‘I showed her my tear catchers.’
‘Oh, David, really? So soon?’
You shrugged and smiled, a bit embarrassed. But that’s you, my friend, not very guarded. You told me how you’d shown her the lot – all your little bottles of lost love and failure. I wanted to wrap your head in my arms, bury your face in my jumper – shush and shush you – because it all seemed like too much revelation.
‘Everything. My brother. My first love. Mikey. Even the court case.’
And that took my breath away because I’ve only seen your little glass tube of tears over that court case once in my life – and that was five years into our friendship. That you’d shown her, two months in, it made my heart beat too fast. And I could see you talking her through your row of ornate vials – clear, blue, amethyst, ruby red – with their different levels of liquid inside and their little labels in your shaky handwriting. There are tiny chips out of some – the ones you had to carry for months in the pocket of your jacket or your schoolbag. The ones that couldn’t really contain your pain.
Some are dry now. And you keep the dry ones, knowing them to be precious. I’ve seen you hold them in your palms until the glass reaches the temperature of your skin. Because you know, you’ve told me often enough, that we have to learn to love forever what we’ve ever loved – even after the tears have dissipated into the air we breathe. Yes, David, I’d like to say you’re a wise man.
‘And has she shown you her bottles? Have you seen her tears?’
‘Oh, God, yes.’
And your eyes started to shine, and threaten to spill, just thinking about her suffering.
‘They are beautiful. Miniature, cut glass decanters.’
‘What? Like a set?’
‘Yes, they must be family heirlooms… But, the thing is, they’re all full.’
You described the minute bottles, each one full to the stopper, to the lip. If you had opened one then you would have been able to lay your finger tip down into her tears. I felt a bit sick suddenly and I didn’t know why and didn’t want to think too hard. I found a question.
‘What are they all for?’
‘Oh, she doesn’t have labels.’
You saw my unspoken anxiety and had to answer it.
‘Oh, now, come on. Not everyone likes to classify.’
You know I walk on the beach every morning? That’s when I saw her. David, my dear friend, I saw the process – I saw your beautiful, your tragic, woman filling her unguentaria. She had a box – ebony, Edwardian I should think, like a dressing case. I followed her down the beach, watched her nestle it into a dip in the pebbles and open the lid. Inside were her tear catchers. I recognised them immediately from your description – the style, the elegance, the mystery of her bottles. Each one had a velvet-lined niche in the box.
She took off her shoes. She shoved her socks inside them and then started to roll her jeans – to the knee. Twenty trips into the brine, David. She stood and dipped her tear bottles into the water. She wiped them with a cloth and slid them back into their places in her box. Then she leaned against the bank of pebbles and looked out to sea. I saw her take a bottle and dab a trail down each cheek. Emotion applied, like perfume, to her skin.