Julie’s waiting at Kings Cross for Eric. There hasn’t been snow for a few days now so she didn’t mind walking to the tube. The station is busy like always. But I’ve let time unspool out before me in that way you can do after you’ve died. So it’s after Christmas now, and everyone here is coming back from their holidays or leaving to go back home. People are saying goodbye to friends and family; getting a bitter slap of reality as they step off the tracks. It’s a pretty bleak atmosphere, all and all.
And she’s still wearing black, is my sister. Her black coat is thick wool and comes down to her knees. She’s got it unbuttoned: letting the world see her dress and tights in all their solemn glory. She looks more like she’s in mourning than she did at my fucking funeral.
As she finds the board she’s told Eric she’ll meet him under, she catches herself suddenly wondering what he’s going to look like now, as many months as it’s been since she’s seen him. Her mind pieces in the picture of his face. She’s struck by how easily she can trace those details. Hair falling across his forehead like thin pins. Such a dark, ragged auburn. A rough jaw that only grows rougher when he’s neglected to shave. His lips are thicker in the middle then on the side so even when he smiles they look pursed. When he stands plainly, arms hanging at his side, his shoulders roll forward and he sinks into himself.
Engrossed with creating this picture in her head, Julie’s eyes lose focus on the crowds before her. She looks glassy-eyed and lost. Like some desolate waif abandoned amongst the throngs. The announcer crackles through the din of the station and she jumps. The words are inaudible but meaningless, serving only to catch her outside of herself. No one saw her jolt but she blushes anyway. Her eyes search the crowds again and there he is. Bundled up, is Eric; she can see the blue scarf wound around his neck even at this distance. It’s more bohemian than she’d normally think for him. As such, it gives him an air of self-importance.
As he grows closer, he waves. Julie is suddenly quite nervous. Without thinking, she pulls her coat closed and winds the dark ends of her plait around her finger. Eric hasn’t changed at all since the summer. Not like she has. A few months on her hair has added an extra curl on the bottom, that’s about all. She’s put on a little weight too. It’s easy to blame it on grief, she’s been telling herself, but now she’s suddenly so conscious of it.
He reaches her. His bag is strapped across his back. He’s wearing a fucking motorcycle jacket, she thinks. Eric does not own a motorcycle. If he got one he would have mentioned it. Her fingers clench as her hands stuff themselves into her pockets.
“Eric, my brother,” she suppresses a waver in her throat, “Dapper as ever. Mum let you out the house like that?”
“She don’t know I’m gone,” he says, “Julie, you look—”
She’s well aware what she looks like; she’s just come from work. “Frumpy? Boring? Pathetic?” she simpers, “Let me keep throwing out adjectives, Eric, and you raise your hand when I hit the right one. Tidy? Responsible?”
He raises his hand. “You don’t look like you. You look like a grown-up.”
“Oh, thank you very much. That’s kind of you to say.”
“You know what I mean.” They turn in the direction of the tube. “New job has a dress code, I’m assuming.”
“You assume correct, sir.”
With a grin, she leads him onwards. Julie keeps a step ahead of him, as though some distance must be observed. As they push alongside a crowd of strangers onto the tube, they both cling to the poles around them. There’s a strange intimacy, Julie thinks, on a crowded tube. Such a close proximity to complete strangers: you can hear their breath, smell their antiperspirant, body odour, cologne or perfume, and see the smallest twitches of their face. You can feel their body pulsing around you. Yet everyone is afraid to fucking speak.
Julie and Eric keep shooting each other quick looks. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. It’s like they’re on strictly observed schedule. But they dare not fucking speak lest the intimacy overwhelm them.
At last their feet climb up side-by-side onto the sidewalk. Late December hits them snidely. “You should have just given me your address,” says Eric, “I could’ve found my way. You didn’t have to meet me.”
“I don’t mind. It’s on my way home.”
Their feet keep skipping along the sidewalk. The only snow still sticking around in this part of the city is grey slush in the gutter. Only the odd patch of ice in potholes and cracks reminds anyone it’s fucking winter. Neither of them realise it, but they’re both wearing the same shoes they wore to my funeral: Julie’s black flats and Eric’s weird loafer things. Funny the details we remember. And the ones we miss.
Originally published in in Room, 37.1 (March 2014).