by Carys Crossen
Forgive my terrible handwriting, I’m on a train and it’s shaking so much it will probably shake itself off the track in a minute. I just left Sheffield and I’m crammed into a seat balancing this on my knee.
I liked Sheffield. It’s a handsome city, lots of modern art, even if the hills are a bit steep. I was so nervous going. I was going because I found one of your forebears in a drawer and was reading through it when I came across the name ‘Adrian Mahoney’. I was wildly in love with him in high school – my diary from back then is full of of moony swooning over my soulmate. He had great hair. I could never get the hair right in any of the numerous sketches I did of him.
I might not have taken off like I did if I hadn’t broken up with Philip the week before. (He wasn’t the type to be immortalised in amateur art.) It was pretty tame, no screaming, no throwing stuff. I wasn’t even that upset. But then I found my old diary, so full of yearning, unrequited love and passion. I never felt like that about Philip. I couldn’t remember feeling like that about anything since I was sixteen.
Maybe, I thought, just maybe, Adrian Mahoney really is my soulmate.
I got the details about where he lived and worked from Angela (seriously, how does she know this stuff?) and headed off. Doodling little hearts and flowers on the way, I freely admit.
I didn’t have any particular plan. I’m sure my younger self would have conjured some fantasy about our eyes meeting and love blossoming instantly. Or he’d confess that all the time he’d been with Alison in school he’d been secretly thinking of me.
The older me isn’t so prone to building castles in the air. Halfway through the journey I realised that I was there out of curiosity more than anything. I remembered my mad passion, but I wasn’t feeling it. In fact, during my nostalgia-fest on the train, what kept coming to mind was all the lunch hours I spent in the art room. Probably because I enjoyed them.
But I’d gone as far as skiving off work and hopping on a train to somewhere I’d never been, so I decided to see my little escapade through to its conclusion, no matter how weird or humiliating. I made my way to the office where Adrian works these days (he’d always proclaimed he was going to be a professional footballer; I was a little surprised when Angela told me he was working in finance).
“The older me isn’t so prone to building castles in the air.”
I got within shouting distance of the shiny revolving doors when the rain came down as though someone up in the clouds had upended a bucket, it was that heavy. I dived into the nearest shop.
It was a shop that sold art supplies. Blank white canvases, fat tubes and little tubs of paint, brushes of every shape and size. Pencils, my favourite, in all the colours of the rainbow. Sketchbooks, plain and inviting.
There were two things I wanted so, so badly when I was sixteen. One was to be Adrian’s girlfriend. The other was to become an artist. All those doodles and sketches. Hiding in the art room at lunch, art being my favourite subject. I had talent, too, the teachers said. I can’t quite recall when or why I’d discarded my artistic aspirations – I suppose I was being practical. Studying subjects that would (theoretically) lead to a proper career and so on.
Yeah, so much for that. My current miserable existence in the call centre, a career? Hell no. I might as well have pursued art. I might have been happy.
I ended up with two sketchbooks, a lovely tin of pencils for sketching and the details for art courses back on this side of the Pennines. I was emerging from the shop, glowing to match the sun that had just emerged, when I spotted Adrian.
I’m sure it was him. Those high cheekbones, those pouting lips, the tall frame. But the famed hair had receded, and what was left was very thin on top. His pout was so petulant – how could I ever have found it sexy? His face still fell naturally into a moody frown that I used to think was so cool.
I didn’t approach him. I watched him, all hunched and oblivious, until the streets swallowed him up. And that was that. The Adrian of my dreams was long gone, and ain’t coming back.
But I had other dreams. Ones that aren’t gone, of art and drawing and creating beauty. It’s been a long time since I wanted something this badly.
It feels fucking fantastic.
Carys Crossen has been writing stories since she was nine years old. She has published several non-fiction articles about horror and the Gothic, and her fiction has been published by Mother’s Milk Books, Three Drops Press and The First Line journal. She lives and works in Manchester with her husband.