You Only Talk about the Past with your Friends from University

Melanie and me. Melanie and I. Myself and Melanie. Me and my Mel. She had been a dull lump before she met me, just a blur to men. She was nothing until I took her under my wing and educated her in the ways of persuasion, told her it was okay to tell them what they wanted to hear, it was okay to feign interest as long you knew who you were when you came home the next morning. And she had excelled underneath my careful teaching, blossoming into a beacon of contagious energy. She had become addictive because of me, and she could talk the khaki trousers off of any man, because of me.

When we first met, she told me she wanted to be an architect. She wanted to make buildings.

‘What kinds of buildings?’ I asked.

‘All kinds Terri, all kinds. Buildings with curves and spikes and spirals and gargoyles and towers and windows and pillars and posts.’

I told her I wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to write books.

‘What kind of books?’ she asked,

‘All kinds Mel, all kinds. Books on heartbreak and despair and delight and mistakes and tension and love and betrayal and…’

‘That sounds great Terri,’ she said, slinging an arm around me, making me feel like I could do anything.

Yes, Melanie and I had navigated the sticky awkwardness of University life together, and discovered what we were without the defined lines of parental boundaries.

 

And what had we lost together? Everything. What had we learnt together? Everything. It was all tied up in a neat little box, filled to the brim with naivety and low cut tops and essays on post structuralism and unflattering haircuts and blistered feet and heart crunching pain and breath stealing giggles, and nights spent passing a bottle back and forth on a park bench because neither of us had done it when we were meant to, when we were 13.

 

Oh, how our cup runneth over with memories, those faded vignettes that no one else could touch.

 

And now.

 

Now, she was married. Now, she sold buildings with balconies and open plan kitchens and extensive basement cellars and Victorian revival décor and concertina doors and built in spice racks, and now I wrote articles about ‘Summer Beauty Regimes,’ and ‘Breaking your Own Glass Ceiling’ and ‘26 Ways to Wear an Outdoor Hat Indoors.’

 

Now we reminded the other of how much we had changed. How the promises we made to ourselves as young adults had been compromised by the realism of adult life. We were not the world changers we thought we would be and when I looked at her, I saw crow’s feet and when she looked at me, she leant over and pulled out a single grey hair.

 

Damn, I had been saving that for someone I really loved.

 

When we saw each other now, normally once a month to shop and to drink, the dynamics were not the same, because the only way to live in the past is to fall into a coma and awake with amnesia, having forgotten the last ten years of your life.

 

We kept trying to convince the other the path of true enlightenment was the one we had taken, and sure it may seem like an accident, but we totally meant to end up here.

 

Last year we went for afternoon tea, and I spent the whole finger sandwich drenched bullshit meal drinking glass after glass of wine, and trying to encourage her to do the same. Indulge in your vices Mel; just let me corrupt you, just one more time. But she kept making excuses and asking me what I thought of Dan, the work colleague she had set me up with the previous week. I slugged my wine, commented on his weak chin and laughed at how terrifying it was that he didn’t know who Philip Roth was.

 

“The problem with you Terri, is that you are a snob.”

“No Mel, I am not a snob; I just think some things have more cultural value then others. Books over yachts I say!”

“But you write features for women’s magazines? Where’s the cultural value in that?”

“You are right Mel. Sadly I have a talent for something I despise, but I guess it’s the same with you and real estate. We both sell lifestyles neither of us can afford nor believe in. In a way, we are both liars.”

And I held up my wine glass, waiting for the clink, but she just stared at me coldly.

“Terri, I’m pregnant.”

 

I asked her if she remembered giving out hand jobs at university parties like they were canapés, and how I would rub her hair after, telling her she wasn’t a slut, and that it was just the patriarchal male trying to put a negative light on the idea of a women enjoying sex.

 

She told me she didn’t remember.

 

As the bump grew, so did the unease, a sense that the end was nearing, and it was marked out in pauses, flimsy excuses to postpone dinner dates and conversations that turned increasingly to raking over that shared memory box.

Our new motto became “do you remember when?”

“Mel, do you remember when you kissed Jason?”

“Yes Terri, and do you remember when you slept with Fred?”

“Yes Mel and do you remember when you failed your final year coursework?”

“Yes Terri, and do you remember when you edited that coursework for me, and replaced the word metaphysical with the word cunt?”

Oh, how I loved her disapproval the most, and boy did she disapprove of me now. I had backed out on our promise, the solemn vow made just before graduation that our children would play together, and I wondered what the point was anymore. The bump was the line, and when her body expelled it, we would go our separate ways.

 

The last time I saw her we decided to go to an art gallery. Her tired body and my aching head had stilted our brunch, and our eggs were beginning to grow sad on their plate. I suggested an exhibition I didn’t really care about because it was something to point at, to comment on, sometime we could both laugh at, and who knows, maybe something in it would make us fall in love again.

 

We wondered around the white space and I laughed at the old woman who was giggling at an obscene painting, but she ignored me and said her ankles hurt. She kept looking at her watch. I told her how much I enjoyed walking around art galleries on my own, how I liked to pretend I was someone else, some kind of sexually elusive exchange student, maybe an intellect, maybe an idiot, who knew?

 

She said that sounded like a strange thing to do, and that she found these places depressing and felt sorry for the museum watchers, calling them the sad protectors of art.

 

I told her to just try it. She was no longer a seventh month gone married real estate agent, but a radical architect seeking inspiration, the thing she had wanted to do most before circumstance took it away. I insisted, go on, just these two rooms, strike up a conversation with someone, indulge me, and see what happens. She laughed, and shook her head. I made a snide comment about how she used to love such an activity, a stupid challenge, a bit of fun.

 

She relented, “and then we go?” she said. Fine, fine, I replied.

 

I watched her from my seat as she idly walked around, occasionally looking back at me for reassurance, something she never use to do. She never needed to know if she was doing it right.

 

I gave her nothing back, but stared straight ahead looking disinterested and bored, ignoring her familiar look of anger. The look belonged to a different time, aimed at me when I wanted to leave the party before she did, wasn’t so keen on the boy she liked, didn’t want to go to the pub quiz with everyone else because I just wanted it to be the two of us.

 

She readjusted her posture, her self consciousness gradually shifting, and changed before me until I saw my Melanie again, the one who could seduce a boy with a well timed glance, the one who encouraged me to be someone else, someone she preferred. She paused in front of a sculpture, her hands on her chin soaking in the angles, peering at the feet. She walked around, examining the wall-mounted explanation, two lovers entwined. She approached a dark haired man, struck up a conversation by pointing at an interesting feature of the piece and then tilted her head back as she laughed at his response.

 

They spoke for a few minutes, gesticulating together, nodding in agreement, pointing at the other paintings in the room, and she seemed rapt, her element easy to find, and as they walked to another painting, she leaned closer and whispered something in his ear.

 

He pulled back abruptly; shot her a look of utter confusion. As he walked away, his head down, she watched his retreating back and then she began to shrink.

 

We left, her shoulders pulled down and her expression hard to gauge. She wouldn’t tell me what happened but she said felt unwell, she wanted to leave and go home. Then she shook my hand, turned on her heel and she left.

 

 


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