It was mid-April, but a winter chill hung in the air, and the streets were choked with a dense fog. He trudged through the muddied tarmac of the towpath, eyes fixed on his shoes, hands shoved into his jacket pockets. Across the river, the London skyline was barely distinguishable in the mist, with only a few glassy tips managing to find their their way through the seemingly endless expanse of white.
Images of the night before still flittered in his mind, but felt somewhat disjointed, like a collection of unconnected moments. Strands of coarse dark hair. Fingernails rimmed with peeling varnish. Lips that initially seemed sweet but that soured quickly, laced with the acrid tastes of lipstick and cigarette smoke. He wished that he had asked to know her name, just so that, in years to come, she might assume a tangible identity in his memory, that when recalled, could evoke some kind of emotion in him - whether guilt or shame, he didn’t mind. But to him, she would be nothing more than the girl in the blue satin dress from the bar next to the underpass, smiling at him flatly under the flicker of a naked lightbulb.
By the time he reached Emma's flat, the fog had mostly lifted. It was in a dated ex-housing estate at the back of Southwark station, with yellowing paint and a flaking facade, reminiscent of a life of tiredness and struggle. Her bedroom window, as always, shone out against the blankness, aglow with the warm sparkle of candles and Christmas lights. She hugged him at the door and leaned her head against his chest, her heart rate quickening against his torso as she did so. Her eyes, as always, were imbued with naive excitement, invariable in its recklessness, like the eyes of a deer staring knowingly down the barrel of a hunter’s gun. He hugged her back and kissed her softly on the neck, her cheeks flushing as his hands wrapped around the small of her back and moved down to her waist. Later, as they watched TV on the old futon in her bedroom, she slipped her fingers into his and squeezed his hand until her knuckles went white.
In the afternoon, they took a walk through the small park on the south side of the Embankment. Light was draining from the sky, and they sat down on a bench next to a drab, fenced-oﬀ lily pond. He watched the lilies as Emma kissed him. The tips of their petals brushed against the water’s surface, tinged by the hushed hues of the sunset. They had a papery look to them, rendered almost translucent by their surroundings, which shared a gray colour that was both heavy and soft. A bee looped vainly around a waning stalk, but its energy seemed to fade progressively, and in time it settled on an exposed shoot with its flimsy wings drawn in at its sides. He stared at the bee, marvelling at it - it embodied a strength that was infallible in its dignity, yet inherently modest in its limitations. Whether it represented an aspiration, or an impossible ideal, he wasn’t sure - but either way it humbled him. She kissed him harder, and with more urgency, clasping her hands around his neck and unwittingly digging her fingernails into his skin until droplets of blood rose to the surface. He saw the bee pick itself up, shake the dust oﬀ its tired little body and take oﬀ again; soon, it would find its nectar, savour it, and be blissfully renewed.
It wasn’t that he didn’t love her. He did. There was something childlike to her devotion, to her faith in him. The way she would wait for him day after day, night after night, and harbour no resentment or jealousy, even if as colour faded from the sky and gave way to starless twilight he was still nowhere to be seen. She would sit in front of her mirror, curls wrapped in hair rollers, painting her toenails as a pitifully romantic soundtrack drawled on in the background. Fairy tales played out in her mind; she was a princess, adorned in gowns of white silk and exquisite ostrich plumes, and he was her valiant prince. Their love story would transcend the washed out walls around her, would rise above the clutter and the confusion, and would allow them to create their own little paradise, in which only they could live. She would pack her bags and throw away the key to her cramped studio on the edge of the railway tracks. He would knock on the door while the sun was still up, and whisk her oﬀ to a suburban house with a landscaped garden and hardwood floors. They would play tennis on weekends and drink iced tea under a chestnut tree like couples in lifestyle magazines did, and she would be able to hold his hand firmly but comfortably, without feeling the need to grip onto it for dear life.
He loved her, but he knew that he would soon be back in the bar by the underpass, sitting across from the nameless girl in the blue satin dress.
Peter Rusafov is student and author from London. This is his first published piece.
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