Sarah rebuttoned the coat she’d had since she was a teenager, and struggled to remember who she had bought it for, and why. She hated to consider herself as younger, to use the mortal phrase ‘When I was younger’ to introduce a sentence. It made her feel that it was no part of her making, that it was a chapter detached and deleted like a computer file with a particularly embarrassing photograph in it. Her youth was rather embarrassing, but so was her evolving adulthood, and she took the shame as a sign of growing. Sarah remembered the first man she slept with, and the error of falling into bed with another man who shared his name, never noticing the coincidence at the time. She could remember her errors easily, as they became more monumental than the right decisions she had tried to be proud of.
This particular afternoon Sarah had decided to leave her partner of two years, after he had failed to notice that she had given up smoking. He had offered her a cigarette after lunch, without looking up from the television set, shaking the box impatiently at her. Sarah had stood up, taken her coat from the rack and told him she’d be back for her things. Three hours had passed since she’d walked out of his flat, and she wasn’t sure that he’d even heard her. It’s a terrible feeling, to know that you will not be missed when your absence is noticed, and Sarah had felt that for a long time whilst being with him. She had lay awake next to him at night and wondered if it ever surprised him to find her on the other side of the bed in the morning. He had never noticed any change in her, and it made her doubt her kindness and the strength of her will. Every haircut was thrown at him during sex in an effort to awaken the boyish part in him that loved to look at her, every piece of clothing carefully shed in his direction. She had become a beast of herself, and he didn’t seem to mind.
Sarah had given up smoking a couple of months ago, partly because she had forgotten why she had ever started, partly because she had stopped trying to impress anyone lately. Smoking had become a part of her that dreamt of something else, late nights listening to music she didn’t really care for with someone she thought would care for her. It had always been a sentence within a covert conversation, and reminded her of what she, Sarah, was not. Her teenage self had spent hours in the company of men and women that impressed her and insulted her without upset, a cigarette all part of that machine she had built to keep herself functioning. The boys she had fallen for all smoked, and spoke like Kerouac, a beat poet or an intellectual, and she had always been too drunk to remember that they were none of these things. Her partner had been an evolution of these boys, who had forgotten to try any longer, and blamed that loss of hope on anyone but themselves.
Sarah stopped thinking about him, as if it was easy to do so. The afternoon sun had turned everything on her walk home into a dull bronze lull, and she was tired of looking for things to romanticise her situation. She had come to learn that love was not framed, or boxed like an extraordinary gift, and that she should stop looking for the frame, or the box.
At the end of a bench an old woman sat smoking; her hat held on with her other hand as the breeze repetitively pulled at it with long, warmth breaths. Sarah walked towards her, stopped, and opened her mouth slightly. She noticed the woman’s chest rising softly under layers of wool, her hands pulling at the corners of her sleeves like a bored child. Sarah stepped forward and sat beside her, inspecting her own sleeves. She was disappointed to find that no fraying or biting graced the edges of her coat. All at once Sarah felt incredibly old, and felt for tears, though none were coming.
‘Would you like a cigarette?’ The woman took a cigarette from her pocket and placed it on Sarah’s left knee. Symmetrically opposite she placed the lighter. Sarah picked up the cigarette and cradled it softly in her hands for a moment before placing it between her lips. She didn’t light it, it felt inappropriate after the day’s event – she wanted to know if she really meant it, and whether it was realistic to have done so. She wondered why everyone else’s love seemed different to her experiences of it, why she had always been left wanting. She felt sad that her stubbornness would always be different, and would always be difficult, because she had been taught that in order for a rock to change, it must be hit many, many times.
The old woman took the lighter from Sarah’s hand and quietly lit her own cigarette. She took a few quick puffs before opening Sarah’s limp hand, closing the lighter under the slight weight of her fingers. Sarah’s hand barely moved beyond a loose and impenetrable fist.
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