Short Stories

“One is always at home in one’s past…”

– Vladimir Nabokov

Looking out across the still sea, they could see the horizon forming as a gentle shade of blue began to chase the darkness upwards. The yellow glow of the streetlights was now superfluous, but still bathed them in youthful light as they turned the disposable camera on themselves to cement the night in their memory. The white light ripped into their retinas, and with the bleary moment locked away in the film, they rolled the wheel to pull the next section of film into position.

It was a night truly deserving of its cellulose souvenir. At their final high school dance, feelings had come into focus and passions into alignment, and soon they were entwined on the dancefloor. They had then left hand in hand and toured the towns watering holes, before retiring exhasuted to the promenade to watch the day break, and await the first trains back out to the suburbs. And so, Andrew and Natalie’s dazed eyes looked out at the approaching morning, her head nestled into his cheap polyester clad shoulder.

“We should probably head over towards the station.” she suggested.

“Kiss me once more.” he slurred tiredly. She pecked him on the lips, before standing up and then pulling him to his feet.

“Don’t forget the camera, Nat.”

“Oh shit, yeah,” she said, the tight fabric of her evening dress making it hard to stoop down to pick it up.


As the summer ended, so did Andrew and Natalie’s affair. They both headed off to university, and they opted to call time, parting as friends, sharing a final embrace in West Park on a sunny afternoon in early September.

Two years later, Natalie uploaded the final photo they took on the promenade to Facebook, with the caption: Two years ago today…


Seven more years passed, and Andrew and Natalie did not cross each other’s minds save for brief episodes of nostalgic reminiscence. Their summer together had been chalked up as nothing more than young love. It was simply circumstance that had drawn them together, hormones and loneliness rather than care and devotion, nothing more than a formative experience.

By the ninth anniversary of their enchanting night under the city lights, however, things appeared to have changed, and the both of them, run ragged by the arduous process of falling out of love with another, allowed suspicions and dreams to germinate. They had both thought of each other during long, lonely evenings, but it wasn’t until exactly nine years after the original date that they were drawn back into each other’s lives.

On returning from the pub late at night, Andrew scrolled aimlessly down his Facebook feed, eating a burnt slice of toast, and taking large hungry gulps from a pint glass of water with the hope of sobering up before he went to bed. His eyes moved slowly up and down the screen, but were all of a sudden caught by the image of two tired young faces in amber streetlight, with the patterned tiling of the promenade stretching out behind them. It was him and Natalie.

When the morning came he struggled to justify his feelings, but in his drunken state he had been overcome by the weight of what might have been, and he succumbed to the stubborn force of curiosity. He took a screen shot of the photo and sent it in a message to Natalie, with no explanation or comment.

She awoke early in the morning, and while methodically loading cornflakes into her mouth, she checked her phone, saw the message and smiled. The toast and water had done its job, and Andrew’s head wasn’t as heavy as he thought it would have been as he opened his eyes to the sharp beams of eager light pouring through the open curtains. He reached over and pulled the curtains closed, before rolling back onto his bed and reading the messages on his phone.

One new message, Natalie Sands.

“Wow nine years ago! What a night! Long time no see. How you doing?”


Andrew’s inebriate actions, and Natalie’s subsequent interest marked the beginning of a lengthy conversation which lasted for many months. They reminisced about old teachers and old haunts, long teenage nights and wasted afternoons, and in a certain way they each filled a void within the other. The sense of loneliness that had crept up on them in the spring was now banished, and in moments of melancholic solitude,  they would simply rifle off a message recounting an inane detail of an adolescent episode, thus quenching their desire for belonging. Though their repartie was formidable, they hardly ever spoke about their lives at present, instead choosing to hide in an idyllic copse of nostalgia, and, eventually, after nine months, the idea of meeting up again was suggested.

They decided, that, in order to satisfy an illogical lust for retaining the myth-like nature of that evening so many years ago, they would meet ten years to the day after their final high school dance, at the first bar they visited after the dance had ended. They bristled with excitement, continuing to chat inanely, dreams and possibilities growing now at an exceptional rate, ticking days off in their minds counting down to the reunion.

What if it was meant to be? What if at the end of the summer ten years ago they had made their greatest mistake? Was it too late?


The day in question fell on a Wednesday, and whereas Andrew had stayed in the city he grew up in, Natalie had a three hour train journey ahead of her.  Within an hour, the train turned onto the coast, and it was soon flying along the coastline’s precarious edges. The sun illuminated Natalie’s wide smile  as she remembered the joy of living by the sea, and after a while squinting out at the view, her eyes forced themselves shut, and she fell into a relaxed sleep.

Andrew was panicking. He looked so old. He hadn’t noticed it before, but in the last few weeks of staring idly at the old photograph, it had suddenly dawned on him that he hadn’t aged all that well. Ashen streaks had appeared in his hair, and his once stark blue eyes now looked tired and grey, not that Natalie would notice as they would be hidden behind the cheap black frames of his glasses.

Having spent all morning trying to arrange his hair in ways to disguise its silver streaks, he had resolved to shave it short like he had it a few years earlier, and was now methodically moving the clipper across his head, all the while staring unhappily at himself in the mirror. He showered, pulled on a smart blue shirt and his best jeans, and walked out into the stifling evening heat.

Natalie, in fashion terms, had opted to try and relive former glories, a choice which she now greatly regretted. While it was the same size as the one she had when she was a teenager, and it did still fit excellently, the Radiohead t-shirt she was given as a gift a few years previous now left her feeling foolish and childish. As she stepped off the train and into the heat, she also regretted the decision to wear tights under her black skirt, and as she pulled her plaid overshirt off, she wished for nothing more than to be wearing one of her summer dresses.

Andrew had arrived before her, and she picked out his awkward figure leaning against the outside wall of the bar from a distance. He saw her much later, but as she approached he noted how gracefully she had aged within the ten years. Her shy gawkiness had developed into a humble beauty, and whereas his eyes had died somehow, hers glinted with a fresh excitement for life.

“Hey” She said, offering her arms for an overdue embrace.

Andrew smiled at her, and accepted her offer.

“You look great,” he said over her shoulder.

“You too, very smart,” she replied in a flirtatious, lilting tone.

As they released, Andrew noticed her t-shirt, and he immediately blurted out: “Is that the same shirt you got from the gig?”

“It’s the same design, but not the exact same one,” she said looking down and running the scarcely worn fabric through her fingers.

“You’re still a fan then?” Andrew questioned.

“Very much so. I’ve got tickets to see them in November. You still like them?”

“No, not really. Everything after OK Computer seemed a bit over the top to me. I kept buying all the records though until The King Of Limbs. I couldn’t stand The King Of Limbs!”

“You what!? That’s my favourite Radiohead album! What’s wrong with you!?”

“It’s just noises! Where are the songs?” offered Andrew, looking up to see her smiling.

“All music is just noises. And they had to change. You can’t just keep on making OK Computer forever. Shall we get a drink before we fall out?”

Andrew nodded with relief, overcome by what a formidable debater she had become.

“I’ll have a G+T, and, what do you want, Nat?”

“Pint of that 6% red over there.”

Andrew flinched, yet as he paid the barman he remembered that they had both drunk a great deal of red ale during that summer, and he wondered why he had stopped drinking it. They sat down, and began to talk, at first nervously, as they had both pinned great hopes on the evening, but after one drink and further reminiscence, they were talking to each other freely.

“So you do something with data or something, don’t you?” asked Natalie before draining the last quarter of her glass.

“Yeah, it’s pretty boring, let’s not talk about it. Is it primary school you teach?”

“Yeah, its brilliant, every day is a new adventure!”

“Are they not annoying? The kids.”

“No I love them, they’re so cute!”

After a few minutes of anecdotes, Natalie noticed how much she had been talking, and asked Andrew why he had never left the city.

“I like it here. It’s home, and I’m comfortable.”

“Did you never want a change?”

“Not really, no.”

“But there’s a whole world out there, are you never going to see it?”

“Maybe,” said Andrew looking down, “Shall we move on to another bar?”

“Good idea.” she replied, and they walked a few streets down to the next place.

There they spoke of many things, but after an hour or so of sidestepping arguments, the conversation ground to a halt, and a dose of nostalgia was needed to revive it. This pattern continued as they weaved between various watering holes, but after a while an uncomfortable ache began to form in each of their chests. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be? Did they have anything in common except for their pasts? Why was it such a struggle? The last year had surely suggested that it was meant to be?

These questions repeated themselves, and grew larger, until they were both quite tired. Spotting Natalie yawning, Andrew suggested that they should probably call it a night.

“Yeah that’s probably a good idea. I think the travelling tired me out.”

“True. I’m also quite drunk now, so…”

“We should do this again,” suggested Natalie politely.

“I’ll send you a message,” replied Andrew, knowing full well that he had no intention of doing so.

They embraced once more, and bade each other farewell, before walking off into the night. Natalie had a hotel booked near the station, whereas Andrew was now living in the centre of the city. He amended his route home so that it did not include the promenade, and as he walked the uncomfortable weight in his chest began to lift. As Natalie ambled back, enjoying the cool night breeze, she felt the same.

It was not meant to be, but the looming clouds of “what if” had been dispelled. They had been offered a rare chance to test a nostalgic suspicion, and while they had not reached the conclusion they may have hoped for, the chapter was closed, and no longer would they hang uselessly on words spoken many years before.

They felt exhausted, yet strangely triumphant as they returned home. Natalie even mustered a weak smile. The new page was blank, and they were excited to ink it afresh.

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