Distorted cheers and chants mixed with a chorus of “Morning Has Broken”, sewed through the breeze by the cruel hand of nostalgia. Huw opened his eyes, sighed with a freckled hint of a whimper on his voice. The village of Haltshaugh retained its Lancastrian green around him, the unique simmering silence particular to a place he had not visited in a decade. The Coach-House imposed its stare against the sturdy Anglican church, its graveyard hugging in an embrace of neat and respectful closeness. Huw had read about the connection between smell and memory, but at that moment in the afternoon under an unspoilt expanse of blue sky the countryside offered little more than a murmuring soundtrack of distant cars and gossiping starlings.
Claire Fulwood lived for eighteen years and eighteen days. Her death did not flash on dozens of mobile phones or status updates: nor did the word spread fire-fashion between dozens of friends draped in flowers and hand-written tributes. In the years immediately prior to the 21st century only a limited number of her peers had a mobile phone, less more could let others know what had happened. Words spread across the numb expressions in real-life experiments in perception and assumption; eyes opened up as window lights for the soul. For months Huw had assumed Tony Grace had no depth beyond hyperactive behaviour and crude humour, an assumption swept aside by the intense grief seeping through his tears.
Why does a duck know?
Where does a general keep his armies? Up his sleevies!
Huw and Claire grew to be friends by the unofficial meetings and natural connections of real life, the bumping into each others and too much drinking with each others which no horoscope could predict or design. Their friendship would not be dirtied by the biology of sex, a rule similarly unwritten and understood. When they were not laughing in the face of gossip they would pretend for hours to be different characters from works of fiction for hours on end; Jane Eyre would be dragged through the streets of Edinburgh by Mark Renton until boredom set in amongst crazed laughter.
Hah, like shit you do. No-one loves me, it’s against the rules.
Al show ya rools, sweethart, eh?
Oh, Mr Renton, how frightful and presumptuous you can be
when your mindset is upset so by narcotics!
Claire stood in the edge of Huw’s peripheral vision; a twisted beam of light in the shape of a girl. In a flash of light her appearance returned to the lamp and shadow against the window of The Coach-House. Huw swilled his pint in absent minded contemplation. She was worth more than this grief, he thought, not that she would admit it.
That’ll be you dive-bombing you rebel, you will pay for this…
Aww, look, pigeon chest, put it away!
You love it, you want a bit of my scrawny manliness.
It’s God’s way of wanting you slim.
You’ll pay for that, Hoo-Bear. Now go get me chocolate!
Ooh, listen to this. Sneaker Pimps, such a good song.
Love you, too.
Maybe these were our last words, he asked his best friend, kneeling in almost the same place, ten years later. I should have made it clear that it wasn’t me who said it. Honestly, it was “Love you,” he said.
Who is it?
Duh, silly, Sneaker Pimps. She’s red and wild, a typical nineties child
Ah…I don’t know it. Sounds alright
She must be a Thelma or Louise. She must a post-modern sleaze…
Claire knew what kind of love she felt for Tony, it was the love of friendship. He just didn’t understand. One day she would sit down, laugh and joke, and drink flat lemonade from the college canteen and agree to meet early next day to help with coursework; and invite Huw to go over the revision she had put too far back into her memory. One day she would sit down and tell Tony that Huw was too good a friend for the relationship to go any further, and invite Huw to go over the revision she had put too far back into her memory later in the day to allow Tony to explain why he was being funny with her. One day she would meet Tony in Smokers Corner to agree to a date when the time was right.
One day Claire did not look both ways when crossing the road, half-jogging out of her house to catch the bus she feared was missed. One day Claire was sitting outside The Coach-House in sunlight. One day Claire said Love you.