I slipped into my trainers and pulled the laces until they pinched, then loosened them.
I looked out the porch window. Clear blue sky.
I put on my jacket, pulled the zip till the collar was snug around my neck. I opened the door, called out “Goodbye, I love you,” and left. The sound of spoons chinking against ceramic vanished when I closed the door.
I started downhill. The cold air flowing gently over my face and through the mesh of my trainers. My toes recoiled.
Give it a minute, they’ll warm up.
I adjusted my headphones, scrolled through the music on my phone, found what I wanted, but didn’t press play. I took off my headphones and put my phone away.
I want to hear the world around me.
I turned left, then right, then left again. Past the pharmacy, the shop she said would be open, but wasn’t.
No matter, I’ll get them later, from somewhere else.
I could see the bus stop ahead. My chest tightened. Where were they? Would I need to assume the position of ignorance and avert my eyes?
Where were they?
I reached the stop. My chest relaxed. Three people were sitting on the bench, two chatting, one smoking. So no. They weren’t there: the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their pamphlets, calling to the unholy, or the curious and lost.
Would you like to know the answers to life’s big questions?
Would you like to know the truth?
Why are we really here?
No sign of them today. No temptation. I kept walking.
The road ahead was clear. I glanced back. Nothing. I took my chance and crossed the road.
I stepped onto the pavement and after a few more steps took a right. Uphill. Past the bay-fronted houses. Past their curtains and blinds. Their defences. Past their empty cars.
I reached the park. My chest tightened again. I couldn’t see the cherry trees. Huge vehicles and other metal machines greeted me instead. Transformers in disguise. Seats and slides. Candy floss and fluffy toys. Plush toys. Ghost trains. Roller coasters. Helter skelters. Light bulbs and Please Pay Here punctuated every sign and surface.
I made my way through. The machines were covered in graffiti. Not tags. The frantic scribbles sprayed in the early hours. But art. Superheroes. Villains. Animals. Guns. Popstars. Fishnet stockings and guns.
And then I saw it. The other side. I didn’t look back. I passed through the gates and my chest relaxed.
To my left, after the high red-brick wall, stood a row of barren silver birch waiting to spring their leaves.
I walked on and turned a corner. There it was, an arch, rising up before me. A concave wall of glass rectangles with a revolving door. I timed my walk and emerged on the inside. Warm air met my face.
I made for the cafe, but something caught my eye. Tall white boards and tables with paintings and sculptures on display. I was hooked. I walked over wanting to see something beautiful.
I circled the boards, slowly at first, giving each piece my full attention, then quicker and less attentive the more I saw nothing I liked.
And then I saw it. Bursting. Vibrant. Extravagant. An impression of the sun rising over the world. I stepped closer.
God those colours are bright.
I love it.
Thick lines, thin lines, sharp and delicate. Swirling amber yellow melting into orange. Scarlet fever here and there. I stepped closer, looking at how the paint flowed. Fluid. Free. I took a photo. I read the artist’s name.
I will let her know what a lovely piece it is.
Nothing else caught my eye so I left. I wanted to sit in peace and drink my coffee. The barista took my order and that’s when I heard the chorus.
Baby, baby, baby, please let me have your number.
I knew the song. I liked the lover’s desperate plea and the inviting reply.
Baby, baby, baby, you can have my private number.
The strings soared. Lifting the plea up and up. Making it difficult to deny and the reply more gratifying when it came. It wasn’t Aretha Franklin or Dionne Warwick. But it could have been. River Deep Mountain High came to mind. But it wasn’t.
I give up. It will come to me later.