Edinburgh had lately enjoyed three days of unbroken sunshine and everybody was wondering when it was going to end. It was like watching a small child who is rattling along on a bicycle with the stabilisers removed, certain to topple over at any moment. People found themselves scouring the sky for the missing clouds, often with an inexplicable yearning to salute them when they reappeared.
Edinburgh’s inhabitants told themselves that they must be out enjoying the sun, but they had, in their hearts, no genuine desire to do so. Pubs emptied into their beer gardens and the patrons stood about clenching their pints. They glared peevishly at the sunshine, wishing that it would just rain, so that they could go back inside and relax. In the weeks ahead, they would remind each other of those glorious days and bewail the current state of the weather compared to how spoiled they were then. But today, living within that occasion was too much effort, and they bore the inconvenience of the sunshine without grace or good humour.
Sunshine is always more authentic for young people. Bees trailed from flower to flower, their drones modulating like laments on tiny bagpipes, as Edward hurried through the Royal Botanic Gardens. He would meet Hayley at the West Gate after midday. Today he was as desperate as a gambler who has resolved to make or break everything on a last spin of the wheel.
He had been on a date with Hayley the previous week. He had sat on the fibreglass restaurant seat massively in love with her, but with a labyrinth of blocked tunnels between the true feelings in his head and the negligible words on his lips. The horror was of relaxing and goofing around and ending up being regarded as a sort of brotherly friend. She had been inscrutable but not discouraging. Before they parted at the restaurant door, she had touched his arm and he had felt the handprint burn clean through the fabric of his soul. And then three days ago, in the corridor at Liberton High, she had finally given him her number.
In fact, on their first date, Hayley had shivered with dismay as Edward smiled at her across the table, as immediate and fantastic as a beautiful songbird which has alighted unusually closely. She was petrified that she was boring him. That he would chirrup and fly away forever. Yet at the restaurant door, she had dared to pat his arm and he had not recoiled.
Once Edward had collected Hayley from the gate, he forced himself to feel reckless and emboldened. He made a bid for her hand and was stunned to register her surrendering it.
Edward now felt dangerously buoyant. A voice in his head jittered that he should concentrate; and that voice manically repeated the command to concentrate, as if all those commands could somehow stack up in his head and furnish ballast. He and Hayley were walking hand in hand, noticing the world as if for the first time now that it was laid out in the sunshine. A stadium was chanting in Edward’s head concentrate, concentrate, concentrate…
With enormously careful nonchalance, Edward now extracted his hand and instead slipped his arm around Hayley’s waist. She murmured with pleasure, gazing up at him with full eyes. “Your eyes are blue”, Edward thought.
They reached the Chinese Pavilion and the time had arrived. If Edward did not grab his chance now, it would be gone forever. Love was roaring inside of Edward and the cold, responsible part of his mind felt beleaguered and unprepared. It shook itself into composure.
She smiled at him.
“Hayley, I… I wanted to say to you that I… Would really like it if we could be more than just friends. The way I feel for you… I don’t feel for anybody else… In fact you’re the only person I ever want to be with now…” Once at a sleepover party, one of Edward’s friends, Gareth, had lost a poker tournament, and as a forfeit he had to drink a special “secret drink”: a pint glass filled with cider, vodka, blackcurrant, urine, Marmite, splashes of blood, three day old coffee and dishwasher detergent. Reciting his little speech to Hayley, Edward now felt like he was downing this pint.
Mercifully, it was finally finished. Yet Edward could hardly dare to believe it: Hayley was grinning at him in encouragement. “It’s alright… I feel the same about you… More so, I… I feel so grateful for you to even speak to me like that… I mean… It’s so lovely…”
Edward was truly walking through the sunshine for the first time. It was his day. The day when a kindly angel had chosen his file to be looked into personally. Suddenly, Hayley was unbelievably close and then, unbelievably, she had slipped into kissing him and they were kissing. Neatly, carefully, but with definite deliberation.
“Oh I love you Edward!”
“Oh I love you Hayley!”
Edward’s arm closed tightly around Hayley, a loving crunch. As light and pure as an acrobat who has forgotten everything except for the hypnotic swing of his trapeze, Edward felt happier than he had done for months, for years; as if he had suddenly reached a high from which all that had come before was now revealed as incomplete. The world had been solved.
And when they reached the road beyond the East gate, Edward tried to throw Hayley in front of the Number 23 bus. The instinct to throw her into the path of the bus pounced from completely out of nowhere. Edward was utterly transfixed, as if pinned in the jaws of a crocodile, and in the end he was too overwhelmed to be effective. Hayley kneed and barged her way back on to the pavement, and the unexpected instinct relinquished Edward as abruptly as it had seized him.
There was a peculiar emptiness in the air. And then, for a moment, the dread teemed all over Edward like a thousand freezing insects and his heart stopped dead. The bus ripped past them with enormous power, dwarfing and paralysing them within its great shuddering sweep.
Its horn blared. “I don’t understand” Hayley said stupidly. The afternoon sunshine was now golden and tender, like an old song sung by a grandmother. Hayley was too bloated with adrenaline to feel anything and she just stood helplessly, taking weird little gasping breaths. She stared uncertainly at Edward.
“Um… I can’t explain,” Edward apologised. His voice was flat and low and so quiet that she could barely hear it.
“Did you… er… try to…?” Hayley glanced back to where the bus had just passed. The reality of what had happened was not yet certain enough to lean upon. She turned to look at Edward again, and then took a neat step back.
Edward spoke quickly, in a low expressionless voice. “Back then, I was so happy, so in love with you, that I felt this strange power… This power to destroy everything that I have spent weeks… Months… Trying to get at, to just throw it all away in a second. It was like, utter, total freedom and it seemed so gigantic that I, er, just had to do it…
“I don’t quite understand it now. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m just tired, I guess.”
He waited miserably for her to start shrieking at him, to scream loudly and desperately, for the whole of the Botanic Gardens to hear. But Hayley just stood there, regarding him with a slightly puzzled look. She laboured to master her sharp little pants of shock. “It makes sense, I suppose,” she said finally. “Are you sure that you’re safe now?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Edward looked around at the sunshine, trying to reassure himself that the spell of the summer afternoon had not been broken. He shifted uncomfortably under Hayley’s gaze.
It was horrible! They were now very polite and very English. “You do look a little under the weather – perhaps you have not been sleeping well?” Hayley twittered. She placed a hand on his shoulder and said, in a hard but not unkind voice, that, “I think I’d better go home now, Edward. Are you quite alright?”
Edward mumbled something unintelligible. Hayley tottered away and – swung around as a parent may swing a child in a circle – they were themselves again.
[Tychy previously submitted an illustration for St Valentine’s Day. Ed.]