This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during March 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It was inspired by this song, written by The Divine Comedy:
It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
Sadness, yet again, consumes a form which has grown used to constant intrusion. Around me the throng of rush hour commuters continue their journeys, existing internally, no sign of any emotion at all. I wonder: how many of you live within this province, cannot escape its embrace. A decision was made, out of my hands. Others, more intelligent than I will ever be, decreed this period of separation. Sitting, watching you leave, suitcase in hand, unable to change what had been planned for years, real significance of that moment has only now truly registered.
Life is less than it was, diminished without your smile. Kind, quiet words missed with ache in my chest that’s alien, uncomfortable. It has taken this long to realise existence without your presence devalues that entire experience. It has taken this long to understand your love. Finally, I’m home: familiar comforts surround an aching body. Age begins to make what was academic in youth more of a challenge: after food and a lie down, everything will be better… except the hole where your presence should inhabit. I wonder, was this correct course of action?
The decision was made, using other’s rules. Not my language, but theirs, inherited over decades. All that can be done, as has been routine for so long, is wait, and hope that one day, soon, perhaps tomorrow, I will see you again.
When moment comes, you will know how much I care.
It had been a terrible mistake.
She sits on Platform Two’s cold, unpleasant bench, staring at the suitcase on wheels, excuse to ignore everything including the anger within that refuses to diminish. This really was all her own fault, absolutely nobody to blame but herself. Love had vanished almost as quickly as it appeared: on reflection, perhaps that was the wrong word to be using. Next time, lust and desire could be more easily identified. Leaving the parental home for good will one day be a certainty; not quite yet. She can admit guilt, finally.
Right now, options have narrowed: apologising to Dad was, as it transpires far easier than was first imagined. Mum’s capacity to care never diminished regardless of daughter’s stupidity, close friends still sympathetic. It appears everybody else knew what was coming, except her. The train arrives with an almost apologetic sigh, aware self-reflection was in full swing, but that was enough for the morning. Wallowing was never healthy, however competent she had become at self-indulgence over the last six months. Her relationship was beyond officially over.
Abigail felt fifteen again: surface coped, blustered then bluffed itself through anything thrown at her, but beneath so much was uncertain, in flux. It didn’t help to have everybody else consider her a prodigious talent either. Fame was overrated, ability more so. She was lonely. Pulling black baseball cap further down across her face, this is moment brain wished driving lessons had not been ignored in favour of piano practice. Someone had already recognised her walking to the station: she’d denied her own existence, feigned ignorance and hurried onward.
Blissfully, this carriage is empty: she can hide in a corner, staring out of the window, looking distracted all the way until train terminates in London. She’ll avoid any contact with the Tube and grab a taxi instead. Only Mum knows she’s returning today, a big problem in itself. Her father is already condemning actions, and she’s not even in their postcode. He never trusted Abby’s girlfriend, still harboured significant issues over her bisexuality. If she could have just fallen in love with a man, even a boy would have appeased very obvious discomfort…
Father’s stream of disparaging WhatsApp messages continues unabated: if she’s smart, he’ll be a supporter of her cause by the time her cab stops in their leafy South London suburb. Right now, there are ten stops to move personal mood from combative to lost, in need of support… If only she could manipulate ex-girlfriend as easily as parents… no, not any more. There need be no feigning of emotional frailty: her own shortcomings caused this. The need to feel loved not just as an accomplished musician, but as a person. This woman. Abby, not Abigail West.
This is exactly NOT the moment she expects to hear a piece of her own music on the Spotify playlist expressly curated to avoid such things. Listening to what competition was up to is supposed to keep ears keen, help composition skills for an upcoming album… not floor her instead. Gravity is different, suddenly: this isn’t her writing, but piece she remembers as a child. Past and present uncannily overlap: nine years old, sudden change from the normal diet of classical music pieces her teacher would roll out as fodder for voracious consumption. This song…
Miss Canning is crying: Abby’s skill in sight-reading is uncanny, whatever this is being played isn’t just practice but personal. Only when looking up for an encouraging word is it obvious she’s missed something significant. Young teacher is now sobbing, uncontrollably emotional. Brain recalls teacher’s sweet, floral perfume, someone else’s tears on her face: hugging tight, embrace instigated at Abby’s prompt. Never leave the piano until a song is finished except, that day she broke a cardinal rule. Support matters more than appearance. Never forget care.
Except somewhere between breakout reality TV stardom and here that’s exactly what has happened: basic personality warped, priorities hastily rearranged… her soul left behind, forgotten in the clamour of online celebrity, interviews plus two massively successful orchestral albums. One more stop, she’s in town: fate is unavoidable. Maybe this is the moment to stop hiding in her own shortcomings and make a difference, change the way things work. If it all goes horribly wrong, at least she tried. That’s all that left now, possibility with accompanying fear.
She really hopes that, once back home, everyone she still loves will find it in their hearts to forgive her behaviour.
This is different.
I wake awkwardly, nap a surprise. There was so much to do: now the morning has gone. However, it doesn’t matter: sudden excitement does…
My landlord is on the phone: something has changed. Your name is mentioned, multiple times, no longer spoken in anger. You are in a taxi, on your way home and I cannot breathe, sudden dizzying disbelief. You are coming back to me. There will be fresh opportunity to see you again. Excitement is tempered with caution: last words whispered, before your departure. ‘I have to do this, just to see if I’m right. I know you’ll understand. You always have.’ Except, at that moment I didn’t. It took absence to let truths emerge and settle. It all makes sense to me.
That song you loved so much, favourite of my best friend: letting you go, so you can be free and then finally return here, better person for the experience… a bittersweet song you would play on the piano, like all the others that finally made you famous, a household name. A star. From young woman to recording artist, consummate professional…and yet, through it all, you never truly grasped what it was you had become. Those secrets, whispered late at night, safe because nobody was listening. I heard them all, understood how Abby had evolved: here, to now.
It will be wonderful to see you again, because that’s the front door. Familiar sounds, even to these ears, rapidly advancing in age. Your voice, enough to make heart beat faster: Abby is home, finally, and all the foolishness and stupidity will be instantly, summarily forgotten. My best friend cries, always does at such moments. My landlord will try to be brave, always attempts to and fails because out of these two humans he’s the one with more emotion invested in his daughter. I know how Sam tried with Abby, but ultimately feels she failed as a mother.
I was the companion, bright younger sibling, true best friend and so much more. Silent parent, moral compass, confidante… because humans assume far too much not only about the worlds people build and inhabit, but those other species allowed to live within such spaces with them. Abby stands in the doorway, smile incandescent. I thought this was unrequited love, before my owners used a better word: it remains unconditional; no requirements or boundaries.
Whatever happens, until my last heartbeat, no one will ever break bond between spaniel and mistress.