Fragments of us, burning

by | Jun 11, 2019 | Fiction, Issue Nine

Dear B—

—come back to the village, we should get together. We’ll unwind, rewind. Loop the time between then and now. Forget it ever happened. I’ll cut us out like paper dolls, let the world burn. You remember, right? How it used to be? Just two boys from the neighbourhood. When life was simple, a straight line. When there were no tomorrows or yesterdays. When love wasn’t planned, it just—

—past the pub and the corner shop and the horse chestnut trees. We’ll talk about spending hours under the canopy of those trees, pockets bulging with bright mahogany seeds, crushing the white hearts of their spiked shells beneath our soles. Maybe it’s autumn and some other kids will be there. We’ll sit on the park bench, watching them toss leaves into the wind like fragments burning. You’ll trace your finger over our initials scratched into the faded wood and—

—the village pond. You’ll stand on the bridge and lean over to see our reflection in the dark water. You’ll think about how we used to sit on the rail and throw rocks just to see the ripples. I don’t know, I think you might remember the swan, how it sailed across the pond carrying a clutch of cygnets on its soft white back, swift chevrons creasing the water in its wake like a pinched bedsheet. How you pulled your arm back like a bowstring and arrowed a slice of flint through the air, and how it hit the water at just the right angle to bounce up and split the small skull of one of those chicks. You might see that chick now, all grown up, all alone. The top of its beak angled away where the flint dislocated its jaw. A scar, red and curved like a smile across its face. Its eye turned forever inwards, looking—

—milkshake at the cafe like we’re thirteen again. I know you’re busy. You have a life, a job. A family. I get it. Time seems so stretched out when you’re young, but now, now it all gets balled up like a sheet of paper, like a letter you just can’t seem to get right, fist-crunched and tossed in the trash, burned black and crisp with a hundred other unread pages filling the can. Did you know that when paper burns, the fragments left behind are lighter? That the mass of those brittle flakes floats away, every word scrawled through the air in loops of silver smoke until—

—one of those crisp winter nights, the sky cut glass sharp. You’ll remember how we pushed our bikes to the crest of the hill. How it was so quiet. Only the snap of crickets invisible in the tall grass and the chip of starlings huddled in the bare-branched trees. I know you’ll remember how our breath reached out from inside our bodies and merged together in the still air. How could you forget? The race down into the valley. Freewheeling beside each other in the black silence. Our arms outstretched, fingertips almost-but-not-quite touching. How we closed our eyes and—

—reached the crossroads you were so far ahead of me that you didn’t see the red truck. How it pulled out of the junction and spun onto the road. How its horn cried out and its tyres screamed on the ice—

—you won’t remember how my bike buckled and my spine snapped. How, before I blacked out, I saw you, a shadow in the mist, moving on, moving on, moving—

—you won’t remember how I laid broken in the the street, waiting for you. How I couldn’t move my legs, or cry, or breathe. Even then, I knew that I would never see you again, that it would be last time I would ever—


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