I've often heard it's best to write something down if we want to understand it. Yet I wonder if this is because we seek clarity in the event by putting it on paper, or whether it forces us to confront ourselves more directly. When we talk to people of our terrible actions in the past are we not often really seeking our interlocutor's assurances; that our actions weren't so bad after all: that we had no choice, that circumstances were against us and so on? Writing something down we are alone with our deeds, and alone in our reaction to them, even if this piece comes out of a recent meeting with someone whom I hadn't seen for well over a decade.
Let me clarify, and let me confess. When I was eighteen I felt I was responsible for my girlfriend's suicide. I did not murder her, and there was no reason for anyone to arrest me, and even her parents, at the funeral I hypocritically attended, offered condolences that indicated my grief was as great as theirs. I was grieving, I suppose, but now, fifteen years later, I wonder whether my despair was not for her lost life but for the happy life I would be denying myself in the future, that future that I am now fifteen years into and which leaves me thinking frequently about those last few months of Gina's life.
We met when we were seventeen, with Gina moving to the Highlands to finish her last year at school after her father got a job working in a top position in the Highland Regional Council, and where my ex-girlfriend's mother worked part-time in the finance department. Gina was happy to get away from Glasgow, she would insist, and saw it in some way as the gap year she might then not need to take before going off to university, probably in London. She arrived perhaps at the right time, as she helped take my mind off the ex who had just gone off to university, and who was a year older than me. I'll say more about Miranda later, and might even need to describe her, but this story exists not because of my feelings for the school beauty that left, but for the intense, immersive Gina who arrived. In those first few weeks she talked to no one, and would usually be seen reading and listening to music on her headphones. I was intrigued more than attracted, and perhaps envied her ability to be so inside herself when I couldn't easily stop thinking about Miranda, Miranda's fresher week, and her new admirers and possible lovers.
Gina was more communicative in class than in person, and wouldn't only answer most of the questions asked of her, but would ask questions about the subject also. In a history lesson where we were talking of WWII, Gina asked if we can ever escape the atrocity of atrocity, and did the teacher think that the German people after WWII perhaps suffered the least, because they knew they were the most responsible. Their guilt need not possess equivocation, and they could consequently recover quickly. She would offer such remarks as questions, but it was rarely one that the teacher would have probably given much thought to before Gina offered it, and the answer would always be much less interesting than the question. I remember reading a story once by a fine Scottish writer where one of the characters, a teacher, was trying to write a great book of philosophy, but when he showed it to a friend the friend concluded bluntly that it was without merit: the teacher had spent his life coaching young minds more than challenging ones, and this left his work inadequate. With students like Gina, the great book the character wanted to write might have been written, but then maybe with rare friends like the character in the story, stories like my own might not need to be written at all: that there are interlocutors who can be as hard on us as we can be on ourselves.
I first talked to Gina in the canteen after that history class, said I liked her comments, and asked her whether she believed them: whether she thought that the British were more guilty than the Germans, the American more than the Japanese. She admitted it could seem like a dubious, even dangerous line of reasoning, and added in what might have seemed a non sequitur that, as a vegetarian, perhaps she should feel more guilt towards animals than meat eaters. Shouldn't she be vegan? Weren't the Americans and the British a bit like vegetarians and the Germans and Japanese carnivores? I looked puzzled yet amused, as if I thought the line of reasoning absurd, but the mental mechanics required to justify it interesting, and she continued without at all an ironic expression on her face, though equally showing no irritation concerning the look on mine. She wondered whether a lot of meat eaters acknowledge that it is wrong to eat meat, but accept it as their failure, and eat it anyway. But most vegetarians do not acknowledge any guilt in relation to their vegetarianism, and the dairy industries continue treating animals badly, as they are kept in terrible conditions whilst milk, cheese, cream and yogurt are extracted from them. She added that it was surely worse to torture animals than to kill them: the dairy industry was in this sense an instrument of torture rather than of murder, and so vegetarians have a false sense of ethical virtue. Equally could the same not be said of countries that offer atrocity within sanctimoniousness: like Dresden and Hiroshima? Had the British and Americans absorbed their guilt or just denied it, and subsequently still insisted on fighting 'worthy' wars while the Germans were now well aware of how unworthy war is?
I smiled but did not smirk, aware that her arguments were suspect but not because of the ineptness of her reasoning; more the impossibility of their consequences. I could not imagine Hitler promptly being turned into a war hero (ironically a vegetarian as I noted) and Churchill ("a carnivore to the core") a villain, but as I proffered this, Gina said a while ago she had read an article by Churchill from the thirties where he talked about the future, saying we wouldn't need to slaughter animals, but merely develop the specific body parts that we would want to eat. Would that be more ethical than slaughter she wondered? She wasn't sure. But it sounded to her a lot like the argument people would make about wars without collateral damage: on this occasion meat without murder.
What I would find when talking to Gina, as we talked a lot over the next week or two, was that she disappeared behind her words. She would speak as if there was no one listening without at all boring the person that she was speaking to: she never bored me, and when I would see her talking to others, or bringing up points in the class, no one would look irritated or annoyed. Yet I never felt as though she was in conversation with people; it was more as if she were constantly working through a problem knotted inside herself and that she couldn't quite untie: a Gordian knot of the soul.
One Friday during lunch she asked if I wanted to join her for a cycle ride the next day out to Cawdor castle: some people had albeit erroneously claimed it as the setting of Macbeth, she said, others insisted it was the most romantic castle in Scotland. It would soon be closing after the summer season; it was the end of the September. I of course knew of it but had never been, and said why not. I was due a couple of days off from my Saturday job working in my father's book store.
I was living on the north side of the town, in a place called Inshes Wood, and Gina near the town centre, so she had cycled three miles up hill before arriving at my door, and saw me pumping up the tires of a bike I hadn't used in a year. It was eight thirty, the sun was shining and only a few small clouds suggested the weather might turn. We cycled up past Culloden moor, down along by the Clava Cairns and along the river Nairn. While Gina was cycling a road bike; mine was a cumbersome mountain bike that was twice the weight, but maybe this made all things equal. Gina was a smoker and I wasn't.
On the way Gina requested just one cigarette break as we stopped briefly at the Cairns, and we shared a flask of tea that she had brought. I asked if her parents knew she smoked and she said they did now: they caught her a couple of weeks earlier smoking out of her bedroom window. She told them she had started since moving up north; it was the stress of the move, but a couple of days later she told her mother that she had made it up: she'd been smoking for more than a year. Another example of guilt, I asked, and she smiled, punched my arm and said she supposed so, but her parents seemed to feel guilty too, hauling her up to the Highlands, and so while they didn't condone her smoking they didn't quite condemn it either. She said it might seem odd: she wanted to save the planet but destroy herself. She would get annoyed about pollution in the world, but not about the pollution she was putting into her own body.
When we arrived in Cawdor she mentioned again her smoking, and how the tree was the opposite of pollution as she talked about the ancient oakwood, and the oxygen producing possibilities in the forest around the castle. That we can breathe in nature isn't only a clich, she insisted, it is a scientific fact. This wasn't news to me; I'd studied the same subjects as Gina, but she would usually link a fact to a feeling that made it go beyond the educational, and rather like her capacity for troublesome arguments within a well-argued sense, here it was as if she could state the obvious without the obvious coming through. After looking around the castle, we bought some cheese, tomatoes and some fresh rolls from a shop, found a bench and sat silently while we ate, listening to the sounds of early Autumn, and watching the colours that had recently began to turn on the trees. I noticed as I sat next to Gina and after saying a little about Miranda, that while she could evaporate Miranda from my mind when she talked, this was the first time she managed to do so when she was silent. Was I thinking of Gina instead? Possibly not, but it was as if I were once again in the present, without my mind tugging me out of the moment and towards the painful past whose thoughts seemed to go straight to the stomach.
We cycled back, stopping off just for one quick fag break, and to finish the rest of the tea from Gina's large flask, with the tea possessing a still more bitter taste from its further hours of stewing. She talked briefly about liquid and time: whether it is whisky, beer, wine, tea or coffee, wasn't time central to its existence? Isn't that true of everything I asked. She wasn't sure: many things are manipulated into being as we use our capacity for action to get things done. Like this cycle, she said: if we sit still nothing changes; we would never get home. But the tea sitting in the water gets stronger and stronger. I smiled and said I supposed that means we had better be going.
I turned off when we reached Inshes Wood and waved as she carried on down into the town centre. It seemed a perfunctory goodbye after a day that was to be seen by both of us as so significant, and yet at the time maybe a hug would have led to a kiss, and perhaps both of us did not want to ruin the day with the possible awkwardness of a gesture. That weekend I still thought a lot about Miranda. But where before I would think of her and it was as if my mind was closely linked to the terror in my gut, during that Saturday evening and the following day, Gina was like a net suspended between my mind and my stomach and I would land softly somewhere in between. Gina didn't remove from my mind thoughts of Miranda, but she protected me from them.
When I saw Gina on Monday in the canteen I asked if she wanted to join me after school; we could get a hot chocolate somewhere. The weather had dropped a few degrees, and everyone was wearing an extra layer of clothing. As we supped our hot chocolate later that afternoon, it felt as if we had covered two seasons in three days, and I was reminded of those films that change seasons to show the passage of time.
After the drink I walked her back to her place along by the river, and as we walked she said that if I were going to kiss her at all I should do so then and not outside her doorstep. Smoking and snogging within a week or so of each other might be too much for her parents. So we smooched, and she looked sad afterwards, perhaps remembering an ex of her own or wondering if the kiss contained memories for me of Miranda. I didn't quite know, and that was the thing with Gina. She had the ability to explore what was on her mind but somehow to withhold her feelings. Her mind managed to express feelings brilliantly but not her own, or rather not the feelings that would have allowed me to know what was going on in her head, rather than what she was choosing to divulge. It wasn't until after she died that I realized she would never answer a question, and that most of her remarks were self-prompted. Yet the remarks were so frequent that in other ways it was as though I knew her better than anybody I'd ever met.
Over the next two months we would see each other at school, then after it go for walks round by the islands, by the river Ness, or along the canal, or up and around the old mental hospital at Craig Dunain. It was a dry Autumn, with the weather well above the minuses, and we first had sex under canvas in late October, camping by the beach at Nairn. We took the bikes, travelled along the same road we took to go to Cawdor, and then kept going on to this seaside town I went to with my parents when I was in primary school and in my early teens. We picked a spot behind the dunes aware that the wind might pick up and that evening it did, but it ruffled the tent without much force, and added to our feeling of intimacy. There is nothing like wind rattling against a window pane or billowing canvas to make you feel snug, she said, and as I held her after we'd had sex I wondered if it were a comment or a criticism: was it a reflection of feeling distant or feeling close?
Through November and early December we often watched films together at the arthouse cinema in the town on the north side of the river, or would read in an attic room at her parents' place. It was supposed to be reserved for her brother, who was several years older than her and at University in Glasgow, but he wouldn't be coming up until Christmas, and he had only slept in the room for a couple of nights when they had first moved up. As she transformed it into a space of intimacy, taking the bulb out of the overhead light, using a couple of lamps, and lighting some candles when I would arrive, so I felt in another world, and yet it was a world in which was only comfortable when we were alone. At school and at the cinema, in cafes and amongst friends, I never showed her affection, while with Miranda it was the opposite: I never felt more comfortable with her than when I was around others. This would have been partly because of her beauty, but also due to her interest if not always in other people, in other people's interest in her. I've come to think that those who socialize best are those most concerned with how others see them, since to be interested in others often requires the time and effort brief exchanges deny. Miranda was curious about her impact, and so always enjoyed meeting new people as if wondering what effect her charm and beauty would have on them. The curiosity lay not in the other person, but in the impression they offered of her. Gina, though, was interested in others more than in herself. She would ask questions, make observations and see how people would respond, and she once said what she disliked about meeting people most wasn't that she would feel shy, though some might assume she happened to be, but that there was never enough time. Shyness she supposed was what she would feel as the gap between the moment of meeting someone and the moment of getting to know them, and the problem with most socializing was that it was made up of introductions without much substance. When I would move towards holding her hand, hugging or kissing her in company, it was as though she was too far away to reach, and now I think that was because she saw socialising as so impersonal, and where nobody was quite themselves, that to offer intimacy in that environment was somehow violating.
So Miranda's ease with others meant that I never had to worry about her when we were in company, but there were several times with Gina where I couldn't relax, aware that she wasn't relaxed either. Now I might think that each occasion contained within it a memory that might have moved Gina towards taking her own life, where for a long time afterwards I would have assumed it was only one of these occasions: the last. The first one was around early November and a friend from primary who was at a different secondary school invited me to a party, and I asked Gina if she wanted to come too. She wasn't sure. I said she needn't worry; I could go on my own, but around seven thirty I got a call saying she wanted to come. We agreed to meet at nine in a pub in the town; when I got there she was already quite drunk. She said she had finished two double whiskies before I arrived, and ordered a third as she asked what I wanted to drink. I'd brought six cans and a half bottle of whisky for the party, said a half-pint would be fine, and asked if she was sure she wanted to drink any more before we got there. She said she wanted to drink far more, but she would make this her last till we got to the friend's place.
Steven's parents lived in Crown, just behind the town centre, in a comfortable, large terraced house, and they would often be away for weekends hill walking, going down to Glasgow or Edinburgh to see friends, or going to the theatre or the opera. Steven had been having several parties a year since his mid-teens, and this one was also to celebrate his eighteenth birthday. I knew a lot of people there and even though I would stop and chat only for a few minutes, it still seemed as if I neglected Gina for much of the evening, and, around half eleven, someone tapped my shoulder and said I should go upstairs. I found Gina vomiting into the sink and saying that what she was spewing up was more useful than anything that had come out of her mouth all evening. Why don't people want to talk and listen she said. She looked at me as she turned away from the toilet bowl with a look that I would say I still remember but this wouldn't quite be true. For a while I forgot that look entirely; but a death one feels responsible over has a way of conjuring half-forgotten memories and making them unforgettable even if they had been temporarily disregarded. I re-remembered it.
What was this look? I've occasionally seen it on the face of beggars in countries far poorer than our own, and seen it on the face of the poor here but perhaps more for want of company than money. It is a look that puts into a glance a feeling of necessity, and maybe that was what Gina meant when she said people weren't interested in each other. They couldn't meet that urgent look with one of their own, and remained strangers not only to others but to themselves also. Did I fail to meet her look that night?
The second time I may have let her down would have been when I met Gina's parents accidentally. Whenever I would go over to her house her parents were never there. Her father would often work late and go hill walking at the weekends, and her mother frequently finish work (she lectured part time at the college) and go off to the cinema, or meet a friend for a drink, and sometimes go back down to Glasgow on Friday and come back on the Sunday night. Gina and I on this particular mid-week afternoon were sitting in our favourite cafe having a hot chocolate when her parents came in, both having just finished work. She looked more surprised to see them than they were to see us, since they would have been more inclined to think she had a boyfriend than she would have expected to see the two of them together. As she said after they went off to another cafe leaving us to the one we were in: she couldn't remember the last time they went out together for a drink, a meal or a film. Here they were going to do all three; for after saying hi to me they mentioned the restaurant they were heading to. I said to her it was lovely that her parents were spending a night out together, and she turned away and accused me of being bloody nave. When she looked back again I saw the look I saw in her eyes that night at the party. She repeated what she said and I asked her what was wrong; I didn't understand. "No, you don't, you really don't", she said with finality and left a fiver on the table and walked out.
The third occasion was a few days before Christmas and Gina and I went to another of Steven's parties and after we had been there for around forty minutes, Miranda arrived with a couple of friends that were also back from university, and while we nodded to each other not long after she came in, we didn't talk. Nevertheless, for much of the evening her presence was felt as I insistently kept my eyes off her. But Gina must have noticed the effort required as she left while I was talking to another friend who had also returned from university for the holidays. It wasn't until forty five minutes later that I had noticed she had gone, and by this time I was so drunk that something in me didn't care where she was. I asked a couple of people if they seen her, and someone said she had left on her own a while before. Perhaps if it had been only a few minutes earlier I would have tried to catch her, but since it was futile to do so I accepted her absence and enjoyed more Miranda's presence: looking at her a couple of times until she noticed me glancing across and asked me to come and talk to her. One would never only talk to Miranda, as her face insisted at all times that it be looked at, and only darkness, it seemed to me, would allow for her voice and her thoughts to become more present than her beauty. There in the sitting room the light was distributed by two lamps, one in each corner of the room, and she was one of the few people I've known for whom no light has been cruel: daylight, window light, sunlight, lamplight, strip lighting, all seemed to leave her without fault. She had shoulder length corn coloured hair, and a round face yet with strong cheekbones, a full lower lip and a bowed top one, and skin that would become her one premature flaw: she still had a tan from a skiing trip she had taken a week earlier, though her skin, naturally pale, in time would grow course as it continued to get the sun. That evening it augmented her appearance even if it would later, as I knew, damage it, and I saw in her face much that I could not see in Gina's. Even though I had tried over the last couple of months to find in Gina's features a beauty that would cancel out Miranda's, that night I knew I had failed.
An hour later I was walking Miranda home to her parents' place not far from the party on Island Bank Road, next to the River Ness and directly across from the cinema where Gina and I had been several times and where Miranda and I had gone to only once. It was a cold, dry winter evening, and our bodies still carried heat from the party as we talked quietly on a bench in the garden. She talked about the difficulties she was having adjusting to Glasgow, the demands of the course and the reliance on acquaintances from Inverness that had become friends due to nothing more than circumstances. She missed me often, she admitted, and so we kissed, and so Gina took her own life.
At least this would have been the cause and consequence I saw that Christmas week, as the next day I phoned Gina and asked if we could see each other later in the afternoon. Anything I had to say to her could probably be said then, and so I apologized for letting her go home alone the previous night, and added, with some questioning from her, that I still loved Miranda. She said she felt very sad, said that she cared for me very much, but that she could see Miranda was a beautiful woman. The conversation ended there, as she said she should go, and then put the phone down without fuss. Over the years I have heard women make similar comments to me when we've broken up and friends I know have been told the same too, and when Miranda had gone off to university and said it was best that we parted I also said I respected her decision and still cared about her. But Gina's voice suggested not at all the social convention that often appears even in our moments of most pain, but indicated someone whose anguish was greater than that of a failed romance.
Is this my attempt at self-justification on the page, the place where I promised myself I would not hide? Perhaps, but though I reiterate what I've already said about feeling hypocritical attending Gina's funeral, and feeling a little surprised that Gina's parents did not seem angry with me over their daughter's death, a few months later, and not long before I went off to university, I was sitting having a hot chocolate in the cafe where Gina and I would often go after school, and as her mother came in I lowered my head, too ashamed to acknowledge her. But as I pretended to read the newspaper in front of me, I heard her say that she would really like to speak to me about her daughter. She asked if she could sit down, and how could I have said no? As she ordered, I looked at her face and could see it was puffy both from semi-sleepless nights, and the attempt to alleviate this sleeplessness with pills that were doing nothing for her looks. I remembered that day when she walked in with her husband thinking her a beautiful older woman, much more attractive than Gina, who had inherited a few too many of her father's irregularities to pass for more than attractively interesting looking. I thought it was grief that was now obliterating her features, as the face seemed to be sinking into itself: the visage of someone who had just woken up after sleeping face down on a pillow after sobbing herself to sleep.
However, as she talked she expressed feelings of guilt more than grief, and said that it was perhaps horribly appropriate that she should see me again in the cafe where she had first seen me with Gina, and even more so considering that she and Gina's father that evening had agreed they would separate. They had both been having affairs, she said, in a gesture of bulemic honesty that was probably not part of her character but the nature of present circumstances, and said she should have told me at the funeral. It was only a few nights before her death that they had told Gina of their intentions, and when Gina asked why, they had presented her with the truth. I wondered whether this was the day that I had told Gina about Miranda, but it would have been without doubt within a couple of days of my confession.
Perhaps now I would see my initial need to take the blame as an example of egotism. A few years after Gina's death I read in a novel by Julio Cortazar a character facetiously saying "no girlfriend of mine has ever committed suicide, even though my pride bleeds when I admit it", and maybe my youthful guilt contained within it youthful pride: that I could claim, briefly, a girlfriend of mine had committed suicide because of me. When Gina's mother said that she had gone over the comments she made numerous times, wishing she had not said them, so in my mind the image of me kissing Miranda that had played guiltily over and over again, became an image I could tolerate. It even led me to regret that after Gina's death I refused to answer Miranda's calls, and read but did not reply to a couple of letters that she sent to me. In the letters Miranda said that she would have felt worse if the kissing that evening had been a drunken moment of flirtation, another instance where she sought attention and received it. But she knew that it was based on loving me in the past and hoping that I might still love her in the future, and after this horrible incident had gone away. The only thing that had gone away I wanted to write was Gina, and that the incident would remain. In Miranda's letters there was no sense that a human had died, and she discussed Gina's demise as another might describe a small accident: a bottle spillage or a vase breaking. I knew Miranda's egotism was monstrous, but I didn't think it was capable of inverting the pathetic fallacy: that she could remove from people their human attributes and turn them into objects.
Not long after the conversation with Gina's mum I heard that she had moved away, and I would occasionally see her father in the town over the next few years as I would visit my parents during term breaks, and then when I could get time off work as a librarian at the same institute here in Edinburgh. I am not sure whether he recognized me or ignored me, but his demeanour indicated that he wasn't likely to acknowledge anybody. I suspected it was less that he was slighting me than that he was berating himself, perhaps going over and over again the conversation he had with his daughter before she had taken her life. A couple of times I saw Bill in the Inverness library looking at the newspapers, and I wouldn't have been entirely surprised if these were back issues reporting on his daughter's death.
However, the person I saw again and who has motivated the writing of this piece was Miranda, and I saw her a few months ago not in the Highlands where we both had lived, but here in Edinburgh, where she also now works. She was involved in genetic research (she studied biology at Glasgow), and moved to Edinburgh a year ago. I saw her one afternoon in the library, and after taking a moment to recognize me, we chatted and she said we should get a coffee. I told her I was free the following afternoon. I chose a cafe that happened to be well known for its hot chocolate. It was cold, and we both ordered the same beverage, but she could of course not know the resonance this had for me as I was reminded of the afternoons I spent with Gina drinking it fifteen years earlier. Miranda was now a beautiful woman in her early thirties, and no less capable of drawing attention, but appearing to accept the range of interest would have slightly narrowed. Some teenage boys came in and didn't once look in our direction, but some post-grad male students glanced across a couple of times. It wasn't that her beauty had faded; more that it seemed subdued, less given to demanding attention, but no less capable of holding someone's gaze once they had noticed it. Only her slightly hardened skin suggested her age.
Initially we caught up. She told me she moved to Edinburgh after a job became available and a relationship broke down, and she thought it was good idea to live in another city. She hadn't got married, and had no children, and I said that I had been in the library for a few years now, and it gave me time to write things I didn't seem interested in publishing, and reading books I was glad the writers had allowed into print. After a while though, at that moment where conversations either get interesting or people get up to leave, she asked me why I never replied to her letters, never returned her calls. Before her break-up the previous year, I was the only person she felt who had ever rejected her, she said, and for a moment I thought the teenage egotism was still evident, before she added that I was right not to reply. She didn't have copies of the letters but she did remember what she had said in them, and saw that she hadn't acknowledged the enormousness of someone's death. I asked when she did, and she said it was with her mother's passing a couple of years ago. Her mother was nineteen when she had Miranda, in her second year at university and her father was in the first year of his PhD, and she would have only been about three year older than Miranda was now when I would see her in the kitchen, nod a hello and then carry on up to Miranda's bedroom. The house was large enough for us to hide away in it, and yet I saw enough of her mother to know where Miranda's looks came from, and as she told me about her mother's long illness I felt a yearning for Miranda that had nothing to do with my youthful infatuation. It was as though the soul of Gina had entered her body while she talked about her mother as Gina used to talk of things, with Miranda's voice now searching and her hand gestures devoid of flirtatiousness.
She said that not long before her mother had died, her mum confessed to an affair years earlier. Miranda would have been in her late teens at the time, but her mother said it didn't last, that it couldn't really have lasted, and Miranda smiled at her and said that everybody makes mistakes, feeling at an age where she could justifiably make the claim without feeling callow.
Miranda and I talked on for another hour and a half, and we would have been the last to leave the cafe if it wasn't for an older man who had been sitting there all afternoon, sometimes reading the newspaper, sometimes reading a book, and sometimes looking out the cafe's back window, where the light had long since faded. I thought about Gina's father when I would occasionally glance across, and also of Miranda's mother as it occurred to me that perhaps the man she had been having an affair with was Bill. Where I had thought initially it was my kiss with her daughter that led to Gina's suicide, could it just as easily have been her mother's with Gina's dad? It was an idle thought without any substantiation, and I stopped myself from asking Miranda if she knew who the man her mother had an affair with happened to be.
Instead I said that we should pay; it looked like they wanted to close. I asked her which way she was going after we stepped out into a lightly frosted early evening, and she pointed in a direction opposite to mine, perhaps recalling earlier that I told her I lived up in Bruntsfield. We hugged as we parted, and if the kiss we shared that night at Steven's was hungrily selfish and ignored any third or fourth party, the hug that day seemed to involve the acknowledgement of others. As she walked away and I looked in again at the cafe, with the solitary man putting his book in his bag, the paper back on the shelf and taking his teapot, cup and saucer over to the counter, so I wondered about this confession that I would write, and how much of the catharsis I would seek might come from the process of the writing, or from time itself which had worked on me over the years, culminating in the meeting with Miranda. We would see each other again, no doubt, since I would continue for the moment to be working in the library, and she would continue coming in for the purposes of research. But we would probably say hello, possibly exchange a few words, but perhaps never hug again and surely not kiss. As I stood there thinking, the man in the cafe came out, looked at me, and nodded, a nod that reminded me of the one I used to offer Miranda's mum, and that I might, next time I see her, offer to Miranda too.
© Tony McKibbin