I had a feeling she was going to be there yesterday, even as I was walking down through the fog with my pack on my back enjoying, otherwise, the beauty of the wet morning. I had such a strong feeling she'd be there I stood outside for a while smoking a cigarette and looking out over the field towards the trees and the slow-rolling river, wild horses stepping through the long grass on the far bank, a train pulling into the station that I wanted to be on.
But I shook off the sense of certainty I had that she'd be there, and went in for a cup of coffee.
Sure enough, she was there, in a tight little group with three or four people who knew us both, and knew what had happened (at least from what she'd told them: I hadn't been around, so I hadn't had the chance to justify myself). The others all said hello, but she didn't speak. I didn't either.
I got a coffee, and sat down at a different table. Took out the Edward Abbey book in my pack.
"Have you fallen out with us?" one person asked, trying to be jolly.
"No," I said.
At the same time she invited me to come over. My voice cancelled out hers and she didn't repeat the invitation.
A guy went over and joined their group. He sat down next to her and they started talking. Seemed they were having a lot of laughs. Well, good for them.
Once she came past with another of our mutual friends. That one grinned at me nervously as they passed. She was blushing too. She was carrying a can of Deep Heat. She called back to the people at the table: "I'm going to spray her back. She's having a spasm."
They came back. More talk and laughter.
I drank my coffee. I was going to leave: hearing her doing her act on the new guy on the block was making me want to puke. Homecomings ought to be better than this. But then someone else I knew came in. Another friend of us both.
He came to my table, sat down and talked a while. Mostly about his kids, and work. I had worked at the same place a thousand years ago, before I got so old and tired. I rubbed the grey beard on my face and listened.
I got coffee for us both. I was glad of the company, despite having nothing to say.
As I bought it to the table he leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially: "I've just realised who else is here." Then he straightened up and waved to them at the other table. "Hello, I didn't see you all there."
The people at the other table were getting louder. They got up to go and play a game, the one where you knock pins over with cheeses. She went with them and stood against the wall. It was her back. She couldn't overtax herself because of her back.
Whenever anybody said something funny she laughed the loudest. Whenever anybody sneezed she said, "Bless you" before someone else could, as if it were a race. Her voice offering comments and suggestions was the voice of a hundred late night conversations, a thousand promises made in another country many lifetimes ago. I looked at her a couple of times but when our eyes met she looked away.
"Dean, you throw like a girl," she would say straight away, to the other guy.
At the bottom of the second cup of coffee it tasted like drain water. I winced and pushed my cup to the middle of the table. I put my Edward Abbey in my bag. I had to get out of here.
My old friend and I wished each other well, but made no arrangements to reconnect.
I left without saying goodbye to anyone in the other group.
Outside the fog was still heavy, obscuring everything more than a few metres ahead. It was getting towards lunchtime, but the pubs and shops I passed looked spooky with only their lower floors visible and the rest taking shape as you drew near them. The traffic choked the roads.
I didn't know where I was going, so I just walked. As I always do I walked towards the first green space I saw and sat down on a wet park bench, underneath a dripping winter tree.
I took my phone out of my pack. I had hoped to find a message from her there lamenting the stupidity of what just happened. There was nothing. I considered sending one to her. But no. I did that a few days after the split and she'd ignored it. The second time I did it she responded: "Do not text me."
Instead I sent a text to my friend." That was weird. I was glad to see you there."
Then I smoked another cigarette. Moments later he responded. "It must have been uncomfortable for both of you."
I put my phone away. Maybe true, but I was through trying to understand the other person's position. All that led to was me taking responsibility for things that weren't my fault. It takes two to make a war, baby.
Taking my phone back out again, I deleted both her numbers. Then I secured my pack, got up off the bench and turned back to the road. There were bed-and-breakfasts all over town, but the majority were pretty close to here, if my failing memory served. I had a little bit of money and just enough of the middle-class kid about me to persuade a respectable landlady despite my raggedy appearance.
It was time to find a place for me to sleep tonight.