I lost a shoe that night.
Run twelve times around the roundabout, that’s what he said. Before I could respond, he grabbed my hand and dashed us over the road, where we vaulted over the muddy incline and collapsed on top. Midnight had passed hours ago. Two house parties. Three, if you included pre-drinks at his with Steph and Ben beforehand. We lost track of them before we’d even got to the second party.
Everything was hilarious, because we were on a roundabout at 3:30 in the morning, in Ashford, in a new year. In our cups.
Who came up with this crazy idea, I asked. To him, and to the shining stars and fingernail of crescent moon. Everything had extra reverence. On our pills.
I did, just now, he replied, before taking off like the Road Runner.
Eleven, he said. C’mon! You’ve got catching up to do.
I flung off my hoodie after my first circuit. Partially as a marker on this topsy turvy road island, partially as ecstasy and exercise were making me sweat something chronic. He took that as a cue to remove items of clothing too. By the time we’d counted down to five we were half naked.
A car beeped. Encouragement or mockery, who cared; not us. We “beeped” back joyously.
On two, my left ankle wobbled. I stopped. He asked if I was alright. I told him the strap of my sandal had broken. Toss it here, he said. I’ll have a look at it.
I tossed him both and continued my last lap barefoot. Smokey clouds frowned down. Grass not used to being trampled lay flat and confused. Street lights burned amber. He watched me, smiling, teeth gleaming, dimples flashing even at night, I loved you, you loved me, she didn’t exist yet.
Quieter now. Exhausted from our run, we walked slowly back to my mum’s. Approaching our drive, I wondered aloud why I was carrying its twin home when I’d left the other sandal for dead on the roundabout (we’d said a few words, thanked it for its service). He took the twin and cast it over a bush. Problem solved, he said. We laughed and then shushed each other, remembering other people. People for whom it’s an effort to stay up ‘til midnight. People who watched Big Ben chiming on their TV set alone. People who stand watching the fireworks from their living room window in their slippers tutting gently at the noise. People like me now.
He made excuses for me the next day as I lay there, foetal and dehydrated, when my mum called up the stairs to say Mrs Jackson had found a shoe in her garden and was going from door to door looking for the owner. He made water splurge out of my nose when he called Mrs Jackson Prince Charming. Prince Jackson. I still laugh at it, even now.
* * *
What are you laughing at, you said.
You always presume everything is about you.
Something I read earlier, I said. It’s nothing. Don’t worry. I just thought of it, that’s all.
You grunted. You said you hoped you could read it too later when we got to your Mum’s.
We were staying at yours that year. Staying at my mum’s wasn’t an option. She died a year previously. At least limiting our options meant one less argument.
You patted my knee. I stared at your stubby cocktail sausage fingers, willing them to move back to the gearstick. Look, I can see my favourite roundabout, you said in a silly singsong voice that makes me want to scream. You asked if you’d told me the story behind that roundabout. I said yes. You told me again anyway about how you failed your first driving test on it so now whenever you’re on it you drive around it three times. Your little victory laps.
You were in high spirits, because you were on your way to see your mum and you love your mum. You said whee as you went around and around the roundabout. I stared, chin resting on my hand, out of the window at starlings swooping over the dishwater grey sky. Well, pretended to be staring at starlings but replaying memories. The data you have yet to access.
They told me to settle for you and like an idiot I listened, because I thought I wanted what they had. Weddings and houses and someone to split bills with. They said I was too fussy. They told me to stop looking for love to make me feel in my thirties like it did in my teens, because it doesn’t work like that. They said.
Stomach lurching around the third and final cycle. I wondered if you’d been reading my teenage diaries. Purposefully trying to evoke my nostalgia. That the whole superstition thing was actually a crock and you were trying to see if I had feelings for exes still. Always trying to get in my head. You complained you cannot keep up with the tweets I post. You hated social media but thought if you didn’t get involved I’d go off you. Because all couples have to share exactly the same interests I queried sarcastically, but you didn’t get it. You even ask about the blurb I’ve written on the products I’m sent to test for work and then get angry I don’t show the same level of interest in yours. I don’t care to read each of your students’ pieces of physics homework. Shoot me if that’s a sin. You interrogate me whenever I receive a text message. Why am I not privy to this information, you ask, like a jilted robot.
I was learning to stop missing him when I met you. You ended up making me miss him more. Now I replay the reel of memories in the place you can’t get to, turning each one over and over again, like I’m looking for the perfect pebble to break the glass of this house I now live in, but all I’m doing is wearing them down.