She gave me the letter in the hospital waiting room. We’d been together a few months then, a long time when you’re sixteen. I don’t remember why we were at the hospital but it was the middle of winter and the windows were more ice than glass. Maybe I’d broken my ankle or her mum was sick again and we’d gone to visit.
‘What’s this?’ I said. It sat in my palm, heavy as bone.
‘Read it,’ she said. ‘I can’t say it out loud,’ she said. She walked out of the room and the hospital and I didn’t see her again that day.
There was no envelope, just one side of lined paper and a few blue biro sentences. I can still picture her childlike scrawl that slanted like a houseplant towards sunlight, reaching out for restitution.
It was her friend Rachel’s older brother that raped her three years earlier at Rachel’s house in the summertime.
A few days later I left class early and walked across town to wait at her school gates and when she came out I kissed her. We went to the graveyard to smoke, sitting close because of the cold, and talked about how strange it was that the bones all around us had been dead for so long.
That weekend we caught the train into the city. I bought her a scarf and once it started to get dark we sat and watched boats full of tourists float uselessly like jetsam down the ebb of the river. Her fingers dug into my arm and it hurt but I didn’t mention it.
‘My dad will be home late tonight,’ she said.
I smiled and looked at her. Split by branches overhead the last of the day’s light raked across her face and I could just see the brief outline of damp beneath her eyes.
‘Let’s go,’ I said.
Neither of us mentioned the letter but for months afterwards I sat in class trying to picture what had happened. I saw a cool summer’s evening where you’d be warm in jeans but in shorts it’s almost cold and the skin on your legs feels like it is being lifted so gently away from your flesh.
I could see the downy hair on her arms standing on end in the deepening light, the perfect circles of goose bumps on pale flesh –
But this girl I pictured was like someone out of a dream or novel, not the mouthy teen I got high with in the in the park after school and fucked in whispers at the weekends once my parents were asleep.
The girl I imagined was lithe and fragile. As flawless as sheet ice.
Soon the days lengthened and our small suburban lives were touched by the momentary clemency of an English summer. One evening in late August the two of us were lying on our backs in the grass near my house, smoking.
Back then my family lived on an unremarkable cul-de-sac: six semi-detached houses on each side of the road and a patch of grass with an oak tree at the bottom. We stretched our bodies out beneath the quiet cover of the oak with our heads just outside so we had a clear view of the sky. Within the border our arms were just touching.
We watched the sky through its gauzy frame of exhaled smoke. It was the kind of sky you’d be happy to die beneath - lavender blue spread with a swarm of vermillion clouds and lashed by jet streams fading in the wake of planes on their way to airports beyond the city.
As I lay there I knew that night had been a night like this. My body beat like the pulse in a wound and something rose in my chest with the force of a primordial river.
I turned onto my side and eased my hand beneath her top, circling the brief shadow of her navel. She undressed slowly and willingly and the long grass cast strange shapes where her breasts curved into white stomach.
When we were finished her face looked paler than before, her eyes as vacant as meltwater.
‘Why don’t you roll another,’ she said.