Trickle by Mhairi Tait
Sienna leads me down a frozen mud path into the woods. ‘We’re in Switzerland now, actually,’ she says. The sky is pink and our faces too; the sun’s last hurrah has washed the world in pastel. I could kiss her.
‘Isn’t it mad to be this close?’ My blank expression prompts her to elaborate, ‘To be this close to another country,’ a cloud of her breath escapes and stretches out to fill the cold air between us, ‘You can pop over in ten minutes, you could cross the border without even realising.’
We turn a corner and continue along the bank of a stream. The trees lining the banks are jet black against the light, their branches bare and brittle from the winter weather.
She knows the path well: she leads with a certain confidence, it’s automatic. Before she brought me here, she wondered if this place might only have existed in her mind. She tells me this on the bridge, her eyes sparkling. It rings true, I have the sensation of being immersed in her thoughts, in her headspace. I could kiss her. She hasn’t taken anyone here before.
The water, visible through gaps in the boards below our feet, is brown and silty. ‘Isn’t it magical?’ This question falls from her mouth without a hint of irony, the soft touch of her lips rendering it rhetorical. I can’t think of anything to say except for, ‘Yes, so magical.’
I am suddenly aware of my tongue and its position in my mouth, in my throat. I turn away from her and step up to the bridge’s edge to peer into the shallow trickle of the stream. A floating leaf, brown and nibbled by birds or insects or who knows what, catches my eye and I watch it travel downstream until it’s pushed under by the current. The water is too murky for me to see below the surface. It disappears.
I’m not sure I believe what I said. Yes, so magical. These words echo in my head just as they echoed hers. I am playing at some kind of game, strategizing: to win is to be liked, to be wanted. But maybe I’m cheating, if I’m pretending then I must be cheating.
‘You okay?’ She asks, smiling. This, too, is rhetorical. I nod and smile, she is sufficiently reassured. We cross.
Away from the stream, outside the corridor of trees, the sunset is happening, though I find myself forgetting. ‘Look, there!’ She says, her hand gripping my forearm firmly. And yes, if you crane your neck and squint your eyes and surrender to belief in love and magic, for just a moment, you’ll catch a glimpse of something worth pointing out: a cloud that’s like a feather. We look at this cloud together, we notice it. There’s a pleasure in noticing.
‘Let me take you the long way round,’ she says.
Over the hill, on the Long Way Round, the wind has space to rush towards us, full force. ‘Bit nippy,’ I say. She laughs with my words in her mouth, “Nippy” she breathes, ‘you’re always saying “nippy”’. I could kiss her, just the once. Just one more time for old time’s sake. Just because I had decided to be more selfish, to do what felt right, to only think of pleasure and warmth and the present.
We can see a hill, across the vineyard. Being high up and looking at something higher is pleasing somehow, like an inhale, it relieves the tension of the moment. It makes the world feel bigger. Very big, even. The path leads us under a pylon, another lesson in scale.
Sienna clears her throat, back to small things: ‘Get this,’ she begins, upbeat, ‘I was going to join the hiking group, but I couldn’t.’ She is facing forwards and gesticulating. ‘The guy said I didn’t have the right boots. Ridiculous, right?’ I look down at her boots, frown in sympathy, and agree, fervently. ‘Might just go anyway and see what happens.’ She turns to gauge my opinion, our eyes meet; we laugh. I could kiss her.
Later, hands and noses and cheeks all relieved of the cold in the hot plume of her studio apartment, we will drink. We will drink until we are honest with one another. We will laugh about our former awkwardness, as if it had existed in a past more distant than today. We will drink and we will forget where her body begins and mine ends as the tension cracks with each gentle clink of our glasses. I will lie flush to her side. We will touch and I will finally stop thinking. And I could kiss her.
But I don’t.
When the sun drags itself up through the bushes, the trees, against the grain of their branches, and buffs its way through the thick, tousled clouds as they gather like dew on the tips of the mountains, its light will wake us up. Perhaps not at the same moment. Maybe I will wait a while. Maybe I will pretend again. Pretend that I am sleeping peacefully and not lying awake, eyes trained on her bare shoulder rising and sinking inches from my face, trying frantically to think only of the present, trying frantically to notice it.
But certainly, eventually, we will get up, we will separate, and at breakfast, we will not talk about this closeness.
Mhairi Tait (she/her) is an undergraduate student at the University of Oxford, originally from Scotland, currently living and working in France. She is passionate about dismantling shame surrounding sexual health and sexuality, often felt most acutely by members of the LGBTQ+ community. She has previously published work in student journals and magazines, such as 'RGB Colour Scheme' and 'EXON'.