Mirror in the Sky
Six months of wooing had brought us to this moment: me, alone, waiting in a car; Joe, also alone, disappearing from my sightline thirty minutes ago. Separating us, an expanse of rugged terrain, cold and barren.
The landscape is captivating: morning mist battling pregnant cumulonimbus clouds, lifting to reveal rustic earth. Gorse and rocks span majestic mountains, where grey November fog anchors the highest peaks. I prop my feet on the dashboard. My socks mimic the surrounding natural colour: flecks of withering heather, hickory, burnt sienna and bronze.
I look at my watch: one hour since he left. The rain falls harder.
I ring Joe. No answer.
His invitation to make this trip had been clumsy. I was taken off-guard.
“I don’t like your friends,” Joe announced in the pub three nights ago.
“You’re one to talk. Have you got any friends?” I quipped, stunned at his outrageous judgment.
“Do you even like your friends?”
“Don’t be an arse!” I retorted, cheeks singed red. I excused myself to the loo and considered my reflection: a thirty-five year-old woman scrutinised me. A woman with lofty dreams, with a history of cataclysmic decisions—both romantic and professional—which had netted her a bedsit, fourteen Tube stops away from her job. A woman with such deep commitment issues that she slept with men on the first date then refused them a second. “Playing hard to get is good,” Camille would tell me. “But when do we get the get part?” I asked. I had never seen Camille—nor any of my girlfriends—in a solid relationship. Parties and pretty shoes may have been serving as an effective cloaking device for what unified us: fear. But what were we afraid of?
I returned to our table to find Joe had ordered himself another pint and a second glass of Rioja for me. He smiled, allowing the confrontational energy to dissipate to nothingness, then I sat down.
“How about a hike Saturday morning? There’s this gorgeous—”
“Yeah, hiking. You put on boots. You climb a tall piece of rock. It’s an outdoor thing.”
“Of course,” I answered.
I purchased leggings with a snowflake pattern and matching pom-pom hat the next day. I packed a large breakfast of croissants and rich Colombian coffee the consistency of treacle. Hiking morphed into planning a romantic, countryside romp.
Joe eased the car to a halt when a hint of light began to illuminate the horizon this morning. The sheer isolation was a shock. I felt terrified. Terrified that Joe would discover how terrified I was. How terrified I am—simply being a person. Afraid of heights, of outdoor spaces, of being out of my comfort zone. We had spent half a year kissing in London and hibernating in my bedroom. I had not known anything else than urban cocooning. It was not lost on me that the benefit of living in London was being lost in it. There would be no hiding in vast, open land on a cold Saturday morning. The mask I have worn every day--firmly glued on since meeting Joe—would inevitably be swept away in these conditions and Joe would finally uncover my vulnerability…he would see me.
Once Joe had turned off the ignition, I poured coffee. Holding the enamelware mug steady was an achievement.
“Wanna cup?” I asked.
“No. We should set off.”
I didn’t go. I balked. “I—I’m not feeling great. I’ll catch you up,” I said, forcing a smile as Joe pulled his hat down across his brow.
He shook his head slowly, kissed my cheek and then was gone.
That was ninety minutes ago.
I anxiously wait in his Mazda. Heat pumps from the dash, clearing spots of internal fog from the windscreen. My eyes transfix on the raindrop pattern, speckling the glass on the outside. Music is a calming friend in this capsule of warmth. I belt Stevie Nicks, feeling akin to her catalogue of songs, lamenting the story of broken hearts, betrayal and questioning the mirrored sky about love.
I ring again. No answer.
I feel scared. No longer about what I may have to confront outside this space but fear of not holding Joe again. I feel called by the wilds, beckoning me to launch into the unknown. The contrast of sucking down martinis with Camille, scoping the room for mates we will never mate with, versus the frightening opportunity to stand atop that mountain with a man I love makes me shiver. Joe is right: I don’t think I do like my friends.
I pull on windcheater, open the door and plant newly-purchased boots on the sodden earth.
“Joe!” I holler.
I smile at the sky, the rain suddenly engaged in fearsome battle with the wind. I extend my arms and welcome the elements, feeling renewed and determined.
Em Kelly spent years as an editor in Ireland and New York, where she also worked in theatre and sang blues. She has since published poetry and short stories, and is currently writing a crime novel in the UK. Em’s most recent creative nonfiction appears in Ellipsis Zine, Eight and her fiction is shortlisted for the 2020 Allingham Literary Award. She can be found @EmKellyWrites.