She wanted to fly. She felt small but she wanted to fly, just a few meters. Perhaps it would be enough to jump, to glide for just a few moments …
She sat and stared into her cup. In the ripples she found the great river, the Ganges, the Mekong, the Vltava, the Danube, the Nile. All those rivers and all those lakes, all the cesspools of the world, they all came together in two lines of tears that silently found their way down her cheeks. They surprised her; those were old sorrow she had long forgotten.
Those sorrows had been left behind on Susan’s sofa, where she would lie with gin in her veins and the dream in her head – the dream of elsewhere. Nothere. Nothere, that was her place. But then she stopped daring to go there. She became numb and started functioning. She showed up for work, again and again and again. Found a husband and slept with him, again and again and again.
Nothere disappeared from the map – or perhaps the map itself disappeared? Then he disappeared – but she still kept showing up for work. Tick tock too, Tick tock too. This was her song, what she hummed at work and her colleagues’ sensed contentment and happiness. But she told nobody what it meant, not even herself. It was the eternal repetition, the complete lack of meaning. Sometimes, just before she fell asleep, she heard the whole song. Tick tock too, tick tock you …
But the dreams became vaguer; the “you” got erased. She continued to show up for work – until this morning. She didn’t have to show up anymore. She was too old. But now she wanted to fly.
She had stopped drinking when Susan stopped listening. But Susan never started listening again. Perhaps she never listened, just nodded like a grand actress over her eternal Not. Nothere, nothim, notthat. That’s how she lost her best friend; they stopped listening to one another. Then they also stopped talking. They lived in the same town, said hello on the same streets. She thought more frequently about Susan then her own husband – but she never called back, never knocked again on her door.
And in those two tears she found two things. She found her old sorrow and her old dreams, now she had the time and the money to make them come true. But she also felt, suddenly, that she was old. Yesterday she worked a whole day without feeling tired, today she could hardly stand up. So she ordered another cup. And another. By the fourth cup her stomach felt heavy, she needed the bathroom. She wanted to call Susan and tell her about all the thoughts the ripples in the cocoa produced. She wanted to mix it with more gin, but she was afraid of it, afraid of how her body would respond, afraid of how she would respond, afraid of what people would say.
Then it happened. Susan sat at the next table. Only this was the old Susan, the Susan of forty years ago. The same smile, the same mischievousness, the same radiance. Perhaps a daughter or a grandchild – or perhaps she just saw Susan everywhere now. She wanted to speak to her, perhaps this Susan still listened.
She tried to get up, but couldn’t. She tried again, very slowly, solemnly. She managed to stand up but she needed help, but didn’t know how to ask. She slowly found her way forward, holding on to the table at each step, felt dizzy, held on to tables and chairs, reached Susan’s table. Stopped. She wanted to ask Susan to help her, to listen to her. But she couldn’t look her straight in the eye, the words got stuck in her throat – she couldn’t bear the thought that her oldest and best friend might not recognize her, might not even say hello. The world froze for a few moments, than it slowly kept ticking along. She kept going towards the door, slowly, hesitantly, step by step.
Then she was outside. Fresh air and clear sky greeted her. She wanted to fly. Fly for Susan, so she could see she could still fly, it was not all in her mouth. She wanted to fly so she would listen …
She woke up as worried people stood over her. The song had changed, now she only heard boom boom bamm and a screeching guitar solo near her eye. They put her on a chair and took her glasses off, the glasses that had cut into her face. Everything was a blur but she could still see it was her. Susan. Susan who brought her water, asked her how she was and said everything would be all right.
She didn’t know what she was saying; the words were muffled by the thoughts floating in her head and in the sounds in her head, over her own thoughts. But it didn’t matter because Susan listened.
But suddenly a shadow came over her. She saw the outlines of a police uniform and knew he wouldn’t listen. “National Insurance Number?” the police asked coldly and she felt like a criminal, the forgotten number now felt like a prison number he wanted to print on her arm. He was never going to listen so she asked Susan: “What did I do? I didn’t anything wrong … did I?” Susan confirmed she had done nothing wrong, she had only fallen. The cut above her eye was still bleeding and her hand was hurting. But she didn’t want to go, didn’t want to lose Susan again. Not after all those years, not when she was finally listening again.
But there was an ambulance on the way and the cop still stood silently above them, waiting for an answer, waiting to burn that number on her arm. And in desperation she asked Susan: “Can you come with me?” Susan squeezed her hand and said yes.
Still there was some hesitation, she worked there, had just been taking a short break, had to ask permission. And the boss came, Susan asked and it was too busy and they were too few, she couldn’t go.
As the yes changed into a no she knew that as soon as the ambulance came no one would listen anymore. So they held hands, silently, before humming: tick tock too, tick tock you.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson