All Stories, General Fiction

The Way You Always Were by Otto Alexander

I came back in the autumn for a short weekend. I’d forgotten that it was autumn; where I live the trees are like monuments that never change, but nothing lasts forever does it?

The trees that grow behind your house that used to be mine too look as weary as you do even though you never tell me. I knew you were tired because you stayed sitting when I came through the door, with your hands resting above your stomach as you watched the TV. The electric heater was by your feet like she used to have it, and the bars lit across your blanket and you looked warm.

I am tired too but I only ever tell you in stories about other things, and sometimes I wonder if you know.

I remember when you walked to the end of the vineyard to show us that we shouldn’t be scared. We were scared but we watched and laughed as you disappeared behind the vines and the dead grass. I sometimes wonder what you were thinking as you walked, and if you were scared; we were brave because of you, and now I can walk alone at night through the woods and fields and feel safe.

The morning after I arrived I opened my window onto the vineyard steps, and looked out at the brown leaves of the vines and the grapes that had dried black and moulded from the cold. The air caught me, and during the night I had woken and walked to the bathroom and forgotten to close my duvet so that when I returned it was cold and I shivered. I should have listened and used a hot water bottle.

You had risen early to make me breakfast but I wish you had rested. You were in your pyjamas and cardigan until lunchtime, but the hot toast and apple jam were like a call to autumn and I didn’t want to leave.

Smoke from the stove scented the air and the room felt hot so that when I went to the hall to get food from the shelves behind the curtain, I never wanted to go back, so I stayed with you and we were quiet for a while.

I made you sardines on hot buttered toast for lunch but you didn’t eat it, so I made you gnocchi with butter and sage like you had made us, but it tasted different. You said I should have added salt, but I did and it tasted of nothing else to me.

We sat on the loggia wrapped in thick blankets listening to the hills. Everything sounded close but the cars were always far away. We played scrabble with the blankets draped over our shoulders and drank Vin Santo with biscotti, which you shouldn’t, but we did.

You taught me how to make ribollita that night and when I got out my phone you laughed and pushed it away. I tried to remember but I knew that when we sat around the small kitchen table with its waxed cloth, I would forget. The carton of wine was empty, so we switched to Campari and then you told me to get the chocolate from the shelves behind the curtain, and it was the last bar so I worried.

Early that morning I packed the shelves full of food that I thought you would eat and left enough chocolate for a family which I knew you would love.

You had told me not to worry and that we would see each other next weekend, so when I walked into your room I was happy and calm. When you didn’t answer I thought you couldn’t hear me. I said your name again, but then I knew, so I kissed you.

I called everyone but I don’t really know what to do. They will be arriving soon and I don’t feel like making anything, so I will heat up the ribollita and walk out to the end of the vineyard. It is dark but I am safe.

Otto Alexander


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