Walking down the high street, I could feel my edges becoming gradually more indistinct. I was a blur, a drop in a crowd that was constantly shifting but which never seemed to disperse. Surrendering myself to the current, I drifted. My mind roamed, grabbing at whatever it could touch, pulling it closer for inspection.
To my left I saw a moonfaced child and, beside it, a little woman who I decided was his mother. Ignoring him, the little woman dragged him by the hand, weaving in and out of the crowds. I noted the child’s fingers, squat and swollen like cocktail sausages, squeezed under his mother’s grasp.
Whenever I scowled, my mother would say that I should be careful; my face could get stuck like that. My mother had always inspired great faith in me, so I was always smiling, afraid my face would become a frowning mask. Now, far from those childhood certainties, I smiled a lot less. My cheeks no longer constantly ached. I wondered whether this was sufficient compensation.
Pellets of icy water were bouncing off the pavement, disturbing the trickle of my thoughts. I tried to hide my face with my hands as the water came down. I imagined what I would look like if I was a character in a book; my hair stuck to my head, my mascara running like ink on the page.
Sheltering under a doorway, I assessed my surroundings. Long streets full of white-washed terraces huddled together, like lovers for warmth. I’m sure their walls were paper thin, too thin to contain the burble of family life. I could almost hear the sound of school-runs, and the clink of pots and pans, and the arguments about who was to do the washing up.
I looked at the carefully tended flower pots at my feet, and thought of the anaemic carnations on my windowsill. My mind’s eye panned across the room, like a film camera, taking in piles of clothes and a tower of mugs teetering on the precipice of the bedside table. At the centre of the room was an empty, unmade bed with cold, wrinkled sheets.
I looked out again, watching as the hailstones hit the pavement; rhythmic and constant in an unending torrent.
It had hailed like this when I was last with you. It might have been summer, but it was cold. I hadn’t worn the right shoes so the water had seeped through, shriveling my feet like prunes. My fingers were tingling from the cold and I pressed my damp body against yours, weaving my hands around your neck. Kissing you had felt like coming up for air.
Now, I was back on the road again, trying to get back to my flat. The hail was bearing down on me like a headache and it felt like my body was snapping, surrendering to the weight of water and ice.