Once again she wears a white shirt. This time hers, not his. I didn’t know what to wear. In the end I pulled the crumpled shirt, his, from the bottom of my laundry basket. To smooth the creases I stood in the steam of the bathroom. The collar damp against my neck. She is too polite to say she recognises it. Are you excited? Yeh. Good, I think you’ll like it. The car is small, old. Red paint rusted above the tyres’ curves. A crack in the windscreen slowly growing larger. Inside it is spotless.
Her hand on the gearstick. No nail varnish, no bracelet. Earrings, gold studs. I notice a second hole, grown over. She touches her earlobe. Always on my lookout. Ah yes, from my younger days. When you were a painter? She laughs, avoids the question. Nothing is given away easily. She hands me a stout Ordnance Survey, a biro star, her biro star, drawn next to a particular square. OK, you need to read this, you’re the co-pilot. Course, have you been before? Yes, but he drove us, Mr S drove. I let the air hang. Anyway it’s there, you can see, where the river goes through the campsite. It is there, the thickened blue bend, a patch of criss-crossed green. I look again at her earlobe. She turns out of the driveway and onto the road. Goodness, what am I doing, the wrong way already. That sudden vulnerability. I want it to be me, to be my gaze, to be our gazes swapping in and out, one replacing the other. She takes the car up to the sports field. A large car park sits behind. The Girls wander about, holding hockey sticks, gumshields plump behind their lips. She waves to a few. Screeches the tyres in a fast circle. She waves again in the rear-view mirror. They call after her.
You’re so popular with them. Yes, only after a year of trying but never appearing to try. A minibus turns in beside us. The other team. She seems genuinely interested, craning her neck to see the uniforms, to guess the competing school. Did you want to stay and watch? No no. We drive away, past the pub, past the garage. I wind down the window. The tunnel whoosh. I lean out, my eyes watering, the hedgerow whipping close to my ear. We slow down at an enormous bridge. A long line of motorbikes is waiting to pull in. Ah, Devil’s Bridge, have you seen? No. How have you missed so much? She indicates, following the motorbikes. There is no room for another car so she leaves the hazards on, blocking somebody else in. Quick, hurry, before we get in trouble. In the middle of the bridge, the river wide and slow beneath, she shows me two round imprints sunk into the wall. The devil’s hands? The devil’s hands. So tiny. Not if you have hooves. She presses her knuckles into the dents. Stone worn smooth. Is it lucky? Probably not, probably the opposite.
I see now she is wearing men’s swimming shorts. A faded pink. Also guaranteed to be partly his, like the car, like the trip. What’s wrong? Nothing. Always nothing with you. Her tone is unexpected. A closeness we have not yet shared. She senses it too, shifting subject, putting her hands against the sky. Such a glorious day! A van sells bright-white ice creams. Bikers in their heavy leathers lean against the bridge, licking their wrists, catching the melt. Cones are tossed half eaten into the rubbish. Wasps pearling in and out of the bin’s mouth. Would you like one? Not yet, maybe later. I look too long at a group of young men, only in leather waistcoats, or shirtless entirely. Trouser buttons biting just below their belly buttons. Want a picture? Come on then take a picture pussy! one of the men calls to me. She is already by the car, lifting her head to see, unable to hear. Squinting through the glare she waves me over. I look back at the man who has already forgotten me, now shoving a friend with a similarly beautiful chest. His arms around his middle, then his ribs. Soft punches thrown into each shoulder. I feel the itch of skin beneath my binder. Inevitable. I notice things I want to steal.
I go back to her. How would he be, sitting in this passenger seat, watching her hand on a gearstick, watching her hands against the sky, watching her hands made into hooves. He would have a beautiful chest. He would be less astonished. Everything OK? Always. I change tune for her. She raises that eyebrow. Well then let’s get going. I hope there aren’t crowds like this everywhere. Don’t you worry, this is a secret spot. She taps the page open across my lap, finger just wide of her biro star. Well then, I say, parroting her catchphrase, I won’t tell. Oh I see, it’s like that. Familiarity again. This time easier.
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