Author Archives: postmoderngirls;

no light

She fidgeted herself awake.

It took her a moment to understand why her toes weren’t freezing, and why she’d felt overly warm under her duvet: Andrei’s socked feet had curled around hers, his right arm hung loosely around her hip.

Carefully, she lifted his arm and hedged out from under it. Her arms goose-pimpled as she quietly slipped out from under the duvet and padded out of the room.

His first thought as his eyes startled open was of consternation: he’d been so warm and comfortable, why was he even awake?

His second thought was that he was going to throttle her.

‘Wake up, pond muck’, she giggle-whispered.

His feet scrabbled for the duvet she’d pulled back, the cold instantly surrounding his feet and making him curl into himself to hold onto the warmth.

‘Don’t be wicked. Let me sleep’, he muttered-yawned.

The duvet slid further to the left, leaving half of him exposed to the cold.

‘Get up, Andrei!’

He lunged for the duvet just as she yanked it off him completely.

He tumbled onto the floor.

‘Shhh! You’ll wake the house’.

‘What the fuck, Achlys? Why are we even awake?’ he grumbled, dragging himself off the floor.

She pointed at the window behind him.

It was almost dawn, the inky sky about to break into a thousand shards of light. The ground was covered in snow.

Andrei and Achlys crept down the stairs, their socked feet soundless; shoes held in their hands.

‘Through the kitchen.’ Achlys prodded at the bottom of the stairs.

Andrei stilled. ‘Someone’s in the den’

‘No- ‘

‘No, listen-‘

‘It’s nothing. Let’s just go through the kitchen- it’s probably just mum…’

‘At half five? What would she be doing up so early?’ he asked, incredulously.

She ignored him, stalking into the kitchen and out of the side door.

Achlys made her way down the garden path, her delight in the snow-covered ground forgotten. She was annoyed with Andrei, irritated with his inability to just- for once- listen to her. To just let things go, to just let them be- always wanting to know why and how and why not. It was frustrating. Not everything has an explanation. Not everything needs one.

‘He’s like a bloody terrier- doesn’t let go of something once he catches a sniff of it’, she muttered to herself.

She kicked rather viciously at a pebble in her path.

Andrei caught up with her as she crossed into the woods. His breath puffing into the air, he silently handed her a hot flask.

They trudged through the snow, the moon still winking at them through the trees; the stars shining down. He lifted a branch out of her way and she ducked under it, making her way to the tree.

She came to a standstill in front of the tree. She dragged in a breath of icy air.

He reached for her hand without quite realising it.

The tree’s branches were caked with snow, its thin arms reaching up and out, up and out; almost touching the moon and the stars.

The Earth was shouting out her secrets.

Achlys’ hand tightened around his.

somehow to keep it going.

The sheets were crumpled around his body, the space around him thrashed out in sleepless frustration. He lay on his back, his eyes wide open, his brain simultaneously willing itself to sleep and running off with thoughts he couldn’t control.

He was thinking back to three years ago; when Oro was spoken of in present tense instead of past, when he never knew a hollow feeling, and when nobody had ever looked at him with pity in their eyes. Three years ago, when he could look at Achlys without feeling as though the truth would suffocate him. Three years and he was still living a lie, never daring to hint at it and keeping the one person he needed to tell the most, in the dark. It was almost too much to bear.

He groaned as he dragged himself out of bed; his body protesting, clamouring for the comfort of sleep.

“Perhaps a walk to clear my head” he muttered, dragging on his jeans.

It had been snowing steadily for hours. She was curled up in bed, cosy between the warmth of her blankets and the glow of her bedroom lamps. She loved nights like these: the snow made everything more precious, the silence more pronounced, and as though you were the only person awake in the whole world. The snow made you believe you could whisper and the Earth would whisper back a secret.

She sipped at her hot chocolate, her mind consumed by the book she was reading. She penciled notes in the margin, her eyebrow furrowed as she vacillated over word choice.

She was just about to scribble a note to herself when she heard the first “Ping!” bounce off her window.

It sounded like the Earth had come knocking.

He’d walked out of his house without a destination in mind. He’d wanted to walk until his body out-exhausted his mind, until sleep was not something his mind could fight against, until all he could do was close his eyes and sleep a dreamless sleep.

His feet walked a familiar path before his brain understood where they were taking him. He scrambled over a hedge, a branch scratching his cheek, the cold stinging. He stood beneath Achlys’ lit window, staring up, knowing she was awake- reading, probably.

And he knew what he was about to do almost as soon as he bent down to pick up a tiny pebble and aim it at her window.

“Ping!”

The pebble flew off the window, the sound echoing in the eerie quiet of the night. An owl hooted a few trees over. The moon peeked out.

He launched another pebble.

Achlys padded over to the window, her glasses slipping down her nose and her toes curling in the cold.

She tried not to smile at him waving up at her.

He waved at her face, blurred by the window. He didn’t understand this reaction he’d suddenly developed every time he saw her. A split-second of nervousness before he dismissed it with a rationalised, “But it’s Achlys!”.

He’d seen her ready for bed a thousand times before. Her hair a messy knot at the top of her head that was always threatening to tumble down; her glasses slipping down her nose; toothpaste on her t-shirt collar; and her feet bare, as always. She always danced in and out of the bathroom, a muffled “Bollocks!” as her feet hit the freezing tiles, the toothbrush in one corner of her mouth.

So he didn’t understand why his stomach dropped when she open her window and leaned out, her hair finally collapsing in the wind, and beckoned him to climb in through her bedroom window.

Her first thought was that he smelt of night air and clove cigarettes: cold and warm all at once. His hair was unkempt and ruffled, as though he’d run his hands through it all night before the wind had gotten to it. His eyes were hollow, pain peeking out behind his usual mask of semi-amusement.

“You look like shit.” she told him.

He smiled.

His stomach stopped falling. His panic lifted.

“I don’t know if this book is fiction or if it’s real. I mean, I don’t even have the whole manuscript- I only get chapters as they’re written and it’s all so lifelike! I.. I..I don’t know, I feel as though this Sophie person is real. As though I should go meet her.” She ended on a sigh, crumpling onto the bed, her head unconsciously finding his shoulder for a useful pillow.

“Well, why don’t you speak with Charles and see if he can get you in touch with the writer? He must know who it is, right?”

“Mm, I suppose. But, what if he reckons I’m overstepping my bounds? I .. I don’t want him to think I’m getting to big for my boots- I just think she’s fascinating. I want to understand her, see why I relate so much…”

“I don’t think he’ll see it that way at all. You’re overthinking it. Just ask him, you’ll know soon enough.”

She nodded, still looking slightly unconvinced. She looked up at him, her head on his shoulder; his arm cradling her close.

“You look like shit. You haven’t been sleeping too well, have you?”

He glanced down at her face, smiled a tired smile and leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose.

She didn’t know what was bothering him, what troubled him so much that he couldn’t sleep. Andrei had always been able to sleep. Anywhere, at any time. Sleep had always been on his side- he’d never let unhappiness, worry or a guilty conscience interfere with sleep, and to see him now- his eyes lacklustre and troubled; his normally harmless sarcasm giving way to barely concealed impatience… Achlys worried.

Her eyes fluttered shut as he leaned down and kissed her nose.She hugged him a little closer.

He sighed, his body relaxing; no longer tightly held together.

She reached up and placed her hand over his eyes.

“Get some sleep, pond-muck.”

it’s the nature of the experiments

She hated events like these. Loathed having to worry about whether her dress showed too much cleavage or too little, whether her hair was behaving, whether she would spill her drink, or if her shoes matched her goddamned jewellery- or was it the other way around?

She lacked her mother’s inherent sense of style- hell, even her father with his penchant for bright colours and mismatched patterns did “style” better than she did.

Well, when in doubt, go with black- that’s what Oro always said.

And, they all knew, Oro was usually right.

She looked nice. He’d never seen her quite so dressed up- well, not for a few years and certainly not like this. This was Achlys dressed to impress, her usually bare feet in pointy-toed heels that clickety-clacked as she walked towards the car. It was the Achlys walk in a way he’d never seen before. Clickety-clacks weren’t a sound he associated with her- that was reserved for the City types who never smiled, who never looked a stranger in the eye on the Tube, and certainly never walked like that.

It was an Achlys he hadn’t realised existed. Poised, confident, adult.

He leaned over and opened the door.

He avoided looking at the length of leg that flashed as she slid in.

“This has officially knocked studying Mechanics off the top of my ‘most boring’ list.”

“It’s been exactly seven minutes since we walked in.”

“Seven minutes of torture. You can’t actually be enjoying this-”

“Ah, Mrs. McClean. How are you? You remember Andrei Jenkins.”

He turned slowly, his hand briefly squeezing her wrist; promising comeuppance.

“Of course! My, he does clean up well; doesn’t he?”

“It’s a wonder what a hot shower can do.” she muttered.

“Mrs. McClean. How have you been?” He shaking her professed hand politely.

He found her lounging against the car, a plastic cup in one hand and her phone in the other. Her hair was coming undone, curling in the slightly humid air; her dress had snuck up showing off more leg than she’d have been comfortable with, had she realised. Her clickety-clack shoes were lying abandoned on the footpath.

“Getting my SOS messages yet?” he called out.

She straightened up, slightly guilt-faced as he walked over.

“You threw me to the wolves!”

“It wasn’t that bad!”

“Mrs. McClean introduced me to all her friends from the Bridge Club.”

“You always did charm the ladies.”

“And by ladies you mean blue-haired geriatrics?”

“It can’t have been that bad…”

“Says the girl text messaging outside the 1920s time-warp she abandoned me in.”

She laughed at him then.

“So much for some sympathy.”

She laughed harder.

The corners of his mouth lifted.

a tall drink of water

“Andrei? Andrei Jenkins?”

It always began like that. Your name and a question right after it. The high, wow-I-can’t-believe-it’s-really-you inflection tacked on to the end. He hated that intonation. It was always the same raised, disbelieving tone every time he ventured out into the town he’d grown up in. Inevitably, the slight undercurrent of recrimination would creep in: your parents miss you, your mother worries about you, you never visit, what’s wrong with this place- don’t you like it? How long are you here for? Why won’t you stay longer?

It was always the same, semi-accusatory note that they all used- Mrs. Lalwani from the cornershop, Mr. Cook who owned the pub, Ms. Angela from his old school- everyone always made it seem as though he was letting his parents down by living in another country, living his own life, doing his own thing. Everyone knew everything that there was to know about his life and everyone had an opinion about it that they wanted to share- with him, specifically.

“That’s me..” Andrei answered, still staring down at a box of cereal.

“Wow. Hi! I.. I haven’t seen you since sixth form! I mean, you probably don’t remember me anyway. I’m… “

“Kim. Kim Holden.” Andrei said, his voice surprised.

“Yeah! Yes- I can’t believe you remembered! Wow. Andrei Jenkins- back in town. Who’d have thought!”

“Uh…yeah! I’m in town for a few weeks- see my parents, catch up with a few friends and things. And, wow- Kim Holden! The belle of sixth form…”

She giggled and waved her hand at him playfully.

“I’d hoped you’d forgotten that! You and Orpheus called me that all throughout our last term. It’s odd how long ago that was- nearly ten years now!”

“A whole different life now.”

“Yeahh. Do you see any of the old crowd these days? James, maybe?”

“No, not really. I see Achlys when I’m in town, of course, but no one else.”

“I was really sorry to hear about Oro. It was a huge blow to everyone…”

“Yeah.”

That was another reason why he hated being back home: the conversation somehow always ended up at Oro.

It wasn’t that he disliked speaking about his best friend or reliving the memories-he just didn’t know how to start. The conversation always ended at a “I’m so sorry for your loss” and the awkward always began. It was as though Oro was a solid wall that stood between him and all these people that they had in common. It was impossible the cross over, to go on with the conversation. It was easier to end it quickly, painlessly.

Except for Achlys. He could always talk to her about Oro. Remember. Relive. Recreate. There wasn’t any awkward silence, there wasn’t a rush to end the conversation or smile at each other in silence as someone tried to think of something halfway intelligent to say.  With Achlys, it was just easy- he’d never had to try. The words just came, the hands just stilled and the corners of his mouth just lifted.

It was Achlys that Andrei thought of as he walked home that morning, a box of cereal in his hand and change jingling in his pocket.

He was smiling a little.

young and insane

They clattered into the kitchen, drenched and bent-double with helpless laughter; their hands still linked from running through the rain. Hair plastered onto their foreheads and their clothes stuck to their skin, they looked like children still exhilarated by getting caught in the first rain of the season.

“You’ll catch a cold if you don’t get yourselves out of those wet clothes”, Diana said half-disapprovingly.

“No- don’t move! You’ll drip all over the kitchen!” she warned as Andrei turned towards her. “I’ll get you some towels- take your shoes off and leave it by the door!”

They began giggling as soon as she bustled out.

“I feel as though I’m five years old and have been told off for not wiping my feet before coming in.”

“You are five years old.” she retorted, holding onto his arm for balance as she pried her shoe off.

“I wouldn’t disagree there, Andrei.” Diana said, coming in with a stack of towels.

“Hi Mrs.Smith” he smiled, bending down to kiss her proffered cheek. “I’ve missed you.”

“More like you missed the pampering” Achlys interrupted, rubbing vigorously at her hair.

“Jealous that she loves me more?”

“Jealous that she can still smack you for your cheek, without any fear of retaliation.”

“Will you stay for dinner, Andrei?” Diana interrupted before their squabbling exploded.

“If it wouldn’t be a bother, Mrs. Smith.”

“It’s always lovely to see you, Andrei. You don’t come down often enough.”

“Work’s kept me chained down lately…”

“Caitlyn worries about you a lot, you know. I tell her you’re a big lad and can look out for yourself, but you know how mothers get. She misses you. You should try come down more often- she’s so pleased to have you back…we all are. It’s almost like old times” she sighed, her eyes a little damp as she turned away.

“I’ll put the kettle on then, shall I?” Achlys asked into the silence.

“Yes, please. Dinner’ll be an hour- alright?” Diana asked briskly, and then continued in the same breath, “And run up and get Andrei one of your father’s t-shirts, will you? He’ll catch his death in those wet things.”

Achlys rolled her eyes at him from behind her mother’s back.

Pointedly ignoring her, he turned to her mother and began to ask questions about the things that had happened since his last visit.

——-

“I’m surprised Marc’s shirts still fit me.” Andrei remarked as he emerged from the bathroom, rubbing vigorously at his hair.

“Did you have to give him that lurid shirt, Achlys?”

“But, it’s such a good colour for him!”

“Yes, if he were a traffic cone!”

“Are you implying I stop traffic with my rakish good looks, Mrs. Smith?”

Achlys groaned out loud.

“That’s how all the girls react too.”

“What, groan in utter misery at the sight of you?”

“Oh, enough. Get out of my kitchen, you two!” Diana exclaimed exasperatedly. “More trouble than you’re worth. Always were, even in Tokyo- the four of you, bouncing off the walls and creating a mess.”

Achlys and Andrei beat a hasty retreat. A recollection of their childhood escapades was received with less warmth by their parents than it had by them. They’d gotten into a fair amount of trouble at school and had been a rumbustious group- always up to mischief, their parents dreading the next call from school. Andrei and Oro were the dare-devils, her and Robert were their faithful shadows.

“Speaking of Tokyo- where is Robert? He pretty much disappeared…”

“No, you disappeared.” Achlys interrupted snappily. “He’s in the US, chatting up boys, being a sarcastic wrench… the usual.”

“You kept in touch?”

“Mm. You left. Oro..Oro was preoccupied. Robbie and I only had each other.”

“Does he know?”

“About Oro? Yes. He couldn’t make it to the memorial, but he rang everyday for a few months to make sure we were doing OK.”

“And, are you?”

He reached for her hand.

from my window to yours

“Andrei!” she exclaimed, her eyes still startled and her perfect “oh” of surprise beginning to stretch into a delighted smile.

Scrambling, she stood up; her half-asleep legs exploding into pins and needles as she leaned up and over to kiss his cheek.

“Heyyhi..hey!” she finished lamely, her dimple finally appearing as she stopped and stayed still, her eyes taking him in.

His dimple flashed back at her.

It was the smiley, slightly awkward silence that comes of people thrilled to see each other again; the spaces between them filled up with all the things bursting to be shared, their eyes too busy taking their fill; marking the tiny changes that time brings, their smiles conveying the utterly overwhelming joy of realising that someone you’ve missed is standing right there in front of you. The silence of not quite knowing what to say.

“You look well.” she commented, breaking the silence.

“And by ‘well’, you mean ‘not dead’?” He responded, stooping to pick up her dropped book.

“Well, I did wonder. It’s been a while. You pretty much dropped off the face of the earth last year.” She said, trying to keep her voice neutral.

“I didn’t realise you worried.”

“I don’t. Mum asked after you.”

Her eyes flashed at him, her annoyance with his cavalier tone quickly taking over. He’d always had this effect on her, even when they were children, running amok on Tokyo’s pristine subways. They’d grown up together- him and her older brother the best of friends, and her always tagging along after them, half-forgotten.

It was always this Andrei that she saw when he was around: the twelve year old with charcoal curls and the baby fat still clinging to his cheeks. He’d always been quick to laugh then, his eyes still that shade of greenish-brown: pond-muck eyes, she’d told him.

They’d known each other their whole lives. Their mothers had been best friends for years. Them, with their penchant for naming their children with quirky names from forgotten novels, and a shared history of bell-like laughter and boarding schools. To her, they’d always lived down the road, her memories full of the three of them clambering over the fence that separated the Andrei house from the woods behind it. Andrei and his parents had moved to Tokyo when she was six and she didn’t quite grasp why Oro-her older brother- moped about for days afterwards.

When she was ten, her father came home with the news that they’d be leaving for Tokyo in a matter of months. Oro drew up a calendar, counting down the days until he would have his best friend back. It was autumn when they moved.

She reached for her cup, ignoring the slight knowing smirk on his face.

“How long are you in town for?” she asked, not a little aggressively.

“I don’t know. Maybe a while.”

She glanced up at the pause in his voice. He held her gaze, debating whether to share his thoughts or lean over and tug at her messy plait. That had always annoyed her.

He decided on staying still and quiet as she sipped at her tea.

“Your mother worries about you.”

He knew she’d crack. She was bad at silences, her need to speak and fill the void with words always overcame her. She never did know how to shut up.

“You worry about me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t need worrying about.”

“You miss me.”

“No, Andrei; I don’t.” she stated in what she thought was an emphatic manner.

He gave in. Laughed out a mocking, “Yes, Achlys; you do.” and tugged at her hair.

She swatted at his hands.

“I do.” he said simply, dropping his hands. “I miss you. I miss him. I miss how it used to be simple, easy, happy. I miss home.”

This time she stayed silent. Her head bowed, her fingers gripping her cup tightly, afraid to let go and let it shatter; terrified to hold on too tight and find that it’d cracked anyway.

“Do you want to go see the tree?” he finally asked into the overbearing silence.

She nodded quickly, her head still bowed and studiously avoiding his eyes.

It was strange how the moods in their relationships swayed. Thunderclouds one second, sunshine and rainbows at the other. They’d always contrasted, getting on each others’ nerves, the teasing always going a step too far, the barbs always landing in places that hurt. Oro had been the one to keep the calm, the one that bridged their two extremes; the middle point that they’d both connected over and still connected to.

Their feet picked out a path they knew by instinct. Years of running into the woods and being scratched by brambles and low branches, their adult bodies still remembered when to duck and when to move sideways. He lifted a branch out of her way.

“I miss him too.” she finally sighed.

He put his arm around her shoulder. They walked companionably, each lost to their own thoughts, their own memories, wading in and out of each others’ lives.

The tree. It was a magnificent cherry blossom, her delicate flowers a pink bedspread on the ground in the Spring; her branches reaching out. She’d always fancied that it was reaching out to them, wishing they would visit more often; stay longer and remember how it used to be. He always said it made him unbearably sad. The cherry blossom tree a reminder of all that had been lost, all that had been done and all that would never be accomplished.

Their feet squished the grass as they walked closer to the tree. She stopped, pulled off her flip flops and let her feet feel the grass caressing her soles. He smiled, this one indulgence always reminded him of her at sixteen and barefooted, blossoms in her hair and her brother spitting mad at some boy she’d been flirting with.

They knelt by the tree trunk, both of them reaching out to trace the words they’d cut into it three years ago.

Orpheus J. Smith.
May 27 1982 – April 7 2007
A brother. A hero.

They sat with their backs against the trunk, the inscription between them. Oro bridging them again, the middle that they connected to and connected over.

They sat in silence. The silence of not quite knowing what to say, but the kind of silence that wrapped itself around them; bringing them closer rather than pushing them apart.

“You do worry about me.”

She threw a blade of grass at him.

of true minds.

She’d always wished she was the kind of girl that inspired stupidly heroic acts and badly written poetry.

She’d spent her childhood peering into cloudy shop-windows, wondering if she’d grow up to have the kind of smile that explodes; showering you with tiny bits of glitter that fluttered into your hair and stayed with you for the rest of the day. Would she be the kind of woman that people couldn’t resist? Her charm, her vivacity, her utter genuineness drawing them to her without the slightest bit of effort on her part. All it would take, she knew, was perfecting that one slight raise of an eyebrow or the corner of her lip lifting at exactly the right angle.

People would flock to her. And oh my! would she entertain!

At some point in her teens she stopped looking out for her shop-window reflections and began peering in. She remembered the first time she touched the spine of an ‘adult’ book- you know, the heavy; hardbacked tomes you would see your parents read on Saturday afternoons, their faces so serene, so placid, so at peace that only the call of tea-time would break it.

It was a revelation. Surely these books whose spines she was tickling, surely these weren’t the same as her paperbound school-books. Surely not! Imagine reading Dickens if he was clad in a blue, hard-spined cover with gilt gold lettering. She’d never bend a page or sully the edges with her cramped Literature notes. Why, she’d even hesitate to say she hated Dickens with a passion she’d never felt before.

If books looked and smelled and breathed and lived like these, she couldn’t ever imagine a world where she wouldn’t be surrounded by them.

She stopped dreaming about boys in her form room that would someday come calling at her door and beg her to give them a moment of her time, a flash of her smile, her patience with their words. She lived for the badly-written poems that had been dedicated to someone else, the stupidly heroic acts of someone else’s love stories, and the personalities that only lived in pages and imaginations of long-dead authors.

By the time the summer of her twentieth birthday had arrived, even tea-time wouldn’t lift her head from her latest fancy. Her brother teased her, her father smiled indulgently and her mother carefully placed cups of warm tea by her propped-up feet. The cups were always empty when she returned hours later, but the eyes never lifted from the page.

She graduated with a Literature degree. What else would a book-lover do, but read?

Her thesis adviser introduced her to an old publisher friend. She took the job.

If you’ve ever picked up a book and wondered who wrote the excerpt on the book jacket; wondered if they’d ever read the book or if they even liked reading or questioned their taste and knowledge- well, if you’ve ever wondered about the person that did that or if it was an actual job; she wanted you to know that she was that writer, that it was her- she was that person. Recommending a book, sharing the story, forging a connection with you, intriguing you and making you want to believe in someone else’s story.

What else would a book-lover do but read?

It had been a number of years since she’d first discovered the touch of an old hardbound book, but even now and even at tea-time, her eyes never left the page. Not even when there was a cup of warm tea placed by her propped-up feet.

“Achlys!”, said the voice; breaking her concentration.

She looked up, brushing her hair out of her eyes; and promptly dropped her book.