The light slid across the wooden floorboards as I tip-toed over to the leather sofa that sat underneath the window. As the sun rose, it swept gently across the pale-yellow roses sat on the sagging windowsill of the bay-fronted window that looked out over the pebble beach towards the sea. They were reaching the end of their life. The blooming marigolds that sat in their vase on the floor by Mia’s old electric guitar were just starting theirs.
Summer was nearly over, and the change in air was imminent. It came every year, that sudden change in the seasons, but it always caught us by surprise. The last days of August were always like this, filled with lazy mornings eating granola with raspberry yoghurt out of mismatched bowls while we sipped steaming cups of tea that burnt our lips. Our most-sacred ritual, even on scorching hot days.
The afternoons stretched on forever in either a blistering heat or whipping chill, and the nights were always too short, yet somehow never-ending. Long days stretching into nights that were always an adventure. We felt invincible and nothing could hurt us. Not the pebbles underneath our feet as we walked barefoot into the thrashing waves at 4am, happy from tequila shots and berry ciders, nor the crackle of broken glass that littered the pavements as we walked home, barefoot and blissful. Our ears still thumping along with invisible basslines that had reverberated through our bodies just moments before; we always found ourselves too close to the speakers. The music was so loud it hurt. We had built ourselves so strong, and with skins so thick, we felt as though we could withstand anything. Even on the darkest days, when we felt weak and strained and stressed, we only had to look out of our windows towards the glistening sea with its rolling waves and endless mysteries to know that we were lucky to be alive.
There was something special in the way the early morning sunlight spread across the faded patches of our faded leather sofa in our living room on this August morning. I already knew it was going to be a sunny day from the way that, even with the curtains still partly-drawn, I could feel the warmth of the sun seeping into the room and the ripple of the breeze that swept through the open window.
I heard Mia’s faint footsteps. I know her steps anywhere, she always walks so lightly, almost as if she is floating a few millimetres above the ground itself. There were so many comforting sounds that grounded me when I was here: the water pouring out of the tap, the switching on of the kettle, the opening and closing of the fridge, the turning of the key in the lock. We saw each other in these intimate moments every day, when we were on the brink of full consciousness and at our most fragile.
I unfurled myself from the old Chesterfield sofa and went to the window seat, my favourite place to sit and read. I pulled the curtains open and opened the window wide, tugging on the frame that always jarred and squeaked when we tried to open it too quickly. That’s what happens to wood that breathes in the sea air. If we had a piano, it would always be out of tune. I turned towards Mia and watched her as she made her cup of tea. We were both water before milk people; it’s the only way to make tea. She looked round suddenly, staring across the room and noticing the change. She shook her head quickly, as if she had imagined the way the window squeaked and telling herself the window was already open. The sun came out from behind a cloud and light flooded into the room, casting itself across the sofa, as if to warm it for her.
Leaning against the fragile glass of the window pane, I took in how delicately and deliberately she went through her morning ritual. A splash of soya milk, two sugars, always. When she was done, she picked up the mug, spun on her heels and walked over to the sofa, perched on the arm rest and opened the lid of the record player. Beggars Banquet. She grinned as Sympathy for the Devil rose up and filled the room. I watched the vinyl on the turntable, mesmerised, unable to do anything but listen. She sat so still she could almost be a statue. She shut her eyes and hummed along, swaying in time.
She stood up and walked over the window, stopping right next to me. There were already families down by the water’s edge, even though it was still almost painfully early. The weather was too beautiful to stay inside, and everyone wanted to make the most of every last glorious day that the summer was giving us. She knew it was going to be a good day. The world appeared to be in a euphoric haze, joy bubbling under the surface of our skins. We could hear children laughing down below us, splashing in the calm, gentle waves, chasing the seagulls that were unhappy about the lack of chips. Her pale pink mug has a chip just above the handle, but she refuses to use any other even though we have plenty. Pale pink is her colour.
One of our favourite things to do together is simply watch the world outside of our window. This morning was no different. We gazed down and watched the traffic rushing past, brought to a halt by the traffic lights that were on their never-ending red-amber-green merry-go-round. We watched as families walked gleefully over the crossing, children carrying towels and parents with picnic baskets and parasols. It would be ice-creams all round later that afternoon. The happiness flooded the air; no one was immune to it. Mia smiled at the world beyond the window.
I turned back and left Mia on the sofa, still staring happily out of the window. It had been a while since I’d visited her, here, in our flat. I hadn’t realised how quickly the time goes, so it had been longer than I’d thought. Time passes differently when you’re not truly here.
She turned to look back into the living room, casting her eyes across the organised chaos of our home. It was hectic, but that was the way we always liked it to be. Everything had its place. The mugs were on the second shelf of the third cupboard. The blankets were strewn across the back of the sofa. The toaster sat on top of the microwave. The cutlery was mixed up in the drawer, even though we had dividers. The bookshelf was organised by colour, not alphabetically or by genre. We didn’t care that it was harder to find what we were looking for, it looked nice. Our vinyl collection was piled up on the floor next to the record player, of course. There was a pile of laundry on the floor next to the washing machine, as there always was, waiting to be loaded. I thought I should do it for her, as she always used to do mine for me. I rose from the window seat and walked into the corner of the coffee table, but of course I went straight through it. I forgot I could do that now. The physics of the world are different when you’re balancing between heaven and earth.
They tell you that your life flashes before your eyes in the moments before you die. They tell you that you’ll see a light, be called forth, and find either pearly gates atop a cloud that stretches on forever, or the fire and brimstone of Satan’s lair. But it isn’t like that. It isn’t like that at all.
When I imagined that final day, I thought I’d see moments like my graduation, my sister’s wedding. But really what I thought about was these moments. The moments when you felt truly connected to the people who cared about. The little things in our everyday lives that make us feel whole. The way that your mother strokes your hair when you’re sad, the way your brother teases you relentlessly but would kill for you in a moment, the way your roommates would always have a cup of tea ready for when you got home from work. Now that I’m on the other side, I like to keep tabs on my friends. Just check in, make sure they’re doing ok. I join them on their nights out, slipping into the booth that we always make sure we sit in at the pub. I cut through the lines outside gigs that they attend, dancing along with them. I sit with them on the beach on sunny afternoons, stand patiently in the corner of the room at their dinner parties, sit a couple of seats down from them at the cinema.
I am there for it all.
I watch them all as they go through life. In the year since I died, they’ve grown so much. New jobs, new partners, new houses. They are doing all the things that I can no longer do, but as I watch them, I experience the things that they’re experiencing and feel the things that they’re feeling. It’s almost as good as doing it all myself.
Mia turned her attention back to the window. The sun has risen higher in the sky, and the sounds of the waves and the ice-cream van trickle into her consciousness.
“I’ll always love you.” She said in a whisper to the empty room. She knew I was there. I reached out to touch her arm, but my fingers slipped straight through her skin. Her arms were covered in goose bumps and she shivered, staring straight ahead of her. She didn’t know she was looking at me. She turned back and walked into the kitchen, washing up her mug, careful not the chip the handle further. I watched as she picked up a book – my book, it had belonged to me once – and settled onto the old leather sofa, sighing before opening it up and taking herself away from this world.
It was those leather sofa, hot mugs of tea, record player mornings that I loved the most. It always was.
This original piece of fiction “Leather Sofa Mornings” is the intellectual property of Annabel Claire Lunnon 2019. Do not use without express permission.