We’ll go for coffee—alright, decaf, if you must be like that, and I suppose it is late, and I’m an insomniac. I get in just before dusk at the top of Parker’s Piece. This coach reeks: someone’s missed the toilet, and now everyone takes a piece of it back up the aisle on the soles of their shoes.
I haven’t seen Cambridge since I was a teenager. Not sure I’ll want to be there once I’ve arrived, if I’m honest. Too many associations with snogging boys with recent cold sores who try to put their hands up my top after a token five minutes. Boredom, that’s what made them do it, I suppose. No point in not doing it. Bit of excitement to make them feel alive, D cups far preferable to the reality of D grades.
And I’m certain to bump into someone, and we’ll look horrified at each other and grin with tea-stained teeth, the parentheses around our mouths permanent now, and squawking tweens will tug at our sleeves, angry at the delay, while we reminisce about getting soaked and sunburned at Alton Towers at the end of school trip. Wearing non-uniform clothes we were all desperate to show one another for once. Insisting on being an individual, in all the familiar ways.
I wonder (and I’m not telling you this face to face) if I’ll be a disappointment. If you’ll be a disappointment. Isn’t it better to age gracefully, facelessly, sharing landscapes and Vietnamese beef noodle Pho and new trainers and never see one another in the (sagging) flesh? I should warn you, I’m considerably fatter.
Are women allowed mid-life crises? We don’t do hair plugs and trophy blondes but there’s a crashing that happens about now, isn’t there? Spectacular divorces seem to be our speciality.
That’s a nice icebreaker, isn’t it. You can get straight into the juicy stuff when the other’s gone through it, too. It’s almost a shame you haven’t gone through one, too.
Not that I’ll tell you this. We’ll just have coffee and talk about our career paths, little confidences about how much stronger we were than before, like laying down trump cards instead of conversing. Competitive smalltalk.
I’m getting stage fright. Stomach gurgling. Trying not to think about the coach loo.
I’m sorry. I can’t do it. What we have is much safer the way it is. Let’s try it again in a few years, when I’ve grown into my age, when my ambitions are dead and I’ve stopped mourning them. It’s better like this, believe me. I’ll tell you the coach broke down, or—I don’t know—heard someone important (more important than you?) was dying and I had to get off early.
I’ll make it up to you, though, I promise. We’ll meet when we’re truly old and crinkled, proudly accepting our metallic grey hair and laughing about our fabulous lives—just give me a bit longer to have one first, please. You’re probably contemplating doing the same thing, if we’re honest.
You’ll be disappointed in me, I know, but not half as disappointed if you meet me now. I’m not worth meeting at the moment, and the effort of trying to impress and convince just feels like a PR job I’m underqualified to do.
Apart from anything else, I ran out of foundation this morning so I really don’t look my usual self.
Oh hell—I’ve missed the Park and Ride while typing. Shit.
That’s the penultimate stop.
What is it I preach to my kids about being in the moment, keeping your wits about you instead of zoning into a screen? About human contact being so much more valuable than texts?
I’m even rubbish at being a coward.
Even my insults haven’t matured past Sixth Form.
This is unbearable. I can’t go anywhere but the loo and it stinks worse than my courage. Did we really arrange to meet at the exact moment my coach arrived?
Shit. There’s the All Saint’s church spire. And lots of trees. That’s nice. At least I can take lots of pictures of trees, and my journey will have looked like I’ve enjoyed myself. It’s cloudless, too. Like my childhood summers, endless lazing about under blue skies and tents, with books or a guitar. Lost in thought, and sometimes cake mix.
Now that I know I have to follow this through, I suppose I’m going to have to be a grown-up about this. God, I even left my kids with their dad so as to have some adult time without them scrambling my thoughts.
Right. Breathe. I do have something to show for my adulthood, don’t I? I’ve gestated and birthed and breastfed two whole new people, that’s pretty incredible in itself. If men did the same I’m sure there would be prizes for it.
And everything else…well, I reckon achievement is like a small mountain that, once you’ve scaled it, suddenly gets dwarfed by another, much more impressive mountain, which you then feel you have to climb, too, and the same thing happens over and over until you lose all sense of perspective, and every goal smashed becomes so much litter on a bus station floor.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could hop back down the progression of mountain peaks until we were back at the beginning, so we could squint into the sun gazing up at all we’ve done?
But then we would have to be down on the ground. Low. Nobodies.
This is it—Parker’s Piece. I’m here! It’s dusk and the smell is incredible! Fresh woodsmoke and the wide open space, with swallows wheeling and gorging themselves on flies, and maybe some early dew, and bicycles… I’d never realised this place has very its own smell! Or how wonderful it would be to inhale it! Alone, revelling in the freedom of—
Hang on a minute.
Where are you?