'The trouble with you is that you slip so easy'. That's what he said unto me, 'you slip so easy'. As if life be nothing but a big old banana skin waiting on me each step I make.
And how he got to meaning on that? He, standing tall on all them books that fill his room, only to look down on me? He, full up with words all puffed and round and shaped in sounds that don't come from these walls. Even his voice gone changed. He don't sound like he grew on these paving stones no more. He sounds rootless, like he half be here and half pushing one foot into a world that won't open the door proper for him. If anything, I feel sorry for him.
But still, I'd have decked him there and then except for her standing there. Because I could see the look to her eyes if I did it, almost taste that cherry gloss shining up her smile for seeing me prove that all she thinks she already knows be true. As if she got me all figured out in this two-minute meeting. Though the truth be that she don't know me, not beyond the sound of my name and all she thinks she see.
And that's just it, isn't it? Folk like her never truly see truth. She looks with eyes that focus only on what she's been learnt to look on. Some kind of pity fear pouring from her, as strong to my nose as the expensive flower scent she wears, cloaking herself as if she rolled in some bed of roses. And honestly I don't got a liking on roses. Overrated, see.
If I was to buy me some flowers, cause I got no need to wait on some man blood to do it, then it'd be foxgloves. Saw them growing on some little patch of green down the side of the leisure centre once, back when I was young. Shining in their purple beauty, like bells they looked, calling to me. I picked a handful and stuck them in a coke bottle of water. I had them for a week, even once the flowers had faded, I didn't want to throw them out. They started smelling bad though so I had to. I heard they're poisonous if you eat them. It's funny, something so pretty being able to cut your insides all up. I used to walk the long way home to pass the centre and see them, like it was my own private garden. 'Til the day when the council came and concreted up the patch. Still, give me a foxglove over a rose any day. Have some imagination girl, that's what I think when I look to her.
See her hair all artfully messed up, as if we didn't know it took her an hour to get it so. Thinking she's all original in her skinny jeans and ripped top, like looking poor got all expensive suddenly. Round here not a soul'd be caught in ripped clothes, and it seem a certain type of perversion that she bought a rip in hers for an extra hundred or two. Have some imagination girl.
And I want to scream then. At him and the rose-armoured girl who looks like any one of hundreds you see walking in clouds of expensive expectation, so full on self-worth they never even question it. I want to shout out my lungs loud enough that he'd drop her hand from fright and in his surprise he'd look to me and truly see. He'd see all that once was and all we lost. And he'd wish upon it. But instead I know that all he see's is the bottle I dropped when he rounded the corner, empty now and on it's side, label half peeled off from my picking. He counts in his head the eleven cigarette butts crushed into concrete and I know the memory of what was is getting lost, clouded somewhere, is twisted into a new thing that doesn't fit either of us.
I wish he'd never came here. I wish his mum had chosen some other day to ask him round for lunch and I wish I'd chosen some other set of stairs to sit upon and think. And I wish I could tell him that the bottle and the fag butts help me think, they help me look more clearly and work out my own way. For now. Not always, no, I know that. I know I can stop when I want. Anytime I want. I choose my life. That's what I should shout in her privileged perfect face, I choose my life.
But I don't. I say nothing.
'Anyways', he said it out looking down his nose at all that once was his, 'we've got to go now'.
'Yeah', I say not looking to his eyes for fear of seeing a look I'd know in the dark or is it the fear of not seeing it that makes me stare to the floor and kick upon some gravel stones, watching them bounce off brick. 'So go, step, you wouldn't want to be late now'.
'How lovely to meet you', the girl with thorns in her voice said. I let it slip to the ground that one. I've never been one for chatting false and see no need to lie to her face about it.
'I'll see you around', and the words are soft from his lips, sounding more like it was weeks he'd been gone from here not years.
'Maybe you will' though I'm angry at myself for lying as I know there's little truth in that. He'd have to come back to these streets for that and the shape of his shoulders tell me he'll not hurry to walk this postcode again.
And I see then how their day will spill out. Full up on roast and potatoes they'll escape these streets to the side of town where expensive heels clip on cobbles and men talk loudly of golf and promotions. They'll go, hand in hand, to somewhere that was once a pub and order a bowl of chips that cost seven quid, and she'll laugh at what once he was. To friends equal in their private school education she'll tell tales of rawness, of the roughness that was once his life, and they'll eat up her words, excited by their edge. And I know anything I do now will be transported to this soft lit pub and served up over chilled white wine and I think I won't give her that. I don't want her speaking on me.
So instead I smile sweet, like the foxglove, and I force out a laugh. It spills over them and I see the surprise in her eyes. He don't look shocked though, he look at me like he knows me, to my core, but like he forgot something somewhere and he's trying to remember what it was.
For I want him to see that he can't be a visitor here. That he's in or out but to come back, to bring her here, it's wrong.
And I want her to know that I choose my life. All that happens, I choose it.
But I see, as they turn and she slips her arm through his and leans a little into him in a way I never did, that it wouldn't matter what I did or said right then. For they walk quickly over the uneven concrete towards the swinging metal gate, onwards towards the pub with the fake fire and organic greens, and up and out of my life forever. And I look to the burnt out butts scattered near my feet and my hands feel for the final cigarette of the pack, shaking out a small box of matches from my pocket. I light it and watch as the flame burns bright then dims down to nothing on the splint of wood. I look to the unlit cigarette in my hand and let it drop.
I choose my life.