Sunday, April 2

The Theory of Seven Years

It was the last day of winter – or at least some would define it as such, seeing as that evening the British clocks would go forward one entire circumference. Spring forward, autumn back. How did winter want to be remembered, then, when that Saturday morning we received weather of the finest order! The sun beat down strongly from a cloudless sky and the only thing upsetting those outside enjoying it was the wind, which carried a chill. It was, as Dickens described—‘Summer in the light and winter in the shade.’
A pale Indian restaurant, my mother and I fifty-percent of the punters—‘Sunday evenings I find myself excited to go back to work!’ She told me I needed to find something to do. ‘Yes,’ I agreed—‘If I have no plans then I just get miserable, y’know, and can’t wait for work.’ So it was that on Friday night, emboldened by drink and the joy I found dancing to music around my flat, I contacted a girl I used to see from a decade ago and asked if she wanted to meet up. To my surprise, the response—‘Ah, why not. It’s been a while.’ It had indeed been a while. It had been a decade since I treated her so direly, and it had been eight years since I apologised to her, and she—‘Don’t worry. I’m over you. I don’t even think about it anymore.’ Sometimes when I am walking along the streets, I will think of my shortcomings, the errors of my way, and cringe at myself, visibly. In the history of my romances, I perhaps treated her the worst.
It would be good to see her again, and especially in such fine weather. Coincidentally she was in my end of the city and so I walked down to meet her, and found her; she occupying a ledge outside a coffee shop, a glorious sun-trap and the busy of the road kicking up black smoke and noise. There were people everywhere, not just the locals but the day-trippers and hen or stag parties. Amusing myself, I asked—‘So, how you been?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied—‘I thought: we can’t really catch up over the past eight years.’ So much had changed: from Labour to coalition to Tory, to our exit from the European Union. Many buildings had sprung up, too, so that to take a pencil to the skyline of London was to lose yourself. Our personal changes, well I was very different, I knew that; but she? We walked not far at all to a pub with an outdoor area because the sunlight was not waning, and perhaps we would be sheltered from the wind. I had not become too drunk the night before and was in a good mood, refreshed by the pleasantness of the day; I was even astonished by how comfortable I felt in her company again.
The last time we had rendezvoused I had bumped into a colleague. He was out with his wife-to-be – so much had changed! – and I felt that he, in his attitudes, would believe that there was some sort of romantic engagement between she and I, but there was not because I did not deserve it. Strangely I did not wish be to gifted such an assumption and felt embarrassed for it. Maybe that was all in my mind!
We went to a pub I had discovered with a colleague nine years ago; he had since lost his job during the recession, met a woman and started a family. She and I sat down at the opposite end of the table to a couple, who talked loudly and cared not a jot that the bench they sat upon did not run exactly parallel to the table. I had a beer and she a small house white: pinot grigio.
It was surprising to me how quickly we got used to each other again. Not once was there an awkward silence, or any silence at all. She spoke of her disillusionment with her peers, preferring the company of older former neighbours. Friends her own age angered her. She believed that she was coming to the end of another phase in her life, that life was shaped in seven year phases, and she, now twenty-eight, was about to enter another. She did not want children. She disliked young people. It was good to be with her again. Under the shifting winter sun, we witnessed light vacate the garden. She was most honest with me, disclosing details of her six-year relationship with a boy she had spoken of even ten years ago. It had not gone well, and she was two years into the hangover. As rotten as the relationship had been, she thought, at the time, like I had done in my own, that it would get better. It never gets better, it just rots slower, like food in the fridge. She, of course, had eight years on her now, a strength and confidence I had not noticed before or maybe that it was not there. She spoke with an authority that had been absent before. She was tremendous to be around. It was almost as if she was a different person. To cycle home for a prior engagement, she had to cease drinking after two glasses. I wished to continue. I had the taste and I did not want it to end, quite comfortable on the bench and warm in my coat against the evening cool, enjoying her conversation, enjoying her.
After we said good-bye, I took a walk up the street to a record shop and perused. At the lack of having eaten, I felt quite merry, jolly, joyful. I contacted my friend to ask him if he was about for a drink—‘Nah, mate, I’m buying some door brackets and then we’re going home.’ ‘Jesus Christ,’ I told him. I bought some more beer and went home, disappointed that the day was over. I played guitar and drank, I stumbled around my flat and drank, I played and sang and drank, my voice went hoarse and I drank. Then I fell upon the sofa. I could not keep my eyes open. It was three-and-a-half years till the end of my next phase. I wondered what I would do.

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