Eight forty-six. The sky had turned a murky blue and its edges glowed pink-gold with the setting sun. Like paper on a flame, the horizon pulsed as embers do and spat diamonds and ash up into the summer night. Tonight was perfect. The twilight air ran warm-cold in shivers above me before settling upon my shoulders. The night pushed me along, down the street towards the amber glow of the tavern.
An old friend greeted me with bubbles. I drank and smiled. We moved through the crowd of flashing faces and took a seat in a wooden booth. Amongst the smell of stale beer and the sound of drunken laughter, we began to talk about our week. My friend reached out to me, brushed the heavy air from my shoulder and asked about my new life.
– So…How are things?
– I am a new-born
– But are you still you?
– No. I am better now.
– Better how?
– I am happy.
I tried to suppress the smile that attached itself to my sentence, but it broke through. He smiled too. The smile faded into a thoughtful expression; then beer to mouth, glass to table.
– So you weren’t happy before?
– I was content for a long time, but happy? No.
– Aren’t they the same thing?
– No, not for me anyway.
– How so?
– Well, happiness is an active feeling, being content is not. Being content is closer to indifference than happiness.
– How d’you manage that? You make no sense.
– Indifference is when you are void of any emotion towards something or someone. Well, I was only content because I was not actively unhappy, yet I came to realise that I was not happy either. I realised that I felt nothing. Being content was just being too lazy to act upon my indifference.
He stared at me for a few seconds. His cheeks twitched slightly as he moved his tongue across his teeth. He did this a lot when he was thinking, perhaps trying to inspire some wisdom from his back molars. Beer to mouth. Empty.
– Well, I’m glad that you’re happy now mate.
He motioned at the empty glasses in front of us. The froth clung to the inside of the glass creating spider-webs. My round. I stood up and walked to the bar – my friend held the fort. As I waited, I stared at the back of the bar trying to mute the buzz of the people around me. Bottles hung above the bar staff like honey-warm lanterns. With each measure poured, bubbles would race upwards. As they broke into the air, the surface began to spasm into a slosh of mad swirls. The fizz filled the bottle with a scattering of shifting shades which drunkenly danced from side to side. The liquid then settled into a thick, straight line. Clarity returned with no memory of the madness before.
– What would you like?
The barman broke my trance.
– Two pints please, mate.
I turned away from the bar to look around the pub. The crowd shifted, it moved like a creature. Familiar features broke out of its skin and were then swallowed into the mush of people. They all breathed the same words. They all looked the same. They were all just different versions of themselves. Glass to bar. The numb clunk spun me around to face the bar. As I turned I noticed someone. Eyes: grey-blue, patterned like a cluster of frozen stars. As deep as a universe, I dived into the wisps of smoke that danced above a kaleidoscope of soft blues and elegant greys. Some would say ‘duck-egg blue’, but these eyes were more than that. Each eye was a multiplicity of shades, shifting tides that left me fixated. She glanced and turned away. A fever of dancing shapes and colours; with every movement she became a new person. I reached out and touched the tension. Her skin kissed my fingertips then exploded into tiny fragments of colour. The air was dusty with blues for a moment. It then faded and settled like an ocean in my hands. Drip, drip; gone.
– Six twenty please, mate.
The barman’s words awoke me. One five pound note, a pound coin and two ten pence pieces sat on the bar. The barman scoped them up and moved onto someone else. An empty space remained next to me. Was she even real? I looked for her as I moved through the crowd. Someone knocked my drink into me. Perfect. I returned to the booth to find my friend fiddling with his phone. He put it away and took a pint from me.
– Cheers mate.
– That’s fine.
– So what do you want to do tonight?
Already I had stopped listening. Grey-blue.
– I hear there’s a house party in town. Would be a good place for you to meet new people.
My friend’s voice came back into existence then faded again. Grey-blue. Wait. A faint smoky outline moved towards us. It was her. She repeatedly dissipated and took shape as she walked. She was everywhere and nowhere. She followed some familiar faces – friends of mine. They introduced me to her.
– Matt, this is Marina. Marina, this is Matt.
We looked at each other. I smiled. She smiled. My friends spoke noise. I acted like I was listening; I tried to give them my attention but my eyes kept returning to her. A bad joke was made. She laughed. It was slight; a soft chuckle that seemed slightly exaggerated out of politeness. Marina, such a gorgeous name; there aren’t many Marinas floating about town. Yes. This is who I have been longing for. Yes. I will go wherever she goes. Yes. I need to make her mine. Yes. Am I ready for this? Yes. This is it. Yes. Yes. Yes.
– Matt, are you even listening? Do you want to join us? We are going to that house party in town.
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