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What’s the triggering event for a set of circumstances that mathematically and rationally should never have taken place? But did take place. To describe a set of circumstances that did take place, mysteriously, mystically, magically, not just for one person but for two – where do I start?
At the beginning, is the logical place. But when was that? Nine years before, when something else ended? Three or four or five years later when some unknown, intermediate, causal event must have taken place?
A strict, linear sequence of events must have been underway, to end up in a culminating event – a logical person might assume that? But how to know that event?
And if one tiny thing changed along the way, then it’s pretty likely that the path of our times would have been different, and “never” would have been the outcome.
Rosie’s parents dying within a year of each other, then she discovers they were never married, and she has a half sister twice her age? That’s gotta be unpredictable, yeah? Or my dad, too young, dead on a beach? Fuck that, didn’t see that one coming. Oh no.
Rosie. Cathy. The other women who curved into and out of my life during those years. Any one of them could have said something different, and I could have said “yes” or “no” in a different order, and there’s a life changing event, right there.
How the fuck did all of those people know what to do or say, at the exact time they did it or said it? I for one have no fucking idea. But they did, sure as day follows night. Or in my case, sure as night follows day.
I hope you get what I mean. I hope so.
Where in time do I start to describe the nonsensical sequence of events that got us, her and me, to that nondescript suburban shopping square, at that particular time of day, and no other time would do. I don’t remember the precise time of day, late morning, probably.
But it has to far more precise than that, because I’ve already done some maths elsewhere that shows we only had a twenty or thirty second window of time to be where we were, on that day, in that place, for the defining event to actually “happen”. So let’s say, for the purposes of this narrative, that she and I had to be on the opposite sides of that shopping precinct at, I dunno, let’s call it 11.23 on a Saturday morning in May, 19something. A while ago, now, but only yesterday.
— ooo OOO ooo —
Back then, all my yesterdays began tomorrow.
Tomorrow was Saturday. Rosie had been driven to the airport a month or so before, Cathy had come and gone in the meantime. I never saw her again, which is sad, and I wonder if she eventually ate properly.
I never did learn to play a musical instrument, but it seems I didn’t need to. Nowadays I prefer the cello, it is deeper and richer than a violin, a more sophisticated instrument but harder to play. It needs practice. But you know what they say… I’m still taking lessons.
Work was a steady beat during that time, and I had a job where I had some proper responsibility, and actually made a difference. It gave me stability, some good colleagues and a routine. Given that the emotional side of my life at that time was all over the place (death, Rosie, Cathy, all too complicated, really), routine was a handy way of passing the time. Numbing the time.
But that night, winds shifted and weirdness started. Must have. It was the next morning, that Saturday morning in May, that I can truly say, something happened that day. So let’s start there. It’s a point in time that I can reliably say, it happened this way, from here on in.
It will do, then, as a start.
That morning was a clear and sunny day. Autumn was advancing, nights were getting colder, leaves were turning, falling, gutters running with showers of rain. Weather forecaster stuff – there will be showers clearing by late afternoon, that kind of thing.
This day wasn’t like that, though. On face value, just another Saturday in May. A clear and sunny day. Waking up was the same, feeding the cat and myself was the same. Even looking out the kitchen window and wondering if I would ever see a glimpse of my neighbour again, through her bedroom window, like that late night when I needed a glass of water before bed, but didn’t turn the light on. Even that was the same.
My kitchen window was on the side of my house, on the high side of the hill, and looked out and over the fence between the houses. Her bedroom window looked the other way, looking onto the fence. Walking into the kitchen late one night, my eye caught a movement, and it was enough to stop my hand on the light switch. Her curtains were open, and there was a low light in a small room, illuminating the naked legs and the bending body of my neighbour.
A solitary woman, she was alone like me, and I watched the flickers of movement as she undressed and wrapped a robe around her body, unclear given the distance between the houses, unclear in the low light, and her movements were quick and efficient. But sufficient qiqitv.info to keep me there, back in the dark, for five minutes.
Thoughts of her aside, that Saturday morning in May started like any other day. And progressed like any other day. Until it didn’t. Somewhere a switch was thrown, and the day was different.
I decided to take a long walk to some distant shops, a bigger suburban shopping centre some two or three kilometres away. Why did I do that?
Hindsight explains everything, but foresight, nothing at all. I’d not done this before, the idea had never entered my head. The local shops, a ten minute walk down the road, they would always do.
Why did I need to go further, so much further (and then, not far enough)? It’s simple, really. If I hadn’t set out on that walk, it would always have been “never”. I had no need to take this walk, and had never before taken it. But I did, I set out on a long, first time ever, walk. Strange. At the time, though, it was just a long walk to get some exercise, to exchange some boredom with another place. To pass the time.
I walked out the front door and locked it behind me, at a precise moment in time. It must have been a precise moment, because there was a precise period of time, a certain number of steps that had to be taken, to get me to that place on time. Don’t have a clue what time it was though, because I never wear a watch on weekends, because time doesn’t matter.
But that day, it did. Even seconds mattered, that day. Or it would have been “never”. I couldn’t bear that, not now, not since.
I’d driven this route many times before – there were cafes, a wide range of shops, including a bookshop. I was probably heading for the bookshop, if I had a particular destination in mind.
It was a pleasant enough walk through wide streets in suburbia, planned streets every one, every house the same age. Nothing spectacular, nothing scenic. So sight-seeing wasn’t a motive for this walk. Truth be told, at this point in the walk, there was no point to the walk.
Down the hill, along a long flat stretch, turn left then right, and I’m twenty minutes from home, and not sure how long before I arrive. That in itself is part of the oddity of this whole convergence. I’d never walked it before, so didn’t know how long it would take to walk there, to my destination.
I didn’t yet know, but I was getting closer to the time of the coincidence, the 11.23 point. And I suppose, by this time, she must have been rounding up her mum to get in the car, to drive there herself, find a parking spot, drive round the car park twice, who knows. Well, I don’t know, but she knows what she did. I never asked her, though.
Coming to the main north-south arterial road, three lanes each way with a wide median strip, trees planted in twin rows down the centre. An avenue, like the one my university college room looked over, but this one for cars, not people.
Quick, let’s run the intersection, there’s a gap in the traffic. If I can beat the lights, I’ll save a couple of minutes waiting for the next change. I don’t know it, but waiting time, lost time, means “never”.
I’ve had plenty of time to think into all of this. If you’re still with me as a reader (indulging me, well and truly by this stage, because this chapter, so far, and even most of the last one, have been frisson free zones, I have to agree), but if you’re still with me, maybe I can stop labouring the point that time, and the passing of time, is the key concept here.
Imagine yourself, setting out on a two or three kilometre walk that you’ve not done before, and consider all of the things that might affect how long it takes you to get from your door to your unknown destination. I was walking towards the broad concept of a “shopping centre” and had no real idea that the little square even existed.
So, imagine yourself walking towards somewhere you don’t even know is there – what is the likelihood you’ll get there at the beginning of a key fifteen second period of time? You’ve got it, zero chance. It isn’t going to happen. It’s just impossible, isn’t it?
So, picture me on the other side of the main drag, and five minutes away from the shopping centre. At this point, anything could still happen. Another set of lights. A kid falling off a bike who needs help. An old lady who needs an arm to cross the road. Any fucking thing at all. But none of these things happened, so I kept walking at my steady pace, wondering by this stage where the first cafe might be. Hey, I’ve just walked two k – a coffee and the Saturday paper is looking good, right now.
I crossed a final road and there on my left was a row of shops, a sports store, an automotive accessories store on the corner, nothing to interest me. I spotted a little walkway through to the centre of the main plaza, and remembered that the inner precinct was a series of connected together squares, open spaces, each surrounded by four or five shops on each side of the open space.
The designer had won some town planning award, I think, and it was a very pleasant, traffic-free pedestrian thoroughfare. Quite a number of people strolling about, converging together in front of me, walking slowly, getting in my way. No hurry though, because I’m not going anywhere in particular, just the vague idea of an opportunistic cafe, hopefully. I slow down to a more casual stroll, and there are people here, so I fall back to my standard “let’s watch some people” mode.
And then, and I do recall thinking it strange when it happened, there was a sudden clearing of people in front of me. Perhaps I sped up just a bit to get around that couple with the little girl swinging between them, or maybe that old guy with the walking stick moved aside to drop some rubbish in a bin. I don’t know.
But I had a clear view maybe twenty metres across the square, maybe fifteen, and could see, coming towards me, two women. One was an older woman, in her fifties perhaps, long greying hair, dark skin, thick around the middle. Her neck was wrapped with a bright scarf, and she carried a fair sized bag at her side.
The other woman was younger, my age, slender, short dark hair. She walked towards me, her slim legs in tight black jeans. Fuck, the sway of those hips is damn sexy, familiar. My eyes are quickly travelling up and down her slim body, taking her all in. These two are walking towards me.
Familiar. She is wearing a plain shirt under a jacket, wrapped against the cold, collar turned up. Her hair is cut short, with a trendy, spiked cut surrounding her dark eyes. On her feet a pair of flat soled leather boots. She has dressed comfortably, practically, familiar. Do I know this woman? Still walking straight towards her, my eyes travel up legs to the sway of her crotch half hidden by her jacket. Something about the cut of her jeans tight around her hips, that gap between her thighs, right at the top of them. So familiar.
Five metres apart now and close enough to register the beauty of her face and those dark eyes, dark in black kohl, and those eyes are familiar. And then she catches my look, and I spot a quick grip of her hand on her mother’s arm, for clearly these two are mother and daughter, out shopping.
And she smiles at me. Oh fuck, she smiles at me, the most beautiful smile in the world. And it’s for me. I quickly turn my head and glance behind me, to make sure that the smile really is for me, and not for someone else and I’ve misjudged the direction of her glance. I turn back to her, and it is for me, it really is the most beautiful smile in the world and it really is for me. And my legs are automatically slowing, stopping.
And the seconds have converged and every event in the last nine years has locked into place, locked onto this moment, this precise moment in a small suburban shopping centre in a medium sized city in a big southern nation. Every thing I had ever said and done and not said and not done, ravelled and unravelled, every strange and nonsensical thing, every ordinary and stupid thing that had ever happened in a nine year period. Everything had funnelled down this fantastic gyre to this single moment in time, to this place, this gimbal.
At that precise moment in time, for a fraction of a second, my world stopped turning, that immense rotational rush through space, that silent spin around the sun, it stopped. The physicists are right, the theory is solid, the concept of a singularity into which everything pours and out of which everything spills is true. Because in that tiny fraction of a second my world stopped and then re-started, like a heartbeat.
Her smile, the most beautiful smile in the world, and it was for me.
“Alex, it is you. I thought it was. I recognised the bounce in your walk, through all those people.”
Our hands automatically grasped each other’s.
“God, how long’s it been? You stayed.”
“Yes, I stayed here. I’m teaching now. Mum, this is Alex, we were at Uni together.”
I greeted her mother, who stood gazing at her dark haired daughter smiling at this lanky blond man, radiant smiles both, and any mother would surely have seen a connection threading down those long years.
“We can’t stop, we’ve got to get some things before Mum goes back home. She’s been here this first week of the hols, and goes back tomorrow, so we’re in a bit of a rush. Call me during the week, if you like. We’re in the book. I’m married now.”
And Clio told me her new surname, and the suburb she lived in, ten minutes down the road.
“The phone number’s under N and C. We can do a Chinese or something, I’d love to catch up.”
I was still getting over seeing Clio after all these years, and even in that two minutes, was thinking, what the fuck, how on earth did this timing happen?
“Call me. Come on, Mum.”
“Lovely to meet you, Mrs P.”
“You too, Alex, you have a good rest of the day now.”
Her eyes were deep and dark, a wisdom there, this was a woman who had lived a life. I remembered Clio saying she was half Italian. Must have been her father, then, because this woman didn’t look Italian, even with her dark skin.
Have a good rest of the day! Bloody hell, I needed to find a cafe fast, to sit down and process what had just happened. My head was spinning. How the fuck did this just happen?
I watched Clio and her mum finish their interrupted walk across the square. As she walked away, Clio raised two fingers horizontally from the hand by her thigh, not looking back but knowing that I would be watching. Just two fingers in a little wave, discrete and just for me. She had always done that when we were together, that short time, way back when. She always walked away and tagged her exit, just like that. Two fingers a horizontal flicker because she always knew I’d be looking. She knew me. Familiar.
My God, so familiar. I was stunned by what had just happened, even then knowing some deep strangeness had gone on. I had walked for the first time ever to this place, just so I could see Clio again? I did not, and could never have, expected that. Shit, I hadn’t even known she’d stayed in this city. Like me, from a small town, this city was big enough.
But Clio married, fuck, wow. Far out, this was spinning my head. Jesus, strange shit going down, that’s for sure. But how had I known to walk this walk, that’s the bit that was freaking me out the most.
And Clio’s smile. Fuck, she’s beautiful. That smile. Damn.
I rang her on the Monday evening.
“Sorry, Clio’s out tonight, doing something for school.”
“When’s a good time to catch her, do you think?”
“Try this time tomorrow, should be good. Who shall I say called?”
He wasn’t her husband, but seemed to know what she was doing. Who was he?
I called again the next night, and this time she was in.
“Come and pick me up, we’ll go somewhere for dinner, just you and me.”
I drove to her house, no more than fifteen minutes away. Nine years has gone by and she’s fifteen minutes away. That’s not right, not fair. Fuck. Time is running strange, now. When I get there she invited me in, and I met the guy who answered the phone the night before. Clio was a bit awkward, and wanted to go quickly, get out of the house. It was as if she didn’t want to explain who I was, or hadn’t had time to think about it.
In my car, she explained that he was a friend of N’s, staying with them and paying board. Her husband was down the coast, doing some work there for the next couple of weeks. She did not tell me much at all about him, indeed I can recall only his name. I don’t think she ever told me what he did.
But Clio didn’t want to talk about her marriage, she wanted to find out what I was doing with my life. We ended up at a new Vietnamese restaurant in the main city centre, upstairs in one of the old buildings, columns of white colonnades facing the street. We caught up with each other’s lives, quick snap shots of passing lives. But it wasn’t so much about our passing lives that we wanted to know, but our past life.
She told me about Peter, back when she was at school, the haunting that was always between us.
“Now that I’m a teacher, I realise that he should have known better. He was my teacher, he should have said no.”
Clio looked at me with her huge dark eyes, her mouth serious.
“I was too young, we were both so young back then.”
She reached across the table and took my hand.
“I’m so sorry for what I did. When I got out of that small town, it was too much freedom for me. I went mad. There was too much dope, and I couldn’t say no to it.”
She clutched my hand, hard.
“When you opened my door, that day, God, that was dreadful. I hated myself, and then I hated you. It was awful.”
I didn’t know what to say. Clio was apologising, and then she turned in on herself, as if remembering was hard. I think I had worked through what happened that day, but the loss of her was a sad thing. Yet here she was again.
“Come on, let’s go for a walk around Civic, like we used to do.”
Like we used to do. Yes, we would often walk this part of town, walking Clio back to her self catering residence, and then my long walk back up the avenue. Sometimes just walking. After the first few weeks, always holding hands, running in the rain.
“Shit, look at that, it’s raining and the car’s on the other side of the bloody car park. Let’s stay here for a while, where it’s dry.”
Clio was slight and slender beside me, and just like we used to do, her hand found mine and was small and warm. She looked up at me with her darkest eyes, and her beautiful smile, oh God, her beautiful smile at that moment was just for me.
“Did I ever tell you that your smile is the most beautiful in the world?”
Clio gazed at me. “No, I don’t think you ever did. Perhaps you should have.”
And her smile was sad, and soft. “Is it, really?”
“For me, oh yes. Even after you were gone, your smile never left me. I loved you, Clio, if only for that short month, I really did.”
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