“That kid just moved the goalposts,” I say.
“He’s not the only one,” she says.
“You’re going to use that in a bloody short story,” she says.
“Almost certainly,” I say.
The team with the cheating goalie scores again. We’re sitting on Our Bench and I’m waiting for the ball to come near us so I can kick it back and impress her with my Bale-like grace and athleticism.
“I know exactly what you’re thinking,” she says. “I’m a ghost, remember? Be honest, you care more about kicking that ball than about you and me. And, for the record, it’s too bloody late now to impress me, you twat.”
“How do you know what I’m thinking? Ghosts aren’t telepathic,” I say, “that’s… illogical. And don’t call me a twat.”
Silence. Shy sunshine. Stillness. Then, suddenly, there seem to be dogs everywhere. Poodles, a sausage dog, several schnauzers, a couple of those ugly, squashed things that look appalled and hurt simultaneously, all of them yapping, yelping, whining, all ignored by their tired-looking owners. Over by the stream, a lurcher’s chasing a greyhound and you can tell the greyhound resents it, reckons it deserves far better: “If I’m going to be pursued, let it be by my equal.”
“How do you know what that greyhound’s thinking?” she says.
“Stop doing that!” I say.
“But how do you know?”
“I don’t, all right? I don’t.”
Another silence. She’s so bloody close to me, her body separated from mine by thinly sliced whispers of time and space.
“I could’ve been a contender, you know. I was in the race once.”
“You said that out loud,” she says.
“I know,” I say, remembering she never quite did irony.
I sigh then, think how bloody often she could make me sigh, and then I remind myself with a grin that there were three things we decided on the walk here from the bus stop that We Don’t Know:
We Don’t Know:
1) What “Bec” means
b) Where the word “lido” comes from
iii) Why, exactly, we’re here
“So what do you reckon ‘Bec’ means?” she says, reading my bloody mind again.
“Look it up on your phone,” I say.
“OK,” she says. I wait. And wait.
“Right.” She clears her throat. “‘Bec’ is the name of a place in Normandy. Apparently, the Normans ended up in Streatham, as everyone eventually does, and – having bought a pack of reduced Bulgarian shaving foam in Lidl, a samosa in the Somalian internet cafe and a can of aloe vera-infused iced tea in Chicken Cottage – they settled here on Tooting Common, building a swimming pool but running out of money before they could get the roof done. Eventually, they integrated with the locals (a fearsome, though eternally disappointed, tribe of warriors known as Palisfans) and, to all intents and purposes, disappeared, leaving behind only the name of the place and the infamous South West London shoulder shrug.”
She says all this with a straight face. And in that voice. And I feel slightly sick as I remember why I loved her when she was alive. The dogs have quietened a little, the sun’s starting to fade. Try again.
“How come a ghost has an iPhone? And how come it’s only an iPhone 4?” I say.
“You never did give a straight answer to a straight question,” I say, “Jesus. Right. What does ‘lido’ mean then?”
She taps away on her phone again. I wait.
“It means, according to my special spectral search engine, ‘I always loved you, you know?’”
“Bollocks, how can one word mean that?” I say.
“It’s Esperanto, a very elegant language…”
“Bollocks,” I say, again.
“… but not as elegant as English, clearly,” she says.
A man buzzes past in an electric wheelchair. A jogger follows. It’s getting cold. I look at her. There are tears in her eyes.
“So why are you here?” I say.
“Because you want me to be.”
“No. I don’t. I really don’t.”
“You said that…”
“Out loud. Yes, I know. So why are you here?”
The greyhound’s chasing the lurcher now. And barking.
“This is the only chance you’ll get. Ask me,” she says, “please, ask me.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the ball bouncing gently towards us. I stand up with a middle-aged groan, walk slowly over to the ball and kick it back to the kids, putting a nice bit of swerve on it.
I turn round, smiling, and Our Bench is empty.
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