This week’s words were:
on the ledge :: fingerprint :: subtitle :: just a cigar :: birthday
Meet on the Ledge
She wakes to singing, gentle and under his breath. Barely there at all, it’s more of a vibration in his chest than anything. He’s warm beside her.
‘Morning,’ she whispers, curling herself into the hollow under his arm. They’re lying on the couch in the living room, and the curtains are askew. The light falls across her face like the blade of a sword.
‘Morning, you,’ he says, between verses. He sings her awake, making her feel like a snake being charmed out of a basket. Wineglasses cluster around overflowing ashtrays like workers around water coolers. The air in the room is heavy with remembered crowds. Laughter lingers in every corner.
‘It was a great party, wasn’t it?’ he says, when the song comes to an end. ‘Very, I don’t know – decadent, maybe. Bohemian.’ She feels him smiling.
‘They don’t throw ‘em like that any more, that’s for sure,’ she agrees. There’s a thickness in her voice, and a strange taste in her mouth. She rolls her tongue around, feeling all her teeth, trying to get her bearings. Everything feels upended. She tastes wrong, she feels wrong. Her head spins. ‘Where is everyone?’
‘Well, the birthday girl is in bed – I’m not sure who with,’ he says, archly. Her eyes fall on the birthday card they all clubbed together to make for her – it has a picture of Sigmund Freud on the front. Captioned ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…’, she grins as she remembers the messages they put inside. ‘I think there are a few marooned souls on the floor, too. Little islands of drunken solitude.’
‘You’re such a poetic fool,’ she teases, laying her hand flat on the skin of his chest. She stretches out her fingers. They feel like rivers, flowing down her arm and out under her nails, covering him from head to toe, dripping onto the carpet. She begins to feel light-headed. As if he can sense her beginning to float away, he lays his hand on top of hers. He circles her knuckles gently. Beneath her ear, his heart thuds, steady as the oceans.
‘You know, skin can take a fingerprint,’ he says. ‘So, if I become a crime scene, they’ll dust me. They’ll try to pin it on you.’ His voice takes on a noirish tinge. ‘You gotta make a run for it, sister. You gotta never let ‘em catch you!’
‘Idiot,’ she smiles. ‘I’m too clever for that. Don’t you think this is all part of my master plan?’
‘I never doubted you for a second,’ he says, chuckling. She feels his other hand start to play with her hair. She wonders if she stinks of sweat, or smoke, or worse.
‘What were you singing?’ she asks, covering her sudden shyness. She wants to ask him a different question, but she’s not brave enough to form the words.
‘Just now? It was Meet on the Ledge. Fairport Convention. Do you know it?’ She desperately wants to lie, to pretend she’s on his level, but instead she shakes her head.
‘Shame,’ he says. ‘It’s a great tune.’ The melody beneath her ear starts up again. She listens, and her mind fills up with images of high places, blown lives, waste. Lost friends. She finds it depressing.
‘A bit sad, isn’t it?’ she says. He’s silent for several minutes, but his heartbeat fills her mind.
‘No way,’ he replies eventually. ‘They knew how to write a song, back in the day.’ He hums a bit more, like he’s fast-forwarding a tape. Eventually, he gets to the part he wants. ‘“If you really mean it, it all comes round again,”’ he sings, so softly that only she can hear. ‘This isn’t the end, you know what I mean? It’s all a cycle. We’re meaningless.’ He pauses, takes a deep breath. ‘What’s the point of any of it?’ he says, his voice soft and far away. She can’t say why, but something about his words makes her feel uncomfortable. She swallows a sudden mouthful of hurt.
‘Sometimes I wish you came with subtitles,’ she jokes after a few minutes, looking up at him. His eyes are bright green in the morning light. They search her face for a long time, as if looking for a foothold. Then he blinks, and looks away.
Much later, she’ll remember this moment, and wonder what she missed. Every time this date that was once just a birthday, and which became so much more, rolls around, she’ll listen to the song. She still won’t understand, and she’ll wonder if her fingerprints are still on his skin. Between the notes of the song she’ll tell herself she can hear his heartbeat, and she’ll cry a little less with every passing year.