Change

He’d come in everyday at 9:10am. He’d slowly make his way up to me, tilt his hat and ask how I was; it normally followed by a chesty cough. When I was getting the bag ready, I’d hear him slowly make his way around the store, coughing as he went, dragging his stick along the floor. He’d return with the same three things: a pint of milk, a copy of The Local Racer and a bar of caramel chocolate, the latter for the wife, as he always said. He’d then ask for a pack of 40 Camel cigarettes, and it got so often that I had them scanned, bagged and on the till for him when he returned, sometimes even before he had come into the shop. Every time when I gave him the bag, he’d say “I’m going to kick the habit, I’m going to kill the smoking habit. Tomorrow.” He’d laugh, cough, and wish me a good day.

Anyway, the rest of the day was punctuated with visits from the same locals. Marnie, from the charity shop, came in and bought her fruit and nuts; every now and then she’d include the latest diet magazine from Good Health. William came in from the post office for his lunch. He always looked so dishevelled and tired and would always be fishing out pennies to pay for his plain cheese sandwich. Franco, from the restaurant, came in and always bought a lottery ticket. He always said “Make sure you give me the winning one this time.” That got old pretty quick. He owned the restaurant next door, which was never busy. It got slated by Ramsay. Then, just before we closed up, Higgins would come in again and ask for another pack of Camels. Had to give it to him, even though I had already cashed up the till, so just handed him the packet and told him to bring the money the next day.

You get stuck into a routine, working there. When you see the same people everyday, the small changes in their appearances and purchases spoke volumes about them. You could read people through the numbers on the till. Marnie stopped buying her fruit and nuts. Not long after, she began to put on weight – but she was a lot happier. William spent more money for his lunch and began to pay in notes. This told me he got a better job at the post office. Franco stopped buying his lottery tickets and went onto scratch cards, I suppose he worked out there’s a better chance of him winning with them. And Higgins stopped coming in, instead a boy took his place. He was silent on the shop floor picking up the milk, the paper – but not the chocolate. After I figured he was running the daily errands for Higgins, the boy told me the wife had given up the chocolate. For her health. He’d then ask politely for 60 Camel cigarettes. “He’ll kick the habit. He’ll kill the smoking habit. Tomorrow,” the boy would say. It wasn’t followed with a laugh.

I still visit the village. My parents live down there and when I’m around, I’ll get the bread for them in the mornings. I see the same people, although they don’t recognise me, what with my beard and hair and that. It’s a relief to see how people are. I saw Marnie outside the bank, she was thin and her hair was full, she looked really well. William was in a suit with a briefcase, walking with urgency towards the post office. He looked liked he owned the place when he entered. And ‘Franco’s Restaurant’ was now a cafe and was roaring with customers drinking coffee and eating cake. He looked happy, too, though I spotted a lottery ticket in his hand.

One time, I saw the boy. He was older. A man, I suppose now, he may well have been in his early twenties. I was walking past him and caught a glimpse of what he was carrying. He had a pint of milk, a copy of The Local Racer and a chocolate bar – no cigarettes, though.

Perhaps Higgins finally did it. He killed the smoking habit.

God, I wish it were that way around. I wish it were that way around.

Voices to the Heavens

“He was mad, he was. Mad as a bat – is that the phrase? Mad as a bat? Anyway, he was mad. I don’t mean a bit loopy, I don’t mean a bit crazy; he was down right mad. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t like him.”

Jones took a sip of his coffee; he slightly recoiled to the bitterness and heat and then set it down onto his coaster. “On his first day, Toby was late. He came in wearing his big boots and holding his plastic bag of food, his bowler hat just resting on the top of his head, and he shouted “Monday, 9:13am. I am late by thirteen minutes!” The whole office laughed, that brought colour to the floor, that did. Funniest thing, you know? Most people try and slip in past Fredericks if they’re late, dip underneath the cubicles, crawl under the tables. Toby just belted it to the everyone.”

“He kept doing it. Every day of the week. “Tuesday, 9:05am. I am late by 5 minutes!” “Friday, 9:26am. I am late by 26 minutes!” Each time, it never failed to make us chuckle. Fredericks tried to hold a straight face, being the boss and all, but underneath you could tell he found it funny. It just became a thing that would happen in the morning. He was late everyday but he always made up the minutes.”

Jones sighed. He kept his eyes on his hands, watching his thumbs tumble over each other on his lap. “I took him home once. Drove him back after the Christmas dinner. He told me he couldn’t drive home so I took him. I was sober, I didn’t mind. You know me, you know what beer does. What it has done. I got him home – silly sod, he told me he couldn’t drive, I thought, you know, it’s because he’s pissed, but turns out he didn’t have a car. That’s what he meant. He laughed, the first time I ever heard him. It was warming, sweet; he cut himself off shortly afterwards. I took him in, shut the door and left.”

Jones took another sip of his coffee. This time, he didn’t recoil to the taste nor the heat. He had his eyes fixed on the surface of the drink, watched as it rippled under the breath from his nostrils.

“Caught one of his neighbours on their porch as I walked back to my car. Well, he caught me. He said, ‘I hope that man sleeps tonight.’ I spoke to him for a while. He said Toby was new to the house, he had only moved in since he started working with us.”

“He said that he would hear him shouting. Like he does in the office every morning. He would shout ‘Tuesday, 7:45am. Thought of it again. I will not do it again.’ ‘Wednesday, 9:05pm. Did it. I did it again. I’m sorry.’ ‘Sunday, 10:29am. Overslept by 29minutes. I’m sorry, my Lord.”

“My Lord?” I asked.

“That’s what he said. Toby said ‘My Lord.’”

Jones looked up towards the mantlepiece.

“That boy was repenting. Every time. Every time he was late, every time he did something bad, he would shout it out to the heavens. Loud and clear, for whatever reason. That day they arrested him, his neighbour recalled his words as they took him in. His torso was covered in blood, his hair was pulled out in tufts. ‘Saturday, 7:35am. I did it for you.’”

1998

10!

Hobson is drunk. He says he isn’t, he said he doesn’t get drunk, but he is. I can tell because he’s been looking down at his shoes for the last 30 seconds. As if the imaginary microscopic people who lived on them would tie his laces together. He told me earlier he was going to marry his girlfriend. He gave me a speech on how he feels like a gentleman now, with his new job, with his new car. He bought himself a nice pair of blue suede shoes to push the pedals. He’s been showing them off all night. He said that’s what mature people do, they wear the attire that represents how they feel. He looks up at the ceiling, burps, and shouts

9!

Angelica smiles at me. The smile that assures me she’s okay. She’s got her arm around Duncan. That’s what she wanted. You’ve always got to kiss someone at midnight, it’s the law, that’s what she told me. She can’t take her eyes off of him. He’s got his eye on Emily though but he can’t help it, as it is made of glass.

8!

Edward doesn’t look too happy. He’s shouting out the numbers, he’s smiling, he’s got his arms around his rugby mates, but you can just tell. It’s not in his eyes or any of that crap. It’s in his hand. Everyone around him carries empty bottles of Sabrina’s home made cherry liqueur but his pint is full.

7!

Gordon, Jessica and Lucy are with me. Lucy’s chanting along with everyone else. Enjoying herself. She’s looking well. The last year seems like it had no effect on her. She looks so happy, everyone does. Everyone looks like they have their lives right on track. Lucy has just caught me smiling at her and now she’s smiling back at me. Our connecting gaze forgets her from shouting

6!

I want to change. I want to be a grown up. I want to be happy, or at least look happy, like everyone else. It’s time for a radical change in lifestyle. I don’t want to wake up at 2 on a weekend, I don’t want to binge any more TV shows, I don’t want to call in sick when I’m hungover. I want to live. Maybe Hobson was right, him and his new clothes, his new attitude, maybe he’s got it right.

5!

Hobson has thrown up.

4!

This is it. I’m going to do it. My life, that is. I’ll do better. I’ll exercise. I’ll cycle to work. I’ll eat vegetables. I’ll only drink on weekends. I’ll write everyday. I’ll go to the gym at least once a month. It’s a fresh start. Seize the day. Carpe diem! Seize the year! Carpe year! And I’ll get myself a girlfriend. Do it right. And it can start right now, because I know the girl and she knows me.

3!

Hobson has thrown up again, onto his shoes.

2!

It’s always been Lucy. Of course it has. Our lunch at Viccino’s last Monday, the week before our movie night, and the week before that Martin’s cocktail extravaganza. They were all peppered with signs of a beautiful, ripe relationship, something that could be really special. Something that could work. I missed it before but it was there, of course it was! She’s the girl.

1!

There’s still time. It’s the law.

Happy new year!

Angelica kisses Duncan.

Emily kisses Roger.

And Lucy, the potential love of my life, kisses Gordon.

Another illegal year.

Hobson has just slipped in his vomit.

Hand me your pint, Edward.

Our Shaun

“Our Shaun came over. His girlfriend has moved out so I let him stay. God, he can be a lazy boy sometimes, I tell you. Our Shaun will be sat up playing his games or whatever. I told him no friends and he brings three people over. I told him no, you can’t, get them out. They all went but he put up a fight.”

“You guys fight?” I asked.

“Do we fight? Yeah, I had to hit him with the broom and he threw a plate at me. He kicked down my door last week, had to have Joe come around and sort that one out. That’s what this is. I told him to go somewhere else, you know, get him out. He still works down by the quadrant bit. You know, next to the park? Right. He has bad luck with jobs, our Shaun, he does. He was in iron for a while.”

“Iron?”

“Prison, prison. Mop in zig zags, otherwise you’re just spinning around. Yeah, he was for a couple of weeks, he can be trouble, he can. Mind you, now I didn’t see it, but our Ella said she was out her flat watching. Shaun had four policemen chasing him. He tried to hide with Ella but our Ella, she’s smart, she says you can’t otherwise she’ll get done, you know. So he legs it. Our Ella tells us she saw him go up some steps and them police followed. Fifteen minutes later, it’s just Shaun. He’s blood on his face, his clothes are torn, he’s a state. No police though. Our Shaun can do that. Get himself out. Managed to do it pretty well when he shoved that pipe down that dogs throat. Dog was fine and he got nothing for doing it. He’s a big name, our Shaun, he’s big. I get lucky having him as my boy. I tell people I’m Daly or they see my name somewhere and they know that’s Shaun’s mum.”

She placed both her hands on top of the broom and rested it beneath our chin. “It’s safety most of the time. People knows me and people knows our Shaun. You don’t get on his bad side. You’re alright, he knows you and I do, too. That’s our Shaun.”

Grand Grandparents

Knowing I had a few weeks of summer left, before the new semester started, I took a week to visit both of my grandparents. My Grandpa, Old Tin Boot (that’s what we call him – it’s a long story) lives far up north whilst my Grandma, dear Milly, lives on the south coast. Since I had spent two weeks on the surf and sand, it made sense to visit Grandma first. It had been quite some time.

Grandma is one tough granny. I don’t think she’s a malicious bone in her body but she’s notorious for her temper. She throws horrendous threats to the squirrels that help themselves to the grains in the bird feeder and she conjures horrific insults to the postman who wedges her parcels through the letterbox, crumpling every order into a misshaped cardboard polygon. But it never went more than that, and her slurs were never within an earshot of another person. Except for us, of course, but we’re family.

I asked her a question. I asked why her and Grandpa split, back in 1943.

“I’ll tell you, but only once,” she said. Her cigarette flapped on her bottom lip with each syllable like a tiny, glowing maggot. “Your grandfather and I weren’t made for each other. We never should have been together. I’m not sure why we ever married. Now, we shall never speak of it again.” That was that, apparently. It was rather the taboo subject, to talk about their past relationship. Mother told me never to mention it. Grandma never spoke of it before, and any questions were quickly shut off. However, I had caught her on a good day, for she told me that much, and that’s the most I ever knew.

Grandma’s a great cook, and she’s aggressive with her preparation. When she dices, the blade hits the cutting board fast and hard. That poor onion, it shrunk so fast and seemed to melt under the metal. After she scooped the lot into the pan, she began rapidly slicing the bell peppers. The knife, held tight in her old hand, went through the orange and red flesh with ease, producing sharp slithers that rocked on the wood when freed from the body. The rib shavings and seeds flew out either side as if they were spewed from a combine-harvester, some hitting the floor in tiny tings. Her cuisine never met her hygiene, as the food was garnished with her tobacco smoke; I didn’t look forward to tasting it later.

While I wasn’t entirely sure what she was preparing us both in terms of food, she made herself very clear in her words, repeating three times “We were too different.”

She hadn’t seen Grandpa for fifty years, never heard from him, never spoke to him. They met, they married, they gave birth to my mother, and split. Some relationships aren’t meant to be, and I’ve grown quite content with that fact. Better to have two happy people, separated, than argument-fuelled, polar opposite parents who can’t stand to be in the same room as each other.

Grandpa, on the other hand, was calm. I don’t think he’s ever raised his voice, let alone shown any signs of anger. The Thompson boys threw a brick through his window and he only mustered a shrug. It’s not healthy to be so calm all the time. Frustration builds in anyone, it must. I found it hard to believe, how he was. When I saw him two days later, he spoke the same words. We were down at his allotment, picking green beans and courgettes, spring onions and beetroot, when he told be about his past. “Your grandmother and I, it was a mistake for us to be together. We are grateful for your mother, of course, but that’s that. No more questions, youth.”

Not either of them wanted to talk about it. Looking back, I know it’s only fair. It ruptures my gut thinking about my past partners. No good came from it, and I regret I let curiosity find its way to asking them both the same question. I should have listened to mother. Nothing came from it. It didn’t matter.

Despite their differences they so adamantly proclaimed, I loved the small similarities. They both had this ruthless nature with food. Grandpa was tossing the beetroot into the wheelbarrow. The bulbs bounced in and around the metal with harsh thuds. He ripped the spring onions straight out of the ground with full fists of dirt and slung them over his head, not caring where they landed. Whichever green beans weren’t ready, he picked them anyway and dropped them into a pile on the woodchip path. Just like Grandma with her slicing and dicing, commanding the vegetables to uniform and submit to the blade, telling them where to go. When they rolled, she clawed them back, held them down, and split them into halves, into quarters, into eighths.

After spending a lovely day with them, they both had this gentle side that bloomed, just once, in our short time together. Grandma was extremely delicate with the parsley. She gently chopped it with kind, soft, silent strokes as she grouped it with her fingertips and thumb. She lightly lifted the pieces, cupping them in the palm of her hand, and sprinkled them onto supper. Grandpa, on his hands and knees, nimbly picked his spinach leaves as if they were egg shells, and placed them into the hand basket. After, he neatly nourished the naked stems with cool water whilst singing an old blues song, one I can’t now remember. They turned to me, and despite not having seen each other for half a century, they shared the same advice. It’s as if they both said it at the same time. “Be careful with the greens, they easily bruise.”

The Valued Writer

Books change perspective; their covers replace blinkers, their vocabulary expands speech, their characters befriend us. After Dickens, I try to appreciate the value of a person, to truly know them, to understand their history, and how their mannerisms, their gestures, resonate their victories and struggles. After Joyce, I try to value the single day, to know there’s a minute moment in every hour, and a second moment in every minute, if you look close enough. And, after Kafka, I try to savour existence. For the fly that lands on the sugar cubes, or on the aluminium lemonade can, I let him feast, on the smallest chance it’s another Gregor, hungry for the human life.

We won a competition!

Our short story, We Were Kidshas been selected as the winning piece for Murder&Glut’s The Gauntlet #2 Competition!

A massive thanks to their team for hosting the contest. It was a lot of fun to write for and the news has really made our Friday. They’ve always got great content throughout the week and we definitely recommend them. They’re a lovely bunch!

Our friend, teapotsforelephants, illustrated a picture for us, too. Thank you very much!

Life in Season – Winter

Life in Season – Winter is the final part of a four part series. Please click here for part one, here for part two and here for part three. Thank you so much to anyone who made it this far. We hope you enjoy it!

——————

It was an earliest memory of yours, siphoning through the fine grass and trying to find a four-leafed clover. Father knelt with you, brushing his fingers between the narrow leaves, scanning the ground on his hands and knees. The Smith Woods, neighbouring the turf, stood tall, lovely, dark and deep. Together, you trekked into the heart of the woodland, as far from the buildings and factories as you could get. You washed your feet in the cool streams and soaked in the tranquility and silence. That’s when Father told you about nature. He described it as everything and anything. If it was green and growing, that’s nature. The river runs and the rain falls, that’s nature. The sun shines and the moon glows, that’s nature. “The seed of the Romantics,” he said, “From the farthest of stars to us, right here, on Earth.”

Billy flicked his cigarette into the dirt. He pulled another out of his pocket, offered you one, but you declined. “It’s not all I thought it would be,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left. There’s nothing to it. You work, you get paid. You work, you get paid. Just the same thing, over and over, and then you die. That’s not a life. I wanna travel, you know? Tour the world. Hike some mountains and shit, all of that. I could – I could go and meet a monk, and then he could teach me his monk ways. Then, I could shave my head and presto – I’d be a monk!” Billy laughed to himself, hard and long, while you could only muster a small smile. It was different, everything was, and it was only then you realised. The Towdown Hills weren’t rolling greens, but mud and marsh, speckled with tree stubs. The Smith Woods were gone, every bush and every branch, levelled out and flattened with concrete for the retail parking lot. Billy Ross, the spice of life, was telling his jokes, telling his stories, but you couldn’t relate to it. His flaming ambition never went out while yours was extinguished long ago. Life was fleeting, you thought, and you lost it to the regular life, to the American dream. You hid your ring from Billy, afraid to show you had subscribed to the ordinary. You wanted something new, you wanted what he had: a lust for adventure. Billy was the ticket. “Let’s drink tonight,” he said, “And then let’s go. Come with me.”

At home, Alice was sat by the window. She was reading During Wind and Rain by Thomas Hardy, and she read it to you when you entered the room. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s so sad but it’s so honest, it’s so true. The spring is fresh, but it must end. The autumn cleanses, but decays. The summer flourishes life, but the winter takes it away. Change is natural.”

Now, I’ve made mistakes in my life, more than I can count on my fingers, on my toes. But it’s all been in an attempt to follow the three most important things in life: love your family, love your friends, forgive yourself. I loved my Father, for all he taught me. I loved my Mother, for her strength. I loved my wife, for her person. Finally, although it took some time, I have forgiven myself for my mistakes.

One mistake I made was listening to my ego back then. I can’t forgive myself for the choices I made that day, so I don’t want to be associated with that person I used to be. What I did was unforgivable. Because of it, I’ve disconnected myself from the past, from that identity. That wasn’t me who rebelled, that wasn’t my anger. That’s not who I am now, instead, that was you. You, in your arrogance, blinded by a life of chaos and anarchy, ignored the words of your dear wife. She asked you not to leave, she pleaded you not to drink, she begged you not to rekindle that old fire but you did it anyway. Something very unnatural stirred, and it changed you. You packed your things and you left. That was the last time you saw Alice Meadows.

You met Billy in the concrete plains of the Smith Wood mall parking lot. You traded swigs from the bourbon bottle as you planned your trip, which countries to go to, which landmarks to see. It had been two years since your last drink, and breaking the seal was a new wave to the beach. Billy threw the empty bottle into the air, and it came crashing down onto a Cadillac. You both laughed and escaped the scene. “I’m hungry for a fight,” he said. You knew just the place.

You recognised every person sat inside the bar, each with the same sullen faces sipping in the smokey haze. A whiskey for you, tequila for Billy. The men stared at him, nosing his studded jacket, his sleeve tattoos, his mohawk mane that nearly brushed the ceiling. The quiet murmurs surrounded you. A quip from the man at the jukebox, which played Frank Sinatra, sparked that flame inside. “You look like a fucking peacock.” The bar laughed, and Billy downed his tequila.

You remembered The Masque of Anarchy. The strength of the words resonated with the alcohol in your blood. It was your calling, why Father had brought it for you. It’s for the pride, it’s for the fight, it’s for the lion inside you. You turned and slugged the man, flooring him instantly, and Billy smashed the glass onto his head. His friends bolted towards you but in two swift hits they were downed as well. In a second, the room erupted, the entire bar rose from their seats, threw down their drinks and threw out their fists, into a barbaric brawl of balding men. Chairs were thrown and broken over backs, the snooker balls were lobbed and smashed the windows, and in the heat, you smacked a cue across a man’s head. His face hit the bar, and then bounced on the wood floor. He cupped his mouth with his hand, trying to catch the teeth that protruded out, crooked and broken, the blood spouting between his fingers. You regretted that in an instant, and knelt to help him.

A thrown eight ball hit the back of your head and you fell, landing onto the broken glass, imbedding itself into your skin. You screamed in pain through dizzy vision, and yelled out as a stool was broken across your legs. You tried to stand but couldn’t feel anything below the waist, your legs bent and battered. Billy was still standing, blocking punches, twisting arms, his feet danced between the fallen drunks who writhed in pain.

One man held his neck and pinned him back against the wall. Billy wrangled against his hold, kicking his legs, pulling at his arm. Unable to free himself, he withdrew a knife from his boot and swung it towards him. The man turned his body to the side, throwing Billy hard onto the floor. He wrenched the blade from his hand and drove it deep into his chest. He bolted for the door, leaving Billy on the ground, gasping. The jukebox began That’s Life, and the sirens began to fill the air. You watched Billy from across the room. His hand, wrapped around the knife, released and fell by his side. His mouth agape, his chest deflating, you watched him take his last breath. The life escaped his eyes. Lost in colour. Slowly fading. Lights out.

 

Life in Season – Update

Life in Season – Winter, the final chapter to the short story series, is ready to be posted. Before, we’d love to thank our followers and readers for supporting us during our episodic short story.

It means a lot for someone, anyone, to read your writing, whether it’s posted on paper or on a website. To anyone who read, skimmed, indulged or even glanced at our work, thank you so much for your time. We hope you’ve enjoyed the variety and, in this case, the strange, slightly depressing story that we’ve told. Life in Season has been quite experimental and challenging and the support we’ve received has been very kind and generous.

Of course, it is only an attempt to match the standards we read daily. The WordPress community is flourishing with talent and it’s a real treat to open the reader and explore the creativity. Our writing doesn’t begin until we’ve poured over the new content from the people we follow, and we’re inspired – which doesn’t take long!

We hope you enjoy our final chapter, titled (if you could guess!) Life in Season  -Winter.

Until the next one,

Nesbit and Gibley

*A small note: the short story originated from a poem we wrote back in February titled Lights Out. I suppose it’s the condensed version if anyone is interested!

Life in Season – Summer

Life in Season – Summer is part three of a four part series. Please click here for part one and here for part two. The final chapter will be published next week. We hope you enjoy it!

——————

When you’re alone, it’s hard to believe in love. Whilst it married your neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bran, you had to listen to their arguments every night, which dampened your hopes that it could ever happen to you. The slamming fists, the shattering plates. You knew it was expressed in poetry, in literature, but this never convinced you when the words refused to move your mind, soaked in alcohol and clogged in smoke.

You spent your time at the bar. You drank next to the old men, those who ran the gas stations, the bakeries, the water sewage systems and the polling stations. The fights were a regular thing. Alcohol rings like a wrestling bell in these people and within an hour, you were between two or three men, who were flexing their muscles and throwing curses. You were never first to throw a punch, but when they knocked you off your stool, you fought back. At least once a week, you left the bar nursing your knuckles, with blood on your shirt.

One night, on your way home, you saw two men following a girl. Her steps became rapid as theirs became strides, like vicious, hunting hyenas. Before they wrangled her purse from her hands, you pulled them back. Two blows to the head, one to the gut and a kick to the groin, and they bailed, scampering off into the dark on limping legs. “Thank you,” she said. It was then you were reunited with Alice Meadows and it was then, as you helped her up from the ground, that you found your friend.

She worked in the library, stacking shelves and serving customers. As you sat on the grass of Newland Park together, drinking strawberry milkshakes, she told you how she loved to be among the books. When it was quiet, she’d dive between the aisles, scoop the best stories into her arms and indulge from behind her desk. It was her little world she could escape into.

It was then she thanked you again for saving her that other night. She placed her hand on yours. You were happy to have saved the girl, but you never guessed she would save you.

She took you home one day, and she fed you. She watched television with you, she drank coffee with you. She got you outside, she got you in clean clothes, she got you in clean habits, she got you running on weekends, she helped your posture, she held your head high, she made you laugh, she brightened your mood, she strengthened your spirit, and most importantly, she understood you. She read you like a book when you opened up to her and knew exactly what you needed. She was there for you.

One day, whilst helping you clean your room, she lifted your mattress and found beneath two hidden relics of your past. As she held your Playboys in one hand, your face went red. “You’re still a boy,” she laughed. She picked up The Masque of Anarchy, analysed the cover and began to flick through the pages. You explained to her how your Father gave it to you, and how he explained the meaning behind it when you were confused. You told her that he called you a lion. “You are a lion,” she said, and for the first time, she kissed you.

Before Alice, your life was at a minuetto pace. Tiny steps of bad habits. You thought your life was like stagnant writing. Repetitive stanzas your days, repeating lines your hours, and nights were rounded off with the rhyming couplets of alcohol and tobacco. You were anchored with depression and you had lost the will to live. You felt as if that boulder inside of you was locked in place, unable to move or grow, victim to the erosion of despair. But when Alice pressed her lips against yours, that feeling inside of you dissolved. You shook off the chains like dew and embraced her warmth, her kindness, her love. This was life in season.

You spent your days together. You took walks in the park, you shopped together, you went to the cinema, and you listened to the music from your childhood on rainy days. Every Saturday, you took a blanket to the fields and lay beneath the stars, counting constellations and connecting the dots. “I like it when it’s like this,” she once said, “When it’s still. When it’s calm. When the sun’s gone and the moon has his little moment to shine, to let us all know he’s there.” You returned her smile. “Lights out,” she said.

That summer transformed you. You were healthy, your mind was clear and you felt like you could breathe. With this clarity, you spoke to your mother and apologised, for the things you had done, for the things you had said. While she cried, she understood your anger, your sadness, and how life had been harsh to you. She hugged you for the first time in fifteen years.

On Tuesday, July 18th, you went to pick up some flowers for Alice for her birthday. There’s a florist in town who bundles them together, arranges them in delicate vases, tulips, roses, magnolia. You selected the perfect bunch, each petal fresh and vibrant, each bud rich in colour. On the way home, you stopped by the jewellers and picked up the ring you had chosen months ago.

As you approached the end of your road, you knew life was about to change once again, as you ran your thumb across the ring in your pocket. A person was sat on your doorstep, sporting an olive mohawk with a toothpick grin, and a greaser jacket dotted with metal studs. You recognised him as you got through the gate, that’s when you knew it was true. Billy Ross was back.