by Alan Beard

I recognised her by her hair. She hadn’t cut it. Long and curled. In the sun it flashed in movement. Now it was dark and coarsened in the clinging mist.

We talked a minute. I ran up and down on the spot and brr-brred the cold. She smiled. I stopped. I could hear the drip of iron-cold water. Also a noise like a synthesiser starting.

We’d met in this drab triangle of graveyard, the church hidden between two busy streets. We looked around at the silent stones, the footmarked frosted grass. I suggested a museum, she a cafe.

As we walked the cold focused my senses on street detail rather than her: a dog turd frozen near a drain, the white flap of half-trodden paper, the smell of a baker’s as a door opened ahead in a blur. A bird, mad thing, came out of the mist above, squabbling with itself.

On the drive here through flat fields burred with ice and ruminating cows, it had started, music, noise, distant as yet, scratchy and painful.

In the cafe she had to take off her glasses. She confessed to contact lenses when we were together. But you knew that, she said. I hadn’t. ‘In those months together.’ She named it; she fixed it, a set period.

‘They say the river’s even frozen here.’ She patted my fingers, then launched into a description of her present life: husband, children, a daily routine built over the top of her past with me. Smiling all the while. Already drying out in the warmth of tea and body heat of customers, her hair had started to regain its shape and colour.

It was after she said something, I forget what, that it happened. She might have said important things like, See you again this time next week, but songs jumped into my brain, nothing decipherable, just guitars and drums, voices, screams, a jammed keyboard, layered and twisted together. I dared to hold my face up, bolted together by its ridiculous nose. I felt like I should get under the table and stay there.

The tea had kept the cold off a bit, the shut door, but soon it seeped through the unheated room and gripped us all. The talk filtered out as everyone contemplated the temperature, except me. She said she had to go; snarlings of song, of guitar came out of my mouth at her. She bestowed, through her cleared glasses, a glossy, reflecting look that had our history in it somewhere. The song burst in an explosion down my nostrils, through my throat. I felt her trying to help me, pat my back, call for water.

She disappeared into the ice-bound air through a door which when opened rang a bell. As its sound died away, all the muffled customers looked my way. I couldn’t see her go because of the condensation on the window.

Alan Beard has had stories in many magazines, including London Mag and Malahat Review, anthologies such as Neonlit, England Calling, webzines such as In Posse Review and Taint magazine. His first collection “Taking Doreen out of the Sky” was published by Picador in 1999.