I have a photo of Helen, Keith and Bob, sitting on the greenest, lushest grass imaginable. The sky above them is poster paint blue, the sun so bright that Helen is squinting a little into the camera, despite her wide brimmed hat.
I have looked at it often. Cornwall: Bossiney Cove. Keith has a spliff in his hand. We smoked many joints that holiday. Skinny rollies filled with "giggle grass" that worked like magic. I have never laughed so much again. All four of us saw a cloud elephant.
"This is an important sign," said Bob.
"What of?" I asked.
"Well, what do elephants make you think?"
We shouted out, India, curtain tassels, boxes, mice. Stupid answers to elicit more mirth.
"Never forget," he said, solemnly.
"What shouldn't we forget Bob?" said Keith.
And he said "This," and gestured to the hill, the sea, the sky, us.
We went to a teashop, ordered scones and clotted cream, but it took us ages to get the words out. Then, when the tea came in delicate china cups we rattled them in the saucers with our laughing hands. We snorted, spluttered, and thought they were going to ask us to leave, but they didn't. They smiled at us; infectious we were with our big fat youthful happiness. We drank pints in the pub and ate cheesy chips, we played pool, and smoked. We gossiped and sung along to the jukebox.
Fifteen years is a long time, and no time. I haven't seen Keith in fourteen of those years. I see Helen once in every couple, and we hug, squeeze, and promise to catch up but we don't. I didn't see Bob after his diagnosis; he didn't want to be remembered as a dying man. So I look up to the clouds and every one of them is an elephant, no matter its shape.
Sara Crowley has had fiction published by Pulp.Net, 3:AM, elimae, flashquake, Litro, Cella's Round Trip, Dogmatika, Red Peter, Better Non Sequitur, and a variety of other lovely places. Salted, her novel in progress, was shortlisted for the 2007 Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award. She blogs here.