I reached out and touched her cheek, her cinnamon brown damp hair. Carrie, I whispered, but she ignored me still. I leant back, not knowing what to think. Suddenly reminded of the time she’d sunk purposefully to the bottom of the river, dark water and hidden currents. She’d risen at last, to my chiding – and told me it was alright, as it was okay for actors. That in the depths she’d trodden the boards that were silt, moved under the lights that were just bubbles flying through the water. That as long as you knew how to act wherever you were, you’d be okay. I’d shaken my head and pulled her up the bank, dripping and shivering and grinning. She’d given me a hug, all mischief of course.
Carrie grasped at everything – seeing it all as one and the same, and so very vital. Reached out to anyone who had ever surrounded her and took them in. Gave them warmth and comfort, her love and care. Some loved her back and some hurt her as people will do. She never stopped, not even once, to see if she could pick and choose. To pause and find something in the spaces inbetween.
I’d told her once that there was a difference she just wouldn’t see. We’d argued about that, sitting on the worn wooden bench in the little meadow behind the houses. It was a place for days that were lazy, as well as the cool of late summers and their early evenings. Watching mists roll in, listening to the faint roar of life ebb and flow in the river there. Talking and disagreeing but trying to see what the other was saying. Startling the birds when we left, as we’d sit out until the moon rolled around. Carrie and me, all those times together.
Life, she had said, was just all that was given to you and all that you knew. That is our everything, she’d insist. I’d shake my head. There’s something else, I’d retort. Something that remains once you’ve taken away the words and the people and the things that have happened to you. She’d go quiet sometimes then, though I didn’t know what she thought of. She didn’t talk much of times from before, just shared glimpses. Always bright happy moments, which made me wonder what filled all the gaps. No, she’d reply briskly, there’s just what we’re given and what we find, and that is our life. I’d pass the bottle, the flask, or the paper cup, depending on what we’d brought along. The old dry grass rustling under my feet as I finally stood, declared to the stars just what I thought of her perpetual contrariness, and we’d finally collapse in giggling heaps. Sweet Carrie. That had been part of your everything, too.
We’d once shared all the same ideas, but one day I decided I had a new understanding. It had burst upon me, and I’d tried to tell her in so many breathless words as I danced along the riverbank. We’d disturbed a heron that night, and decided it was auspicious. Every word we shared was newborn, fortuitous, and would be carried aloft to new lands. I talked and talked of how I could see all those I knew and all that had happened to me, and yet also see set it to one side! That there, underneath, was something exquisite and alive. In my breathing, in the sense of my pulse. Life, all on its own, raw and undemanding and endlessly whispered. Free of all that had gone before and all that might come.
No, she’d always tell me, that’s just your blood echoing. It’s biology, it’s not special – it’s not other-people special. That’s what she used to call it, and I remembered the evening light falling on her face as she said it. Carrie would reject this every time I spoke to her of it again. It was somehow all too dear to her, and she wouldn’t let anything go. Thought all her obligations and fears and loves as inescapable as the pulse in her wrist. She seemed to be waiting for someone else to carry them for a while, if they could prise away her child-like little fingers. As if someone could do that, in our heads, where time runs amok and we’re the ones who shuttle it to and fro. Binding the threads, snapping frayed ends and locking away the parts we do not want anyone to see.
This evening, back here and so long since that night, I recalled her words on the phone earlier. A brief conversation unlike all the others. Meet me there, she’d said. I want you to be there first, and I’ll come and find you.
I’d gone and sat for a while, enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon. Kicked at the dust under the bench that was partly us and partly the earth that had come before. Watched a dragonfly dart, the ash trees gently nodding. After a while I’d gone for a walk, wondering if this was some prank. Circled the meadow, tearing some seedheads to feel the sharp husks as I rolled them between my palms. Teeth, she’d always called them, trying to bite us before we eat them. Birds had called out, flew on, and eventually come round to roost. I mused, and mulled, and eventually left. Decided to call in at hers on the way home, still wondering what she’d meant, or whether she’d just forgotten.
She was lying still, in the hallway, her mother sat near her. Just staring. The paramedics had cleaned her up and were about to take her away. Her skin was cool, not my Carrie at all, although I knew that cinnamon hair. It wasn’t meant to be like that, all dull strands and dampness. Her mother asked me, did you know? As if anyone could ever know this. As if I could explain what she thought of living, and how that might be a reason. As if everything she wouldn’t set aside could ever add up to this.
I want you to be there first, she’d said. How could I ever know why or what she’d meant? How would our place in the meadow ever know, or the ladybirds we had caught or the rabbits we had chased to keep them safe. I knew there was no sense to it, or to any of my thoughts right now – but I wished she could at least have seen it all as I did, just the once. Perhaps then she might have figured out how to be an actor in the water for a little while longer.