I’m a missing person. Not that you’ll find me on any milk carton or across any headlines. No, I’m the reverse: all body and no spirit. No-one at this party knows that I’ve gone. I slipped out a while back, before I pulled apart my tie; before my mother got up to talk about my father, lips bleeding with lies. I most definitely left before then, before the talks. Way before. Not that I could tell you when.
At the downstairs bar, I flick through receipts that were stuffed in my trouser pockets and find a folded fiver, limp and soft, and a bit ripped. I hope they take it. I can’t be bothered to go to the cash point. They ought to; it’s not my fault the fiver has seen better days. It shouldn’t be chucked out because it’s a bit old. The barman notices me but he goes to a woman who’s just arrived at the bar. I’m not surprised, I would have too.
On the opposite side of the bar, a girl is staring at me. I stand up straight. She raises her eyebrows and sweeps the hair off her face. It’s impossible to tell her age, her skin is smooth but there’s something long lived about her; as if she’d circled the sun so many times that she could do it blindfolded and backwards. They say that’s confidence, that self-assurance comes with age. I reckon its exhaustion. I catch the barman’s eye again and put my order in: wine, large.
I glance back at the girl. She smiles, as soft as candle-light and then looks away as she pulls back from the bar, and into the other faces around me. But now she’s walking towards me. Her dress sways with her hair. She must think I’m younger than I am, and I think about walking away, or getting my phone out, so that when she sees me up close and changes her mind, I can pretend I didn’t notice. But it’s too late. She’s stood next to me, facing the bar, folding a receipt I’d left on the side.
“You don’t look like you want to be here,” she says, and flicks her gaze at me; her eyes are like glacier mints, clear and crisp.
“I’m not really.”
“Where are you then?”
“Good question.” I sip my wine and she turns to me, eyebrows up again. “Maybe I don’t want people knowing where I am.”
“In case they come and find you.”
“Well, maybe you need to hide better.” She spins a penny on the bar.
“Yeah.” She slams her hand down on the spinning penny. “Nobody can be in two places at once – it’s against the laws of… everything. So they can’t follow you.”
“I’m not sure about that. Anyway, living it once was enough.”
“Well you don’t live it the same. That would be stupid. You mix it up a bit. It’s more fun that way.”
“Doesn’t that depend on your past?”
“Not really. Most people get stuck there – not out of choice – but they’re there.”
“Good point, uhhhh….?”
“Selene. Of course…” I smile.
“Of course what?”
“You even have a name from the past.” I smile again, and she almost takes it. “So, Selene, goddess of the moon, how are you doing here, right now, if you’re actually living in the past.”
“Ah, but I’m not here, am I? Just like you aren’t here. You’re a faint signal, an answer phone message.”
“So where are you then?”
“I’m on the other side of the bar, watching you lean forward. You’ve emptied your pockets, and now you’re staring at a limp fiver for a very long time. Too long.” She smiles. “Then the music stops, and you look up and smile at me.”
“I didn’t smile at you.”
“You smiled at me,” I say, but I’m not sure why it’s important, but it is. I guess it’s because I wouldn’t go around bars, smiling at random women half my age. This wasn’t standard.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s my past. I’m living it. You aren’t.”
“Right. Your past, your rules then?”
She closes her eyes and nods her head once. And now that I know her name, I see the moon in her: the pale skin, the rounded cheeks, the heavy space in her, and the glow around her. The ancient, worn smooth.
“So, is it nice there?” she says.
“Wherever you are…”
I shrug and sip my wine.
“You don’t know where you are, do you?” she says, eyes full, beaming.
“What’s it to you?” And I’m regretting the way I said it instantly. It wasn’t supposed to come out so defensive, so cold. But I didn’t want her to know that I didn’t know where I was.
“Hmmm,” she says. And I half expect her to walk off, but she puts her hand on my wrist and leans in. With her other hand, she takes my wine glass and sips from it. “Let’s go over that again, shall we? But in the past this time.”
She stares at me as if I’m telling a story; her head tilts to one side, there’s a slight smile in her eyes as she draws circles, anti-clockwise, with her index finger on the back of my hand. And the silence is too long for me that I snap away from her gaze and take a long sip.
“Okay,” she says.
“So what did I say in your version?”
“What you wanted to say,” she says. “So I’ll come with you, then.”
“I don’t know, only you know where you are. But I have a feeling there will be good wine there, so I’m up for it.”
She pulls on one end of the tie that hung loose around my neck. It whips off my shoulders like a tape measure and she throws it over her head, holding down both sides. “If it’s nice Adrian, we could stay there.”
“Uh I’m not sure…”
I look up, wine glasses are hanging from the bar like frozen bubbles. Upstairs, my family are herded and bunched, grazing. My father would be rubbing his glasses on his shirt while someone talked at him. My mother would be sending food back to the chef. My brother, well, I wasn’t convinced he was there either, but his wife would be, and she would make up for his silence. None of them would miss me. I mean, I’d already left, right?
And I’m not sure how Selene knew my name when half of the people upstairs didn’t, but perhaps she’d met me once before in her version of the past, but I was too busy being missing.
“Are you coming?” she calls.
She’s stood by the open door, and I realise that the moon must be huge tonight because she’s submerged in so much blue light that it’s unreal, like she’s under water. It’s so ridiculously poetic that I smile.
“OK,” I say, downing the last of my wine. “Let’s go find where I went,” and I follow her out into watery night.
About the Author
Freya Morris spends half of her time as a Communications Officer at Bristol University writing about the real world, and the other half of her time is spent writing fiction. In December 2013, she won the Yellow Room Flash Fiction Competition for her piece ‘Brain Freeze’, and has had short stories published in: Nature’s Futures section, Popshot magazine’s Birth Issue and National Flash Fiction Day Anthology ‘Scraps’.
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