I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in London, it’s torrid. In the day time, the sun is a fearsome pugilist, pummelling you until you run quivering into the shade. Or, if you’re like me, stuck inside an office all day, it’s more like a bully boy bouncer hulking over you, stilling the movement of air until you spend the rest of the day inhaling and exhaling the same breath.
It was a summer much like this one – 17 years ago – that I first met Ben. I remember talking to him one night, like an inversion of Romeo and Juliet, he sitting, smiling at me from his first-floor dorm room, me staring up at him from outside the building while the night wind blew warm against my bare arms.
It was a summer painted in brilliant colours – alive with the shimmer of potential, of rib cages opening up to release plumes of joyful starlings. It was a summer of missed deadlines and stupefied expressions. We were drunk with each other and stumbling; stupidly happy.
But even as my mind flits to that summer whenever the humidity rises here, I trip – fall backwards into that other one. Last summer or perhaps the one before. Summers painted in blood and bruises. Of torn lips and smashed noses. Of shouting and despair. Summers of missed deadlines and stupefied expressions. He was drunk and stumbling; moaning and grieving.
I remember him appearing in the kitchen window of our first floor flat, like some tragic Romeo, climbing through the window because he’d lost his keys. Covered in blood because he’d already fallen once while trying to get in through the back window. It was close to midnight. And while he was passed out on the couch, I went downstairs into the darkness to find the keys, because I knew they must be out there, and I was terrified that someone would find them, enter the flat and kill us in our beds.
So I went out into the night, opened the car and checked the driver’s side, and I found the keys, right there, on the cushioned seat that was drenched in his urine.
Yes, I remember those summers very well, both of us with our rib cages pried open – releasing plumes of bile, metaphorical and actual. Or were they summers? Because I remember the cold, too, and the rain. A mash of seasons all balled up into one – one summer – that would finally end everything and set us both free, two starlings, into a fading sky.