“Oh, I’m not on holiday,” I smiled back.
“I’m just passing through.”
I gave the old woman the money for the clothes, and taking the bag, I headed out of the store.
“Goodbye, dear,” she called out.
Without looking back, I waved my hand in the air. The bell tinkled overhead again as I stepped out into the street. I pulled the fur collar of the coat up about my neck, and it felt warm and soft against my cheeks. I didn’t want to hang around in town for too long, so I headed back down the street to a small supermarket that was situated in the town square. I filled a basket with cans of food. I didn’t even know if the farm that I was squatting in had an oven or a stove, and if it did, would it even work. But there was a fire, even if I could heat up a few cans of beans, that would be something. I took some milk and bread and anything else that I could think of. As I headed for the cash register, I checked my pockets for my cash, then remembered I was wearing the new coat I had bought from the charity shop. My cash was folded away in the back pocket of my jeans.
Then, as I went to take my hand from the coat pocket, I felt something. It was small and square, about the size of a credit card. I pulled it out and realised that it was a driving licence and it must have belonged to whoever had donated the coat to the charity shop. I turned it over it my hands and looked down at the tiny picture of the face that stared back at me. The woman was pretty, about the same age as me, and we could have looked quite similar if it wasn’t for the fact that she had light blonde hair and mine was dark brown. Her name was printed beneath her picture and it read Caroline Hughes.
Then, with an idea creeping into my mind, I headed back amongst the isles of the supermarket and took a bottle of blonde hair dye from the display and placed it into my basket.
I closed the door to Kiera’s flat behind me. After what had happened in the Grandma’s flat, I was keen to make sure that this time I had the right place. Being shot and called “kinky” was enough for one night and I just wanted to get back to the manor. Like the other flat had been, Kiera’s was also in darkness. This time, I risked having the aid of some light, so I took my cigarette lighter out and flipped it on. A flame of orange light lit the darkness before me. I was standing in a small, tidy room. There were no newspaper cuttings tacked to the wall, and at first I feared I’d gotten the wrong flat again. Why did everything have to be pushed? With the light from the flame in my hand, I tiptoed across the room to the window. There was the chair that Kiera had so often described sitting in, and then I saw a picture frame by the window.
Holding the lighter above it, I could see that it was a picture of Kiera and an older-looking man. I could see the likeness. They both had those hazel eyes that lit up Kiera’s face and both had jet-black hair. I’d never seen Kiera’s father, but I knew that it was him in the picture. Kiera had spoken fondly of her father and had told me how close they had been. She had promised him, before he died of cancer, that she would find her mother for him. She certainly did that. I turned around, and taking the picture with me, I headed towards another door, which led into Kiera’s bedroom. In the light from the flame, I saw a rucksack on the floor by a set of drawers. I picked it up and put the picture inside it – Kiera would like to see that photo again. I then opened the drawers. As soon as my fingers felt the soft silk of the underclothes, I knew that I had the right place – there was no doubt this time. Beneath the bras and knickers, my fingers brushed across something similar in shape and size to a wallet. I pulled it out and the silver badge twinkled in the light. I placed it into the rucksack and then I snatched a handful of her underwear. As I was shoving it into the bag someone spoke from within the darkness.
“Who in the hell are you?” the voice asked.
“How does the same shit happen to me twice in one night?” I breathed turning around, half expecting to see another dried up old woman peering at me from the darkness.
But it wasn’t an old woman who was staring back at me; it was someone much younger by the sound of their voice. Holding the lighter up, I moved towards whoever it was.
“Stay where you are,” the female voice snapped.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Keep back,” the voice came again, and I could sense the fear in it.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” I tried to assure her, the flame wavering before me. In the flickering light, I could see that whoever it was standing in the darkness had long, blonde hair. It was thick and curled around her shoulders. I moved closer towards her.
“Keep away from me or I’ll scream,” she threatened.
“You’re not going to scream,” I whispered. “You’re hiding in here or you would have come out of the shadows already.”
I moved closer still and as I did, the female rushed from the corner and tried to get past me. Shooting my arm out, I grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her towards me. Holding the light inches from her face, I looked into her eyes.
At first I didn’t recognise her, but when I did, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. Her hair used to be dark brown, but now it was blonde – something else that had been pushed perhaps?
Looking into her face, and my heart beginning to race, I whispered, “Sophie, is that really you?”
She yanked her arm free of my grip and staggered backwards. “My name’s not Sophie,”
she said, pulling something from the pocket of the long, brown coat she was wearing. Flashing a small piece of plastic I.D. in front of my face, she snapped, “See, my name’s Caroline Hughes. I don’t know who Sophie is.”
Maybe she wasn’t called Sophie now that the world had been pushed – perhaps her name was really Caroline Hughes? I wondered. But then again, her father referred to her as Sophie.
But I wouldn’t tell her I’d seen him. I didn’t want her to think I‘d been looking – searching – for her.
“You used to be called Sophie once,” I said softly, not really knowing if I should have told her that.
But I’d said it, it was out there, and I couldn’t take it back.
“What’s that s’posed to mean?” she mumbled, placing the I.D. back into her pocket.
“Nothing, it doesn’t matter,” I said, realising that she didn’t know me. I shouldn’t say any more; Sophie – Caroline – had no idea that the world had been pushed. She had been born into a different world where we had never met – were we had never been lovers.
“Are you a cop?” she asked me, inching backwards towards the door.
“Not anymore,” I told her, and it felt weird inside to be standing so close to her again and having to pretend that we were strangers.
“What’s your name?” she asked me, as she reached the door to the living room.
“Potter,” I told her.
Then, before I’d had a chance to react, Sophie shot across the room and kicked me straight in the nuts.
“Jesus!” I groaned. “What was that for?”
“For breaking up me and Marty!” she shouted.
“Who the fuck is Marty?” I said, rubbing my bollocks.
“He was my boyfriend and we broke up because of those letters you sent me. He thought I was sleeping with you.”
“You were sleeping with me,” I tried to remind her.
“I don’t ever remember having sex with you!” she shouted.
“You really know how to boost a man’s ego,” I shot back.
She raised her hand as if to strike me again, and I snatched hold of her fist. “Once is enough, sweetheart.”
“I’m not your sweetheart!” she spat.
“You’re a creep.”
“I thought you said you didn’t remember me,” I said, staring at her.
Then, turning her back on me, she went into the living room. I followed her and watched as she picked up a holdall from the floor. She reached inside and pulled out a bunch of envelopes. Chucking them at me, she said, “These are the letters that you sent me.”
They scattered at my feet and I bent down and picked one up. The address on the front was unreadable, smudged beyond recognition, but her name was clear and I could see that it was my handwriting. I opened the letter and read the first few lines. Just reading them stirred the feelings that I’d once had for her within me. I remembered sitting alone in those cheap motel rooms as I had penned those letters to her.
“You wrote them, didn’t you?” she asked, her voice sounding calmer now.
“Yes,” I said, gathering up the letters and handing them back to her. With a certain amount of reluctance, she snatched them back and placed them into her bag.
“Why?” she asked. “You don’t even know me.”
Looking at her and not knowing where to start, or even if I should, I said, “I don’t know how to explain...”
“You didn’t have any difficulty in explaining how you felt for me in those letters,”
Sitting down in Kiera’s chair by the window, and with the flame from the Zippo lighter flickering in my hand, I said, “We did use to know each other once, but it was a long way away from here.”
“Where?” she snapped, placing her hands on her hips.
“I think it’s more of a case of when rather than where,” I said, looking at her, and to see her standing there made the feelings that I’d once had for her bubble up inside of me, and I hated myself for feeling like that.
“What’s that s’posed to mean?” she quizzed, taking a seat in the armchair opposite me.
“I’m not sure even if I know the answer to that,” I told her. “The world has been pushed.”
“It’s hard to explain,” I stared, “but I first met you a few years ago. You were studying music...”
“I’ve never studied music,” she corrected me. “I’m a pathologist. I studied medicine.”