On the crowded platform she recognises a face. The dentist’s receptionist? A supermarket cashier?
She catches the name like a remembered scent, picks up the trail in a houndstooth collar further down the platform, a coral fragment, hopeful amid greys and blues. Almost tripping over her bag, over other people, to keep the collar, the light brown head in view, she crosses the concourse, pushes against shoulders, breathless up the Waverley steps.
He is expecting her by two. The walk to his flat, their flat, in the opposite direction from the one in which she is now hurrying, slips from twenty minutes to twenty-two… three…four.
Crossing Princes Street, it is starting to spit, and no umbrella in her bag. He will have made an effort: dead flies swept from window ledges, discs of mould dislodged from mugs. She does not look back at the clock face.
Looks back instead on a free afternoon long ago, sun golden through filmy panes, the smell of pencil shavings and painted iron radiators. Two heads among school blazers plan a future traveling the world on cruise ships. Dancers perhaps, magician’s assistants ideally. That quick sketch they made of a white ship arriving into kaleidoscopic foreign ports drops like a postcard.
Down Hanover Street she follows Lara, who strides purposefully to somewhere. Two miles now from the flat where her mackintosh still hangs in a damaged wardrobe, where a pan of something simmers on the stove, and the resumption of a sort of life. Slipping down drizzled pavements, past Queen Street Gardens on elm leaves black underfoot, down to Canonmills, ever deeper, like a spider down the inside of a bath.
Rain clogs her lashes, drips down her neck. She lost touch with Lara, oh, a decade ago. Yet here they are. Lara’s head bobs like a tiny candle flame under a brolly, past Glenogle Road and down towards Inverleith.
Her bag vibrates. Fingers drumming on a damp counter. Not worry. Annoyance. Gathering itself like the knot of a fist.
Long before they reach the botanic gardens she has admitted to herself that the woman is not Lara. Lara would be ten years older, at least. Leaving the trail at the East Gate, she steps into the gardens like a duck into a pond, rain closing in curtains across her back, and floats along paths between shrubs whose leaves drip brief jewels, while consequences trickle between paving stones, along gutters, down the hill behind her.
Penny Davis lives on the east coast of Scotland with her partner and a large, disobedient dog. When she is not earning a living working in education governance, she writes about plant-based baking, reads, and thinks about short fiction. Her work has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction prize.
See more of her work in 11.2