Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Savage Writing: A One-Year Man

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The theme for this week was “Heat”

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A single droplet of water curved down Mollie’s neck, slipped over the two creases of folded flesh, and raced the rest of the way to her chest in the time it took her to say ‘Huh?’

One week until semester started. We’d packed everything into the new flat, and it would be just the two of us until Jessica would move in on Saturday. So, we took a celebratory trip to the pool – or more accurately, the sauna. It had the kind of heat that sits easy in your lungs and on your skin, unlike that summer’s burning sunshine.

‘We broke up,’ I repeated.

‘Really?’ she said, cocking her head further. ‘But you two seemed so happy together!’

I curled up and clutched my legs, trying to ignore how my bones dug into the wooden seat.

‘Yeah, well,’ I said. ‘You know how it goes with some people. He was a one­year man.’

‘What, like there was a natural time limit to him?’ she scoffed.

‘Yeah, kinda. It’s like a season, I guess. When it’s over, it’s over. Not much you can say about it.’

She raised her eyebrows, but said nothing. For the fourth time that day, I wished I could be like her. To walk around the pool with her suit clinging wet to all the contours of her torso, and be utterly uncaring. To slouch in the sauna, when she and everyone knew that that girls with any fat should never slouch. She had scarlet cheeks, a sweaty nose, wet hair flat and unflattering on her forehead – and yet she sat, without any indication that she noticed her transgressions of attractiveness, or cared. Like a baby, or a puppy: unaware, blissful. She did not constantly monitor herself from an imaginary third person eye. She merely was, in a way I could only hope to be.

I rested my chin on my knee, and was surprised to find my knee the colder of the two. Some things in life are surprising, I thought, but in hindsight, the break­-up shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Mollie had a long­-distance boyfriend of two years, and they worshipped each other like the sun. She couldn’t understand a time­limited relationship, but that was how it had been with Andrew and me. He was a one-­year man.

Autumn, last year. Mutual acquaintanceship made at a late summer barbecue, refreshed into mutual interest during a fresher’s week pre­-drinking session. Autumn has always been my favourite: the cooling air holds a promise of fresh, new things. Andrew had hair the colour of summer evenings, and his eyes and laughter lines creased when he smiled, and in the autumn days when the leaves crushed or slushed under our boots, he held a weight of novelty and potential in every word, every gesture, every brushing of his hand against mine. Once I grasped it in my own, I thought I could only ever be happy.

I have bad circulation. My fingers and toes are always ice-blocks, once it drops below fifteen degrees. Andrew, though, he was fire. He was a skinny guy, one of those naturally thin guys whose metabolism was cranked at full capacity, a furnace underneath twig ribs. He was my heat as we lapsed into winter: rubbing my fingers in his as if he was trying to make a spark from them, swearing when I put my feet on his calves in bed. Bonfires and mulled wine cooled over time, but the warmth of his skin on mine never ceased.

‘It’s more fun to have someone to go to these things with,’ he said, of seasonal dinners and events, even as his eyes roved over hair and down cleavage at seasonal drinks and parties.

I felt him slipping away with the long nights, as spring appeared. Missed meetings. Misunderstandings. ‘Monday, not Sunday.’ ‘Sorry, something’s come up.’ ‘You know how it is with my coursework’ – only to see a facebook revelry the next morning.

‘Tell me if you don’t want to be with me,’ I said. ‘Just be honest with me.’

‘Don’t be like that,’ he said, every time. ‘Come here.’

Stuck my hand in the flame, again and again. Leapt in harder after each threat of a cold world without him.

Exams and summer turned into sweaty jubilation. We’d rub our skin red on each other those empty afternoons. And then he wouldn’t text for a week.

Autumn came round again, as it would. I wished we could’ve lasted a season longer. We could’ve ended with a bang on Bonfire Night, instead of a slow, suffocating drain over multiple humid nights. The response to two ignored invitations at the end of July told me simply that he was leaving. ‘It’s been fun.’ Smiley face.

‘So,’ Mollie asked, that day in the sauna. ‘What’s he doing now he’s graduated?’

‘He went to London,’ I said to the thermometer. ‘Like he always said he would.’

‘You going to see him any time soon?’

I shook my head. The warmth of my cheeks disguised the flush of emotion; the sweat and poolwater hid the wetness of my eyes. I couldn’t tell her what I had realised: that there was never a “we” in that relationship. There was only him, and an afterthought. A consideration brushed aside like a cobweb; a moment sticky on the fingers, a tiny struggle to release himself, then nothing. Forgotten.

‘Well, that’s kind of prickish, isn’t it?’

‘I should’ve known better,’ I said. ‘He was that kind of guy. The sort who only sticks around

for a while, until something better comes up.’

I saw myself as he must have seen me: average, dull, clingy. A half-­played game of Jenga, where each missing block indicated a crucial feature I was missing as a person, as a woman. A barely standing tower of holes.

‘Oh, don’t you dare,’ Mollie said.

She stood up, and slouched herself down beside me.

‘Don’t you dare go thinking this was your fault,’ she said. ‘He messed you about for a whole year – he’s the prick here! It has nothing to do with you.’

I hugged myself away from her. Her words were comforting, but I knew the comfort wouldn’t last. We’d go outside into the wind, and the heat of the sauna would be blown away for good, and I would be left with cold toes, cold hands, without even the heat of a one­-year man.

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Written by G.J.

21/08/2014 at 10:47 am

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