He had walked into the room late and sat down almost opposite her wearing the most awful dark brown jacket that Laura had ever seen in her life. He hadn’t even looked at her, but she had known straight away that everything had changed- she must have done because that moment was still etched on her brain. A flashbulb memory. Great bone structure, shiny straw blond hair in desperate need of a good cut, a careless way of throwing down his glasses on the table as he sat down, and no apology for being late. All things which had become very familiar, things that now only existed as the distant aftershock of an earthquake. Remnants of a life that were still waiting to be rebuilt, while she carried on searching among the rubble. There was a village in France somewhere which had been left just as it was, bombed out by the war, as a memorial. Her memories of Sam were like that. Somewhere that she could visit, wander round, pick up fragments and examine them, put them in her pocket and carry them around for a while before she placed them carefully back where she had found them. She could no longer remember the sound of his voice so they had become fragments of a grainy, black and white, silent film, emotions and gestures exaggerated by time and wishful thinking into something that never was.
Sam running ahead of her on a crowded street, arms and legs flailing in a manic dance of joy because she had bought him a doughnut, knowing that she would be mortified. He turns around and swirls an invisible lasso around his head.
People stare at her as they walk past wondering what is going on. She shrugs at them.
The voice spun her back into the present. After a last reluctant glance back she allowed herself to stay there. The supermarket cashier was staring at her.
She wasn’t of course. People who say that rarely are.
“Don’t forget to take your card.”
The girl at the checkout held out two receipts.
“You’ve saved seventeen pence on your next shop.”
Sam would have teased her about that. She took the pieces of paper, smiled broadly and walked away.
Sam busy and distracted. She spends several minutes just watching him read, enjoying the momentary thoughts playing across his face and the light shimmering in his hair. He glances up, puts his head on one side and says, “What?” She just smiles and says nothing. He smiles back.
At the fruit and veg stall on the market she picked up an avocado and turned it around in her hand, wondering if it were ripe, before putting it down again and buying russet apples instead. That was safer. You could never tell what was going on behind the hard green mottled skin of an avocado. Press it too much to try to find out and it would be spoiled.
The car lurches to a stop. She is a very bad driver. She didn’t know that until Sam sat in the passenger seat next to her.
“No worries. Kangaroo petrol.”
“You make me nervous.”
He smiles to himself as though that is a good thing.
There were things that she had only bought because Sam liked them, shops that she never went into now that he was gone. The high street had changed and she could pick out every change that had happened since he left, the new name over the newsagents, the grimy, shuttered face of what had been an over optimistic attempt at a music shop where she had once bought him a Ramones t shirt. A new bench had replaced the one where they used to sit to eat lunch. Any change was a betrayal. The map of her life had been drawn from that fixed point. A map of a time when her life was real and urgent, when things mattered more. What she had felt was real. It had to be.
Sam bending to pick up a two pence coin from the pavement and presenting it to her with a flourish.
“This is for you. Buy yourself something special with it.”
Going home to place it carefully in the small box where she kept her great grandmother’s broken wedding ring.
She would forget something. She always did. Just so long as she had the shopping that she needed for tonight. Enough to see her through into another day. Enough to get by.
Sam frowning at his pint of Theakstons in the corner of the pub that he was already describing as “ours”. A pub singer on the tiny stage with a single amp performing just for them in an almost empty room.
“I have a bit of a problem with commitment.”
She had heard the words and she had already known enough about him to understand that he was telling the truth, but you couldn’t really trust Sam. Strange that this hadn’t worried her. At least not then.
She turned to walk down the long, straight road that led home. The light was fading and the weather was closing in. Slowly the rain began to fall and the street lamps spun the raindrops into falling streaks of silver.
Sam’s face closed off, guarded.Her voice shouting.
“Please don’t go. I don’t want you to go.”
Sitting on the kitchen floor, back against one of the units, sobbing. The slam of a door. The sound of a taxi moving away in the dark. Silence.
When she came through the back door into the kitchen, John, the father of her children, the solid foundation on which she had built her new life, had already set the table. He was a good man and he would never let her down. That should matter more. She went up to him and kissed him gently on the cheek.
“Sorry- I’ve been ages. You hungry?”
“Tea won’t be long.”