The sweating bottle of Pisco is almost finished, sticky circles of abandoned alcohol littering the table. The doors to the Juliet balcony hang open, leaning drunkenly across the wall, and the floor-length curtains whisper in the hot breeze. The hard orange light from the streetlamp hollows out the room, casting maroon shadows from the sofa and coffee table. The smell of hot concrete hangs heavy in the air, slowly cooling with the scent of dew as midnight creeps into dawn.
The fridge hums in the adjoining kitchen as I creep over scattered shoes, bags and glasses (some still stagnant with Pisco cocktails) and step out onto the balcony. A solitary car, lights a brief white against the orange of the streetlamps, goes by in a smooth, casual whoosh. On the roof above me a gull whistles and yelps then falls silent. The city is in the grip of a witching hour – and lies frozen in silence, sweating in the summer night heat.
I can still taste Pisco on my tongue – the bottle a gift from him on his return from Peru – and the concrete balcony still feels a little warm under my bare feet. I think about him; I imagine him following my steps, wrapping his arms around my waist and telling me to “come back to bed”.
I wonder, if I imagine hard enough, would it come true?
I close my eyes and imagine and imagine.
When I open my eyes again, the sky is a little lighter – a softer grey-blue – but nothing else has changed. I wish I had agreed to stay at a friend’s, instead of insisting I would be okay on my own. They had all left at once, sucked out of the front door in a cloud of goodbyes, heat and the smell of Pisco-tinted sweat. There had been an abrupt silence after. It was broken briefly by a curse as one of them stumbled down the steps from the flat, but mostly it was silence.
The city had taken up the pall of mourning. This hot summer was just an added cross to bear in a city that was sagging with grief.
I remind myself that it was me grieving.
Across the city, a church bell tolls – meek clangs that apologises for disturbing another summer dawn. Was that the church where we had buried him? I wonder. The one with the creeping ivy across its walls, and its graveyard drunk on the smell of flowers. Is that the one with the tree under which his gleaming headstone lies – the branches curling over as if to shield it from reality?
I clutch my elbows and hug my arms to myself as if to ward out the thoughts. My skin feels feverishly hot to touch, but I prickle with goose pimples and I shiver.
“Come back to bed,” I murmur to myself.
It doesn’t sound the same.
I turn, and pick up the Pisco bottle, swinging by its neck and hearing the liqueur slap and splash inside. A gift from Peru. I gaze at it a while, twirling it and watch the eddies of the liquid through the glass.
Unscrewing the lid, it takes a juggle of hands, and a couple of impatient pulls at the ring before it slides from my finger, and drops into the Pisco with an innocuous drip. I replace the lid, and then place the bottle on the fireplace, next to the framed photograph of him; the one he had sent to me from Peru.
“I’m going to bed,” I tell the photograph.