In years to come they would say that it was a great one for bluebells. Up in the woods they seemed to blanket everything. Great swathes of them stretched away into the shadows, gleaming in the soft evening sun of a late Spring.
They were not his woods, but Marc remembered them well all the same. Through a gap in the fence from Helen’s back garden, with Gary and Elaine. An old gold Halford’s bicycle abandoned on the pavement. The Jam on the tape recorder and Eileen breaking everyone’s heart. She’d gone off with the rich kids from the big houses down in the town: the ones nestling between golf courses and the old estate. They filled you with a mixture of hate and jealousy. The houses, the kids, the things they said and the things they could do. The way they stole everything beautiful and precious.
In the year of the bluebells Marc remembered Eileen’s white bedroom furniture and feathered hair. In the woods that afternoon they had almost kissed. Almost kissed. Well imagine that.
In the year of the bluebells, when the Spring had come late, there were lots of almost kisses and nearly hands held. It had been cold forever and winter held firm all the way to Easter Sunday. Then, in one miraculous afternoon, the air suddenly warmed and everyone blinked in astonishment. Marc had been on The Screws with Chris and Robert when it happened, stealing bicycle race signs from telephone poles. It made for a struggle home with pockets stuffed with winter clothes, but the feeling of the sun on blinding white legs made it more than worthwhile. The fledgling southerly breeze helped too, blowing them home with the signs strapped to their backs like sails. Tail wind out and home? The old wizened club riders told them you could count your lifetime allocation of those days on the fingers of one hand, but it took that lifetime before any of the three would realise it was true.
Up in the woods the evening drooped silently onto Marc’s shoulders, Eileen’s almost kisses taunting him gently. Back in the houses there were more than kisses and more than almosts, just not for him. Not for now and not for ever. When he closed his eyes it sometimes seemed like he could touch the possibilities lingering in front of him, but when he opened them again they just laughed in his face then darted away in dances of wild abandon.
To the west the mountains of islands were just visible between the branches whilst in the east the crazy skinheads of the council estates guarded the war memorial. To the north the fading smoke from the Monsanto factory breathed its last and to the south, behind Marc’s back, the old radar station pointed its dish to the sky and pretended to look for aliens. A week ago he’d sat with Robert on this tree trunk and listened to him tell scrumpy-fuelled stories of universes and giants. Now all he heard were just whispers of times to come, memories of those almost kisses and the songs of bluebells stretching forever.