Photograph by Laura Hynd, Story Jacqueline Ward
Your hands were shaking.
I can see that now as I stare at the photo. Funny really. You always seemed self-assured. Cocky, even.
Was it the cold? Was it because it was snowing?
‘It’s too cold for snow,’ is what my grandma used to say. But that day was freezing. Everything looks soft through the tender filter of love, doesn’t it? It was perfect. Or so I thought when I opened the heavy velvet curtains. I stepped into the bay window space and caught my breath at the crisp beauty.
‘Look! Damien. Look.’
You did not look. You picked up your guitar and played it. In bed. Oh yes, I thought, we are decadent.
My teenaged love-scenario mind-fucks included me running through the snow with a sheepdog and a gorgeous boyfriend. We would tumble into snowdrifts. We would laugh. Throw snowballs. Make snow angels. It all seemed possible that day.
‘Come on. Come on, Damien.’
I’d pulled back the duvet and grabbed your hand. There was resistance, of course. I realise that now. Time has overlain that scene with more realism than I care for. The bag behind the door, never unpacked. Your coat on the chair.
But you came with me, didn’t you? You ran with me through the manor house. Everyone else had left when a rumour that the owner might return at any moment was whispered. All that was left was their footsteps in the snow, which I conveniently ignored as I stripped naked.
You stopped and looked around, suddenly unsure.
‘Come on, Damien.’
I stood in the middle of the lawn, grinning. And you walked towards me and laid me down right there and then in the icy grass.
Afterwards you mumbled something about a cigarette and rushed inside. But I stayed. I made an angel in the snow and then sat on the stone ledge, surveying my work.
I looked everywhere for you. I tore through the house, bursting into rooms and scattering dust as I uprooted covered furniture. I waited hours, tapping my foot fast as I seethed my way through that Sunday, hoping you had just gone to the shop and would be back soon with more vodka.
But all your things were gone. The bag behind the door. The coat. Your guitar. You.
I left that night but I did not give up. You told me you lived in Manchester so I started there. I searched telephone directories for Damian Price. I visited all the pubs you told me you frequented.
Then I cast my net further. I spent hours on Facebook searching for you in the backgrounds of friend’s pictures, in the photographs from the weekend we invaded Filton Manor. I saw myself, arms in the air and smiling but there was no sign of you.
As weeks turned to months, I thought I had imagined you. I tried to draw you, to frantically preserve the desperate memory of that love I felt that morning. I went back to the manor when it finally reopened to the public and stood on the lawn trying to recapture you.
But I soon realised you were real and you were gone.
Life resumed, and I met another man. Beautiful and kind. But I never forgot you. Never. You were there in my sleep, a dangerous haven in my worst nightmares. You would hold me tight and then evaporate as my eyes opened to the day.
And I never stopped looking for you. A shiver of boredom would have me typing your name into a search engine. A stadium gig would have me scouring the crowd for you. The memory of that day would catch me unawares in a train station as I thought I saw you out of the corner of my eye.
It wasn’t until I found myself back at Filton Manor I really understood what I had to do. It was my husband’s company’s Christmas party. I didn’t want to go. I knew what would happen; what I would do. Because I cannot trust myself with your memory, Damien. It grips me and twists me into someone I hardly recognise.
I waited as long as I could. I danced. I smiled and chatted. I sat and ate my dinner looking out over the same lawn we had fucked on. I felt my anger build, then desperation overtake me and my hand on the door handle. I was in the room, lying on the bed, feeling you next to me. Someone else's luggage all around me. I fell asleep and security came.
I got away with it. A simple mistake, I told them. Wrong room. But the next day I bought one hundred credits on 192.com and told myself that this would be the last time. If I didn’t find you I would quit. I would quit. Damien Prices scrolled up the screen and I wrote down all the addresses in my little notebook.
And now I am here. In your room. It took me two years to find out you lived in the next town in a lovely semi. You are married to Trudy. You both work nine to five and while you are at work today I am in your home. Yes, the house is chaotic now I have looked in every cupboard, every drawer, searching for some fragment that you never forgot me.
Your hands were shaking. This is the closest I have ever been to you and that moment since. It captures it all. You were on the other side of the camera, looking through the lens at me. I saw you. I knew you were there. I am connected and I feel at ease for the first time since then. You kept the picture. You did love me.
I push the photograph into my bag. I open my purse and pull out a passport-sized photograph of my ten-year-old son. Our son. I leave it on the mantlepiece downstairs and close the door behind me.
I am finally free.
Jacqueline Ward is an author from Manchester in the North West of England. Her debut psychological thriller, Perfect Ten, was published in September 2018 and will be followed by a second psychological thriller in 2019. Follow her on twitter @JacquiAnnC