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Flight

Harry Lowther


Her door was closed. A couple of inches of thin, cheap wood painted white, flaking a little. A stab of yellow grain exposed at the bottom, from some time or other when it had been wedged open with a little too much force. He could kick it down,if he liked. Not that he would. Just one of those weightless fantasies that appear uninvited. Like leaping from a balcony or making love with Daciana’s older sister. They’d all be packed up soon, along with the rest of it.


Luke jumped as it opened, and she caught him staring at it. He could be like a dog waiting for his master sometimes, she thought. But she wasn’t going to bring it up. Standing there on his own, Daciana wondered, again, if he was going to cope when she was gone.


Things had been tense since the conversation. She had been building up to it for a long time. And of course he had known, you can’t keep that kind of thing secret. It had made the conversation itself easier, but, afterwards, the day afterwards, he announced that he would be sleeping on the sofa until she was gone. And instantly their room transformed into her room, and their tiny living room quickly gathered a fabric veil of his touch: his sad boxer shorts tossed onto a chair, his work trousers kicked off on the floor in a heap with the belt coiling out like a snake, and that was his room. When Daciana and Luke had first moved in together, the sofa was the first place they had fucked. It was freedom. Freedom from flatmates, from family. Now he would sit there for hours, unblinking, the game controller limp in his hands.


‘I’m not going to go tonight,’ she announced. ‘I’ll just be a downer. And this packing never ends.’


He considered it behind his big eyes, somewhere. The ones she had met before she ever talked to him, catching them across the hall during a lecture on the auditory looming bias. ‘No, come. Say goodbye to everyone. It’ll be nice to hang out.’ He turned back into the living room, picking up his wallet, keys. He was wearing the navy blue shirt that she had picked out for him when they had visited Paris last spring for the wedding.


She smiled sadly, leaning against the door frame. ‘Well maybe I’ll come by later. But I need to pack. You go on.’ She thought of Katie who would have some exciting new thing she’d be showing off about, and Susie with her lip curled, looking her up and down. She would miss a lot.


In the four years that she had been in the university she had really got into her historical romances, with their peculiar manners and dances and long, sentimental speeches. And it seemed appropriate to try and finish the book she was reading before her flight. She needed to know that the couple would get together while she was still on British ground. It was in some doubt, with some society scandal getting in the way. But, of course, love would overcome. On her flight home she would read something in Romanian for the first time in years.


And while she did want to see all their friends one last time, she knew that it wouldn’t be the same. She knew that they’d be whispering about her in whatever room she wasn’t in. She knew that they’d have picked sides, and that, being the one leaving, it wouldn’t be hers.


Through the open door, the view into the living room showed that he had already started anyway. A bottle of supermarket brand spiced rum was sitting on the coffee table, a couple of measures emptier, the cheap white label peeling off like a flag.


He saw her looking. ‘I’m just heading out. You can put the TV on or whatever if you like.’


Then he stopped in the hallway and scratched his head, looking confused for a moment. Daciana knew it meant he had something more to say. She could let him get it out or she could interrupt now and not have to deal with it. She waited.


“I was just thinking, you know, I really don’t think I’ve been myself recently, but you’ve stayed you, and,” his fingers felt their way to the back of his head again. “Well, thanks for being you. It’s not been easy.”


“Oh.’ Now she paused. “Thank you, Luke.”


They looked at each other for a couple of moments. Luke still had that confused expression. She looked into his eyes. “You’ll be late if you don’t head now.”


***


He had finished the rum and it was starting to sit badly. He left without excusing himself and found the bathroom. It seemed to keep moving.


Of course Ana hadn’t appeared. It was funny, when you thought about it, that she had said they didn’t get out enough, didn’t do anything, and when she had the opportunity she stayed at home by herself. Well, he was out, he was doing something and now he felt like shit. How did this happen?


He closed the door, paused, then locked it with a heavy thud. He didn’t trust locks. Once, in a terrible pub back home, underage, the lock of the bathroom door had come off in his hand, leaving him stuck inside. Panicking, he had channeled some underlying strength and pulled it right off its hinges. It was months before they bothered to fix it, and every time he saw it he got a queasy feeling, which may have become conflated in his memory with the feeling of too many primary coloured alcopops and bad takeaway.


Needing a rest, he took a seat to pee.


The party was at their friend Katie’s new boyfriend’s place, and it was all a bit unfamiliar. This guy had a lot of photos of himself with large groups of men hanging up in his bathroom. Sports teams and stag dos. Katie had made it sound like it would be an exciting party, and it was just the same old people as usual, plus Katie’s dull boyfriend and his one mate who looked exactly like him.


Lynx shower gel. Christ.


A splash of cold water. He looked for the eyes in his reflection to steady himself. It helped. He still looked good. It was just that his feet didn’t quite seem to be connecting to the floor in the usual way.


He left the bathroom, carefully, and found the main room by following the popping echoes of conversation. It was a long hallway. It just seemed to keep on unrolling in front of him, footstep after footstep. It was Susie’s fault he was so drunk. She’d been encouraging him from the moment he’d arrived, late as ever, playfully chastising him like a nursery teacher who knows that she’s wasting time expecting maturity from a toddler.


She could be overly nice when Daciana was about, and was careful to never say a bad word about her. Sure, she’d say neutral things which could, possibly, be taken as negative, if you chose to interpret them that way. Would she make a move tonight? His ego would appreciate it, but it didn’t feel right.


“Did you get lost?” Susie asked, as he finally found them, in the kitchen. She passed him a room-temperature Stella – “Dave has loads of them, don’t worry about it.” He held the bottle for a moment before she flourished out a bottle opener. “Oh, thanks,” he replied, opening it, and she beamed at his insincere gratitude. He looked around the others for an opportunity to get out, and realised that there had been a shift in the atmosphere. It was quieter, and everyone seemed to be paying attention to the same thing for once.


“Dave brought some weed, too,” Susie whispered in his ear, a little too close and wet. Maybe it was a party after all. He was carefully rolling it into a long, sturdy joint, a process which seemed to take a lot of concentration and many papers after a few beers. Katie sat beside Dave, affecting nonchalance while making sure that her friends were paying enough attention to her new catch.


“You missed Katie’s film,’ said Susie, “wherever you were. Put it on again Katie.”


Katie looked up. “What was it about?” Asked Luke.


Katie and Susie met eyes and then burst out laughing.


“I think I missed something.”


They laughed again. “It’s on Dave’s laptop, but he’s got music going through it again now. I’ll show you the next one.”


“But what was it about?”


***


A short while later Luke lounged on the sofa as Dave’s friend talked at him about all the same old c”nspiracy theories. “No smoke without fire,” he kept saying, as if reassuring himself, ‘no smoke without fire,” and then he’d chuckle like there was a joke in there. “It just makes more sense that there are aliens than if there aren’t, the universe is expanding all the time, it’s getting bigger as we’re sitting here which means we’re getting smaller all the time, smaller and more of us, atomisation of consciousness, that’s fucking relativity man, and the chance there’s no intelligent life out there is relatively impossible, when you think about it, look at all these sightings, all these black sites –“


“No smoke without fire,” Luke interjected, and the friend bellowed laughter and elbowed his approval, before launching into another digression.


Luke sunk into the sofa and imagined he was just a molecule, flying to the edge of the universe at impossible speed, a straight line through constellations, getting smaller and smaller, faster and faster, stars and planets and black holes barely registering, never touching, never reaching the end of anything at all.



***


Daciana was still up when he got in, despite the hour, whatever hour it was. He felt self-conscious, but he was relieved he didn’t have to worry about waking her. When he came out of the bathroom she had a glass of water ready waiting for him.


Luke thanked her and slumped into the sofa beside her. She folded the corner of her page, put the book down, and started slowly stroking his head as he came to rest it in her lap. He was tired and heavy, and had a sense that he was coming to the end of a fairy tale and would be turned back into some inanimate object at any moment.


He had nearly fallen asleep there at the party - perhaps he had for a minute - and when he got enough about him to get back up and join the others Susie had gone, off to meet up with some girl she’d been messaging for a few days, apparently. Others were leaving too, or talking about it, except the two guys who seemed to have an endless stamina for drinking and talking shit. Katie had gone up to bed, behind some lost dark door in the infinite hallway. Luke managed to get a ride and split the fare home, although he couldn’t quite remember paying.


He did remember Susie leaning against him, all warm dead weight and smokey breath. She “ad looked up at him, their eyes close enough to notice the colours floating there. ‘So, how’s it going with Ana?” she had asked. “Well, it’s still going,” he replied. “Going where?” She was still looking at him. “From one disaster to another, same as with everything else.” “It sounds like you need rescue.” “It’s not an emergency yet.” “Who are you going to call when it is?” “I guess it depends on what kind of rescuing I need.”


Now that he was back, he wondered why he had left. Now he was back in his place.

“What’s happening in your book?" he murmured, his eyes closed.


“I’m nearly at the end,’ Ana replied. “Things were looking pretty rough for a while there, but I think they’re going to be OK.”

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