Do you remember when we set the campfire in the summer? The six of us, too much cider, and I was the stranger amongst old friends because I’d barely left the city lights and everything was alien. The fire was all smoke, and heat we didn’t need in the still-bright sun, but we were celebrating new starts, the end of the season.
There was something in your smile, and you caught me watching how the fire-glow illuminated your suntanned cheeks. You brought me over another cider, and while we talked I tried not to notice your almost-sadness, tuning out of the fireside chatter losing everything in you. Fascinated by the trans-Atlantic twang in your accent, not quite the quiet countryside where you grew up, but traces of the old life, and the new across that empty ocean. Your eyes, not blue, so they reminded me of the Thames.
A little too drunk, your hand wandered over mine; you showed me the old barn the younger kids were scared of, childhood folklore that belonged to someone else, somewhere else, something not city. The floor was golden in the light of an after eight sunset, and you kissed me, sweet like apples and salt like sweat. The air so thick and stale that it was a relief your hands were half-cold from the glass bottles. You leaned on my hair, mistaking it for hay, but I didn’t want to break the perfect silence of our breathing.
I wanted to stay for longer, forever maybe, but you needed the open grasslands so you didn’t feel so trapped, out in the newly harvested fields. It wasn’t dark, because the sky was wide awake. The harvest dust hung in the air, and I didn’t miss the jacket I left by the campfire. We sat down together, to watch the remaining corn swaying in the breeze. You told me you would be in New York soon, probably never coming back, but I didn’t want to listen.
“It’s so beautiful,” I said. “The stars, I’ve never seen them like that.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.”
It seemed so strange to me, that you could become desensitized to beauty.
“I never really… it makes me feel kind of small, you know? Insignificant. I like the lights of the city, manmade starlight; when the skyline looks exactly the same but it’s someone like you or me who made it all. I don’t know.”
If I wasn’t so distracted by the sugar-white lights sprinkled on the lilac sky, maybe I could have told you: the city is never quite so pretty as in the pictures; the lights give you headaches and the air is so thick you don’t stop to look because the view from the ground only gives you vertigo.
Sometimes I find somewhere on the beach where there’s no wind, and I take off my sandals, bury my toes underneath where it’s soft and almost warm, away from the broken glass and shingle. I imagine I can see New York, and that you’re looking across and see me too. The salty air sent me to sleep there once, and I thought I was dreaming of you, but then the sea went tidal and swallowed me up, and I thought I was screaming but it was just the seagulls warning of a storm.
Los Angeles is better, they say. You get the ocean breeze mixed perfectly with exhaust fumes, dry desert, and honeysuckle, so you feel like you’re somewhere between everywhere. Maybe I know that feeling a little; as much as I tried to leave London behind, it steals my senses even here in the South West.
I wonder if traveling the world could cure reluctant wanderlust.
Do you know about the orange blossoms in Seville? If you walk through the courtyard of the cathedral there in springtime, under the trees pulsing from the weight of the sun, you can see the oranges growing there like molten dragon’s eggs among the white flowers. The smell is almost intoxicating, citrus-spice so strong you feel it in your cheeks and the roof of your mouth—like you can taste them.
I heard they’re even sweeter than still August nights in rural England.
Katie James is a 20-year-old prose writer and poet born and raised in North London. She is currently studying for her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. She has previously had poetry and short fiction published in student magazines such as Kamena, and a creative nonfiction piece published by HCE Review.