Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Perfect Recall



It was a long hot summer; an endless summer. Heat waves shimmered above the city streets and the nights were long and warm. And it was during this endless summer that I fell in love for the first time, and I have to confess it was love at first sight.

The experience of love at first sight is almost impossible to put into words, for although language may adequately express the normal conditions of life, it struggles with the mystical and inexplicable. All I can say for certain is that it was an epiphany of emotion, a sudden intuitive insight into the true meaning of love and life’s mysteries.

She was walking home from school with some friends when I first saw her, laughing and smiling, animated. Her long blonde hair flowing in a summer breeze and rays of sunshine streaming through each strand. Maybe it was the sunshine, shining like that, like light through a stained-glass window of a forgotten inner-city church, but instantly I felt my heart beating faster and the rest of the world faded to grey.

I was working as an apprentice upholsterer in a little Dickensien cottage in Pig alley. I wore a leather apron and worked with unusual tools. Each week the boss paid me cash, in five pound notes, but despite the fivers I earned very little. One afternoon the others sprayed glue all over me and threw a box of feathers over my head as part of some weird initiation ceremony. Strangely, this did very little for my self-esteem.

At work I thought about the girl. I’d never seen anyone like her before, she was perfect in everyway, at least in my eyes, and just the thought of being with her began to dominate my every waking thought.

The days and weeks since the first sighting passed slowly and I wasn’t the same. People began to notice and gave me odd looks and stares. Little did they know and if they had known I would have been embarrassed. For I had the love bug and for a girl I hadn’t even spoken to. At night, as I lay awake in my single bed, visions of her loveliness danced before my eyes.

Then, like a miracle, I spoke to Tara. For that was the mystery girl’s name. This is how it happened. On another sultry evening I took a short cut through the park and there was Tara, sitting on a park bench, alone. I ducked behind a tree to contemplate matters. There she was, not more than fifty feet away, the girl of my dreams, sitting in the park, alone.

Somehow this chance meeting seemed like fate, destiny, and I had to make a decisive move. I poked my head around the tree a couple of times. She was still there, waiting aimlessly, a vision of youth and beauty. I psyched myself up and tried to think of something witty to say, something dazzling.

And then suddenly, like a puppet-master was pulling my strings, or cupid was firing his love darts, I found myself walking towards her, helpless.

Halfway there, she looked up and smiled. Jesus, I couldn’t believe it, the smile, those blue eyes, so bright and alluring.

‘Alright,’ I heard a voice utter from some faraway place.

‘Hi,’ said another voice, but more ephemeral, more in tune with the universe, cosmic and eternal.

‘Fancy going out this weekend?’

‘Okay.’

And that was that. That was how we became boyfriend and girlfriend. We swapped numbers and called each other every night. We went on dates, nothing extravagant - local boozer, walks in the park, and the cinema.

That summer of my youth seemed to last forever, warm pale mornings and blue crimson evenings. We’d sit in the park under a couple of sycamore trees and talk about the future. We made endless plans, plans to elope, to travel the world, to be together forever, just us against the world.

Each night I walked her home and kiss on her doorstep, and afterwards I swung from lamp posts like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, except it wasn’t raining and the skies were clear and midnight blue. And although the image is often better than the reality, Tara was as sweet as she was beautiful. She didn’t mind that I was an apprentice upholsterer and was paid in five-pound notes, and had once been tarred and feathered.

But someone once said that nothing good lasts forever, that life is just a series of random events we have no control over, and man’s unhappiness stems from his desire to make permanent that which is impermanent, the flesh.

We’d been seeing each other just a few weeks when I suggested a drive into the countryside. It was another hot summer’s day. We drove out to Epping Forest, away from the dirty streets of East London, away from the hectic grinding city life.

I was jumpy, anxious, filled with trepidation and wonder. Before setting off we’d both dropped an E. And as we drove along the pills kicked in - powerful body rushes, images blurring, streets melting, and cars flashing past like ghost machines. Tara whispered words of love and kissed my cheek, and for one incredible moment life was just one big sack of glittering jewels tossed across a deep blue ocean.

And then it happened. The narcotic swirling through my bloodstream altered my perceptions, and the brightness of the sun became lethal. I remember shielding my eyes with one hand, the sound of screeching tyres and then the flip, spinning through the air.

I awoke to find myself upside down. A multitude of vivid details imprinted themselves on my mind, Tara’s laughter, her screams, the faces of strangers, a leaf blowing in the wind, a fly on the windscreen. Perfect recall.

Blood dripped into my mouth, tasting rich, luxurious, and sickly. Tara appeared perfect, not a scratch, not a mark, flawless.

‘Tara?’

No answer.

Suddenly I didn’t feel good, a dull aching pain.

‘Tara.’

No answer, but she was perfect, like a china doll, not even a cut or a graze.

Sunlight streamed into the car and flowed through her glossy blonde hair, like the first time I saw her. I held her in my arms, my upside down arms, and watched as my blood dripped onto her pale blue top, drops of red appearing here and there, spreading outwards.




Joe Ridgwell