He read it and thought, but you were an incomparable lover. You are an insightful writer. You may never be an equipoised swimmer but I’ve never loved a lop-sided form more than I have yours. You can’t help but be a beautiful runner, because you are beautiful, and you run. And then clear as daylight, from two hundred miles distant, he heard her laughter.
He needed no convincing about this one thing. He was sure of it. He wouldn’t pretend otherwise, he wouldn’t try to dupe himself into believing otherwise. He loved. And he could not unlove.
He had to laugh when he heard love called ‘a social construct’ – that the feelings which ran wildly through his head and guts and (yes) that symbolic place between them were merely a learnt response to satisfy the mechanistic needs of society; that love was the one permissible rebellion. It reduced what it was to be human to nurture, and nurture to a practice only ever carried out on behalf of the prevailing societal system, just as the argument from nature reduced love down to a genetic imperative. But at least that line of argument recognised the brutal sense of need, even if it missed the complex maelstrom of emotion and intellect which was what he felt in love. Such people seemed to him to be missing out on both the best and most troubling parts of being human – missing out on an essence of life. There could never be an understanding between him and such a character.
He had written hundreds of thousands if not millions of words to get at its mysterious essence, and then someone came along and dismissed it in glib, pat phrases. It was not a religion; it was in fact grounded in the possibilities which exist when two people stand naked inside and out before each other. There wasn’t anything finer, and there was nowhere he would rather be.
There was frustration in her sense of her being a blank canvas, that there was no her, only a picture that he and the others before him made up in their heads, painted according to their needs. That just wasn’t the case. As much as the other way round, he had become what she needed him to be. They had met halfway and the fizz of the chemical reaction had intermingled their atoms and made a new compound. Perhaps it was that she could still retreat from being compound, return to her elemental state, while he was forever changed. But if only she could see with his eyes how strong was his sense of what an elemental woman she was, she would never believe herself a blank canvas again.
He couldn’t be unhappy that she was managing without him. But you couldn’t try to be a woman in love. That’s not how being in love works, is it. Either you are or you are not. That he knew, because he was a man in love. Still.
He still pocketed the cat and the horseshoe. The accidental loss of the coin aside, he doubted he would ever stop doing so.
He only ever wanted to stop time through spending it with her. Even if it wasn’t the only way of slowing down time to a standstill, it was always going to be the best way.
Her glass was always two-fifths empty, while his was three-fifths full.
He knew there were times when she wasn’t there, but for the most part she had been, and often the pair of them were as locked together as it was possible for any two people to be. They craved each other then, and they craved an existence which would allow them to be properly together. The will-o’-the-wispiness that she felt – that was a trick of the mind, a happenstance of its kaleidoscopic tendencies. He didn’t know how to ward it off any more than she did.
She forgot and he remembered.
While he waited, he could barely breathe. He had to keep reminding himself to.
When startled, she panicked and ran like a wild animal. And that reaction, that anxiety was ingrained now, an almost Pavlovian reaction to anything untoward involving him. Unless she lost her fear, she would never lose her anxiety, and because sooner or later something happened to scare her, they had had to try to do without each other. But they couldn’t, not completely, and so they strove to find a way to carry on, to solve the impossible riddle of it.
Sometimes he imagined the two of them free of the past, starting again using new pseudonyms. Deliberately setting to one side and forgetting everything they knew of each other, then relearning it, one exchange at a time, or rather, seeing where it might lead this time, hoping that on this occasion it might work out the way that in their ideal bubble world they had always hoped it would.
He remembered sitting in a meeting room in an old mansion which had been repurposed as a conference centre just before Christmas one year watching thick flakes of snow come down outside the mullioned windows, and he knew his journey home was going to be difficult; he wished he could stay there, after all the staff had gone home; be locked in with his love, magically summoned to his side, so that they could remain there all through Christmas, plundering the centre’s supplies, living on coffee and biscuits and the taste of each other.
Fear, insecurity and worry had not been able to stand victorious, had never quite managed to kill their love. It had lived to fight another day, and he suspected that it always would.