Fourteen

My heart sank as I opened the door to the flat; it was empty – empty of Sophie, anyhow. I could feel it; not only from the waves of coldness that greeted me, but from the sense of absence and abandonment that radiated from it.

I realised that I’d been half-hoping to find Soph waiting for me, spread languorously over the sofa, thinner than ever, her skeletal frame an accusation of neglect and desertion… she’d have smiled sarcastically, satisfied that her message had finally prompted some response from me…

But no; she was gone. I walked swiftly through the icy rooms to check; but it was obvious. All her things were gone. Anything remaining was part of the furnishings which came with the flat, or mine.

She’d left no note, no cryptic message spelt out in fridge magnets.

Nothing. Just gone.

* 
 

The pub was much quieter than was customary, with a strange, mournful ambience, not helped by the playing of Joni Mitchell.

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” she sang pointedly. It was as if she knew.

Glancing round, I saw that there were a few faces I recognised, but no particularly close friends of Soph as I’d hoped.

“Hey,” I said, walking to the bar, addressing Issy the occasional barmaid, an acquaintance of Sophie’s.

“Hello stranger,” she said, tone mildly accusing, wiping her thick bleach-blonde fringe out of her eyes. “We haven’t seen you in here for months. Been up to mischief?”

“No more than usual,” I grinned. “What’s wrong today? It’s like someone died in here.”

“They did,” Issy said curtly, her expression fierce. “Liz lost the baby.”

“Oh, that’s terrible,” I said quickly, “how horrible for her. How awful.”

I had only a very vague idea of who Liz might be.

“Yes,” Issy agreed. “It’s so sad. Everyone’s devastated.”

That accounted for the subdued feeling. It was the kind of pub with devoted regulars who knew each other’s business.

Now that I’d accidentally strayed into the murky waters of shared-grief, I’d no idea how to approach the subject I’d come to; namely, Sophie. I stood uncertainly, wondering whether to simply turn and walk back out the door…

“Are you having a drink?” Issy asked brusquely.

“Oh, yes,” I affirmed in my panic, realising that in fact I really did want to escape this mournful atmosphere – I’d missed the window of opportunity now, though, and would just have to sit it out. It was oppressively stuffy; someone had turned the heating up to full power.

“What would you like?” Issy asked slowly. It seemed that I’d seriously pissed her off somehow. Had Soph maybe confided in her that I’d been lax in my duties as a friend and cohabiter of late?

“A whisky, please,” I said – that’d keep the visit short at least. “Um, Laphroaig please.”

“Ice?”

“No thanks,” I shuddered contemptuously; what kind of an uncouth person put ice in whisky?

It tasted good – smoky, earthy and deep – and helped me to regroup somewhat in the face of Issy’s acidic demeanour.

“Have you seen Sophie recently?” I eventually dared to ask her.

Your Sophie?” Issy asked, surprised.

“Yes,” I said, slightly thrown by the implication of proprietorship.

“Not very recently,” Issy admitted.

“How long ago?”

“Two, three weeks? It’s hard to be sure, exactly.”

“Did she seem alright?” I asked, uncomfortably aware that Issy was moving closer, excitedly scenting scandal.

“I think so,” Issy pondered, peering back in time. “She was a bit worried about money, maybe. But she often is…”

I downed the remainder of the whisky in a fiery gulp.

“Thanks,” I said, making to leave.

“Is everything ok?”

“I hope so.”

“Have the pair of you had a falling out?”

“No,” I refuted angrily; Issy’s eyes did not believe me. “I just haven’t been around very much lately…”

“Maybe she heard about the baby,” Issy suggested, a veneer of concern masking a gleeful glint. “She’s have been really upset.”

I nodded, not wanting to converse further.

I had never really liked Issy, my brain suddenly surmised, articulating a thought which had never quite revealed itself to me previously. I had always known on some level that there was something hungry about her, something of the vulture.

“Have you tried at her mum’s?” Issy called after me.

“Not yet,” I said, pushing the door open, breaking through the stifling sombre gloom into the fresh, chilly air.

I breathed it in gratefully, refreshed by the bitter cold wind.

The day was already dying. I stood by the creek for some while, watching as the light faded, savouring the lingering rich, peaty taste in my mouth, wondering anxiously where Soph might be, and why she might need my help.

She had always wanted my help, I knew. She had always wanted to be able to rely on me.

Me! Why would she be so stupid as to rely on a flaky, selfish dick like me? Surely she could see it was ridiculous?

Alas, nevertheless, she had.

And now I would simply have to keep looking until I found her.

Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?

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