by Cath Barton
I kept phoning, but there was never any answer, so I travelled back to the grey city I used to know. I don’t know how many days and nights it took me to get there; time has stretched out of recognition. Her flat was in a square with big plane trees. It was October. The trees were dropping their leaves. Dry brown leaves, diseased and curling, piling up, blocking the gutters.
The flat? An empty basement. The front door was unlocked. I could just walk in. Shocking, anyone could have done the same. There was a paperback book, forgotten in a dark corner, dog-eared. A novel by someone from the sub-continent. I didn’t recognise the name. There was a woven bookmark in the book. I unravelled it but it told me nothing.
I stayed in the flat for some time. There was nothing to stop me. I rang the doorbells of the neighbours but no-one answered. I walked up the street every morning, took breakfast in a cafe with a green awning. There was a young waiter who started to recognise me, to bring me coffee the way I liked it, which was particular. I appreciated that. One day I dared to say to him:
“I wonder if you knew a friend of mine who used to live in this street?”
He raised his eyebrows as if to ask me to continue. So I told him about her, the things people always noticed. She was unlike other people, you’d be sure to remember if you’d met her, I said. And her laugh too, I said, it was so. But he shook his head, said no, he couldn’t think there’d been anyone like that. I was dismayed.
For some days after that I felt discouraged. I was sleeping in her bedroom, a place of morning light, but with the dying of the year the light was fading. All the leaves had fallen by this time and colour had drained from the sky. I knew I had to move before the winter rains flooded the flat.
I packed my bag, taking the old paperback and the mute strands of the bookmark, and left. The door of the flat would not close, the damp had warped it, but what could I do? There was no-one to tell.
I travelled on, looking for my friend between the light and the dark. I have been to all the places of her life now. I have walked along the canals of Venice amongst the crowds of the carnevale. I have sat on cafe terraces in Budapest and Rome amidst shoppers clattering coffee cups. She spoke the languages of all those people but I could say nothing to them.
There have been times when I thought I caught a glimpse of her at dusk, turning a corner at the end of a long street. I no longer know what is real. And so I am condemned to my endless search. In her slipstream.
Cath Barton is an English writer and photographer who lives in Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella for The Plankton Collector, which will be published in 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Read more about her writing at cathbarton.com.