Now and then
This is the last excerpt from my latest series of short stories set in the pandemic. What does it feel like to reconnect with a friend after a long time? Can wounds inflicted in adolescence prove long lasting? And is it ever too late to resolve things?
Now and then
Many congratulations on your book! It’s thrilling!
Your old friend Carmen
It takes me a few minutes to connect the dots. The text lands on my messenger just after 9 pm on Sunday evening. The timing is perfect. On the fourth week of being imprisoned at home, everyone is on their phones and on social media. So must be Carmen, who is not on my friends’ list and was it not that I was glued to my screen during the sleepy hour after dinner and after the dishwasher has been loaded and has been running like clockwork, like all the other evenings before, I would not have noticed the request for permission to send the message on my FB account.
I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I’ve written more than one books in the last five years since my little nest has been emptied from its one single, lovely female bird. After all, the void left behind was so big that it needed many, many words to be filled in. As words have been my world in the last five years, my delightful opium, it doesn’t take me long to read their meaning well, to read, as they say, between the lines. Carmen is not confident in her text, she doesn’t quite anticipate a reply. Also, rather worryingly referring to the ‘book’ must be alluding to having recognised her, admittedly significantly altered, character in my coming of age novel, The apples under the tree. Am I going to be sued, my paranoid voice says, but my other smoother self, who is sick and tired of lockdown and loneliness and the mesmerising sound of the dishwasher night after night, responds before I have time to formulate any more defences against it.
How delightful to hear from you! In fact, you were in my thoughts just a few hours ago (true!). What are you up to?
We were both into men before it was any good for us, you loudly and extravagantly like your style had always been, me secretly and self-destructively. I loved living life in a way that would fill my mind with dark, but awesome stories. Most of the time, I lived in one of my narratives, in the heads of my dubious characters, but nobody ever noticed. When you said you had a new boyfriend at fourteen, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to play in the scenario you presented me with. Was I supposed to play good friend, to tell you that you were still underage, while your boyfriend nineteen and hanging out with other bad boys like him in fast convertibles, sniffing lines of cocaine? Or was I supposed to be your alibi and tell your mum you were coming for a sleepover at mine every time you wanted to go out with him to a club after midnight with the fake ID he shopped on the internet for you? And what about me? My lonely nights, no longer shared with you in our wacky sleepovers, my dark stories playing out in my mind again and again. Or was I supposed to tell you that what you were doing now I had done well before you; that it would not feel like much to start with, in fact, most likely it would hurt quite a bit; but it could/would get more exciting as you went along?
And what if our mothers talked and discovered that we no longer had sleepovers? Yes, indeed, you were so head over heels with your new boyfriend to care about spending the night with me. Well, this was the least of my worries. Neither of our mothers noticed such things, being far too preoccupied with their tennis clubs and busy social life. In fact, mine asked me once why you stopped coming over, but I knew if I kept out of her way, she would not be bothered with such trivialities at all. I knew nobody really cared about what happened to us as long as we continued bringing high grades and kept our feelings to ourselves. Of course, the other option would be to share with you some of my dark stories that were both gloomy and exciting, full of big grown men and young, slim teenage girls like me and like you. But I didn’t quite know how you would take that. Besides, I was used to my loneliness by now.
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