A hard-boiled egg. It sat squat on the plate and Demeter pelted it with her brother’s special spoon. She was seventeen and nothing she had found magical had ever persisted. The yolk was grey yellow. Demeter hoped that it wasn’t one of her mother’s supermarket bargains. She forced herself to spoon it all into her mouth. Blood – sugar.
Demeter reached down for her bag, scrunched up her nylon Mac and went out the back door. No goodbyes only the wet pavement and next door’s old cat. Late again. She decided to walk. She arrived a half hour into first lesson and headed instead for a coffee. Someone had been polishing the corridor. Miss Prince was yelling at some year elevens.
She counted the wooden squares and crossed the hall.
She was taller than she remembered. And more definite.
Amy Boulton stood behind her, taking the corridor’s light with her.
‘Let’s go for a walk.’ That voice .
What could Demeter do but follow.
They were in an icy forest. It was nearly Christmas and they were in love.
Demeter crunched frost and damp -mitten into the centre of Amy’s cupped hand and watched the frost melt away pinking the skin of her friend so that Demeter felt giddy and deliriously brave. Starved of kisses Demeter reached up chapped lips meeting the dreamt of mouth. Take me to your underworld she prayed.
Look Demeter. Look,’ whispered Amy huskily, and put one now immortal hand on her friend’s shoulder, turning her around so that she could see further down the path.
Much too wanton to care, with her hands nestling beneath Amy’s soft collar, Demeter allowed herself the pleasure of being shown. For in this case as you shall see, touch was everything.
There were about eight llamas ahead all dressed in red coats being herded by a Father Christmas in a slow procession through the dozens of walkers and their dogs. Everyone stared as if they were watching some local miracle, a gift performed to convert the weak. Demeter crossed herself twice and squeezed Amy’s arm until Amy took her hand. T hen they watched the llamas turn away from the path and vanish seemingly into the artic forest.
Amy brushed off some flecks of frost from her mitten onto Demeter’s mouth and tickled her nose. Always she promised her. Always.
A greyhound started to follow the procession but scentless came back to the lady with the engraved silver thermos who was sipping something next to the girls’ bags. She looked up at Amy and smiled.’ I’ve lost my white earring today-daft really-all this frost-quite silly-‘And she turned her grey curly head to look back across the field where everyone had started to move again, recovering themselves like something out of Dr Who.
Amy touched her left ear and pulled slightly at her drop of ancient amber.
If I find the earring thought Demeter, then I will be in love for ever. It would be her secret gift from him. For it was her father’s birthday today and she could risk remembering the date because she was no longer alone. She was taken. The thrill of that word. Amy was already scraping her foot at some skeletal grass humming something that matched the rhythm of her yellow boots. Aware of her lover’s thoughts Amy flicked some frost at Demeter, teasing her, courting her. Loved for the first time, Demeter felt monumentally bold.
‘Are they special to you?’
The grey head left Amy and turned unsurprised to Demeter.
I don’t know anymore …perhaps-perhaps not….’ The woman shrugged her shoulders but then did not let them drop and continued to turn her cup so that Demeter felt blinded by its sharp silver light. She couldn’t see the woman’s eyes and felt unable to move at all. I am in a forest. I am in a forest, in a forest she repeated whether to herself or the world she hardly knew.
Amy had moved away from them now and Demeter tried to order her head to turn after her but she felt like Lot’s wife and she wished Amy would give up her mission and come back to her. She felt she was going to collapse. She started to sway. Demeter did not want to be alone again.
The woman stared at this girl with the wide mouth and knew it must be her this time. The girl was shaking. It had to be her.
And then just when Demeter was about to cry out and to run after her friend, Amy called something out and came strolling happily back holding out her left hand. A small pearly figure lay sleeping in her palm. It looked like a mermaid washed up on a shore. She really did.
‘Found her!’ Amy had such a definite voice. Demeter wanted her friend more than ever. She needed to trace out the shape of the mermaid on Amy’s palm. She ached to touch her. Demeter took a breath and held it. She stroked the sleeping gift and felt alive again.
The woman poured away her coffee, melting away the frost islands at their feet. She had stained their perfect path. Tithe woman sucked in the silent chilled air and breathed it out as words.
‘You are a real hunter aren’t you? I knew it as soon as I saw you…’ But this was to Demeter not Amy. The dog trotted up to the woman and she put a metal chain around its neck and slipped some pink biscuit into its expectant mouth.
‘Keep her for a time. For a while if you like. You have a gift. I have the other one anyway and no real need…. ‘The woman’s voice trailed off. Then the dog and the woman walked away at no great pace; and in a while Demeter could not make out where the woman ended and the greyhound began, and then they both evaporated into the whiteness and she started to giggle and then Amy Boulton tickled her chin and she was alright again she thought. Really.
In another part of this world, the mermaid of course had other ideas, as that is what mermaids do. They are creatures of many habits and ideas but their favourite habit (or was it an idea reconsidered the ever thoughtful Agatha?) was to swim against the tide. ‘To swim valiantly or discreetly, against the tide.’ The coda of all true heroines of the sea.
Human beings of course did not always practice this karmic rule, this Agatha knew. But Agatha as she lay in Amy’s pocket knew that this rule was the only rule worth keeping and she wriggled fishily a couple of times to test the waters so to speak. Amy patted her pocket reassuringly and blushed.
Amy had never blushed before decided Demeter and was pleased to acknowledge her lover human just like everyone else. The blush made Demeter reckless she linked her arm through the other girl’s and kissed her carefully on her nose. She risked a small bite too. Just a for luck.
‘I love you’ she whispered in her most caressing voice, though there was nobody but Amy to hear (she thought.) But Agatha was listening of course and decided that these girls were definitely trying their best to swim against the tide and would need her specialised consultancy if they were ever to ride the surf into the sunset -as all true lovers must hope to do.
They sat in a row of four so they could share the popcorn. But Clara was not sure she was getting her share and kept nudging her mother until the film had been on for an hour and then the dinosaur chase and the screaming girl in the nightie just took over. By the time Kong had to leave his island, the popcorn was gone and Clara was on her mother’s knee shouting at the screen with her mother weeping stoically into her daughter’s hair.
Further down the row, Demeter binged on jelly babies thinking only of Kong’s rage his monumental passion (she did Literature at school) and felt that she alone of all the world would have understood him. She sighed deeply and then felt the reassurance of warm tears on her cheek. She wanted Amy and she wanted him. Oh to be able to climb into such a hand! She thought of Amy’s hands and allowed herself to fantasize for a moment, then a sailor started shooting at Kong and Demeter reminded herself of Amy’s eczema and concentrated hard on the screen.
The film gave the family this excuse to be nearly all together for once and for this mother was grateful. They sat in more or less accord (Clara had the pink slush and had seen a few of Kong’s tormentors die horribly). They all shuddered though at the sailor with the giant slug. Ugh.
Demeter of course would be in love for days and mother wondered if Amy would mind. Probably not she decided, Amy took her daughter’s intensity in her stride and mother idly wondered what Kong would bring to their love. She couldn’t go there. She did like Amy’s mouth though and decided it would be a good thing to tell her daughter one evening after home-work. She chewed off the head of a yellow jelly baby and left the black ones alone.
Kong was being taunted in the theatre. God the arrogance of man. And yet, his love had not betrayed him. There Anne was dancing in some cheap revue. The hollowness of the fake blonde though. No wonder poor Kong raged in his manacles. Demeter took out her pocket book and made a note. She loved her hooded nibbed pen. Deep black ink. No flourish either which was a good thing. Crucifixion she wrote. She underlined the word very very clearly.
Kong was rampaging on Broadway throwing away blondes like flies. Not this one. Not that one. He wanted his baby. Imagine that mother told herself. Nothing compares to you. Nothing. Oh the passion of the guy.
And then there she was. Floodlight with sheer love of Kong coming to him out of time. Mother wept out loud and Callum looked over hoping his friend wouldn’t notice but proud too in a way. The girl climbed in to Kong’s hand. The cinema melted. Woman I can hardly express my feelings of tenderness. Now they were in the park. The ice rink. Kong was waltzing his girl. Snow blessing their ephemeral love. Mother preferred his out and out rage. Now that mother could understand. Mother looked into his haunted eyes and saw the loneliness of love. Was love worth the risk? She adjusted Clara’s bottom on her knee. Nothing wet yet. She decided it must be.
The boys were off to the toilet for the second time still chattering about plastic war figures. If they had been by themselves then Callum would have allowed himself to be moved mother reasoned. He would have felt Kong’s angry solitude on that island and his lonely pride in his vision of a something larger than himself. But his friend protected him from this and they came back still talking – lost in a world of play far from Kong’s fateful love.
Twenty minutes left and now Kong was on top of the world finally giving Anne her world back with a touch of his chest: ‘beautiful’. They gazed ahead. ‘A blessing’ whispered mother into Clara’s hair mixing it up with Kong’s fur and then clinging to her daughter who cheered each time Kong felled yet another ‘plane. His love climbed high just to be with him. At least he knew that mother allowed, and once again the two lovers on the screen were reunited for a moment that would always endure.
‘Always’ scribbled Demeter damp eyed. ‘Always’
And forever thought her mother decisively (who had always found herself alone even when she when she was enjoying the happiest moment of her life.)
Kong fell away from his love. Even Antony couldn’t touch him felt mother.
Far better than Di Capriccio in the Titanic wrote Demeter, pleased at herself.
Anne was left to be consoled by a smaller guy who had got brave and would get her left behind love. But there was Kong lying in the middle of Manhattan dead to everything except his hidden hope, thought mother, his monumental raging love. Her soul mate after all. She would accept nothing less. Nothing less than Kong. She walked boldly yet fatefully out of the cinema carrying her daughter’s grey coat.
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