The Drifter by Josh Walker

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I always knew we were temporary.

Or rather, I always knew that she knew we were temporary.

We met at the start of summer, drunk on sun and alcohol. The years that have passed since have dissolved into a mess of moments so fluid that looking back on them feels like drowning. She told me she was drifting. Trying to outrun something behind her but not wanting to catch up with whatever was waiting in front. I leant over to light her cigarette and told her I’d lived there for years.

I often wonder if she’s still drifting, wherever she is. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve caught myself thinking of whether her bones have started to ache, or whether the grey has started to show through her hair.

She asked for my name and I told her. I asked for hers and she told me.

That night we stumbled back to mine and consummated our conversations before falling asleep. We woke up and she asked me where we were going for lunch. After that she asked what we were going to do before dinner. Halfway through a film, we let sleep swallow us.

It went like that for 11 weeks. I was in between jobs, figuring out what I wanted to do and, well, she was just drifting.

Whenever I think back to that time, to piece together the fragments of feeling left like shrapnel, I try to latch on to what it was about her that was so addictive. I wonder if it was the way she walked, with a light skip after every three steps, or the way she talked to strangers like she’d known them for years. I wonder if it was her mannerisms, sat on a spectrum between brilliant and bizarre.

I remember one time we were outside, the grass pressed like a living cushion beneath our backs. She rolled over so she was laying on my stomach. I liked the weight of her on top of me.

I remember watching as she pressed her thumb to my forehead, filling its print with my sweat before putting it into her mouth. After, she had kissed me, and I had tasted the salt of my sweat on her tongue.

The day before she left, we took a walk through a forest. It took us two hours to drive there. On the way we were unguarded with our words, unfastened, and I remember telling myself that this is what it must feel like to be alive. When we arrived we lost ourselves in the trees, winding through trunks and over roots, our feet making marks in the heaps of pine needles lining the ground. We ate on a blanket that had a rip in the middle, and drank warm wine. Sometimes, the needles would push themselves into my skin but the smell from the forest made it worthwhile. She fell asleep on the way home and I carried her into bed.

When I woke up in the morning she was gone.

*

It’s been a number of months since my first appointment with the young woman in front of me, when I told her what I’ve just told you. I answered all the questions she’d asked me, and I’d responded by asking her about her craft. When I left I was anxious and had forgotten her name.

Now I’m back, stood in the same room with the same four grey walls. The shelves are filled with the same polished brass and glass containers, dark with white labels holding promise of iris, cistus and musk. She shakes my hand with a smile and tells me to take a seat. I wipe my hands on the fabric of my jeans, aware at how damp they must have felt on her skin. She leaves and returns from a room I will never see, holding the thing I’ve been waiting for.

The bottle is dark and I train my eyes to see past the glass, to confirm the liquid is real. I see the label, a brilliant white, wearing my name and today’s date. I watch as she opens the bottle, and transfers a drop to a sliver of paper. I watch her shake it, bring it under her nose and inhale.

With a smile she offers the paper to me. I hear my heart in my ears. I take it, bring it to my own nose and breathe in. I smell cigarettes and sweat, sun-drenched Sundays and pine, and rub my arm against the sensation of needles against my skin.

‘So?’ the woman says, a hopeful look in her eyes. ‘Do you remember what it’s like to be loved?’

 

Josh Walker is a writer and online instructor with bylines in a number of publications. Originally from the UK, he currently calls Canada home. You can find him at his websiteInstagram or Twitter.

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