When he thinks of London, he remembers a girl with henna red hair and eyes like exotic oceans. Water he’s yet to dip his toes into. They were best friends for a year and lovers for a scant few weeks. That began in a rented room over Baker Street, where the window looked out on roofs for chimney sweep dancers. It surprised them both, that their laughter and wrestling sport would lead to urgent kisses, sliding hands and tongues, a shattering and quieting bliss. He held her until she fell asleep, wondering what it meant. Had he changed or been mistaken in himself all along?
Later he stood out on those roofs, listening to the noise of the city, feeling the humidity of the summer night. He smoked back then and he remembers watching grey plumes drifting away from him into the shadows. In his recollection, he didn’t want to turn and study her through the window. He felt a mixture of anger and curiosity. They had opened something between them that could not help but feel bold and mysterious. Yet he was sure it only complicated everything. The weeks to come would prove him right.
He walked to where the building ended over the street and sat on the dirty ledge. He thought of home, the small nest of their town in Virginia, and he cried when his thoughts drifted to the boy he was sure he loved. In later years, this summer of youth would amuse him a little. If the man he became could stand near the boy he was, watching him swiping at his tears and lighting another cigarette, he would be hard pressed not to turn away with a smile of both kindness and contempt. Would he drop a hand onto the boy’s shoulder, give it a comforting squeeze?
His father used to do that, when he was alive, and that young man always squirmed away from the touch. The young have no notion of how cruel they are, carving out their space, keeping their old keepers at arms length while they mine the world for gems they can only find on their own. He hopes he would save the gesture. Perhaps he’d do the thing the boy hadn’t the courage to – after all, things would sort themselves out eventually – and instead he might turn and give the young woman his consideration. Knowing where the years would take her, surely she needed the love more than his callow, slender, boyish self.
If he could go back as he was now, with just a hint of ache in his joints, a skiff of white wintering his dark hair, he might stand at the glass and think she was a bit of Venus in the shadows of that old room. In sleep she would seem angelic, her claws tucked away. For the year of their friendship, she was safe and never needed to use them. Except perhaps a bit at the end – but those little cat scratches were all but forgotten. He would trace his finger along the glass, the silhouette of her cheek against the pillow.