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1999: Moving

Just after midnight I returned from some unspeakable

pub to find Herm sitting on my 12th floor doorstep, shivering

with what I assumed was the cold. As she heard me approach

she stood and I saw tears in her eyes; she wore a long white

coat and a party dress, her heels bringing her to my shoulders.

She held out her arms and rested her head on my shoulder. I

could smell the cleanness of her hair as if she’d never been


“I’ve left him.”

I said nothing, just closed my eyes and held her close.

Hermione sobbed, so I led her inside and turned on thelight. I

noticed that she looked round, saw the flat contained furniture

now, and I wondered if that made a difference. She sat on the

sofa and smiled ruefully as she sniffed. I sat next to her,

noticing the way her long coat split, her naked legs and heels.

Producing a hankie Herm blew hard, making me jump.

“Why’d you leave him? Why now, a year later? I mean –”

“Why do you think?”

“I think all sorts of things, why don’t you tell me?”

Hermione reached out and took my hand; pulling it to her

mouth she kissed it. I was astonished; I hadn’t seen her, or

spoken to Tony, since our brief affair. If I didn’t see him, he

couldn’t see through me. Ominously, nor had Tony called me.

But there was no time to question Hermione now, just time to

hold her, to kiss her again, to hear more secrets and dreams.

“I remember you telling me a story,” said Hermione.

“About a boy who was locked in a sound-proofed room until

he composed music which had never been heard before.” I

said nothing, trying to remember when I’d told her that same

story I’d told Becky. “I was thinking about it the other day and

I realised you were really talking about love: starve a child of

love and it will magic up its own unique strain.”

“Are you drunk?” I hoped so.

“No, Joe. I’m not drunk; I’m driving.”

Hermione led me to her car and drove through the night.

Now and then I tried to make conversation, but she said little

and so I drifted into sleep, convinced and almost hoping she’d

smash into the back of some truck from Dusseldorf.

When I awoke we were in unfamiliar countryside and it was

morning, and Hermione was chewing gum with grim

determination, eyes bright with some drug. My head was

banging and I slept on, feeling safe. Only be a passenger if the

driver has something to live for.

After a few more hours, we turned off the surprisingly busy

‘A’ road and into a field full of hippies and druids, pulling up

in front of a bush that reminded me of Bertrand Russell. I

looked around at the uninspiring environs.

“Is this it? What’s going on?”

Still silent but smiling evangelically Hermione produced a

bottle of Cava and led the way up some scabrous path that

petered out in a rotten field. I following her rear, too fatigued

even to appreciate the view. We reached a clifftop, and stood

and faced the sea. I wondered if we were at Beachy Head, the

end of the road.

Then Cornwall fell into temporary darkness, and it was all

the fault of the moon. Seagulls screeched and wheeled in their

confusion then returned to precarious nests on the rocks,

believing it was night. Down by the shore waves swept in,

oblivious; flashing cameras recorded the eclipse for future

generations who’d open photo albums and wonder why the

night was so photogenic. I didn’t have my camera, but

wondered how you take a photograph of nothing.

The clifftop resounded to the whoops and champagne corks

of the lucky few who had made it through the snarl-ups. As the

fire lit up the sky over the ocean, I felt Herm’s hand slip into

mine and tears pricked at my eyes, my tongue too swollen to

drink the cheap wine, and together we watched the day’s

second dawn while the seagulls raucously cried.

*This is an extractof “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here

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