Love, Light and You (on film)
By Lucy Tomov
There was a vegetable patch in her kindergarten. Loopy hand-written signs on icy-pole sticks labelled the line of emerging cabbage faces peering out of the soil. She treated them like small leafy suns, quietly stepping around them. She wanted to get to the carrots, they had emerald hats and giggled when she yanked them.
One, two, three! Up!
Each time she would fall back onto the earth, and into the waxy painted fence. She didn’t care for her muddied dungarees, or the grazes kissing her elbows. Again and again, she would grasp green fronds with chubby hands and pull, hard. Shouts of delight escaped with each thrill. One Tuesday another pair of hands joined the tussle, they were pale and smaller than hers, and they belonged to Joy. Joy had chocolatey eyes and wore purple stripey long-sleeve tops. For a while it was only when they were pulling carrots that they swapped stories, becoming farmers, or rabbits or horses while tending to the vegetables.
The sandpit became another meeting place as time wore on. A minefield of near catastrophe. Castles and grand old wizards lived there and together, she and Joy played monarchs with the plastic boxes. They made a cottage, with little shells for windows, and blue cellophane weighed down by rocks created a river around it. Except, one afternoon a boy decided to kick over their creation, howling with laughter as the debris sprayed sideways and upwards and everywhere all at once. Joy never spoke to him again, turning her head whenever he wandered down the corridor.
In primary school, she found out cauliflower soup was Joy’s favourite lunch. It seemed odd really, cauliflower didn’t taste like much to her in the beginning but when they started swapping lunchboxes it was flowing fairy dust in a thermos. She would have the soup, and Joy would take the plastic-wrapped, squashed tomato sandwich. She’d giggle as they hid their bums from the burning asphalt, shaded from the heat behind the old music room. The spongy tanbark smelt like wet paper, like old dust. They’d stay there till the bell rung.
One time, while the rain played piano on the roof, Joy’s head was in her lap. And as the TV hummed quietly, looking down felt like stargazing. It was lovely for her then. Tracing Joy’s nose, braiding each other’s hair. She learnt love was fuzzy and lukewarm, like carrot tops in the sun.
When I met her, it was like walking into the bathroom at night and flicking on the switch. Her brightness caught everything, my eyes had to adjust to sudden new colours, expanding and contracting until the change settled – leaving everything foggy.
For a while, Light was blinding. She was smart in a funny way and funny in a smart way. It felt strange, talking to her. We’d bumble through awkward conversation in an after-school drama class. I would have to hold onto the ends of my sentences as they were dragged out of my mouth. Otherwise, I’d shout at her back and ask why she was still talking to me. I was barely smart enough for algebra, much less for talking to her. She was a silly creature, holding me so close. I would have done anything for her peace; she didn’t know that yet.
Light’s laugh sounded like the ringing of Christmas bells, and her eyebrows would wiggle in tiny circles when she told stories. We would take bus rides (she taught me how to read the schedule) to second-hand shops (she bought me a CD) and the beach (where she painted my sunburnt, scrunched, ever-so-in-love face in watercolour) and I’d write the stories she told on the back of my hand, just before I was taken home.
It was a heavy September night when I told her. Haziness muddled my head as we held our palms together, hearts beating, beating, beating. We rushed our whispers, afraid of her sleeping parents on the other side of the plaster wall.
She said, “You’re very nice to look at.”
I said, “So are you.”
The confessions tailed each other in swirling hypnosis, I didn’t think it was possible to look at such a perfect thing with the naked eye. As the night slipped away, so did the soft hopes I had, it didn’t matter though - the falling in was the best part. Until the falling merely meant trying and the trying stopped with her. She didn’t call for a while. I packed away her words in a small metal tin, tied it with twine and left it behind other forgotten things. I didn’t breathe for a week.
Months had passed and I was reaching everywhere for stationary promises, I didn’t know how to hold myself upright. I was clumsy, while she was spinning out of control. She called me again, asked if we could have dinner.
Hard winter rain smells like getting on the wrong bus and texting frantically, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll be there soon. Bulging raindrops shattered on the back of my neck, crystallising on bare skin, freezing. When I came through the front door, soaking, she gave me a pair of bright blue socks to wear. That night we ate tomatoes and zero calorie pasta. I hated everything in that house except her.
When I saw her in the hospital, we painted each other’s nails red as though if we bloodied ourselves, the illness wouldn’t be so loud. I kissed her when she asked, her legs splayed underneath mine, yellow light caught in her eyes. I could do it; I could do it. I’d love her enough. She would eat if I loved her enough.
That never worked, of course.
We were always floaty about it. About our stepping together and falling into the cracks of the pavement, down into the wells of hoping. The dewdrops on the tennis nets at school reflected the shallowest image of me. See, I brushed my cheeks with pink and gold that morning hoping you’d turn and say I like what you’ve done with your face. There was a constant misstep, leaning in and away. We were growing creatures, seeking something quite untraceable. I was never sure which step meant what, with you.
It was a while, though, God was it a while before we figured it out. I remember looking down from an oak tree as you pointed your phone skyward. You shouted I should smile, that I looked quite pretty up there. The sun winking through the leaves, dancing on your knuckles as the camera flashed. I was your afflatus then, a posing fairy creature. I still have those photos sitting in a folder on my laptop.
You know, it fascinates me that we’d always lived five minutes away from each other. I could have been eleven years old and passed your mother an apple in the supermarket. We probably sat on the same swing in the span of fifteen minutes when we were in prep. It’s odd. You were always meant to be here, at least for a little while. So we stand under our trees and fish nonsense tales from the lake and when you speak of your family’s travels or your favourite song, the dandelions turn their heads to music.
We were in a hotel room, bathed in sapphire light, when at two o’clock in the morning I asked if you wanted to kiss me. Stuttered those words out, arranged them on the floor in front of you like dissection instructions. I said to you, hollow me out, I do not mind. Come closer, your softness, your edges, I want them wrapped around me like armour, like kindness. The portable speaker we brought muttered prayers to itself, and they echoed through the walls, through my head, through the pads of your feet as you came over to my bed, as you sat in front of me. Everything quietened when your lips touched mine. When you murmured my name.
This cycle invaded itself, over and over. But I knew it must be you because sneaking out to meet in the park across the road felt like an anointment. A proclamation of devotion, a submission to the spell you cast on me. I would look forward to every Thursday because class finished early then and in spring it didn’t get dark till 8 o’clock and I could watch you in the dying light fade from solid to a frayed cotton dream. We’d stumble through undergrowth, rushed and juvenile, and when wattle scattered itself in your hair, yellow and all too bright, we would whisper, “What will your mum say? What will my mum say? What if they knew?” But it didn’t matter what they knew when the branches closed in. My mouth became yours; my hands yours too and we’d dance and kiss and confess nonsense sins until the chill reminded us of dinner.
And my god, it never did get cold enough. _________________________________________________________________