Helen makes another futile visit to the Job Centre, just as she has every weekday for the past two months. Times are hard, jobs increasingly scarce. Her one month’s pay in lieu of notice did not last long, and now the bills are piling up. Sitting on a hard plastic chair, she waits her turn to be interviewed. At last, ‘Advisor No 3 – Free for Service.’ flashes onto a screen. Helen recognizes the Advisor from previous ‘interviews’ and knows that this will be an unpleasant encounter. Through a speaker fitted into a dividing protective glass barrier the Advisor’s voice betrays the contempt she feels for Helen, and all the other ‘clients’, as job seekers are called.
The Short Story Competition 2015 had as it’s theme, ‘Freedom’. Members were asked to enter a short story of 2,000 words or less for the chance to win two nights B&B for two people at Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire, Wales. Sittingbourne member, Jill Sidders, won the competition with her story Freedom lost and Freedom gained.
I’m leaving him. Today, this morning, now. I’ve thought about it many times in the past, but this time he’s gone too far. He’s always been careful before, careful not to leave any bruises where they could be seen, but last night he was beyond caring. He hit my face, a vicious blow, and his gold knuckleduster ring – ironically, one I’d bought him – laid my cheek open. I was cowering in a corner, begging, ‘Not my face! Please, Robert, not my face!’ but by then the blood was pouring down and spattering on the floor, and he’d gone out, slamming the door behind him. Shock left me shaking and shivering, until finally I crawled into bed, a bloody towel held against my poor cut cheek until finally the bleeding stopped. So this morning I waited until he’d left for work – humming a merry tune, just as if last night had never happened – then I packed a suitcase and I just walked out, not even leaving a note. I’ve heard there’s a refuge somewhere nearby, run by a church I think, somewhere that people can go when their partners turn to violence, where they will be safe.
Robert wasn’t always like that, though. To start with, he was the sweetest, kindest – no, the nicest – man I’d ever known. We met in a bar over a spilled drink. I’d made no special effort that night – my normal discreet make-up, a sparkly top and tight black leather trousers – but I thought I looked good. The bar was crowded, full of people laughing, talking, having fun, and as I turned with my drink, Robert was pushed against me by the sheer numbers of people, and my G&T spilled all over him. ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry,’ I gushed and as I raised my eyes to look at him, a queer little tingle ran over me. God, but he was attractive – tanned skin, dark curly hair, blue eyes. That’s how it started. We dated for a few weeks and it went so well that when he suggested that I might like to move in with him, I jumped at the chance.
And to start with, it was great. I thought I was in heaven. A wonderful man, no money worries, and a lovely flat. But then gradually, almost imperceptibly, things changed. Robert had his own ground rules – fair enough, it was his flat – and he didn’t like it if I transgressed, if I put the milk in the wrong place in the fridge, if I didn’t hang the towels up properly, or put CDs in alphabetical order, or put my shoes away. I always apologised and promised to do better in future. Then he started on my appearance – first, he didn’t like me to wear make-up. ‘But I only wear a little,’ I protested. ‘It makes you look like a tart,’ he snapped. So to please him I went bare-faced. Then it was my clothes, my scent, the fact that I like an occasional ciggie – nothing seemed to please him. He laid down the law about my friends too, so gradually I stopped seeing them. I was allowed to keep my job ….. as long as I came straight home afterwards and didn’t make any close friends in the office. And eventually meeting Robert’s needs and obeying his rules became the only important things in my life. The penalties for disobedience were too great. It started with a little push, then built up to a slap, a kick, a punch to the stomach. Each time, Robert convinced me that it was my own fault, that I deserved the punishments he meted out. Little by little my confidence ebbed away. I kept thinking that I should leave, but Robert always convinced me that it was all my fault …. and anyway, he said, I was so useless that no-one else would want me. Sometimes, when my punishment had been particularly severe, he’d hold me afterwards and tell me he was sorry – but always, always, there was the reminder, ‘But you made me do it, babes, it was your own fault’.
So now this morning I’m here at St Columba’s, checking into their Centre for Victims of Domestic Violence – or CVDV, as I learned to call the refuge. They showed no surprise at the jagged rip on my cheek, only kindness and concern, and the gentle insistence that I must get it looked at. At A&E it was cleaned and bandaged, and I was given antibiotics, but by then it was all swollen and too late for stitches. I’m going to be left with a scar.
They’ve given me a room in the refuge, small but immaculately clean, and gradually I’m starting to rebuild my life. Going to work was hard at first, there were questions about my injured face, but I managed to fend off enquiries. I walked into a door, that old story. I think that maybe people guessed though, mostly by what I didn’t say.
It would be wonderful to find love again one day. But I’m not sure if I can ever trust another man, ever again.
It’s now been nearly a month since I left Robert and I’m just starting to re-build my confidence and self-esteem. Imagine my surprise – and my fear – when he came to meet me from work today. When he stepped out of the shadows and called my name, my knees turned to water and I found myself cowering from him. But he spoke to me so gently, so sincerely, and with tears in his eyes apologised for all the times he’d hurt me, all the harsh things he’d said, that I felt all my old love for him flood back.
He’s asked me to move back in with him. I don’t know – would I be utterly stupid to give him a second chance? I asked for time to think about it and he looked so happy that I hadn’t turned him down flat.
Well, I took a week to think it over and this morning I made my decision and took the plunge. I let myself in to his flat – I still had the key – and I’m sitting waiting for him to get home from work. Oh, there’s his key in the lock now ….
I’m in hospital. They’ve let me go onto a general ward now that I’m out of Intensive Care. I can hardly begin to list everything Robert did to me. I have cuts, bruises, broken bones, and internal injuries. He’d taken one look at me, waiting for him – so naïve and hopeful I was – and the look of leering triumph on his face was terrifying. He’d laid a trap and foolishly I’d walked right into it. And his revenge for my escape was brutal.
If it wasn’t for the neighbours who heard my screams and called the police, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have survived.
The police have just left the ward. The hospital authorities insisted on calling them. The police officers were kind but insistent; they want to proceed against Robert and I am to be their chief witness.
Here I am, in court. I’m standing in the witness box. God, but this is hard. I’m looking at the man in the dock, the man I used to love, the man who manipulated and controlled me, who isolated me from all my friends, who destroyed my self-esteem and who beat me and humiliated me. Photos of my injuries were passed around the jury, and I saw two of them in tears.
Now I have to harden my heart to give evidence. I’m standing in the witness box, trying to keep my voice from shaking, I answer the questions, and I tell only the truth.
The jury’s back after less than half an hour. Guilty, the jury foreman says. The judge speaks harshly to Robert, saying domestic violence in any form is totally unacceptable in a civilised society but the violence Robert dealt out was beyond anything he had experienced before in all his years on the Bench. He sentences Robert to four years in jail. I feel numb. I’m beyond feeling grief or sadness or even relief – or any other emotion.
Freedom for me, freedom from fear … but oh, such a loss of freedom for him.
Robert is led away to start his sentence. At the last minute, he turns and looks at me. Despite the warder pulling him away, he’s still able to speak to me: There’s emotion in his voice but I can’t recognise what it is – sorrow? anger? threat? – because he only says one word, only one word, my name: ‘Michael,’ he says.
The article about the pine martens feels sharp against my trouser pocket. I have all the details in my head; about the release programme, moving animals from an unspecified location north of the Great Glen to somewhere equally secret further south. I’ve been following it for months, when I can.
‘No harm in reading up on wildlife,’ Officer Cooper said when he gave me this. He approves of hobbies; ‘Ease you back into society. Have you decided what do you want to do?
‘I want to go home.’
‘Now, you know that’s not a good idea. You’ve no family there, anymore.’
‘I want to go home’.
‘People have long memories, Dan. You might feel you’ve paid your debt being in here but there are plenty who aren’t prepared to write it off. Why not go to the town instead? We’ll set you up with a room and help you find work.’
He thinks I lost that argument but I could not settle in the cramped room with the buzzing light and the rain dripping from the cracked guttering outside. Much better to stay outside and it was just as well I did because early next morning a woman left a heap of bags outside the door of a charity shop. Her crimson heels on the pavement made me look: short, urgent taps like she ought to be somewhere else. Later I went over and looked; toys and household stuff mainly but there was a sleeping bag, too, and that made me think. I could spare a pound, I had to keep the rest for bus fares and food; all I had to do was hang around until the shop opened and negotiate. Only two hours according to the church clock.
The driver had scratched his head and laughed, ‘where’ve you been mate? Only bus to West Kirk is on Tuesday. I can take you as far as the turn off.’ There was hardly anyone travelling so I spread out on the back seat, breathing in the warmth of my new purchase and looking out at the countryside. I thought we were going the wrong way when I saw that stretch of water because I was sure there was no lake there. I had fancied fishing when I was a kid but Dad could not see the point and it was too far to the coast. The road turned a corner and the lake was lost behind a line of trees. I caught up with it later as I climbed the hill into the village. But the pearl, mirror waters were only plastic - sheltering strawberries.
Our house had gone, too, replaced by a recycling centre. I circled the spot and reckoned the bottle bank was where the front room stood; wonder if they realised that. They had built a lot of smarter houses. I wandered about in their rows: Marigold Crescent, where I kissed Stacey Blake by the hawthorn hedge; Poppy Lane; the track down to the rotten plank bridge where we stood guard against rival gangs. Only the pub and petrol station seemed the same. The latter still had the creaking sign only with fewer letters. A burley man with narrowing eyes served me, hand hovering over his mobile phone. I fumbled coins across the counter and quickly crammed bread, jam and liver sausage into my bag.
Something moves, over to the left, a disturbance of light. Leaves crackle and a black wing flashes out from the thicket. I release my breath slowly, soundlessly. I could win prizes for waiting; it would be my specialist subject. The trophy goes to Dan for his ability to sit immobile in a damp sleeping bag. Trophies need mantelpieces though; the one at home was white and cluttered with bits of paper, photos, string and a big brass container of rubber bands. There were always hands stretching up to it, arms leaning on it, cigarettes stubbed out on it. Waiting is easy; it is freedom which is hard.
It was the badgers that I was interested in then, creeping off to watch them as it got dark, taking care not to knock over the bottles piling up outside the back door. Head full of anticipation; a firm grip on Grandad’s old binoculars. But one evening I saw a flash of colour like a freshly peeled conker darting through the open grass between the trees. It turned and, half hidden by a patch of bramble, I saw a curious, pointed face. It was in a hurry, creating a wave through the ferns in the undergrowth, heading for the stand of trees. I waited, I returned at every opportunity but I never saw it again. It kept me going all the years I was inside. I knew I would come back here once I was free – going to stay until I see the pine marten.
To be honest it was more difficult than I expected to find them again. They are shy creatures and there are so many places they could hide. The leaflet said three had been released; two females and a male about six months ago. They were not going to pinpoint their location but I had read up on the clues, on the field signs, and after a couple of days searching I struck lucky with a footprint in the soft mud by the stream. It was a corker; five toes as clear as day. It is an odd thing but once I get the first sign the others follow quite easily. Not long after I spotted a couple of trees, toppled together as if after a heavy night out, and in the space between them a dark, dry tunnel overhung with ivy. At the entrance was a coiled marker: pine marten scat. So obvious you could have put up bunting but the best bit is that it is my secret. People could walk past it every day and never see it. There was a small tree stump nearby with a flat platform and I placed my last slice of bread and jam there. I hope the sweetness will attract them. It is probably my best chance.
So I am tucked into a convenient hollow between some rocks, not too far away, with a good view of the stump. The shelter is not brilliant, water drips down the back of my neck from the leaves overhead but I can pull the hood of the sleeping bag up tight. Early afternoon is usually a good time to catch up on some sleep but today my head is a sea of sticky redness. My stomach grumbles. All I can see and smell is jam. It shimmers in the sunlight, a string of rubies on pale skin. Stacey had a red necklace; pretty Stacey licking a lolly after school, beads of strawberry ice running down her chin. Saliva pools at the side of my mouth. Jam sandwiches for lunch; wrapped in foil, eaten in the playground before school started or the large Victoria Sandwich cake in the shop window, filling oozing down the sheer, sponge cliffs. Everything dissolves into sugar, my fingers tremble, resolve weakens and I am wrestling with the zip. I take back the bread and smear jam across the stump. First food of the day; I promise if I see a pine marten tonight I will buy more, replace the offering and give the village another try.
I must have dozed off as the day’s colour has faded and the tree stump is visible only in the slice of moonlight shifting through the trees. The air is tense with expectation. The sleeping bag twists underneath me forming a tight skin across my body and hot spikes of pain surge through my leg. Slowly, I shift my position sideways. A Tawney Owl hoots in the distance, its call rushing towards me as if I could reach out and catch it. A soft breeze stirs the leaves and wafts a faint foxy muskiness in my direction. Alert, I listen for sounds, look for shapes.
A scratching of claws announces its presence somewhere in the darkness. Pale light zigzags through the cloud. It illuminates a creamy throat patch and two half-moons above - the light fur on a pine marten’s face. It jumps on the stump and from its jerky movements I can tell that it has found the jam. ‘Enjoy your freedom’, the words mouthed without sound. ‘It’s odd that you should feel so at home somewhere you didn’t ask to be when I never did.’ After a while I hear a soft growl, a sound of reassurance, and my muscles tense with the hope that this is a female with kits in the den. The darkness deepens and it is only possible to make out vague shapes and when they too finally merge with the night, I sink back into my sleeping bag. My eyes are dry with staring but I feel happier than I can ever remember.
It is curled up by the roadside. At first I think it is asleep but the context is wrong. I rush over; a passing car beeps its horn and swerves, but it is too late. Its tail curled between its legs cannot hide the gash of opened flesh, its dull brown fur streaked with blood. A crow lands on a post. I roar towards it, arms flapping. I would have killed that bird even though it was innocent.
It takes time to work out what to do, sitting on the verge being hooted at by cars rushing past. There is an address on the leaflet about the re-release. It is not far so I gather up the pine marten and cradle it in my sleeping bag.
The woman in the wildlife centre stares as I lay the bundle in front of her.
‘I found it on the road.’ I had rehearsed a speech but could no longer find the words.
‘Oh,’ she says taking a quick look to the office behind, ‘can I see?’
I peel back a section of the sleeping bag to reveal a pale rimmed ear and sharp snout. The woman sucks in the air and lets out a small moan.
‘I knew you’d done the release and you’d want to know what happened,’ I take out the crumpled leaflet and place it on the counter.
‘Yes. Thank you. I was involved - took three of them into the forest six months ago. I thought they were doing alright.’ She runs a hand across her face and breathes deeply. ‘I’d better see which one this is.’ Her hands slide across the matted fur, a doctor examining a sick patient. She looks up at me. ‘It’s the male.’
I look away, guilt nudging me that I should feel a sense of relief.
‘You only found this one?’
‘Yes, on the bend outside the village before you get to the bridge.’
‘Can you show me on the map? I went back a few weeks ago to where we’d let them go but they’d moved on and I couldn’t find any more signs. I’ve been meaning to have another look.
‘I’ve been watching them. I’m pretty sure the female has kits.’
‘Really, you saw them. Her eyes widen, ‘they’re so difficult to spot. I’d love to see them.’
I chew my lip and stare at my shoes but it feels right and when I look up the words come: ‘I can show you, if you’d like.’
‘Yes, please,’ another glance to the office, ‘do you mind if I bring Mike? He helped out on the release programme, too.’
‘That would be fine.’ I smile, daring to hope that freedom might just get a little easier from now on.
Freedom spat a gob full of chewed tobacco onto the floor of his cabin and picked up the wood he had been whittling. He was old. Ninety five years had taken its toll on his jaundiced carcass but he could still smile and look back over his life. He would never leave the plantation now. Everyone he had ever known had died working the cotton fields or been sold on. His own hands had clumsily laboured for years until his wood working skills had been discovered. Then he had been put to work, carpentering. Up at the house, he had fixed things in the kitchen and then progressed to honing one of the most beautiful, hand crafted cribs Mrs Jenner had ever seen. The woman, old enough to be his mother, had been cook back then and had taken him under her wing when he had been sold away from his mother and sisters. She beamed and poured out extra rations for him from the pot. She felt it in her bones that he could become a favourite of the master.
Freedom sensed his work was respected even if he was not. A sideboard came next and two easy chairs for the verandah, for the master and his missis. Then a swing seat for the children. How they had hollered and swung their days away on that old thing. He grinned and finished carving out a face on the wood. Then a tear stung his eye as he pictured his own beautiful boy being whipped for running to them and joining in the fun.
‘But he's only a boy, massa. He don't know any better. Whip me instead’, he begged.
‘Stand aside, he needs a lesson early on, so's he don't take advantage’.
He would never forget the sound of the high pitched screams from Jacob. He sounded like a girl as he took his punishment, for which Freedom felt ashamed but nowhere near as much as at himself. A grown man, standing by while his boy took ten lashes. Jacob never ventured near the white kids again and went inward for a lifetime. Then he had taken to running. Swamps hindered his progress and dogs brought him to his knees. Dragged to the lashing post time after time with more blood spilled as an example to them all.
He scratched the back of his neck killing the lice and took an unsteady sip of cool water. It was hot outside with little breeze. He wiped the sweat dripping off his nose and began to carve the body. When it was announced that they could leave after the Confederates lost the war, a mass exodus of field hands had abandoned the plantation. He had stayed. At ninety he had not thought to see five more years.
Judie visited him every day since. The oldest negro ever to have survived her father's regime, seemed like a miracle to her. Judie, the youngest of her father's children, had outlived them all and taken over. Her years had been a whole lot kinder. Freedom heard the rustle of her skirts as she entered the cabin. He made no eye contact carrying on with his project. He liked her visits enjoying the feeling of someone caring for him. Judie was a stout woman now, no longer the stripling who had blacked her sisters eyes in viscious cat fights. Her lilac perfume did not quite mask her tendency to sweat in the intense Southern heat but as she sashayed into the cabin, he remembered her being the belle of many a plantation ball.
‘Morning Harvey......I've brought you some corn bread from the kitchen and jug of coffee. What's that your making?’
‘Smells real good, Miss Judie. I ain't too sure, but I see something taking shape.....I surely do’. He rocked back and forth and a deep throated chuckle at his handywork momentarily stripped the years away.
She poured him a cup of coffee and one for herself and sat on the stool by the door, to make the most of any breeze which might blow her way. She loved these peaceful minutes spent each day in his company.
After a while, she said, ‘Reminds me of the dolls you used to carve for me and my sisters. How we fought over them. Nellie still loves them. She's the brightest of all our grandchildren.’
She drained her coffee cup and glanced outside. Beyond the row of cabins, acres of sparsely planted cotton looked a pathetic sight. In its hey day the plantation had boasted the most cotton crop in the whole of Alabama. Her grandfather had owned scores more slaves than any other plantation owner. Now, pickers were hired from her neighbours or white trash worked the fields. She was poor but still managed to keep the house going and her last remaining slaves alive. She felt a stubborn pride in being able to do so.
‘Well, I will leave you to your creation then, Harvey’. The old man thanked her for the coffee and vituals and got on with the task in hand. A memory of children gathered around him, as he wailed on the porch. The master had tried everything to help save his dying wife. His own physician had been brought in and he had even moved Tabitha from the cabin up to the house, to be attended to. Something to do with pleurisy getting out of control, they said, but he knew she had died of a broken heart when Jacob had taken his last beating. Now his gnarled hands chipped bigger pieces out of the wood, indicating a waist and thighs and soon he was on the legs.
Freedom tried hard to think. Miss Judie and everyone he knew called him Harvey and now he struggled to reason why. A whispering at the back of his mind and he had it. ‘Harvey, carvey’, they had sung in unison. His nick name. He liked it. Made him feel warm and wanted inside but it wasn't his name. He felt pleased that he had chosen a big enough piece of wood for his carving. The legs were muscle bound like the arms and shoulders. He needed Jacob to look a strong warrior like the Malinke stock he came from. Like the man he would have been in another life.
Freedom lay the finished piece across his lap and closed his eyes. As soon as the heat of the day died away, he would leave the cabin and take a slow walk to the slave cemetary, where his boy was buried.Tabitha would be pleased with what he was about to do and rest more easy. After a short nap, he buffed up the carving using his shirtsleeve and took a hammer and some long nails. The row was quiet as he shuffled along.
He passed the first ten rows of graves. Most names were familiar to him. Men and women who had served the masters well over generations. He arrived at the spot where they had buried his boy. Just a cross to mark the place with his name scratched out. Freedom had not been allowed to carve his name because Jacob had been a runner, a constant thorn in the master's side. Tabitha was a long way up the row.
Freedom got down on his hands and knees and mouthed a short prayer. Next, he took the carving and hammered it to the cross. He sighed and felt weary after the effort of the day. Noone would object to this embellishment of his son's grave. Noone would know how good he felt, to have done something at long last for his son. He sat until it grew dark, holding onto his crooked legs for support. His mother had told him before she left his life for good, on the back of a slavers wagon, to remember who he was and where he had come from.
‘Don't you ever forget, son. You are Freedom.’He rocked back and forth knowing that it was this that had kept him alive all these years. The carving represented not only his son but his tribe. His warrior tribe from Africa. His last message on this earth would be his son's name. His name. He had been tempted to make one last stand against the life he had been born into, and carve it on the bottom, for all to see but it no longer mattered who knew. So he had turned the figure over and carved it on the back instead. It read Jacob Freedom. That was his name, the name his mother had given him. The name he always felt inside.
Photo by Willi Heidelbach on Pixabay
Accused of crimes he had not committed, found guilty all the same and sent to prison where he had spent six horrible but instructive years: now he was officially innocent after all and was arriving home on the 5.45, as if coming home at the end of a working day.
She reviewed the house. Knowing they would make him angry, she had thrown out all the papers accumulated during his time away; all the letters to and from lawyers, newspaper cuttings, and, particularly difficult, her tentative correspondence with victims and their families. She wondered if all their pain would start all over again, hoping it wouldn’t, but pretty sure it would. There was a new – and hopefully this time real – accused for them to focus on, but they must feel as if the whole mountain was there for climbing once more. Poor things.
She had cleaned the house from top to bottom and invested in new pillows for him, having thrown his old and sweat-smelly ones out when he was convicted and for the past six years she had really enjoyed having a double bed all to herself. She had stocked the cupboards, fridge and freezer up with a few of his favourite foods, but not a lot as he was always firm about excessive spending. She had removed from the bookcase the chick lit that he despised and which had been her pleasurable vice while he had been away. Ditto comfort movie DVDs: all gone to a new destination.
She lay still under the cold sheets, listening to the sounds of the early dawn, trying to recapture the remnants of the dream which she could not recall but which had left her feeling vaguely happy. She was wistful for a sense of contentment that now eluded her. She tried to curl back into a foetal ball drawing the covers round her, Barry seemed to have wrapped himself into the blankets more than ever this morning, holding on even more tightly than usual, to his share of the communal warmth.
She turned her back on him and closed her eyes, seeing in her head the pictures of the previous evening. Barry, his dark grey suit, stretched and shiny across the mound of his stomach with that horrible pink shirt, which he insisted made him trendy. He was fawning on the Chief Exec. as though it still mattered what he thought, as though Mr Bradshaw could still advance his career or still grant him the key to the Senior Management restroom, which he had always coveted.
She saw too the limp and boring buffet: over spiced and greasy chicken wings, egg and tuna sandwiches, soggy mushroom vol-au-vents and cold sausage rolls. Bitter black and green olives (‘sophisticated,’ claimed Barry) and over-sweet coleslaw and potato salad which nobody could eat; standing up, with thin paper plates and plastic forks.
She saw too the fixed smiles on his colleagues’ faces, as they made insincere comments about how much Barry would be missed. What a valued team member he had been! How hard it would be to run the department without him! How lucky he was to have been given such a generous redundancy package and an enhanced pension! Nobody mentioned how glad they were to see the back of this parsimonious little man, nit picking every decision, criticising his colleagues at every opportunity, constantly moaning, never part of the team and always right. Taking credit for everything that went well and no responsibility for errors or mistakes. She smiled to herself, knowing that he had no idea how he was seen by the rest of his team. ‘They will find it so hard to replace me.’
I was in love for the first time. It felt liberating. I chased seagulls down beaches with wildly flapping arms and repeatedly sang his name out to sea. His smiling eyes encouraged me to behave like a loony.
He loved me too and told me so a thousand times after we met. A chance meeting at a mutual friend’s house warming do.
‘You don't have to keep saying it. I know, I know......in here’. I covered my heart with my hands. Our bodies lay bound together across mattresses, sand or grass. Sometimes naked, often part clad. Always ravenous for each other. When heavy breathing subsided we were lost in the oneness of intimacy. Incredible while at the same time utterly believable. Laughter at the heap we had made with our abandoned passion.
We were free. Free to express ourselves, free to learn from one another, free just to be. Uncontrollable urges to run naked into foamy waves lapping up to our chests. Errant seabirds swooping low over our love nest with us shivering inside it. Teeth chattering and us hysterical. He lit me up when he laughed at my antics. Held me tight while I took extra long drags on his cigarette to keep warm. A year of unadulterated pleasure. We were kids let out to play, no hiding behind facades. Innocently passing the time.
‘Leave her. You belong to me’. Spontaneous words spoken in excitement. I would feel no shame or guilt if he did. I would never smother him as she had. We held hands tighter, made love more often, spoke less after they separated.
‘Now you're free to marry me’. I reminded him after another year passed. He smiled nervously and chain smoked. I blinked tears away pretending not to notice.