He stepped from The Tube and walked through the station. It was still a sun-filled early evening when he emerged onto the street. He carried a cream shopper bag over his shoulder with meat-free burgers and halloumi nestled together inside. He walked the five minutes to his friends’ house, past rows and rows of red brick terraces with bay windows, corner shops and cars parked bumper to bumper.
It had taken Tim and Sophie months to sort it out, their oblong of land at the back of their house in East London. They’d dug out the borders and planted shrubs and an enfant lemon tree, then they’d taken up the slabs that stretched to the little shed, and they’d laid the grass in the middle like sleeping bags of earth. They’d been talking about it for weeks, sharing pictures of their progress on Facebook and now it had all been slotted into place and began to grow, and they crowned it with a summer garden party.
He approached the house and looked up at the building so close to the pavement and the road he felt it might topple as he stood in front of it. He felt himself wobble and he grasped his bag tightly for a minute as he steadied himself. She wouldn’t be here. He knew she wouldn’t be here, still every time there was a gathering with his friends he felt the possibility tug at him. What if she was? One day she would be there.
He rang the bell and two minutes later Sophie, gloriously pregnant, opened the door. She took the burgers and halloumi from him and he was soon standing on the back garden with a gin and tonic in his hand. He looked around nervously. She wasn’t there. He felt his shoulders relax a little as Tim asked him about work, but there was something…something in his face. Tim was showing him the pots of herbs that huddled on the low wall when he heard her voice. He felt his breath like blades in his chest and he knew his hands were beginning to shake.
“I…I need to…” he managed, and he turned and made for the door back into the house.
Upstairs he stood in the bedroom that would be a nursery and he looked out on the party below. She was there. The first time he’d been in breathing distance of her since she left him. She was there. He glanced into next door’s garden where two girls were doing handstands on the perfect green patch of lawn, just big enough for their palms and feet. He could hear voices below “He has to see her sometime. He has to move on.” The small nursery ached all around him, where a baby would soon be. The warren of streets, houses and cars widened out in his view. And he focused on the grass, on the pots of geraniums and the pink tulips and the ferns, the tiny plots of green that comfort the concrete.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and the forthcoming Orange Balloon (August 2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.