My name is Suzanne and I live alone. You know this. Lou Reed was singing ‘Perfect Day’ on the radio when I woke up this morning. Today is the anniversary of your proposal. I spin the memory in my hands.
The day you proposed I awoke on the edge of morning to a curtain of silence creeping in from the lake. The cabin creaked as it adjusted, our fire of the night before still hanging in the air. Sliding one leg out from under the woollen blankets that warmed me the rough floor met my skin. My feet led me to the door that opened onto the sunrise. You had gone to get breakfast and left a note on the step pinned down with a stone that we’d brought from the shore –Marry me. So every day rises with hope.
I feel vain when I tell you that my appearance upsets me, but I was quite beautiful before the TFM (Truck Flattened Me) day (not quite, very, you insist, still are). I got rid of my mirrors. Now people see only one thing.
So here I am on our special day, shuffling from bed to where my chariot (stair lift) awaits. It was carrying shipping containers, the truck. We were on the M20, coming back home from a cycling expedition. You know this too of course. Your hand on my knee, driving. I fed you coffee and gossip. The bikes were in the boot. We should have bought a roof rack.
I scan the photographs as I go down. Every stair a different view: laughing me, salted sun streaked hair on my surf board; jubilant me, astride our road bikes on our first sportif. I look for a glimmer of recognition of what was to come but our faces are wide open. It took us five hours to choose the bike that you wanted for me, complete with Shimano brakes and made entirely of carbon. I could lift it with one finger. It entered your back and punctured your chest at seventy miles an hour with the weight of the truck behind it. The lightness meant nothing, after all.
‘Are you excited?’ you’d asked as you paid for it, your enthusiasm eclipsing mine.
‘Of course’ I’d replied, ‘I can’t wait’.
‘Finally we can do those trips we’ve always wanted,’ you said – smiling, looking beyond me to the maps and plans that lay ahead.
They sawed my bike from your body to get you out. Cut the handle bar from your chest. My Shimano brake was lodged behind your thoracic vertebrae.
The chariot is slow, chug chugging downwards on its steel tracks. They don’t make these for people who are in a hurry, with places to go. My wheelchair at the bottom greets me. It has forced me to be grateful.
Outside the kitchen I hear music. I dare to dream. The strain of an orchestra, a jazz guitar. We loved our music, you and I. Summertime would wash us up on a beer-strewn beach, deck chairs and umbrellas carving people into an array of bodily parts; a partially buried foot, a naked thigh, blonde hairs trapping specks of sand. The sea mingling with guitar chords. We’d wiggle our toes in the salty sea, the cold shocking us into sobriety. I imagined fish festivals below (always dreaming, always one foot here and one foot there, you said, laughing).
I push through the past and open the door to find my kitchen transformed into a jazz bar. The kitchen sink is a cocktail counter, the table a stage with an orchestra playing upon it. The French doors now lead to a cobbled street bathed in decidedly un-British sunlight. Smoke floats hazily in front of the cupboards and the slate tiled floor is smooth and shiny. It must feel cold against warm feet.
Some people would have been shocked by the discovery that their kitchen had become a jazz bar, but I take it all in my stride (no pun intended). After a TFM day nothing surprises you. Just as I compose my ‘this happens to me all the time’ face I notice Leonard Cohen, standing in the corner. We resolutely disagreed on Leonard, you and I. You thought him bleak and full of sorrow. I thought him full of hope. Ironic that you left and he stayed behind.
I accept his outstretched hand and he sweeps me onto the dance floor that used to be my hearth, holding me close as we sway to the music and talk of tea from China and the sailors on the water. I breathe in the husk of him, pressed against my jutting ribs. I feel his hand against my back that broke.
All too soon the smoke is thinning and the music fading. Leonard’s sweet lips are upon mine but briefly and returning me to my chair he whispers, ‘I’m your man.’ It feels cruel in the circumstances. In the smoky dimming room he loses outline. He wanes and then is gone. You did not fade, you just blew out.
I wheel myself back to the bottom of the stairs and start the ascent. Beyond this wall is the garden we never grew, barren and dry beneath its walls. Rake and shovel leaning where I left them. Hiding places unfound. The air is still with the dances we will never dance and silent with the songs we will never sing. The barbecue waits. You had been going to clean it for a long time.
The scent of Leonard lingers, lemongrass and oranges. I had forgotten what dancing feels like. Your absence keens and I am again broken.
I swing my patchwork body onto my bed and my torso tilts into the mattress under the weight of you beside me. I wrap my absent legs around your invisible body. You forgive me for Leonard, ‘we only live once after all’ you say.
We laugh at our private joke.
HANNAH PERSAUD is represented by Laura Macdougall of United Agents. Winner Fresher Prize 2017. Runner Up InkTears 2016/2017. Published in numerous places.