‘Love to Locust’ it said on the sketchbook page. Just that, with a smattering of kisses and hearts.
At the time Marc had not known who had written it, though in his heart he had his thoughts, ideas and wishes. It could have been any one of the unknown faces he had spent the week with, cramped on coaches and in cheap hotels, trailing around Parisian galleries and along Normandy coastal paths. At the time it was the only scrawl on the page he didn’t recognise; the only one without a name by it. Funny thing was though, that when he looked through the sketchbook five years down the line, some of those names he wouldn’t remember either. In ten years he would have forgotten half. In twenty it would be all but two, whilst in twenty five he would have lost the page and would recall none of the entries except the unsigned one. The one with the kisses and the hearts.
It had been a strange trip. Marc thrown together with a few faces he had left a year before and others he had no knowledge of. He had felt awkward amongst his peers: they grown confident by a year of being the seniors in school and he shrunken in stature from being thrown into the cacophony of art school a year younger than everyone else. And when you are seventeen a month is a lifetime, after all.
They were kind though, those unknown faces with their familiar relationships. Stuart and Louise, the dauntingly mature couple who were clearly destined to be doctor and lawyer. Andrew and Eileen, so staggeringly fashionable and perfect, or Iain and Gillian, all whispered giggles and hands held tight. And then, always hanging on the periphery, Yvonne, skinny as a rake and so scornful of the world Marc was sure her permanent scowl must hurt like hell.
There was no great event to bring them together of course. No Saturday school detention and no body to be found at the end of the railway line. Just a school trip to France; a trip like a million others and no less or more important for all that. A trip where fragments of self would break off and be lost forever. A trip where imaginary kisses would descend amongst the sprinkles of blinding sunlight reflected from the towers of La Defense and where awkward conversations would dissolve in the drizzle outside the Orangerie.
In Normandy they had left messages for the hotel staff drawn on the paper table covers. Cartoon coffee pots and cups and ‘Pourquoi pas?’ in block capitals. Then, fuelled by cheap lager and pain killers they had walked the deserted streets of the town, two groups of four with arms entwined singing ‘Hey hey we’re The Monkees’, much to the bemusement of the elderly couple running the mobile creperie.
Back at the hotel Marc had played a mix tape called ‘Music To Kill Your Parents By’ that pretty much emptied the room. Only Yvonne stayed, rooted beside the greasy window, looking at the greyness of the English Channel lurking beyond the sands. The tape played ‘Come Back’ by The Mighty Wah! and Yvonne half turned, half smiled, said simply ‘I like this one’ and that was all.
They sat together on the coach for the long overnight journey north from Portsmouth. Sometimes they talked; already with remembrances of the week just past and occasionally of times to come. Marc had said something about wanting to live in London and Yvonne had shrugged and spoken of passing ‘O’ Levels. Mostly though they had plugged in their Walkmen and slumbered to their music; eyes closed and minds full of dreams. Yvonne had asked to borrow the tape with the Wah! song, had smiled into his eyes and lingered a moment, he was sure, as he passed it across.
The hours past midnight were spent in the midlands. Spaghetti Junction at 1am and Yvonne’s shoulder resting lightly against Marc’s arm. Through the Lakes and across the border with fingers gently touching; doves kissing as the dawn crept softly over the sky. Everyone asleep or at least with eyes closed and breath held deep, savouring the fragments of time that felt stalled and the feelings of hope frozen in the perfect amber light and the drone of the road.
The last thing he could remember was the sight of her walking across the parking lot. The morning sunlight bled through the trees that surrounded the Rector’s house and made things look like a 1970s episode of Columbo. A Californian tinge to a fading Ayrshire summer, Fujicolor halos on angels. They hadn’t even said goodbye.
Within a month she had gone. Moved to Liverpool so the story went, which might as well have been to the other side of the ocean. Marc wondered sometimes if she’d taken his tape with her; wondered if she played it and wondered if she thought of him. And sometimes too, down the years that followed, in moments of mad folly he wondered if he should have attempted to follow her. Insanity if course, for it wasn’t as if there was anything solid there, after all. Just some fleeting moments. Just the warmth of touching legs in the dark and dilated pupils in the sleepy early morning. Just some songs degrading on ferric tape, to be stretched and snapped by time.
‘Love to Locust’ it had said on the sketchbook page. Just that, with a smattering of kisses and hearts.