Last winter was a long one, the only colour outside offered up by balding grass or an evergreen bush overplaying its hand, plastic privet leaves perfect and even shaped, factory line fodder. Winter smells of nothing, but in summer warm murmurs of flowers, soft and malty, puff out the gentle scent of pollen. Bees flit from flower to flower like the rest of us aren’t here, they carry on whether we watch them or not; it’s reassuring like meat sizzling on barbecues firming from raw pink to brown. Something’s always burning during summer, our neighbour’s brazier coughs out smoke after dark like he doesn’t expect anyone to notice. He chucks in all sorts. I reckon he goes around collecting bits of rubbish from people’s bins just so he has something to burn.
‘If he didn’t burn stuff every night I’d worry about him, wonder if he’s alright.’ I believe this even though the smoke dirties our windows something terrible.
‘It stinks,’ you say.
You roll your eyes and I do the same back. I’m conceding the point because this summer you’ve made the effort, we’ve turned feral for the first time, taking lazy strides and dozing instead of sleeping. Every movement brings out beads of sweat like bubble wrap on your upper lip and trickles into your mouth but I don’t hear you complain. Thick salt water burns my eyes, hair stiff and sticking to the scalp, but shoving one’s hot head under a cold tap full on is one of life’s great unspoken pleasures.
‘Do you know what, it is,’ you agree, shaking your head from side to side like an enthusiastic puppy and showering me with droplets.
Everything is messy this summer and I love it; buttercups spread bright yellow chaos across the lawn. ‘They’re only weeds if they’re growing somewhere you don’t want them to,’ you say. I smile at your joke because it was funny when you said it two days ago and because the weeds out back are out of control, golden dandelions a foot high. We marvel at the size of them.
‘It’s like the Day of the Triffids.’ I laugh as I come up with the comparison.
‘Dandelions the size of your face,’ you say.
Yesterday you compared them to a plate. You’re learning not to love summer exactly but not mind it too much. You’ve let go this year as much as you ever do, it gives me hope when you turn up on time at the restaurant instead of being twenty long minutes early. This August is hot and clammy, thick grey cloud like a giant duvet in the sky holding the heat in, so you leave your jacket at home.
You enjoy cold meats for your starter, claim they soothe the way a spicy curry works the opposite way in winter. Opposites attracting, cool on hot, both extremes coaxed towards a happy medium. I yearn for ice cream, but you complain it freezes your teeth and face. Cold meats it is, then. We amble on with slices of ham and you run out of things to compare the dandelions to, still reflecting on my face.
‘I yearn for the structure of term time and knitted jumpers,’ you say, in an unguarded moment on the way home.
As your words spill out, loose and careless, we both know it’s the end. Without me saying anything you sniff an acknowledgement and I mirror your sniff, a relief to us both you don’t have to pretend anymore. The winter comes soon after, its chilled tart air snapping and scratching at me but I cope well enough and anticipate the spring.