This short story is the “season 2” of a previous one published on TheHysteriaCollective, entitled Lost In Transition.
There was something familiar yet disturbing about the end of June. A gallery of burning days unfolding like a compilation of poetry that I felt I knew yet was rediscovering again each time. Sinking in with the melody of its words and the sound of bright mornings, my head filled up with flashes of stories that had happened along the academic year while I would let the clear waters of Billy’s pool covering my body in pleasant shivers.
Talking about Billy, he was here: sitting by the pool, a cocktail in his hand, his dark and thick hair longer than last year, put up in a small bun. It was past noon and we hadn’t had lunch yet. We were joking around, neither of us wearing sunscreen, feeling completely relaxed and young and careless for the first time since the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic. Had we let the enchantment go out of our lives this year?
I saw flashes of him and I on his motorbike at night, driving on the highway. Showing to him my country of heart, England, and spending days together there. Whole days and nights on films sets, making new friends, going through our own personal changes, opening new doors with a kick. No, we hadn’t let it go away, yet sometimes we had had to remind its preciousness to each other. To not let it get stolen by anything or anyone. The fragile enchantment.
This exact moment at Billy’s felt like summer really starting – these idle afternoons torn off a burning paradise where everything could be done tomorrow and things were as beautiful as they were painful.
‘I’m waiting for this big jump in the pool,’ I said.
‘Hmm, nah, it’s too cold… Maybe after lunch…’
‘You’re chickening out.’
‘Billy! Give me a hand, would you?’ shouted his mother from the house.
Billy stood up, deifying me with a playful grin. ‘The universe is on my side.’ The palm trees’ leaves were gently swinging behind him and the smell of chlorine on my shoulders and hair made me feel soft, untouchable, powerful-like.
‘Whatever,’ I laughed before diving into the blue waters.
When I got out and joined Billy in, we made another round of two cocktails each. We ate lunch with his big family and some neighbours they had invited over, or more like we sat at the table, giggling and blissfully uninhibited to the point of being perfectly indifferent to the awkward comments his uncle Barry would make, our bodies numbed with rum and a happiness that almost felt like sadness. That’s when Lola, Billy’s younger sister, a pretty girl with a delicate face that has her brother’s dark eyes and brown skin, ran from outside shouting: ‘Billy! Billy! Billy! Everyone, come see! I don’t know what to do!’
‘Can you, like, be a bit more specific?’ jeered one of their cousins.
‘And can you move your lazy ass from this chair?’ retorted Lola.
Billy, two of his cousins and I followed Lola outside, her thin silhouette moving in a mix of impulsive and soft motions, all despair, excitement and yellow frills on a white dress. She stopped next to a stone column holding a roof overhang and at her feet, the shaking grey body of a little bird. ‘He must have fallen down trying to fly,’ said Lola. ‘What should we do?’
‘Kill it,’ blurted out the youngest cousin, a fifteen years old boy.
‘Shut up,’ said Billy.
‘Oh come on, it’s just a stupid bird.’
‘Shut up!’ repeated Billy and Lola, glaring at him with the same weariness they conveniently disguised as anger.
I kneeled close to the bird. His tiny body seemed so fragile, at our mercy. I didn’t know if he was shaking because of pain or fear. Who had decided which forces would be bigger than us? Who had built a world where one life was more worthy than another?
‘We need a box and water,’ I said.
We delicately placed the bird in one of Lola’s shoe boxes and followed instructions that we had found online before putting him on top of an outside drawer, away from the cats and the sun. Billy decided it was now time for another round of cocktails. My limbs felt heavy and warm. ‘Do you think he’ll fly again?’ asked Billy as he was cutting lime with a sharp knife.
I didn’t reply, because I didn’t know. Everyone had left the living room to go outside and I stared at this place that I lodged in my heart as a shelter, a secret world of its own, with the paper strewn across the desk by the large mirror, the kitchen and its windows opening on a freshly mowed grass, the cats lazily walking from room to room to find a better nap spot, and in the air those time capsules that preciously kept all the different versions of ourselves that had been here. Woken up here, got drunk here, rehearsed a film scene here, celebrated each other’s birthdays here, grew closer here, lost and found themselves here. How vertiginous time was flying by and yet encompassing so many different lives. How much had we changed since last summer?
I knew Billy was thinking the same, and I wasn’t even brushed by surprise when he said, for I knew our minds and hearts were so often caught up in quiet conversations that didn’t need to be expressed out loud: ‘I can’t believe you let me take the car last year.’
I laughed and took a sip of the cocktail he handed me. ‘Me neither. It’s not like me at all. Like, we didn’t even think it could be dangerous.’
The sun was setting, wrapping the nature around in fire colours, a vibrant and youthful energy yet somehow full of wisdom. Quiet. Waiting for Billy and I to decide how we would live this night. How wonderful it is sometimes to be aware, even for a couple of seconds, of your heart’s beat.
I opened the window, breathed in the electric evening’s air. Billy joined me.
How wonderful it is sometimes to feel life. To fall in love with it. To contemplate her as if it was the first day, realising that she can’t be taken for granted. That none of this can be.
‘I’m in the mood to listen to Dolly Parton,’ I said.
But because one more year hadn’t make Billy and I much wiser, by 5 am we were walking on the middle of the road, coming back from one of his friend’s house where some of Billy’s cousins had followed us and left earlier. The two of us were now laughing to tears – I can’t remember what it was about – heading back to his place. The mosquitoes were out in a vengeance and Billy kept complaining about being their favourite victim.
Dolly Parton was singing out of the small speaker I was holding:
And the flowers still grow, but they don’t smell as sweet
As they did when you picked them for me
And when I think of you and the love we once knew
How I wish we could go back in time
Do you ever think back on old memories like that
Or do I ever cross your mind
Which names were coming to my mind? Whose faces was Dolly bringing back to me? What was it this strange feeling, this happiness that almost felt like sadness?
Soon we were back at Billy’s, sitting on his car’s hood, the stars above us, peacefully staring back at us. ‘Do you sometimes wonder where we would be at in life if lockdown hadn’t happened?’ asked Billy.
‘I ask myself this question with anything in life. Like, what if we hadn’t gone into film and acting school?’
‘What if you hadn’t gone to England?’
‘What if we had never met?’
‘Okay, that’s scary as fuck and I can’t think too clearly right now.’
‘Yeah, me neither. This variant of us is the only one we know, anyway… And I think I like it.’
Billy locked eyes with me and I felt like the mist in my chest was dispelling among the stars above. ‘So you wouldn’t be anywhere else right now if you could?’ he enjoined.
I shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I don’t think so. I mean, not tonight. I’m good. Are you?’
He smiled. ‘Yeah, mate. Good if you’re good.’
My heart missed a bit and I suddenly jumped off the car’s hood. ‘Fuck me, life’s so cool.’
‘What?’ said Billy, utterly confused.
He followed me on the terrace, where I had left my bag. I took out the book I was currently reading, Call Me By Your Name, by André Aciman, and opened it to the page I was at. We sat by the pool. This felt like a song I knew but couldn’t place. I read him the quote I had put in brackets with a grey pencil. ‘I began to wonder what turn my life would have taken had someone else shown up instead. I wouldn’t have gone to Rome. But I might have gone elsewhere. Wouldn’t have known the first thing about San Clemente. But I might have discovered something else which I’d missed out on and might never know about. Wouldn’t have changed, would never be who I am today, would have become someone else.’
Billy’s eyes drifted in the offing. He said something I don’t remember. We stayed silent. The sun was rising already. And as I was about to stand up to put the book back in my bag, we heard a noise behind us that made us jump, like a box falling on the floor. And that’s how before our eyes and stunned hearts, the little grey bird we thought lost flew above our heads, eager to be free again, and everything around had become respectfully quiet to wish him good luck. I felt myself smiling and Billy and I burst out laughing, triumphant and amazed by what we had seen, and I felt a relief as if I was watching us from afar: one year later, we hadn’t lost the enchantment, and we wouldn’t anytime soon.
Photo by Daniel Ghio