Across The Border

Entry by: jaguar

15th September 2016
Lisa sparkles at him and asks ‘Where did you grow up, Ben?’

Even her name sparkles, it sounds like a laugh followed by a sigh of pleasure. His own name in his scottish accent sounds like a stick hitting flesh. ‘Some place with a square, grey harbour the roughness of a turtle’s mouth.’ What does he know of turtles? His mind is full of the harshness of the stones, the sea, the shouting, the boats that didn’t return, what was found under their hulls after drunken nights out, territories, chance encounters with old enemies. So many borders nobody else could see.

She says: ‘Aberdeen?’

He snorts at her southern ignorance: ‘Some such, it stank of fish.’ He meant to be gentler, to reinvent himself as a man who wouldn’t mock or jibe at people’s disinterest. He’d get nowhere if he let the chip on his shoulder loom over him. He knew it put people off but it had been his approach for so long it was hard to control.

‘So where?’ She comes again like prey at a lure, not knowing he could impale her silver self. Then she laughs as if suddenly aware of the danger of pushing him, looks over her shoulder to see where her friends are in the bar. The air between them thins, feels charged, the barrier has disappeared.

Careful, Ben, careful. ‘It’s too boring although I’m flattered by your interest. I’d much rather hear about you.’

She takes him at his word, goes on a bit too long. Surrey, posh schools, ponies, not one single thing he knows anything about. He stares at her, feeling the connection between them stretching to a snap with every sentence. Her London accent sucking his walnut-pieces heart out. The colour of her mouth. How he made himself forget how Mum’s missing colours smelt. How uniformly brown and grey his life has been since. In the dark even blood looked brown.

This girl reeks of scarlet, her resurrecting lips so close to his he can smell them. She’s like a dinghy, bobbing on the surface of his uninhabitable past. He wants to submerge her, push her under the surface where all the things lurk that float up through his dreams. All the things that mean he knows the reality of life far better than Miss Surrey Rosette, Miss Top of the Prize Pile from day one.

‘I do rabbit, make it all sound so wonderful,’ Lisa smiles at Ben and it ignites her eyes as well as the glossed lips. It sets something off in him, a childish yearning to reach out for colour, for pretty things, for a different life. ‘The truth is I was the loneliest kid ever, I didn’t fit in at all, not even in my own family. That’s why I keep asking people about their childhoods, I want to know what I’ve missed.’ She looks up at him and bites her lip to stop herself revealing more.

There is no one else in the bar, no one else in the country, just him and her on a beach somewhere. The sea is flat, no walls and the waves peter out at their bare feet. Ben shakes his head and they’re back in the crowded bar, a constant braying for attention all around them. He reaches out across the border of their uncertainty, the same emotion but created by such different sources. His hand settles on her shoulder, anchoring and calming them both. ‘Can I get you another drink to prepare us both for my childhood?’