Flash Fiction Friday: Touchstone by Darren Goldsmith
TODAY’S BREW: Chocolate Capuccino something or other.
IT’S FLASH FICTION FRIDAY, BABIES! I’ve hand selected all of the Flash Fiction Friday writers, by the way, and one of the first on my list was today’s writer, Darren Goldsmith.
I found Darren on Twitter, of course (@DarrenGoldsmith), and instantly adored him. After reading his blog, http://t.co/QuPlnooeUb, I had reason to love him more. The refined honesty Darren gives us is simply beautiful, and I was overjoyed when he agreed to write for us. I demand you love him, too.
Every pebble is a lost soul, she used to say. A trillion pebbles. A trillion unremembered songs. She would pick a few up and kiss them. Hold them to her cheek. Place them carefully back. I would wrap both her hands in mine and look across the beach. Stone clack and surf hiss. Tumbled Atlantic caressing the cold gradient of backlit sky and low cloud.
I felt uneasy walking there. She looked through me. No, she looked beyond me. Seeing a finer reality I imagined. A strand of dark hair falling down from under her hat. A blink. Two blinks. Brushed away. Grey eyes and pale skin. Green sea and salt tears.
Every story starts somewhere. Ours was two years before, outside a bar in town. She stood framed by sleet, her boot heels reflected in the glimmering pavement. Broken neon playing the angles of her face in stutters, blue and green and back again. Shoulders hunched, hands drawn up inside jacket sleeves, two fingers scissoring a cigarette. The tip’s cherry glow. A momentary halo of smoke twisted away by the wind.
I walked over and mumbled something about it being too cold to be standing here. She offered me the cigarette. I declined. She blew some more halos while I pretended not to shiver and wondered how to get home. Then she finished, flicked it into the road. A tiny comet extinguished on contact with wet tarmac. She hooked my arm. Drew me inside. We spent an hour at a table, just sitting. Each time I opened my mouth to speak she smiled and shook her head. Smiled and took a drink.
Finally she said hello.
Her flat was Asian promise. And Celtic weave. And Bedouin chic. A dozen influences from around the globe. Boot sales and junk shop purchases.
‘I’ll visit one day,’ she said, tracing her finger around the rim of a small silver cup. ‘I want to walk the maps.’
‘I’ll go with you,’ I replied.
She lit candles. Undressed me in the soft flickering amber. Pulled me gently down to her bed.
She moved into my place. But kept her sanctuary. I didn’t mind. I understood it wasn’t about me. We slept there occasionally anyway, when we were in that part of town. When she wanted to share the cultures she intended some day to drink in.
We curled around each other, against the world. We traded privacy for intimacy. Beliefs and personal truths. Though I felt she held a part of herself back. Perhaps she feared more than I did. Perhaps she knew before I did. The end. An end to something good. Accepted it and locked that part away. There are those who are described as old heads on young shoulders. She was an old heart.
So we passed through this moment but forgot the seasons existed. All I knew was the honeyed grace of her limbs. The knowing delight in her face. As with all new loves every experience was fresh, like cut plant stems. Exposed nerves, wonderfully tart and acidic. Mulled wine for blood. Liquorice for bones.
My job tore me reluctantly away, overseas, to desert and dust. Actors, trailers and endless heat. The sharp scent of creosote bushes. I called each night and sent her panoramas of the upturned sky. A river of shimmering stars like smoke. We talked while the coyote sang, until the moon dipped and the Joshua trees became edged in gold. I wished the days away.
When I returned I found a lump. A small thing. It didn’t hurt. There were tests and a doctor who said it had been caught early. I had surgery and radiotherapy. Rotten cells bathed in high-energy rays. Poisoned to make me well. Weeks of pain and nausea. Of overwhelming lethargy.
Some months later I was fit enough to work again. But I knew I had lost a part of myself. Confidence, ignorance. Something not cut out by a surgeon. My mortality now exposed to the ether. It was a difficult time. She became distant. Or I withdrew, I’m not certain which.
Filming took me east after that. To blossom and snows. Temples, koi carp and salary men. I ate food I couldn’t pronounce and laughed along with jokes I didn’t understand. I sent her pictures of frozen ponds. Starlight captured in dark ice. We talked but it wasn’t the same alternating current of words.
From there I headed north. And then west again. A steel bird chasing the sun. I brought back souvenirs from each location and she would thank me and kiss my cheek but never display them.
Our orbits gently decayed. We disconnected. We stopped being us. I tried to delay the inevitable. But you can’t fight entropy. You can never return.
One night I turned up at her flat swaying from too many shots. A speech in my head, flowers behind my back and a small, velvet-lined box in my pocket. She didn’t answer the door.
I never saw her again.
All my friends told me that I was better off. Said she was selfish, crazy. I felt differently. I remembered the belief. The connection. A touchstone. I remembered the long days, her hand in mine, as we gazed upon a hundred landscapes and breathed the dust of other towns. The journeys on back roads, laughing when we became lost. I remembered the nights when she held me, so very tight, while I shook with pain and fear. While I sweated the unfairness.
I remembered her face, perfectly captured by nature and geometry alike. Held in time, like a single movie frame.
I would be lying if I said I ever understood. Why us. Why me. The fates. A roll of bones. The hand we were dealt by an expanding, cooling universe. All I know is the wind bites hard and the sea folds over and over, endlessly. I look across the beach. A trillion pebbles. A trillion lost souls. And I try to work out which one is hers and which one is mine.