Story Detail

Coldvault Sky
by Scott Carless
Pages: NA
Memories in the rain.
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I met her at the bus-stop just outside the Post Office. I was standing next to the door of a coffee shop, which also sold Cornish Pasties. There was a wonderfully savoury smell wafting out into the cool air, but I only had five pounds left in all the world, so I fought down the urge to pop in and buy one and instead stood well out of the way of the passing umbrellas. It was hardly a drizzle, just enough to dampen your jacket if not your spirits, but people insisted on festooning themselves with their individual cones of canvass. They kept colliding with one another in their efforts to avoid the odd spot of rain, and the manner in which they would usually walk around ensconced in their own little bubble was given a little more illustration than normal. I’ve never liked umbrellas I don’t see what’s wrong with a coat and wet hair; it’d take more than a gust of wind to blow that inside out.

Jennifer came up from Pembroke Street and when she saw me she smiled. She was wearing a kind of grey tweed overcoat and an orange and maroon colour scarf; I went to greet her and when we reached other we embraced and before I really knew it she had planted a small, sweet kiss on my lips and drawn back again all glinting brown eyes and healthy wide smile. I laughed in what I hoped was a good-natured way and then, because it seemed easier than anything else, slipped her hand into mine and began leading the way up toward the college.
“How was the trip?” I asked as we dodged our way through the oncoming edges of carelessly wielded umbrellas.
“A nightmare, as usual”, she replied, “do you ever get the impression that there’s some kind of requirement on public transport that stipulates you’ve got to have one obnoxious and overloud individual on a mobile telephone, one person listening to tinny house music on headphones, and…
“One guy with an inexhaustible amount of crisps and chocolate bars who insists on making as much noise as he can both opening them and eating them?” I finished for her.
“Exactly!” she laughed out loud and it was as refreshing as a cool glass of water on a hot summer’s day.
“I think there is something in it, you know. It’s a cleverly orchestrated plot to keep everyone at a state of mid-level stress just in case they get all relaxed and stop being productive.”
She gave me a mock-reproachful look.
“Ah yes another Capitalist conspiracy uncovered by the famous Secret Squirrel; how do you do it?”
“Trust no-one, suspect everything, never sleep; paranoia is a fertile state of mind for conspiracy theories.” I put on my best Fox Mulder impression and she rolled her eyes before pushing against me with her shoulder.
“Still as healthy in mind and body as ever, then?”
“Absolutely, would you expect anything else?”
“I’d be sincerely disappointed if you weren’t as utterly weird as I remember.”
“I’m touched.”
“Affected might be a better way of putting it.”
“Let’s say sensitive and emotionally involved.”
“I prefer easily bruised and emotionally unbalanced.”
“I didn’t want to be the first to say it.” I waved my free arm in an encompassing gesture “but ultimately I blame it all on this place; it’s kind of mandatory I think.”
“Well I don’t” she smirked.
“You wouldn’t.”
We came to a large puddle and without any prior agreement we both stopped and, still holding hands, jumped directly into the middle of it bringing our feet down with a loud stamp. Water splashed up our legs and passers-by regarded us with shocked surprise as though we had both bellowed out an obscenity; only a small girl of about five or six years gave us a shy smile as her mother quickly dragged her past us.
Jennifer kicked water up at me and I returned the favour and for a few moments we splashed about in our puddle like a couple of merry ducks. It did not take too long for us to drench one another’s feet and shins and by the time we finished people were no longer regarding us with shock, but ignoring us pointedly as though we were both dangerously mad and liable to suddenly turn on them.
“Well I’m glad to see that you’re as mature and as sensible as you ever were” I said as we continued up the street.
“I’m just embracing my inner child; it’s healthy don’t you know.”
“I thought you could go to prison for that kind of thing.”
“Oh do stop!”
We meandered around the corner, the rain was getting heavier. Jennifer saw the burger van parked opposite the college and with a look a childish delight she turned to me.
“I feel a little bit of nostalgia coming on” she said.
“Chips in the rain, I really should have known.” I replied before she pulled me toward the van.

We stood under the canopy as the rain came down. It beat against our aluminium roof and the occasional person would run past us in an attempt to get under cover. The chap behind the counter recognised me and asked what I’d like. I turned to Jennifer and cocked my head.
“As I recall its two lots of chips with salt and ketchup no vinegar” she mused.
“You guessed it.”
I turned back to the man behind the counter.
“Well I’ll have that then please.”
“Have what?” he asked, looking a little puzzled.
“Oh sorry,” I repeated Jennifer’s order back to him and he nodded and turned away.
I looked back and saw that Jennifer was standing gazing through the window of the music shop. I went along and joined her.
“What does Membra Jesu Nostri mean?” she asked pointing to an album under the name of Dieterich Buxtehude.
I paused for a second recalling the words.
“The limbs of our Jesus” I said and shrugged “bit of a crap title really”
Jennifer nodded.
“Personally I can’t help but think it means ‘our Jesus’ member”
I laughed
“Now that would be a piece of music.”
“Two chips” the man at the counter called and I left Jennifer standing by the window, handed over my precious fiver, and collected our order. I couldn’t help but notice that the fellow gave me a rather odd look as I thanked him.
‘Probably surprised to actually see me with someone rather than lurking about on my own’ I thought.

We skipped across the road and through the front door of the college.
“Let’s go sit in the back, it’s more like home there” she said and we wondered through to the back quadrangle. The trees stood looking slightly forlorn in the rain, bowed down by the weight of the falling water. There was no one to be seen and the lights in the SCR shone out into the deepening gloom.
We sat down on one of the benches and opened our boxes of chips, stooping over them to keep the rain off. Our hair, like the leaves of the trees, hung dripping and lank against our heads and our coats were dark and sodden. I looked at Jennifer and she seemed so very alive with her bright eyes and her almost constant smile, the bright colours of her scarf accentuated the warmth of her face and her curly brown hair; I found that despite all the rain and the dripping cold there was a warm glow somewhere just above my stomach, a little below my heart.

“Remember when we used to walk along the Southsea front when it was raining?” she asked before licking some ketchup off her finger in her usual unselfconscious way.
“Yes, and we’d usually be the only people for a good mile or two. I remember when your hat got blown into the sea.”
She groaned dramatically.
“Yes, and I had to stop you from throwing yourself in to get it back.”
“I was just trying to be gallant.”
“You would have been swept out to sea, you lunatic.”
“Still, that’s pretty gallant.”
“I suppose it would have been, given that being gallant usually involves being incredibly stupid at the same time.”
“Death before dishonour” I said in my most manful voice.
“For a hat?”
“For a lady’s hat”
“Oh get off, you great fool…”she looked at me and let out a peal of laughter “what are you like, you’ve got ketchup on your nose.”
I reached up and pinched the end of my nose, my fingers came away smeared with tomato sauce then looked back at Jennifer.
“All gone?”
“Just about” her smile had become softer and she looked at me a little sadly.
“There were some good times for us weren’t there, back in the old country.”
“There were.” I gave her a soft smile myself and felt the rain trickle down the back of my collar.
She let her eyes drop to where my hand was resting on my thigh then reached across and put her hand on mine.
“It’s a shame we never spoke again.”
I looked down at her hand, the droplets of rain running against her smooth skin.
“I missed you ever since” I said simply.
She squeezed my now cold and wet hand gently.

“You alright there?” a voice interrupted our conversation and I looked up in surprise.
The porter was looking down at me with a mixture of confusion and worry; I realized he must have been doing his rounds and seen us in the rain.
“Yeah I was just…” I looked across to my right and the words died in my throat, for there was no one sitting next to me just a soaking wet box of chips that remained unopened.
There was silence only broken by the hissing of the rain and sound of larger droplets as they fell from leaf to floor.
I continued to stare at the empty seat next to me and the Porter ventured again.
“Are you sure you’re alright, I mean it looked like you were talking to yourself.”
I swallowed hard and felt my eyes grow hot and swollen.
“I’m fine, just a little tired I think I need to lie down.”
The Porter nodded and watched as I slowly got to my feet; he gave me a supportive nod and then continued on his rounds.
I stood and watched him go before looking back down at the unopened box of chips. I picked them up and in a slowly automated way dropped them into the nearby bin and sat back down on the bench. My own box was full of water and I pushed it slowly to one side then put my hand down to where her ghost had sat and bowed my head as though I were a tree under a torrential downpour. The rain ran in rivulets down my face and dripped from my lank hair to join the countless thousands of other drops that sank into the gravel path and turned it into a chalky marsh.

I sat there until well after it had grown dark and when I arrived eventually in my quiet, lonely room I was thoroughly soaked, and felt colder than I could ever remember feeling.

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