word. Once you use it it can’t be taken back.
It was from that moment that he started to run away. It took time of course. When someone runs away inside their head you can’t see them receding into the distance. You think that they are still there next to you. They are saying and doing all the right things, but this is an illusion. They are long gone, believe me, long gone before you even notice and it is too late to call them back. His summer lease was up. He asked for his deposit back with a single sentence in answer to my tearstained question.
“I suppose I said those things because I knew it was what you wanted to hear.”
By late September he was gone. He took away the best part of me. I have been told that I should hate him, but I can’t do that. It would be like hating myself.