They met again in a supermarket. It was Christmas Eve and everyone was there. All around the shop assaults of memory, surreptitious sightings of people from the past, back, nasty girls from school now snapped and pummeled, lost boys made good in chinos and suits, friends of her mother patting her arm in the biscuit aisle, their shortbread faces softening because they had been fond of Louise.
Eddie had a trolley. It had been abandoned in the car park. Now he wished he hadn’t bothered.
The Jingle Bells playing over the tannoy had the musicality of scraping nails.
Emily had a basket; Cream, cream cheese, crackers perhaps and mincemeat for mince pies. She’d found a jar rolled on its side behind the sugar. The basket crashed against her, the metal mesh fighting, there was a tailback of trolleys and a crush for the cheese boards.
So it was there, beside the cheese after, what, twenty years? All those many kinds of cheese both melty and hard, cheese with holes and mould and cranberries and apricots. In slow motion you could see their hands both reaching for the Wesleydale.
In a flash you could see their hands now older but familiar, touching like the so old days. In a moment, a place and time where Christmas crackers didn’t matter, everything here and now so close, the chill of the cabinet, the solid resistance of the floor tiles, the glare of the fluorescent lights, the past racing up, a train with flickering windows. Emily and Eddie baiting forked lighting on the quay, her hands around his waist driving on the motorbike up past the Hellfire Club to the view of the night town like stars. Emily and Eddie flinging plums into the sea on the day before he left. Why did he leave?
“Emily,” he said. A woman pushed passed with a chocolate assortment. Emily said nothing. She could not choose a word out of so many. She couldn’t pick out which thread to tell him.
“How are you?”
“I didn’t know you liked Wensleydale.”
The basket was digging into her fingers. The girls were with her father. He sometimes got nervous.
“My mother died,” she said.
He nodded, mumbled.
“I have a daughter,” he said.
Her hair was darker, shorter.
His eyes hadn’t changed.
The woman with the chocolate assortment came back the other way. They were truffles with many luscious centres.
“I’m a photographer now,” he said. His hand disappeared. She waited. Over the tannoy came a plea for more checkout operators. He gave her a card.
Edward White, Portraits, Special Occasions she read. There was a phone number.
“I have two girls,” she said.
“I live in Blackrock now,” he replied.
On the train that day, it had been him she’d seen. It was like the folds of paper coming together.
She looked at the basket with the Wensleydale on top. Her ex-husband had refused to make the trip to see the girls at Christmas. He said he would Skype if he got the chance. When Eddie had left he had said he would write her a letter.
“My number is there,” he said pointing. Emily put the card in her bag among the rest of the debris.
He wondered whether he should kiss her on the cheek. People were pushing to get round them. Good to see you Emily and Eddie said and smiled at each other.
Then Eddie turned the trolley and headed towards the milk.