MY SECRET IS SILENCE
The beautiful fact was that even when she failed to attain destination, the landscapes settled in her life as a soothing overlay. A particular winter of pleasing filter. Among the haze of blue and green, she wove the secrets that refused to unravel fully their wounds in her veins. She had been saying since at least before Christmas that she needed a day out of the city. People kept telling her the outside was beckoning from beyond her room. She was projecting through others a sense of what she wanted, which really was bound up in the world he conjured. There was that time in autumn when he was gone for a semester, living abroad for months. He did not see the avenues cluttered with sycamore leaves. They had sent each other songs over Messenger, and nostalgia became a currency shared. Even though she hadn’t left, they both were homesick. The way he talked about Scotland made her long for something she hadn’t touched or tasted in years. It was something to do with camping, whisky, sleeping close to the elements, smelling the morning air in the company of mountains. Folk songs on the starlit radio, falling asleep while somebody else drives you home. His longing reframed her own. He said this album was like a bowl of porridge, a can of Irn Bru. It was nourishing and you could feel it fizz in your stomach, warm all stodgy in your bones. They were both from the south, but wanted the more dramatic panoramas of the north.
For every Sunday off work, she planned to take the train at random and end up in a place where you could see mountains, see their smudgy colours of moss and heather and pine. Feel the cold off a loch as it gleamed in midday light. It stung her to think of how the air elsewhere was so much fresher. She found herself instead in bed, utterly exhausted, googling his city to get a sense for the gothic streets, the misted concrete. She stuck to the grid of the same square mile; all work, library and supermarket. Occasionally a trip to the port. She remembered what her brother had said about the heroin addicts of Oslo. She respected her brother’s cleanness, but also in contrast how the boy loved drugs in a very pure way. Just a little something to enhance experience. It was always a lark and a trip to take anything with him. She felt she was sparkling. For a while, life was a series of first times. Now everything was dreadfully old, without him. In a way, the closer he was physically, the further he drifted. Each night, more or less, he’d return to the arms of another and she’d be alone again in body and spirit.
But there were a few months when it was different. She imagined the Atlantic as she strode through Kelvingrove and there was October sunlight and gold and a feeling of potential. Exhaustion perhaps rattled her bones but it wasn’t the be all and end all. She went out once, a delirious night of kissing the runner boy in the rain in the park on the way to a party and how afterwards walking home the creepy one had kept touching her but runner boy was too drunk to notice, stumbling. A wealth of mussy hair. Sometimes a kiss is just passionate distraction, a lip-bitten sting. It left its impression but with much to be wanted. She got home at five in the morning and the boy abroad was online too, so they talked awhile and she tried not to cry into her coffee or keyboard. They were both drunk and lonely and truly exhausted. Every word felt precious and made her body tingle. She wished maybe they’d talked on the phone that night. She wished they’d talked more in general. What they had was quite lovely. He said she’d been there for him when no-one else had. He said it a few times, and the gratitude was almost apology.
Once, sitting up in bed, he’d told her: I’m worried I’m swiftly falling in love with you. It’s quite possible it didn’t mean anything beyond the scope of the moment. He was very drunk. Half of their relationship is based on these nebulous truths. What could she say to that when the answer was merely same? After the first time, she flicked back through a year’s worth of diary entries to find the one that described him telling her over and over, I really love her, but I fucked up. I fucked up again. How she had gone home that night with only the thought of what guilt truly was, hot and sweet inside her. The second time was a complicated, pristine feeling—tears in their eyes. The third time, he kissed her in a way that left a bruise on her thigh for weeks. She watched with interest as it turned from wounded blue to mottled green.
Now the muscles tremble less when she’s around him, which is probably for the best. Another cycle will pass and she’ll drink whisky again, enjoying the darkness alone, its velvet impress. What they still have is the music. It’s like that Chelsea Hotel #2 song; where she can only ever be #2 or less, where she can only ever be secondary and ugly, a sliver of something raw and liminal in the scheme of his life. A crescent. Maybe she doesn’t mind. She has the memories and music, and maybe for now it’s cool that’s enough. It’s just that she misses how warm it all felt before. The sense of a visionary landscape still haunts her; she thinks of sunlight, lonesome choruses, the flat whites she makes him for free at work. The imperfect sea of their symmetry.
This stuff has palm oil but neither of us mind; it’s 70p and comes in plastic so you can carry it around without the weight. We buy the lightest, cheapest kinds. I am ashamed of the way maybe I get through a jar a week and I have sat in offices where girls complain of their boyfriends waking up at night to eat and eating everything so there’s nothing for breakfast but coming back to bed with peanut butter on their breath and sometimes I think is that me. So I blush, but they do not notice.
One time you told me, the thing I love about you is your hair. I am all protein, you said, clutching handfuls then releasing them into the air like rain. Everyone we knew had anaemia. We were waiting for a bus and the night tasted like flowers. Is that strange? Kind of dying flowers, past their best; sweeter that way, as though you could crisp their petals, relish the flavour. Even then we were wilting but that made it better. There was salt on your lips, as always. The bus came and we went our separate ways, for the first time in forever. I turned to the night.
I was skulking the alleyways, looking for change. The bars there are deeper and greener, with mysterious foliage closing in from the walls. I don’t know how such vines grow through the bricks but they do. You can pluck from their branches all manner of fruits. It is a question of devouring everything. I drank alone until my head pulsed. Nothing really was happening, except the people spinning in their colours and flipping their hair. An unintended bass from below. Men would approach me, saying things: your hair is like silk, can I touch it? I was disgusted by their casual caresses, but the bartender watched me steadily and that was a comfort. I tipped him with all my alleyway change, but he sneered and pushed it back to me, twice as greasy.
On the way home, there was a girl at a bus stop, licking peanut butter from her fingers. It was the rich, smooth unprocessed kind and she was spooning it up with her middle and forefingers. She did this absently, watching the road for the bus to come, sucking the salt-sweet oil and smiling. Not an ounce of traffic, but this girl with long hair and peanut butter fingers. She started spooning more greedily. I felt queasy and hungry at once. I thought I would approach and ask her name, but all that change rattled inside of me. I no longer wanted to be strong.
MARIA SLEDMERE is a Glasgow-based writer and music critic. Aside from her academic research into Anthropocene aesthetics and everyday studies, she is founder of Gilded Dirt and co-editor of SPAM, a zine and pamphlet press centred on post-internet poetics. She is also a regular contributor to GoldFlakePaint and Ravechild, and in 2017 collaborated with producer Lanark Artefax and the Red Bull Music Academy on ‘The Absent Material Gateway’, a multiplatform archive and installation project. Recent work appears in Adjacent Pineapple, Amberflora, E-ratio, Half Mystic, OCCULUM and Sawney Lit. She tweets @mariaxrose.