by Tom O’Brien
With the first line of the song he was back there again. His arms around Mary outside the community hall, the music inside so loud that they could feel it through the brickwork. The wind whipped around them, flicking her hair into his face.
They were sixteen and wanted to be in love, though they didn’t know what it was yet. They would have time to learn what love was. And loss.
Nearly forty years later the same wind snapped around him as he stood by the side of the hall. The front of the building had been renovated but this side wall, out of sight, remained the same.
All that was missing was her hair flicking in his face.
He pressed repeat on his phone, wondering at the magic he carried in his pocket. Remembering when a Sony Walkman had been the height of his ambitions.
“How come I love them now? How come I love them more?” added a chill to him that had nothing to do with the breeze.
Mary had held on to him while that music played in this hall all those years ago. They had held their unknowable future between them.
The funeral had been today and he wasn’t doing well. Not that it had been a surprise. The illness had been brutal in its honesty. From first diagnosis to final breath it had never given false hope.
He had left them at the hotel, drinking to her memory, remembering her, giving her the kind of send-off she would never have wanted. Grief is for the living.
Another time would start now. A time when she was no longer in the world. There would be an after but never again a before.
“… how come I love them more?” The question came at him hard. He wanted to switch off the music but couldn’t bear to hear the same song play to him across the decades with notes that no recording could contain. Better to drown the memory with the real thing.
He wondered if they were still touring. Playing other songs but knowing the crowd only came to hear this one. Only? He chided himself. They had written a song that made him cry more than thirty years after they had written it.
As she had done so many times in those years, Mary provided him with the answer to a question he was too slow to ask. She knew where to find him even though he hadn’t told her where he was going when he left his mother’s funeral drinks.
Their daughter held Mary in one hand and a bottle of lemonade with a straw in it in the other.
All I’ve made in the meantime are mistakes and miracles, he thought.
He took Mary in his arms, as he had done all those years ago, in the before time, when his mother had been alive. He popped one of the earbuds in her ear. Scooping their little girl up in his other arm, they danced like they had all those years ago, her hair flicking his face, the future held between them.
Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He’s been longlisted, shortlisted and placed in numerous competitions and publications around the web. He has a short story appearing in a forthcoming print anthology published by Blood & Bourbon.