She enchanted me. I can’t say it any other way. From the day we met, no kidding, we’ve been finishing one another’s sentences. I mean, I still struggle to string two words together without sounding like a prat, but even so. It’s like we were made for each other, if that’s not too cheesy, and it’s not something I got any choice over. One minute I was heading slowly down the toilet, the next minute, there she was, smiling.
We didn’t come to the pub much, stayed in most nights. if she had friends, she’d never mentioned them.
“I’ve lost something.” She said.
“What?” I replied, grinning like an idiot.
“I’m not sure. Think I need to find it though.”
She stood, the half-drunk glass of red apparently forgotten. I shoved back my own chair, thrown by how quickly she was heading for the door.
“Wait, hold on Maira, I’ll come.”
She turned and looked at me, head cocked slightly to one side, and for a second I was looking into a mirror. It was a disturbing thought and I blinked, and she was back.
“Umm, well, I could help, you know?”
I could feel my face turning red, the regulars at the bar turning to watch, broad grins on bored faces.
“Well, I have a car. And I’m good at finding things…”
My face got redder. She smiled then, the same smile that had driven my fear deep enough to ask her out and drifted through my dreams ever since, and I sighed. Yeah, I actually sighed, like ‘ahhh’, and all the guys at the bar turned back on their stools, heads shaking.
“OK. We won’t need a car though, don’t think so.”
She slipped out of the door, leaving me to grab it as it swung shut. I stepped out onto the wet street, my eyes scrunching up as a bus rumbled past, lights bouncing off the pavement. She was already a few yards away, not quite running, but moving faster than I thought possible for someone so short.
She crossed and ran into the church yard, the street light colouring her a hundred shades of black before she vanished into the shadows. I jogged across, waving away the beeping horn of the taxi as I scrambled in front of him, and into the yard.
Grass, tall and wet brushed my jeans and within a few feet they were clinging to my legs.
“C’mon Rich, hurry up.”
Her voice seemed to float to me, emerging from the gloom, and I headed in that direction. My shin caught a gravestone, sending me staggering.
“Ow, bloody hell.”
She giggled, suddenly there in front of me. Her eyes flashed in the darkness, bright in the black, and I found myself lost, the city vanished in the night. It was just her now, her and me and the graveyard.
“What are we looking for then?”
She shrugged, then was gone again, spinning away into the night. I was quicker this time and kept up with her as she dodged between the graves, her hands brushing the tops of them as she passed.
She stopped so suddenly I had to twist my body to keep from hitting her, flying past and ending on my knees in the unkempt grass. The wet soaked into my knees and I shivered.
Her hand was holding the stone. The gentle tap tap of rain emerged around us, then sped up until the individual hits swam together, becoming an orchestra. I was shivering, but my eyes were fixed on her, on where her hand was gripping the top of the gravestone like they were fused together.
“This is it.”
“Who is it?”
“Whose grave is it?”
She looked at me, that same tip of the head and a look as if I’d asked who her favourite dictator was.
“I hate my dreams.”
The rain was hammering at me. I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just stood. She squatted in front of the stone, then sat and leaned back against it, wriggling slightly, then sighing in comfort. She lent forward and patted the ground in front of her. I squatted, putting my hands on the sodden grass, then shrugged and sat.
“I’ve been drinking coffee, like, more coffee than most people have in a lifetime.”
“But you’re sleeping a bit, right?”
“Yeah, a bit. She said they might get worse, the dreams.”
My bum was getting cold. Colder. I shifted about pointlessly. The lights of passing cars cut through the darkness, illuminating her face for a moment, the dark eyes my imagination called ‘dusky’ flashing as the beams caught them.
I was still grinning like an idiot, only now a cold, wet idiot, with even less idea of what I was doing than when I was in the pub.
“Yeah, you know, the one who gave me this.”
She lifted her hand from where it had sat in her pocket, to reveal a locket, chainless, that nestled in her now-open palm. I couldn’t tell what it was made of in the dark. She squeezed and it popped open.
I knew the person whose face lay within, like I knew my own. I was speechless just long enough for her to say-
“It’s my mum, “
and the words froze in my open mouth and I rocked backwards, the world falling away. Her face appeared above mine, head to one side.
I stopped, put a hand to my head, then pushed myself up. She had leaned back against the stone, but was still watching me. I tried again.
“Maira, that’s not your mum.”
Her mouth made a perfect circle, an OH of surprise. Then her face twisted up and she shook her head, side to side like a little girl.
“Is so my mum. What would you know anyway?”
“Well, uh, thing is, it’s my mum.”
We sat, the rumble of traffic intruding into the bubble of awkward silence that hung between us. I was trying to recover from the change in her voice, the high pitched whine that had emerged, bound to words that came from someone far younger than the woman sat before me.
A thought came to me then, dredged up from somewhere deep in my memory, something my dad had said, on one of his better nights. ‘There was supposed to be two of you. Maybe that’s why you’re so bad at everything, maybe she got all the good stuff.’ Mum died giving birth to me, but I never felt the loss, she was always with me. I dreamed about her, once I ‘was old enough’ to know the truth and look at the pictures.
Of course, they didn’t tell me the truth, not til much later. I was a twin. It was my other half that killed her, ruptured something on the way out and she bled out on the bed.
I realised then what I’d been searching for my whole life, why my longest relationship was shorter than the LOTR extended editions. Her face was scrunched up like a flannel, belligerent and disbelieving.
“She is my mum, she is, she is.”
I nodded, then realised she probably couldn’t see it in the dark.
“Yeah, I think she is. Maira, what do you dream about?”
“Darkness and tunnels and blood and kicking, I’m always kicking.”
I wasn’t cold anymore. My forehead was throbbing, sharp spikes behind my eyes. Her eyes went wide as I closed the gap between us. My hands went around her throat and I could feel her pulse, the quickening throb against my palm. She grabbed my arms, hands and feet flailing as I squeezed, and I shoved her against the stone, then down onto the sodden ground.
She stopped kicking.
The gravestone was trailing water, like a wreck hauled up from the depths. I traced each letter, not knowing who they belonged to. I looked around, the graveyard closing in about me, just me and the dead, all waiting for something, someone.
I thought I’d been talking to someone. Shaking my head, I pushed up from the ground and left the graveyard.
(I picked the locket up and tucked it back into my pocket. I thought this one was going to be a keeper. Pity, she reminded me of someone as well. Why do all the girls switch off when I start talking about mum?)