This all started when we were kids. Then, a telephone call cost more than a train ticket. So we wrote.
I was the furious green haircut. You were a real rolling trembling body of thunder.
Love? Love was in a mess – mired in popsong cliche. We Were Always Meant To Be Together, You’re The Love Of My Life, My One And Only. So, we were determined not to be in that.
Of course, that didn’t work out.
What we had in common was this. We both had a hobby in creating, or curating, little boxes of essentials, things that could be taken in an emergency evacuation. We would send each other lists of our latest efforts, e.g.:
A ball of string (always useful)
A decorated teaspoon (for beauty)
Fake treasure maps (for decoy)
A long-discontinued limited edition chocolate bar (for leverage)
A list of numbers (for mystery)
A tiny toy soldier
The soldier was of no significance really – but it was small and fit in the box. And if I did have to escape my burning home with only a small box of objects, and a toy soldier was one of the few possessions I had left, then that toy soldier was going to take on a whole load of significance.
There were various scenarios in which a small box of essential objects might be required.
In a storm a tree was blown down, landing on, and somehow setting fire to, the house. The power went out and the fire brigade pumped water over everything until the whole street was flooded and everyone who lived there had to be evacuated, leaving with only the important things they could grab and carry.
But this wasn’t my house or even a house on my street – this happened to some houses about a mile away. My house was fine. I didn’t have to leave carrying only my most recently curated box of belongings. Those kind of emergencies never happened to me. Though I was hapless – in my hands, small objects, tools or devices were always falling apart or grinding to a lifeless halt – the wider narrative did always tend to arc around me, leaving me whole and unharmed.
And so that was how our teenagehoods progressed – in letters detailing tiny boxes and in wider narrative arcs that barely brushed our lives but which perfectly described popsong cliches and the cost of telephone calls.
Suddenly the cost of a phone call fell. Before we could speak, the price of a train ticket plummeted too. It was a time of adjustment that coincided with the two of us making our first tentative steps into adulthood.
The day before we were due to finally meet, I went to get my hair cut. I asked for my usual – furious green. There was nothing green about my hair, nor was it cut in a particularly severe style to suggest fury. But my hairdresser knew exactly what I meant, exactly what I wanted. She cut it to look the way it always did, but she knew that on the inside my hair was green, was furious.
“You go get her, tiger,” she told me as she finished snipping.
We had agreed to meet midway between our two separate lives. When I got off the train I bought you some flowers but before I could present them to you, a bird shat on them. Later that day, when we were sitting on a bench in the town centre, a bird shat on my ice-cream. What was with all those shitting birds?
“Why do birds suddenly appear, every time I am near,” you said-sung sweetly. I loved you for that.
We Were Always Meant To Be Together. It was what we had wanted, ever since we first started resisting the urge to fall in love. There would be no need for either of us to return to our previous lives – we had both brought a carefully-packed box of only the most essential of our things. There was no need to serve a notice period, we could start right away.
That same afternoon, we got jobs working side by side, putting the rings into telephones. They said it was a good job for a couple. We held hands all through the interview.
After that we went looking for somewhere to live. On the bus, we passed a beautiful house on fire – we could never have lived there.
But there were still houses we could live in. In the midst of all the complex cost adjustments – telephone calls, train tickets, other things of which we had neither control nor understanding – some unfurnished, unwanted houses had emerged. Unfurnished was all we wanted.
I remember the first night in our house, the two of us. We used an upturned cardboard box for a table, played games with some post-it notes which we had drawn on to make them into playing cards. All the other rooms were silent, it felt like they were watching us to see what we would do next.
We got sold a washing machine full of firewood and after that we could have clean clothes and warm air. We got sold a fridge full of clothes. So often in our lives, things made much less sense than they should.
It felt like we were being played by the objects around us, like we were only instruments.
And I worried about writing all this down in case anyone ever found it and thought we were being serious.