Glove

You’re watching your father’s car roll away from the drive through the slit in your bedroom curtains. He didn’t even know you were home. You’ve been hiding all afternoon. You draw in a determined breath as you clutch your slim wrists, hiding the mark. You’ve always been so slim, leaving you with that feeling of not yet being complete – a feeling you hid from all but me. Your physical awkwardness is charming to others, yet you’ve always seen it as a source of embarrassment.

The first day we met, I could see you sink into yourself almost immediately, protecting whatever it was that was inside. You spoke with such refined care, as if you were subconsciously spell-checking yourself at all times. I found out later that your politeness had been forced into you from an early age. Not just the ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’s’ that we’re each armed with from the moment language begins to form at our lip – yours was so intense that it became a shield to hide behind. Etiquette was etched into you so hard that today I can almost see the scars of it on your skin. You’re afraid of being found out, of having that paper-thin layer of poise peeled away that would inevitably reveal your true self. Your outer-strength is a white lie that hides your inner fragility. And that’s it. That’s your biggest flaw, that you hide that fragile perfection that makes you so beautiful.

I know you though, and I’m so grateful for the fact. I know that beyond the carefully constructed social life your family and peers create, beyond the politeness, the airs, the graces and the pristine house you live in, that deep down you celebrate the feral – the wild and the free. I know that this presents itself as a need to be outside at every opportunity and it was that need that brought us together.

His car is out of sight now. Quick, gather your things and get out. Grab that glove from your bed. When you find the other one you’re going to want to keep your hands away from the chill. Your heart will be cold enough on its own. That’s right, sneak out of the back door, just like you always have. The woods are only a short walk from that huge garden of yours, that great expanse of strategically placed flora and stone that I was never able to enter. I belonged in the wild, away from your life.

Oh, you’re running? Mind your step, the trees are growing thicker. You don’t want to fall. Surely this is the worst time to draw attention to yourself by doing that? I’m sure you’ll be fine though, this route must be second nature to you now. ‘Second Nature’. That term carries so much weight when linked with you.

Look, you’re nearly there, the river is getting much louder. It was so fast this morning, don’t you think? A bit too fast. You’ve always loved that river though, the way the flatness of the land around it causes it to spill over at the slightest increase in rainfall, turning the floor of the woods into a mirror that makes the trees infinite.  You’ve arrived at last, catching your breath as you tread carefully onto the small pier built for fishing, but that you’ve never seen used for purpose.

This is where we stood.

How many times have we met here, spending hours just talking and listening in turn? I think we both lost count at exactly the same moment – the day you opened up to me at last, tears streaming down your cheeks. I held you so tight and felt you relax in a way you’d never relaxed before. But we could only be friends, you made that so clear. Somebody like you just couldn’t be with somebody like me. You never said that exactly, but I knew that’s how you felt. Why did I accept that? Your family had status and that couldn’t be threatened. By letting yourself be your true self for once, you were risking your name, and what was more important than that?

Step just a little further, there’s your glove! It seems so strange now laying there at the edge of the pier, doesn’t it? A lifeless hand clutching onto an already forgotten memory, so close to joining the racing current below. It’s still dry though, at least. You can wear it, untainted. You’ve hidden the evidence by placing your hand through it. You’re safe now.

I’m watching you as you turn away from the river, I know you won’t look back. But is it fear that stops you or shame? Guilt perhaps – three very different things. Who would have thought that just three hours ago I was stood here with you, feeling your heart race as your breath warmed my neck. It was you that kissed first, don’t forget that. It was you that reached your hand under my coat to touch the skin on my back. I was just reciprocating. I could feel your desire. I know I took it too far, but you didn’t need to push me away. Especially here. You knew how fast the water was, how deep it had grown over the course of the winter. But you pushed. After all, pushing away from what you truly wanted had always been in your nature. Second nature? I’m not sure which came first.

I’m gone now though. They’ll find my body eventually. You were too scared to jump in after me and certainly too scared to cry for help. Both gloves are on your hands now, you’re protected again. Nobody will ever know it was you. I just disappeared. You’ll be fine without me. Rebuild that paper-thin shield and move on. Go back to pretending that you’re somebody else. The garden is safer than the wild, after all.

A Journey to the Circus

Elek allowed the low rumbling of the boat to ease him into a serene daze, savouring the gentle familiarity as it rocked. Not quite closing his eyes, he enjoyed the blurred patterns being painted into his vision by the shimmering fairy lights of the cabin.

‘Here they come’, a gruff voice grumbled in broad Hungarian.

Snapped out of his daydream by his father’s statement, Elek lifted his body to look out of the cabin window. Excitable tourists were flooding onto the boat and voices and accents from countries he hadn’t even heard of began to flood his ears. He turned excitedly to his father, who merely shook his head and looked back to the small television screen in front of him, more interested in the ongoing football match than yet another stream of what he would call ‘rowdy’ tourists.

But the young boy wasn’t interested in whatever match his father was watching tonight. As always, he stared out onto the deck of the boat as it filled up. There were boys and girls his age, tugging eagerly at their mother’s coats and pointing out down the river Danube. Lovers were wrapped in each other’s arms, swooning at Elek’s hometown, Budapest and seeing it in ways he couldn’t imagine.

As the last of the tourists filed on, the old boat’s engine began to pick up and its regular thump gathered speed. Elek’s father casually turned the wheel and eased the boat out onto the open waters of the wide river.

This was Elek’s favourite time of year. It was mid-august and the nights were warm, that was one reason, but what he really loved was that the circus was in town. Every year, the travelling circus would arrive and set up on Margaret Island, sandwiched between the city’s two banks of Buda and Pest. His father would clean down the old family boat and transport streams of tourists to and from the island. Elek had never actually been to the circus himself but he had always been promised a visit ‘one day.’

‘Apu, Apu, can I go stand with the people?’ Begged Elek, his face light with excitement.

‘Stay on the upper deck, though, so I can see you.’

His father’s reply was always the same and Elek was only too happy to obey – the top deck gave him the best view of the city after all.

Elek squeezed through the long legs of the crowd and worked his way to the railings. He loved looking at the reactions on all of the faces as they peered out in awe at the seemingly infinite number of landmarks the city had to offer. He followed their line of site to the great statue of the Citadella, towering over the city on Gelert Hill. He always thought the statue looked a bit like an angel at this time of night, watching over them all as they passed by on their little boat. Next was the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Castle hill. This was his favourite of all, and he imagined it as a palace in a fantasy land, where he was the king and every day was spent journeying to the circus with his father. But in his world, they were the guests.

Elek looked back into the cabin, wishing that his father would look up from that wheel or the television screen for just a moment. He had once told Elek that ‘only tourists get excited about this city’, but it just wasn’t true. Elek loved watching the passengers get excited by it all. They reminded him that everything was new and exciting if you only looked at it through the right eyes. He vowed never to forget the Angel at the Citedella or the fantasy castle of the Fisherman’s Bastion. He swore to himself, that when he got old like his father, he would always smile when he drove that boat up the river and see the world just like these happy tourists.

Suddenly, the boat gave one last big sputtering thud and a slight jolt. Everyone laughed as they tried to keep their balance. They had arrived at the island. Elek ran to the front of the boat, right in front of his father’s cabin. He could already hear the familiar music bounce around the island, and just make out the great red tent. It was strange to love something he had never seen, but this circus was his favourite thing in the world. Elek turned to his father, expectantly, and he smiled back at him, mouthing those familiar words.

‘One day, son. One day.’