Josie walked past the shelter where the tramp always sat. He was there even in the bitter cold. As always, she pretended not to see him, but as she climbed the icy path an idea came to her. She could bring him some of the homemade soup that was left over from last night.
When she came back out with her flask, snow was falling again. She could hear the soft sigh of the waves below, and through the trees she glimpsed the distant lights from fishing boats, marking the invisible horizon.
She grasped the frosty railing as she descended the slope, the wool of her glove sticking to the metal. For a moment she thought the tramp had gone, and part of her was relieved. But he was still there, huddled in the corner.
As she crossed the path she lost her footing, the flask crashed to the ground with her, and when she unscrewed the lid, the soup was a mess of glass. She considered turning round without saying anything. After all, it made no difference now.
But he called out to her, and asked if she was ok.
"I made you soup," she said helplessly.
"Josie, isn’t it?" he said. "Don’t worry, I don’t expect you’ll remember me."
She shook her head. Maybe he knew her from the library.
The shelter was dank; names gouged into the bench. He had cardboard stuffed inside his coat, and a green hat pulled low over his ears. He held up a bottle of whisky, and laughed. "This’ll keep me warmer.”
She peered at him, trying to recognise a human face through beard and dirt. His eyes were dark. She had seen those eyes before, in another time.
"Here," he said, offering the bottle, "pour some into your flask cup." He talked quietly, his voice raspy. There was something in the lilt that was almost familiar, perhaps altered beyond recognition by the roll-ups and the whisky.
As he lifted the bottle to his lips again, she noticed the tattoo on his hand. A faded rose at the base of his thumb. Her heart lurched, but she said nothing. Dave. Dave Noble.
She saw his tanned chest, his arm flung above his head on the grass, his dark eyelashes resting on his cheek. Gently sleeping. She was only sixteen; he was only seventeen. She could smell the hot motorcycle engine, and see the shimmering road stretching ahead through that long summer. Her cowboy.
She handed him the flask cup. "Keep it," she said. "I’ve got to go.”
Had she been just one girl amongst many? Did Dave Noble even know that Josie had once loved him with all the madness in her teenage heart? She suddenly needed him to know, more than she needed to breathe. She walked over and kissed him. His lips tasted sweet and his eyes burned dangerously bright. As she climbed the path, she didn’t turn round, but they both knew she would be back.
FlashFlood is brought to you by National Flash-Fiction Day UK, happening this year on 27th June 2015.
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