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Today I’m marking papers and doing grocery shopping. I don’t want to be. It’s July and it’s hot in the city. I want it to be winter. Sometime around Christmas. A cold but sunny day. And I want to be out in the country, early in the morning, like I’ve just finished something tiring. I want to be in the open air, walking and smoking a cigarette and drinking black coffee and feeling the warm steam rising around me. I don’t even drink black coffee; I have it with cream and sugar. But here I would have it black. There are woods up there in Westchester. And the idea of snow on the ground, the silver trunks of the trees, the oranges and yellows of the leaves in the light – the sense that the whole scene is somehow enclosed in glass – well, it’s got me thinking about Chris. I haven’t thought about Chris for years.
Back then I was new to New York. I had no career and no sense of where I was going. I was living down in Brooklyn in this shared flat with friends. The place was too cold in the winter and had no AC in the summer, but it was cheap and we didn’t mind. The city seemed like another world then, bristling with possibilities. Every evening and every weekend was the brink of some discovery. I started dating Chris around then. He was from Australia. It was only ever going to be a temporary thing with Chris, we both knew that; he was travelling around and not working and I wasn’t going to leave New York. He met me and kind of stayed around in the city for longer. I wasn’t lonely at the time, but I’d had a couple of experiences of being rejected by guys and I think I wanted someone to affirm who I was.
I had a small room in the flat with a single bed. Chris and I, we slept in that single bed together every night, tangled up in each other. In the mornings I would get up and get ready for work and leave him sleeping in the rounded warmth we’d made. I’d always come to kiss him goodbye before I left. I remember one time he gently pulled me back into bed with him, under the covers, and went down on me.
Chris was an architect. Well, he was training to be an architect. He was really into it. He would try telling me sometimes about his favourite architects and why he loved them. In a bookshop in East Village he found a section with loads of architecture books and he was so happy. The books were heavy, square, glossy and full of pictures of buildings that I didn’t understand. The pictures were stylish, in some kind of hyper-real focus. Too much focus for me. I didn’t want to see all that detail. He tried to take me through some, explain them to me. I didn’t pay enough attention; I was threatened by his real self. Besides it was my city and my life he was in.
Another time he told me about the dream house he wanted to build for himself one day. It would all be stone and wood, then glass everywhere. “It would feel plain,” he said. “Elemental.” The walls were going to be low, made from boulders. “A soft, pale blue stone that looked like it had been worn smooth from hundreds of years of rain.” Then wooden walkways joining up the rooms and the whole thing enclosed by glass. “It would feel like outside inside.”
We talked so easily about futures that didn’t contain each other. It was strange to think of him in the future, older, in this house he’d made. I think he’s come back to me because of that house. And because I want it to be winter. Because that was when I remember him here in New York.
He’s fading from me. The mist of nostalgia is settling over him. What other things can’t I remember? Sharpening with repetition the things I can remember, the others drop further into murkiness, like smooth pebbles sinking into the dark.
Other things. He had a racing bike in Brisbane. I remember that. He lived in one of those sleek modern apartments and he told me how he had to leave it in the hall outside his flat. For some reason I could imagine that bike so well, gleaming in a dark hallway. The foot clips, the chrome light-weight frame, dropped handlebars. This bike, it was everything I imagined his life in Brisbane to be. People on sharp racing bikes, gliding over smooth tarmac with no potholes, glass buildings, architects’ offices with the sun slanting in. And everyone’s skin warm to touch from living all those days in the sun.
He went home at one point over Christmas, back to Brisbane, and I went to the airport with him. I think he didn’t know whether I really wanted him to come back. It would be summer where he was going, I couldn’t imagine that. We stood in line together waiting for him to go through passport control, and we made out the whole time. Shamelessly. Our bodies pressed tight together, and with all these other people around us looking elsewhere. It’s unbelievable to me now that I did that. I think we did it because we didn’t know what to say. I don’t remember missing him one bit when he left New York.
A few years later he was back in New York for a brief visit, or passing through or something, and I got a text from him asking if I wanted to meet up. I was with someone else by then and I made an excuse that I was out of the city. I wanted to be able to meet him, but I couldn’t figure out how we’d be together. How would we not touch each other? Just be distantly interested in each other’s lives? I made my excuse then deleted his texts standing in the middle of the street with all these people walking past me.
It’s been years since then. I dread the thought of meeting him. To see what we have both become. But then I think, no, it wouldn’t be so bad. Of course it wouldn’t. Remember. It would be like this: he would be back in New York and it would be winter, around Christmas, like I want it to be now. We’d meet in a bar in the city, busy with people out on work parties, loud and in their own thing, looking elsewhere, with the whole loosening feel of the holiday season taking hold. And his skin, when I say hello and kiss him, would still be warm from the sun, and the city outside would be waiting for us again, wide open and dark and gleaming.
Jacob Parker lives in London and teaches in a sixth form college. His work has appeared in Open Pen, MIR Online, The Interpreter’s House, Storgy, and Ink, Sweat and Tears.