‘Across the Square’ is a short story taken from the collection ‘The Candle Game’ which is available as both a paperback and an ebook.
I hope that you enjoy it.
‘Of course I love you,’ you had said, and, at that moment I had, without the need for rationalisation, believed you.
‘Of course I love you,’ you had continued. ‘It goes without saying.’
But, I thought, if it goes without saying, then why would it need to be said; and, if it were not said, if those words that tumbled around us like mid-winter snow, had not been spoken, then would their meaning still exist? If you had not said, ‘I love you,’ then how else would you have made your feelings known; and if actions really do speak louder than the words that they emulate, then what actions could possible convey the meaning implied by them?
As you had said, ‘it goes without saying,’ I began to wonder what other feelings there might have been that had gone unspoken and what other truths had never found their way out into the light. And, if there were words that you had never spoken, words that I was supposed to have some implicit understanding of, then what would be my reply? How, I wondered, might I have responded to the words that you had left unsaid; how might the reactions and responses that I may have made changed the course of the events that had brought us to this point in time? And what of the words themselves, flying unrestrained through the air – where might they find themselves?
I had already shared experiences that were unexplained, moments when words fell into my ears without reason; moments when my thoughts shifted from track to track, unsettled by emotions that had arrived unexpected and uninvited. I began to wonder whether the language that we shared cast a stain upon the atmosphere, floated like dust particles in the light until it settled in darkened corners, slowly and inexorably building its meaning.
I was starting to picture entire lives constructed from the discarded words of others. I feel like Strangers who met, sandwiched between the lost conversations of those who had previously passed that way.
‘I feel like I have known you forever,’ which, of course was true, because the words between them had belonged to others. How blissfully unaware they were, accepting with gratitude the silent sounds as they slipped like snakes along their aural canals, coiling themselves in comfort deep within the darkest recesses of foreign brains. Over time the words of someone else becoming indistinguishable from one’s own, until they escape the mouth, and find themselves once more borne upon the breeze.
We were sat on the Square, a wide, circular, well-grassed area, large enough to have once housed several post-war prefabricated buildings, but now defunct of purpose. The road that ringed us hummed with traffic as it arrived and then departed along the multitude of arms that connected the Square to the wider world. People criss-crossed the island, traversing its footpaths as they made short the work of moving from one shop to the next. They went about their business undisturbed by us as we sat in the Summer-warm grass, face to face, our fingers interlaced. I wanted to tell you every thought that entered my brain. I wanted you to feel every word that rattled through my head, but I knew that I would never let them go. Behind my eyes a new story had grown, developed from a few words into an entire novel. It had out-grown its opening and flowed into a mid-section crammed with description and action. Its plot held twists and turns, hope and disappointment, despair and success, and, finally, resolution. Like all good novels the story left scope for hope; a sense that the tale was not fully completed, leaving the reader with a glow of satisfaction at their own conclusion of it. I knew that no spoken words could ever accurately represent this images that I saw behind my eyes, but, despite my hope, I knew also that this was invisible to you.
I had seen my future in your eyes, and then left it to grow in your heart. I had always felt that without you it would fall apart, and, despite not feeling any shame, I was disappointed to realise that I had been wrong all along. Pages began to fall away from me and my resistance withered. I could sense new words starting to form themselves within my mind, replacing those that were now redundant, re-writing and editing the script even as I read it.
You stood up, hands outstretched, helping me to my feet. Your eyes were soft with a blend of sorrow and regret, but I knew that they masked a steely resolve. Mine reflected yours, except, for me, resolve was displaced by acceptance. I understood that behind your words was a meaning that, although perhaps neither of us wanted to accept, had been inevitable. I stood, holding your hands for a moment longer than was necessary and wondered why the prefabricated houses no longer stood where they once had. Perhaps they had merely been a metaphor for the relationship that we had shared – perhaps, once more, I was looking for meaning where there was none.
‘Of course I love you,’ you had said, and now those words, out at last into the blue, swallowed up a new resonance. They echoed now across the Square, a sense of sadness following them with a soft and whispered ‘but…’, a gentle sound that settled only momentarily on the ear. It swept over cars as they turned away along avenues that either led them home or severed them from the life that they wanted. It drifted on soundless wings through windows opened against the heat, tainting the warmth of the summer’s air. In distant kitchen women became stilled, knives held useless in their hands, half-sliced vegetables weeping water, as sudden thoughts of abandonment touched their minds. For the first time questions began to rise in their heads and tiny seeds of doubt or regret or mistrust began their search for a fertile ground in which to sink their roots. In teenage bedrooms darker music began to filter out across the Square, spreading melancholy and hopelessness – this was not to be the summer that had been longed for. A sense of despondency had begun to descend, spreading itself out like a blanket, smothering the shoots of youthful exuberance.
The action of an embrace, an embrace of farewell, no matter how amicably it was shared, was not enough to catch the words as they flew. It moved clumsily across the ground, stretching up and clawing desperately at the words as they drifted tantalisingly out of reach, before disappearing from sight with a mischievous wink. The embrace turned, defeated, but by the time it had we too had departed. For the last time I walked with you the streets that would lead you home, my words following me like fallen petals dying as they hit the ground behind me. I knew that they would guide me home once more, but I knew also that somehow my trust in them had died.
If some things truly went without saying, then why, I thought to myself as I crossed the Square one final time, should I be the one to give voice to them?