by Katharine D’Souza
No longer able to climb the stairs, he unfolded the blanket and laid it across the sofa. The same blanket they’d spread on lawns, on beaches. On which they’d cast crumbs, spilt drinks, cuddled – a blanket which softened their summer life.
He tucked the frayed edge beneath the sagged cushions, tight as arthritic hands could manage.
In autumns, the rough weave had cosied around knees left chill by the car’s ineffectual heater. Now, worn thin – like himself, he thought – it provided bare comfort. The comfort of memories.
He lay on his side, and angled his head so the photo filled his vision. Gaudy tinted and grainy, the best of days: the 1960s, and her. The blanket, fresh then, as they’d been, shielded her legs from sharp dune grasses. Wide enough to hold her handbag, their picnic, his kicked-off shoes, her, her, her.
All legs – those legs – and sunglasses. Smile. Crooked front tooth. Lipstick like sealing wax. And the dress, of course, the dress.
He sighed, a weak breath devoid of the energy he’d used to talk to her, the passion he’d used to kiss her, the life he’d shared with her.
‘Gone too long,’ he said and turned, with effort, to pull close the fabric draped on the sofa back. Yellow cotton, daisy-sprigged, faded now. Faded like memories. Memories which brightened as he laid it out and closed his eyes.
The shoulder seam gathered folds of smooth woven cloth. He’d stroked them, filled out by her collarbone, the swell of her breast. His hand lingered now, warming the fabric from the outside as her heartbeat once warmed it from within.
Then down, sweep down to the waist where a loop long missing its belt caught his thumb instead. Firm, it should have been. Strong. And down again. She’d been broad-hipped but carried it well, carried it off on those legs. The skirt not as short as the fashion had been, but he’d liked that. More for him to uncover.
His fingers teased the hem. Slid it over bare skin, warm, smooth. Shapely. Those legs. Her laugh never quiet for long. The buttons – cool, wide disks – never easy to undo, always snagged. She’d been angry when one was lost in his eagerness to unfasten her.
Each button an achievement, an inch more of her. The last, in the point of the neckline, allowing him to sweep cotton aside to reveal the savoured silk snagging against his rough fingers, clinging to her beloved body.
Not this time. Not now. The friction between blanket and cotton not enough to prevent the dress slipping from the sofa and her from his grasp. Again.
He laid his palm flat against the wool, unable to reach for the fallen fabric. Still gone. But there, still there: the scratch of the blanket, the drop of the dress, the seal of her kiss.
Katharine D’Souza writes contemporary short and long form fiction. She is also an editor and writing tutor.