By Ava Eldred
He walked in to the bar with the neon lights, cold for March, late to the party I had not been invited to, and in this memory I can see his breath in the air, but I don’t know if I’m romanticising. I was not quite struck, but intrigued at least. We gravitated. This story is not about that, but it’s worth noting that we gravitated. We sat in a booth, at a table, one of us on each side, and he said “God, where have you been?” and it should have been cheesy but it wasn’t. He said “Where have you been?” and it wasn’t the answer I gave, but the answer I thought was . . . here. I’ve been right here. I have sat at this very table with women who had once been friends. I stood beside it, hip to hip with a man I wasn’t supposed to love but did anyway. I was thinner then, my hair longer and darker. If I looked closely I could still see that girl, all gin and bravado; all confidence and morning coffee.
He asked “Where
and the ghosts of all the me’s that had come before stood up to be counted.
I do not want to, but I couldn’t forget even if I did: Cold for April, the first time he (different he) smiled at me. The building isn’t there anymore, but I’m pretty sure that if I went back I could pinpoint the exact spot; know just by standing there again that here lies my heart. Here, 25 steps to the left, back a bit, where we looked at each other across a table, all red wine and a fondness we pretended wasn’t significant, and said things we never had before.
He (the first he) asked me to give him a tour, afterwards. You wouldn’t want my tour of this place, I said, and the unspoken was ’cause he’s in every single molecule of the air. I can’t tell this one without him. I can’t tell me, here without sliding in to the things we said as we walked through this corridor; the things we didn’t say on a Friday morning. It’s easier to be the one that’s left behind when the room is heavy with the invisible souvenirs of an almost love story. Easier and more torturous all at once; you can’t move on, you don’t want to move on.
Sometimes you wish you could move on.
Even when nobody is left to remember, these spaces couldn’t exist without our history: the stain on the bar top where I spilled red wine, cold for October, my 27th birthday. They replaced it (not because of my wine stain) but I still could see the trace. The mark on the floor where I dropped my boiling tea, and she pretended it hadn’t hit her, to be polite I suppose. Spilling drinks; spilling memories; this is where we stood, even if you can’t see it. This is where we stood, and that’s why this place feels the way it does. That warmth is Sangria Saturday nights in July; salsa music; an Uber ‘cause we missed the train. That smell is my perfume, the one that crept in to all our clothes.
Oh if these walls could talk…
These places could not exist without our history.
It’s a burden and a blessing that neither can we.
“You love the past, don’t you?” he asked a little further down the line, and he meant it as a confrontation.
“Why wouldn’t I?” I think I said, and if I didn’t at least I thought it.
There is so much joy in the woman I’ve become because of her, that other me, all faux fur and fighting spirit; all pink eyes and promising not to make the same mistakes. I think of her when I see a warning sign and fight the urge to ignore it; I see her across the desk all lucky escapes and lessons learned saying “Girl. We didn’t fight all those battles with our bare hands for you to mess it up now.” It’s like a gallery of remembrance, and the only entrance fee is consenting to live it all over. To extract something new from the little signs beneath the pictures; to see something you didn’t, too close to the subject, first time around.
“The ghosts of all the me’s that had come before stood up to be counted.”
“You love the past, don’t you?” he asked, and he meant it as a confrontation but I took it as an accolade. Nothing to hide here: these palimpsests the evidence that say I lived.
We were among the last in the bar, and in this memory the neon lights had been turned out, but I don’t know if I’m romanticising. He smiled, and it was a smile I knew. A beginning. The kind of smile that things follow. “Let me be just here,” I asked, though not out loud, and as he put his arm around me, the spirits of the moments gone by took a step back, and then another. The bar became smaller. Just us, almost. Just now. The ghosts had turned their heads by the time I kissed him; gone to haunt someone else, perhaps.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked, my head on his chest in the almost-morning quiet, and it wasn’t the answer I gave, but the answer, and the question, that I thought was:
“If these walls could talk, do you think they’d talk about us?”
Ava is a theatre writer and novice hot yoga enthusiast from London.