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by Anna Sileoni
Tomorrow. I’m leaving tomorrow. This town, these faces, every single one of these people is going to haunt my memories like a restless ghost. The oh-so-scary Real World, this bogeyman-realm which has haunted me for years and years and years, will be my world starting from tomorrow.
This is the point where you naturally begin to wonder what will become of all the friendships, quasi-friendships and purely visual acquaintances laboriously built during the past years. All those faces who will never leave my head until nothing is left that reminds me of them. But can that ever happen? Can I forget them completely? On the other hand, like Ada Monroe asks herself in Cold Mountain, “is anything remembered forever?”
Maybe leaving is a bit like dying. Except that it’s not you dying: it’s as if all the people you leave behind have died, especially those ones whom you’re not likely to ever see again. That’s why you keep glimpsing the ghosts of them around you for weeks or even months afterwards. And who knows, maybe you’re kind of dead to them too. The ghost of you has stayed, it never left your home and is now keeping your friends company.
One thing is for sure: of all the people I’ve had to part with in my life, I’ll miss my Lucy the most.
* * * * *
So they gave me this book the other day. My sister did, as a present. Not that there was an occasion to justify it. It’s Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. She thinks the man has something to teach me. Not the gallivanting, excessive drinking and generally dissolute life style (‘You really shouldn’t need Fitzgerald to learn that, sis’). She gave it to me for the writing – apparently it could give me something to think about. ‘You know...Inspiration or whatever. You’ll love it, Clo’. Clo. Funny how people still struggle to believe it’s not ‘Chloe’ but “Clo”, short for “Clotho”. Mum started telling me the Greek myth of the three Fates very early, back in the beautiful days when I was just about sentient enough to understand it. In her defence, she’s always been massively into the Classics. ‘The Greeks believed that the three Fates not only controlled the life of men, but-’ ‘of Zeus too...’ I was always a big fan of bedside story time. ‘That’s right, honey. And Clotho was the smallest of the three, and she was the one who spun the thread of life, and that’s why her name means-’ ‘The Spinner’. I just loved all that. Must’ve been the sound of the words. Or maybe that sense of God-like power, curiously appealing to a three year old.
Sometimes I think Lucy cares for my literary ambitions more than I do. Mum never asks about that, neither does dad. Well, I’ll get to read this Fitzgerald book soon. After all, Lucy knows what’s best for me. And she knows I know. I can’t even be sure that I’ll keep writing once I’ve started working. But it’s good to have someone who thinks that I should. Even if they don’t say it.
There’s Grace, standing in front of Abbey’s café. She’s thinking that it’s unusually warm for this time of year. Summer’s been and gone and long forgotten, but Mother Nature agreed to let the town enjoy a few unexpected days of spring, and now her blonde locks look brighter than ever under the unseasonable sunlight. To tell the truth, sunlight has become quite a rarity in this town in any season. Eleanor should be here by now, with the electrical equipment and especially the brand new amplifier they bought together. Their first ever open-air performance, and so many things that could go wrong. She could forget the lyrics mid-song. She could forget the chords. In fact, she could forget how to play the guitar out of sheer anxiety. A cable could get unplugged and suddenly they’d find themselves performing a cappella. What if all of these things happen together? Ah, but what if they don’t...This could be the best thing happening to her in a long time, or the most tragic.
At last, a tiny ginger-haired girl overburdened by pitch-black bags of all shapes and sizes appears in the crowded street. Poor Ellie looks exhausted already, but it’s time to get the show started.
‘Would you mind explaining to me what on earth are you doing with my book?’ Iris can look rather threatening when she’s annoyed at someone. ‘It’s not yours, it’s your library’s.’ Simple answer. As is always the case, Tom has it all under control. ‘One more reason why you shouldn’t be dog-earing it like that, that book is the library’s property and you’re carelessly vandalising it’. Tom raises an eyebrow at her. This is Tom’s silent response when he deems the situation to be so absurd that he falls short of a comeback. His right brow has often been more eloquent than his most inspired rants. Iris temporarily gives up. ‘Right, do whatever you want.’ ‘And besides,’ now it’s Robbie’s turn to contribute ‘he’s not even wronging future borrowers. He’s doing them a favour, you see...’ Tom looks vaguely amused. ‘...He is kindly pointing those poor souls to the most interesting parts of the book, thus ensuring that they have the best reading experience imaginable’. A momentary spark of delight lights up Tom’s green eyes ‘Robbie, my man, you’re dead right.’ ‘GUYS.’ Iris can’t take it any longer. ‘Since we’re gonna be rehearsing and practicing and eventually reading these things in public, we’d better be using our own material, don’t you think?’
Jude’s desk has never been this clean. This always causes him to worry: a tidy desk is an irrevocable sign that no work has been accomplished. A spotless desk is a sign that the work has been avoided by dusting the place clean – possibly a fruitful deferral activity, but one unlikely to engender much inspiration. Time for a change of scenery.
He is surprised to find that the café is not at all crowded, and there are only two people in the queue. Jude orders his mint tea, the one drink he’s ever ordered in this place. His favourite table is free: right in the corner of the room, each window overlooking a different street. On the main street he can see two young buskers preparing for their performance. Jude decides that they look too inexperienced to be any good. Nobody that age could excel in anything.
The moleskine’s out of the back pocket, and the tea’s way too hot to drink. Jude starts looking around, because that’s what he does. He is the silent observer of them all. The invisible watcher, the unobtrusive inquisitor of his town. Noticing and noting down every detail, however silly and supposedly unimportant. His father told him that very little in this world is worth ignoring. There is nothing going on at Abbey’s today, and all of that Nothing is about to be recorded and treasured in the little red notebook.
Further down the road from the selected location for Grace and Eleanor’s show, a man is already strumming his guitar and singing his heart out to the good people of this town. He is much older than what any of those passers-by would guess; Charlie’s pale blue eyes have seen more of these streets than any other citizen. This tireless man has walked down every lane, strolled along the river and through the parks, played his favourite songs on every alley. These streets are his stage. They are also his home.
The current tune is Springsteen’s Born To Run. Charlie’s guitar has seen as many streets as he has, the body sides have collected multiple scratches and the paint around the sound hole has partly discoloured. But the notes resonate in the body of the instrument just as they did the first time he played it. Charlie’s technique is rudimentary but his movements confident; somebody told him the best musicians are self-taught anyway. ‘We gotta get out while we’re young’, something so natural to write down in song for a 25-year-old Bruce. Those same words don’t sound contrived coming out of Charlie’s mouth, because the restless boy is not lost in him. He tastes every syllable and savours his tiny moment of celebrity, revelling in the attention he will never otherwise receive.
Inside Abbey’s, an elegantly dressed man in his 80’s sits and looks at the street outside, then moves his attention to the people inside the café. Three youngsters appear to be arguing over books...How refreshing. Arthur knows the café inside out because he’s been coming here every Saturday afternoon for the last thirty years. He watched the place change along with the people in it. From his table he has witnessed couples meeting for the first time, people falling in love and out of love and then in love again, teenagers gossiping and laughing as if they knew life would get harsher later on so they might as well enjoy the good moments, mothers cradle their baby-born in their arms and smiling at their husband who managed to get out of work earlier. Arthur has seen it all, and thought it a nice show. On his table is a freshly-bought bouquet of roses. Arthur has a sip of his coffee, then slowly puts the cup back on the table. After another pensive look around the place, he gently lifts the flowers, rests them on his lap, and starts tenderly caressing the soft white petals.
Loving the Fitzgerald book. And my sister all the more by extension. What a man, wish I’d attempted his writing long ago. I’m starting to reread old books too, I suppose I’m getting nostalgic. So many literary crushes I am in danger of forgetting. And it’s not even about the books, it’s about me trying to keep my past as close to me as possible and to give it value and make sure everything was worth it...Mainly because I’m terrified of the next step. What if I end up living a tiny, mediocre, tedious life and no one is going to even regret the day I depart from it? Fitzgerald read my mind there too. “I shall go on shining as a brilliantly meaningless figure in a meaningless world.” I wonder if Lucy gave me this book to think about these things as well. Better yet, to tell me, ‘now listen, that’s not where you’re headed, sis’. It would be like her, to do something of this sort.
The music exchange shop is unusually crowded today. Grace and Ellie are on the hunt for inspiring material; they are still thrilled from the impeccable performance they put together a few days ago, and also eager to replicate it. Same place, same time. Today. But this is their chill-out hour.
‘Oh My God look at this!’ Grace struck gold. The first Who album, the official birth of a musical legend, for the disgracefully low price of four pounds fifty. ‘I thought we were looking for something more...new’ ‘Ellie, My Generation is hard rock before its time, it’s an absolute must-have. As an audiophile, I have a moral duty not to let this piece of history sit on this shelf ignored by the undeserving people of this town.’ ‘Whatever you say...What was that other piece of history you mentioned to me the other day? I’m sure that was a must-have also.’ ‘Which band?’ ‘I think Pink Floyd...’ Ellie says it with the most inconspicuous frown on her face. ‘...Since apparently it’s rock history lesson today.’ Nothing personal. Ellie does love the big classics, she’s just been fonder of the contemporary scene lately. ‘YOU’RE RIGHT, I need to track down the footage from their original The Wall tour, you cannot imagine how incredible that was, they actually-’ ‘Let me guess, they had the stage crew people build an actual big wall between them and the crowd. You’ve told me like a trillion times, Grace’ ‘So-rryyy’ ‘Look, your Nevermind album is still there.’ Grace is shocked. ‘That’s it. The people of this town do not deserve my musical generosity. In fact, they’re not worthy of hearing us perform any longer.’ ‘Clearly.’ ‘Right, let’s go rehearse before show time.’
Tom is the last one to join the trio. The café’s packed. ‘Aw, guys, you shouldn’t have waited for me to order your drinks’ ‘We didn’t. It’s been an espresso, a tea and three pieces of pie so far.’ Iris put on her best straight face, desperately hoping Tom would buy it. But Robbie, caught unprepared, can’t suppress a tiny sneer of enjoyment. A quick succession of glimpses in one another’s direction, Tom to Robbie, Robbie to Iris, Iris to Tom, and Iris realises the deception was fruitless from the start. Better luck next time. ‘Well, since I’m standing I’ll just go get a tea for everyone, ok?’
Thanks to Iris’s insistence (‘obnoxiousness’, as Tom would have it), all the books needed have been bought. Due to the sudden powerful feeling of ownership, the same books have also been mercilessly highlighted and dog-eared and doodled on; Tom’s proven especially talented in floral patterns. ‘So, are we sure we want to keep the bits from Into the Wild ?’ Iris was never too convinced by that book, but Robbie’s not having it. ‘Don’t you dare touch my Krakauer, Iris. Jon stays. You cut out my Krakauer, I cut out your Bukowski’ ‘You’re four years old’ ‘And unimaginably proud of it’. Tom’s amused again, it’s like a sit-com with no need for a TV. ‘Hey, Guys...’ The bickering does not cease despite Tom’s attempt. ‘Guys...COMRADES...My litigious fellows...Do anything, but let it produce joy’. Robbie realises Tom is Walt-Whitmaning it again. He loves Tom’s mockingly emphatic tone when he decides to impersonate his favourite authors; the face is serious, but the voice is never quite as steady as it should be. As Iris once put it, ‘That boy is constantly flirting with the line between seriousness and sarcasm’. She herself thought it a brilliant definition.
It seems like the rehearsing will be going on for a good while today.
Jude loves the books exchange place, and not only because it’s so conveniently located next to the café. He loves second-hand books. He loves the ghostly imprints of the former owner on a book’s pages. There is almost a magical quality to it. It’s as if all the thoughts, all the emotions that the previous reader harboured are still lingering all around the volume in an aura of dreams and musings, of surprise and disappointments. It’s a kind of chronologically distanced telepathy. Tom starts delivering these thoughts to the yellowing pages of his tired Moleskine. An elderly standing close by gives Tom a look of disapproval before realising he’s not defacing one of the books on sale.
Now Tom knows that the moment has arrived to part with a much beloved book of his, and there is no point in delaying it any further. The man behind the counter smiles complacently as he sees the cover. ‘So how did you like Ginsberg?’ ‘He’s so...different. One of those life-changing reads, you know...’ And I will never equal his genius. Of course this last part remains safe in Jude’s head, with the rest of his insecurities and unwritten thoughts. Selected Poems: 1947–1995 leaves Jude’s hands to be delivered to fate – to that limbo-like state of possibility, to the ghost of the next bibliophile whose fingers will add their imprints to Jude’s, for the layering to keep going on and on and on for as long as necessary.
Charlie has been singing for almost an hour straight today. A few Beatles tunes, three or four U2, the Stones’s Ruby Tuesday that he loves so much, and a whole lot of his beloved Springsteen again. A couple of Oasis tunes to mix it up a little, cater for a slightly younger demographic. Overall a respectable selection. That didn’t seem to have any impact of the amount of spare change dropped in his fedora. And soon it will be time to figure out tonight’s dining arrangement.
He starts gathering his possessions when a girl approaches him. She’s holding two paper cups, he can smell the delicious black coffee in them. ‘Hello...You don’t know me but I’ve heard you sing sometimes, I really think you’re quite talented...’ Now, this is a first. ‘Anyway I thought you might like a cup of coffee, I’ve seen you drinking it sometimes and...I thought...’ ‘Why of course, I would love some coffee, young lady. This is very kind of you’ ‘Decaf or caffeinated?’ Where on earth did this tiny ginger girl come from? ‘Oh, either one is fine, you choose yours first.’ ‘Right, I’ll have the decaf then. You’re Charlie, right?’ ‘I am...’ ‘I’m Eleanor.’ ‘Pleasure to meet you.’ ‘Wow...That’s a nice guitar you have there, Charlie’ ‘Ahh, it’s a mess now. It was given to me by a man who owns about a dozen of ‘em...Can you play guitar at all?’ Eleanor can’t hide a smile. ‘I try.’
Arthur is sat at exactly the same table as he was a week ago. Same seat, same drink, equally elegant suit, new bouquet of the same flowers. It’s getting late now, dinner time beckons. Most of the time he has been watching the two girls who stood on the side of the street, singing and playing their guitars for two full hours. A courageous thing to do with the weather preparing for winter. He always admired young musicians, especially those willing to brave potential criticising looks by foreigners and, even worse, derisive remarks by friends.
A half-familiar voice takes him back from his musings. ‘I’m sorry to bother you sir, but is the other seat taken?’ If it isn’t one of the two buskers. A sincere smile lightens up his face. ‘No, it’s not...’ Grace puts her cup on the table, and balances the guitar bag against the back of her chair. Arthur finds that position most precarious. ‘Uhm...Is that safe?’ ‘Oh, I do it all the time, no worries...Those roses are beautiful! They’re a present, I assume?’ ‘They are, for my wife.’ ‘Oh, she will love them. What’s her name?’ ‘It’s Lyla’ ‘Is she not expecting you home now? It’s getting quite late...’ Arthur smiles again, another kind of smile. ‘Oh, believe me...There’s no need for me to hurry’.
“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know—because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”
What if Fitzgerald’s words prove ominous, a dark prediction of my own story? What if the next step ends up being the wrong one, not at all what I would have imagined?
Enough with this depression. Went with Lucy to the music exchange shop yesterday to see if there was anything interesting to add to our collection. I was scavenging the Prog Rock section when she called out to me. ‘Come, have a look here’. Nirvana’s Nevermind. Too huge a classic not to own it. She insisted to pay for it, and said I can pay back by finally showing her some of my ‘fine scribbles’. I’ve never shown her any of my writing before, don’t think I ever will because I don’t want to disappoint her. But it’s nice that she tries.
Grace and Ellie spent the past week convincing Abbey from Abbey’s café to let them play a small gig at her place. They got permission for their hour of gigging. In two weeks’ time, on a Saturday evening. But today their discussion is not projected in the future.
‘So you’re saying you just walked up to him with a cup of coffee.’ Grace still has trouble envisioning the scene. ‘Two cups of coffee’ ‘Same difference.’ ‘He is an extremely talented singer, you know’ ‘Oh, I’m sure of that’. Grace still isn’t convinced. Eleanor knows that tone of voice. She can tell what Grace is really thinking by the tiniest difference in intonation, every semitone interval signalling a slightly more positive or negative opinion on any given subject. And the great thing is that goes both ways. There’s no fooling a musical ear. ‘He’s got an amazing voice, he just wasn’t properly taught how to use it, but isn’t that the case with all the best ones?’ ‘Where are you trying to go with that, Ellie?’ ‘Nowhere.’ Naturally, Grace has heard the sound of hesitation and badly concealed truth produced by that ‘Nowhere’. She decides to temporarily let it go and lets Ellie change the subject. ‘Anyway...Tell me about the old guy you were sat next to in Abbey’s café, I saw you two chatting on my way home...You weren’t boring the poor man to death with your insufferable Madchester eulogies, were you?’ ‘As a matter of fact, he was telling me about his wife.’ ‘Right, what about her?’ ‘The woman died in a car accident over twenty years ago.’ ‘Oh…’ ‘They had been together for 20 years and then one day she’s no more. Can you believe it? He still buys her flowers as he used to do every Saturday on his way back from work. Then he puts them in a vase next to her picture. He said “We each live with our ghosts”. In his head, she never left. He’s done this for the past 20 years’. ‘Right...But what are we to do about it?’ ‘Well...There is a tiny little something which we could do… If it’s ok with you…’ Eleanor knows that she won’t be able to say no to that. She will ask about the homeless man later.
‘Explain to me once again where we’re going and why we’re going there.’ One thing Iris can’t stand is the striking sense of pointlessness hovering around the majority of Tom’s and Robbie’s ideas. Tom knows it well. He looks at Robbie: ‘Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there.’ Robbie knows the reference. ‘Where we going, man?’ Apparently, our lord Jack Kerouac has written something for every occasion. ‘I don't know but we gotta go!’ Tom turns around to Iris. ‘We gotta go, Iris’. Fortunately their mysterious destination is closer than she thought. The books exchange shop. Great. Like they need more books for their performance...The fact that the woman from the café agreed to let them do their little recital was a minor miracle in itself, no need to make it into a three-hour lecture. But the two boys are lost in the crowd of bibliophiles before she realises it. ‘Tom, over here!’ The tone of triumph in Robbie’s voice sounds almost promising – like they might be getting out of that stifling place sooner than anticipated. ‘HOLY! Holy! The world is holy! The soul is holy!’ Tom is in his declamatory trance again, and not even Iris can keep up with this particular one; she has to go and see for herself. The cover of the book reads Selected Poems: 1947-1995, but the face printed on it makes any writing superfluous. Tom is already headed towards the counter with his treasure in his hands. Ginsberg it is.
Jude has been observing the two boys sat at the table next to his for a good while. They’re surrounded by piles of books. On the table, on the ground, on their laps. And, of course, they are both engaged in some intensely focused reading. He always likes to be in the proximity of people with similar interests to his. Eventually one of the two boys lifts his eyes from the page, and reads out: ‘All your grief hasn't changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You're only left with your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not.’ ‘Nice one...But I think we’ve got too much from Cold Mountain as it is...’. Cold Mountain, good book. ‘How’s it going, peeps?’ A girl just appeared out of nowhere, carrying more books. ‘Showtime is two weeks away, you know...You don’t look ready to me’ The Cold Mountain fan raises an eyebrow at her. Jude is rather intrigued by the trio. All of a sudden, one of the heedlessly assembled towers of literary wisdom collapses from the table down to the ground, and Jude is too close not to help. ‘Oh, thank you so much!’ Robbie is always touched by these increasingly rare gestures of gratuitous kindness from strangers. ‘It’s alright...Can I ask what you guys are preparing for? Is it some sort of public reading?’ Iris is taken aback, but also pleased by such genuine display of interest. She can’t suppress a smile. ‘Why, wanna join in?’
‘Goodbye, Ruby TuesdayWho could hang a name on you?When you change with every new daystill I’m gonna miss you...’
One final, slow downbeat strum of the G chord is all that is needed for the song to be over. But is it? Charlie loves to conclude his evening shows with his favourite Stones tune, because even after the very last chord is played there is no real sense of closure. ‘Excellent as ever, Mister.’ Eleanor looks genuinely pleased with the performance. She takes a sip of her coffee, while Charlie starts packing up his things. ‘How are you, Charlie?’ ‘Oh, you know...Weather’s getting colder, beard’s getting longer, bones are getting rustier, same old same old...’ Ellie passes the second cup of coffee to Charlie with an unusually big smile on her face. ‘You know... My friend and I are going to play a gig in Abbey’s soon...’ ‘A gig? That’s great, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes, and there’s an idea we’ve been discussing...’ Ellie’s smile broadens even more. ‘Do you have any plans for next Saturday evening?’
Arthur didn’t order his usual latte today, he decided to go a bit crazy and order a hot chocolate. He was happy to see that the florist had an exceptionally good selection of roses as well, so no better way to celebrate that than a chocolate. ‘Hello Arthur, remember me?’ Well, if it isn’t the funny ginger head again. ‘Of course I do, would you like to sit here?’ ‘Yes, why not...You look particularly elegant today, if I may say so.’ ‘Thanks, it’s a new suit...I’m trying to get comfortable in it so that I can wear it next week for...’ ‘Speaking of next week, my friend and I are going to be playing a gig right in here...It’s next Saturday, the 7th of November. We would be both so glad if you would like to come and listen...It won’t be finishing late, you know, 8 o’clock at the latest...What do you think?’ Arthur ponders it for a moment. A very long moment, so long that Grace starts fearing a ‘no’. ‘Well...Why not...Yes, I think it would be a nice way for me to celebrate.’ ‘Celebrate what?’. Grace doesn’t know that the 7th of November has been a particularly melancholic day on Arthur’s calendar for an extremely long time now. ‘Her 70th birthday’.
The past really is a country. It either follows you, or it waits patiently until you go back for a visit. What happens when none of the people from my past will be left to help me visit there?
I find it all extremely scary – the idea that there are numberless memories irretrievably lost inside my head.
I went to Abbey’s with Lucy yesterday. For years I’ve been going there and there was never anything going on at all. Then, all of a sudden, two events. Of course neither of them was exactly the centre of attention – Lucy and I had a lot to talk about because of my impending departure. ‘You realise that you’re leaving me in two days, that you’ll be going a hundred miles up north and for what? Some insignificant job?’ Sarcasm is her way to mask pain. I’ll miss her too.
The youngsters reading literature weren’t half bad. They set the tone with the controversial Beats and Allen Ginsberg’s infamous incipit “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...” They had an eclectic mix of modern and classic, Catullus and Bukowski, Austen and Yeats. In the end there was a bit I didn’t recognise, brilliant verses though, and then they announced it was one of them who’d written that. Everyone in the room started clapping frantically. The boy had his eyes wide open as if in shock, like he never thought he could have an entire audience, however small, loving what he wrote and letting him know it. Then he shyly lowered his head and went back to his seat. Actually, the girl marched out first, he went second. The other two boys paused on the stage area for a while and together declaimed a passage from Kerouac: ‘What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s GOOD-BY.’ They took a bow, and gaily strolled off as one of them tried to trip the other. Amusing individuals.
The duo covering rock-ish songs was surprisingly good as well. Three of them, actually. In fact, quite a curious ensemble. The two singers were playing an electric and an acoustic guitar, but another acoustic guitar was being played by a man who could have been their grandfather. Lucy recognised him before I did: ‘That’s our town troubadour!’ She likes to call him that. I never paid too much attention to the guy – regrettably so, because he was great. They made him sing Ruby Tuesday, too – totally owned it. Everyone loved him. Before their last piece they had another man come up on stage, even older than the troubadour guy, who dedicated the song to his wife on her 70th birthday. The unconventional trio played an incredible acoustic rearrangement of Oasis’s Lyla. Of course, my sister’s attention was tickled by something other than the song: ‘The wife’s birthday, huh...The way that poor man’s tearing up you’d think it was her funeral.’ I thought she had a point – those sure were tears on his wrinkled cheeks. The voice a bit unsteady. The tone a bit melancholic. But I swear I saw him smile.
As Gloria says in The Beautiful and Damned, “Everywhere we go and move on and change, something's lost--something's left behind.”
Part of me is still sat next to Lucy watching TV in the kitchen, after an endless and tiring week. Part of me is jumping up and down to the irresistible beat of my favourite band, in a concert hall I wished I’d never leave. Part of me is sat in the living room with my mum, on some distant summer day too hot to enjoy outdoors. Every millionth piece of me has been left everywhere I happened to be, for however long or brief a time.
Leaving home wasn’t easy on that November morning. Of course we all knew I’d be visiting, but we also knew it would not be the same. The last piece of advice as I boarded the train came from Lucy: ‘Hey, you. Don’t forget to write.’ Mum and dad smiled at that, but I knew she wasn’t talking postcards. And she wasn’t talking exclusively about writing, either: the ‘forgetting’ part stood just as well alone. She’d told me a few days before I left: ‘I hope you know your J.M. Barrie, Clo. “Goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.”’ I still need her to know, wherever she is, that I didn’t forget. That Eleanor is really her, and so is Tom, and that I keep wishing I’d shown her my ‘fine scribbles’ when she asked me to, and that I truly agreed with her when she said that Ruby Tuesday is the Stones’s best because it has no closure. We each live with our ghosts.
So here are my scribbles. Here, too, is the fulfilment of a prophetic first name as I spun the threads of my characters’ lives and let them intertwine, as I weaved a story of melancholy and hope and mourning where the one and only person to be mourned was really just my sister.
Don’t forget to write. I didn’t. Every day. And, good or bad, this is it. Here, Lucy, are the fine scribbles I never showed you.
This, right here, is all my not-forgetting.
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