I often think that Love is the Schrödinger’s cat of emotions. It is both alive and dead at the same time. Unlock the box and you could release the most fulfilling effervescence of life that can take you to the edge of heaven and back. Alternatively it can take you to the depths of your own personal hell and leave you there until you can drag yourself back out. The story I am about to tell you encompasses both faces of this coin. Fate flipped it; how it landed first I shall tell you now.
Metallic streamers glittered down from the ceiling, a starlit sky brought inside to enchant John’s guests. Blue and silver balloons formed grand arches throughout the room, they stood so proud and erect it would be hard to imagine them deflated, popped and generally abused at the end of the night. All around the gentle clink of glasses and murmur of guests belied the raucous carousing that was to come. John was ever the gentleman, circling the room and chatting to family and friends as was his duty for the early part of the evening. Inside he was just itching to shed his reserved manner and get down to some serious partying with his closest friends.
John’s sister had wheedled her way into his good books and he’d given her a plus one to invite. At seven years older than her their relationship wasn’t the closest of sibling connections but he had surrendered to keep the peace. Besides, it made him feel younger to have his baby sister around. He was doing his best to forget the looming ‘grown upness’ of being 30! John had no inkling that this particular plus one would set off a chain of events that were at all at once both delicious and destructive. Polly Brown was a plus one and a half. She walked in to that room and John’s world was never the same again. She brought with her a life light that shone through her and highlighted a shock of perfectly straight long red hair. Her green eyes, brimming with excitement, scanned the room for her friend. John was transfixed. He had never been so drawn to a girl before. No, that wasn’t right he thought, this wasn’t a girl, this was a woman, blossoming before him.
Polly turned, surprised at the voice coming from just over her shoulder.
The voice belonged to a gorgeous man who left Polly a little breathless. He broke into a wide smile and Polly giggled a little.
Polly smiled shyly realising he hadn’t recognised her. It had been a few years since she had seen him last. His sister’s 16th it had been, but then 8 years is a long time and people change a lot at uni. She remembered him though. He’d been 22 and just back from Durham after gaining a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He hadn’t really spent much time at the house so wouldn’t have paid attention to the ratty little ginger girl hanging around with his sister.
‘I’m Polly, your sister’s friend’
John’s eyes widened. Could it possibly be that the scrawny kid he knew as a teenager had grown into this stunning beauty that stood here?
‘Oh wow, Polly Brown, of course. I remember you. Who’d have thought you would turn out to be so…so…wow’
Polly blushed outrageously. She was getting flustered. John, the fit older brother of her best friend, was flirting with her. Not just flirting but openly drinking her up like a bird at a tropical flower. John had forgotten all about the serious partying he’d had planned with his friends, he just wanted to talk to Polly more.
‘Can I get you something to drink?’ John was desperate to find some way to keep talking to her.
‘That would be lovely thank you. Do you have any cider at all?’ Polly blushed a bit, nice girls weren’t supposed to drink cider were they? She hoped he wouldn’t be put off.
‘Of course, Mum got some great scrumpy from some bloke she knows. Be back in a flash!’ He grinned widely and Polly smiled back, relieved.
They spent the rest of the night tucked away in a corner, trying to avoid his mates and his Mum. John knew he’d be in trouble in the morning. His Mother had gone to such effort to throw him a huge party, after all it’s not every day your firstborn turns 30. His mates made the most of it though!
They talked about anything and everything; classic films, uni adventures, current bands, old bands, they even went through memories of each other from their teenage years. Funny the things people remember about you, never the things you’d think of to remember. She had remembered the way John had constantly flicked his hair out of his eyes. Deep brown eyes. He remembered the way she spread her jam on her toast before the butter. He’d thought she was a bit odd doing that. They just laughed and talked and talked and laughed until goodness knows what time.
That night was the start of PB&J. It was fate they used to joke, rolling their eyes dramatically. They had to be together, for the sake of the sandwich they would just have to endure each other. In truth they couldn’t imagine being without each other.
They had 3 blissful years together, PB&J. They took holidays in cottages and cooked meals for friends. They became the bright light at the centre of their social universe. People couldn’t help but want to be near them. They projected their love for each other onto everything and everyone they came into contact with. They were like rainbow slugs, leaving slime trails of bright colours and sweet scents wherever they went.
They bought a tiny little flat in Ilfracombe overlooking the village green and the hill up to the cliff look out. It was a picture perfect life and Polly had never been happier. Little did she know that fate was about to flip her coin once more and this time it wasn’t going to land in their favour.
John had been working in Bristol for the week but had knocked off early to beat the traffic back down the M5. He was dying to get home to Polly, he had big news. He’d had a meeting that week that meant he was going to be able to work from home. No more travelling up and down that blasted motorway and more time to spend with his favourite girl. The new role he had been given also came with a bit more money so they could seriously start thinking about the wedding and a family. Polly would be thrilled. They’d talked so much about kids neither of them could wait to be parents.
He was thinking about where to take Polly to celebrate when he saw the van move. John’s eyes widened in fear as he realised he could not avoid the wreckage that was about to occur around him. The white van in front had pulled out too fast and too soon and clipped the back of the range rover in the outside lane. Both vehicles were hurtling down the motorway stretch and neither could put right the van driver’s idiocy. Time almost stood still and a hush descended. They each turned in different directions blocking the whole width of the road and rolled in perfect unison. In the sluggish seconds John could not help but wonder at the sight of such destruction being so perfectly aligned, dancing together over and over. The suspension of reality was shattered by the crunch of twisted metal as he ploughed into the two vehicles that were pirouetting on the asphalt. His world instantly became one of torment and pain. Flames filled his vision and seared his lungs and the normally protective shell of his car became a living thing intent on snuffing out any life in his body. Glass shards flew around him, embedded in his skin and entered his body. A scream died in his throat as the crumpled vehicle folded around him, absorbing his life force while embracing his body to finally release it from its torture. John knew nothing more of this life. All that remained was a 6’1” mass that was once a man.
Polly was sat in the little café overlooking the harbour when she got the call. She had taken a break from her job in the museum on the end of the pier and had retreated from the tourists to try and get a little peace. The number flashed up as unknown but she still answered it. She wasn’t one of these people who could ignore a ringing phone; she had to know what the call was even if it was just a PPI claim broker. Oh how she later wished this had been a PPI claim broker and not John’s Mother calling from the hospital. She dropped the phone on the table with a guttural moan. She felt like she’d just had her chest ripped in two. She couldn’t breathe. I need to breathe she thought! No, she didn’t want to breathe, not if he’s not breathing anymore, she just wanted to sink into the dark that was growing around her. She sank to floor with a scream that was more animal than human, her whole body shuddering with the raw pain of her loss. The café owner tried her best to calm her but there was no reaching her, she was lost in her agony. She held her as close as she could to try and bring her some comfort and warmth into the terror she was experiencing. They lay there on the floor, Polly’s body wracked with pain and the café owner weeping softly into her hair, moved at the sight of this pretty girl with the light snuffed out of her in that split second. They had eventually called Polly’s mother to take her home.
Polly remembered very little of that day and the days that followed. All she could remember was a blur of emotions, no details. She couldn’t even remember who had told her or where she’d been. All she knew was that was the day her heart had died. She remembered a peace that had been shattered by the ringing of a phone. She remembered a sick feeling, like being on a waltzer too long and not being able to get off. She remembered a sea of black capped with white teary faces.
Polly sat in the window seat of her childhood bedroom staring out at the enormous drips hanging from the eaves. They were a perfect match for the enormous drips that dropped from her chin as she shuddered with a deep breath. Everywhere she looked there was no colour to be found. The sky was filled with leaden clouds and the night had cast an ashen shadow over the world. He had only been 33 when he had left her, ripped from this world into the next with such ferocity that she almost couldn’t bear it. She had been in the window seat for 6 hours now, not sleeping but not quite awake, alternating between sobbing with heaving breaths and staring, empty and hollow with only echoes of his laughter to keep her company.
She suddenly needed to walk, to run, to just get away from all that reminded her he was gone. But she could never be fast enough to outrun the physical pain of the John shaped hole in her chest. The rain stung her face as she sprinted down the street, trying as hard as she could to rid herself of the agony and heartache. It almost felt good to match the throb in her heart with the throb in her legs as emotion gave way to primitive flight. She was so caught up in her race to find colour and light that she only just pulled up and stopped herself from plummeting into the harbour. Instinct left her as quickly as it had come and she fell to her knees, crumbling under the weight of the loss of her love.
That’s how they found her, lying on the harbour front with the rain and the ocean spray caressing her face and trying to wash away the tear streaked make up. She was broken. They didn’t know if she would ever not be. They had to have a little hope though. One of the fishermen picked her up gently and carried her home, desperate not to cause her any more hurt. As a blanket was placed round her Polly looked up and saw the soft blue eyes of her Mother. Maybe she would see all the colours again, maybe.
Rebecca Bates January 2013