CW: Heartbreak, bereavement (mild), smoking, tina turner
Five past. The film starts in ten. My second roll up's burning down as I wait on the steps, in the fumes of the Holloway Road. A fragile column of ash that slowly grows until it tumbles down onto the pavement.
A flash of music from a passing car.
When it comes down to it, I wonder what HAS love got to do with it? What's love but a second hand in motion? That's how it goes, right?
Tina has a point. Isn't love just another way of marking time, tick by tick? Decorative or desperate, it's all the same. It gives us something to do with our hands.
I noticed your hands right away. Skin cracked at the knuckles. Callouses roughening your fingertips. They moved when you talked, impassioned.
Last orders, and I'd been ready to go home. I wasn't sure I had the patience to elbow my way to the bar and make myself heard above the Saturday night crowd. But there you were, holding court with that tight sprung energy of yours, and I thought I may as well stick around for another.
You took up more space in the room than your body occupied, and your enthusiasm carried me along with you. You always had something to show me, some new oddity you'd made or found somewhere. I remember your grin, that first time we met, as you dug out from your pocket an old watch on a chain, a treasure that you'd unearthed at Portobello market. An engraving in copperplate script dedicated it to My darling Henry, long gone now.
You told me stories. Stories about your friends, your travels, your terrible boss down the car wash, the gig you'd got coming up. Your words were assured, but your hands betrayed you. They picked labels off beer bottles and rubbed a patch of skin red raw, just above your collarbone.
I never gave away their secret. I wanted to feel them on my skin too much to confess that I saw. Give it time, and you'd relax.
We've not been short of time, or words, these last few months. Our conversation dances in pace with the music, over late night takeaway and the dregs at the bottom of wine bottles. But it only ever skips across the surface. If I try to go deeper, something closes up. Your gaze settles somewhere in the middle distance, and a pleasant neutrality creeps into your voice. It suddenly seems easier to take the conversation back to familiar ground: music and pipedreams, candyfloss all of it.
I can't complain. We're living the good times, more adventures to add to your pocketbook. We're moving towards whatever destination the road holds for us and I'm grateful to be along for the ride. Our feet move to the beat of each steady minute.
Love and time, ticking forward together. Right, Tina?
I know that I'm fooling myself. Those aren't really the words she sings, and it's not how the story goes. Your heart and your pocket watch, both scavenged second hand on the market stall. Both run down in the end.
Half past now, and still no sign of you. We've missed the start. I wonder if we'll catch the closing credits.
I flick away the burned down stub and start to roll another.
Katy Naylor lives by the sea, in a little town on the south coast of England. She writes fiction, poetry and text adventure games in the time that falls between the cracks. Current or upcoming publications include work in Ellipsis Zine, The Bear Creek Gazette and Not Deer Magazine. Twitter @voidskrawl