You last saw her on the corner of Garden Street, just before the stretch of wasteland which became a stretch of motorway ten years later.
You had been arguing about something. Someone.
Terry Yates. The first time anyone or anything had come between you, and it was a bloody boy.
You remembered the way the conversation slid out of control, all the little resentments building up like the start of an infection, making you flushed and shaky as you screamed at one another. No one stopped to ask what was wrong, because back then, as a child, you could wander off and have adventures.
Earning scars to build armour with.
But you were giving them to one another.
Twelve years old and the best friend you ever had.
Your cheek tingles when its cold. The doctor never explained it but you think its a sense memory. The crack of her palm against it when you spat how her brother was a queer.
Her eyes bulging with shock and her hand coming up, faster than the fading light.
You rocked back, hand pressed against it as you hiss at her, wishing she was dead.
You remember it as hissing, but late at night, you remember how you screamed it at her.
She ran off, and you watched her leave as something sat on your chest, made you sit down and put your head between your knees and cry yourself sick.
In a kinder world than this, you would have seen her at school the next day. You would laugh about it, or at least make things right again.
She did not come to school. The policeman in your parents kitchen, he looks too big for the house and he asks you, in a voice which booms even as he tries to whisper, questions about where she might have gone.
You don’t lie to him but you make yourself forget. Part of you is still angry at her, and if she’s missing, then it’s her own fault. You learn something ugly about yourself then, which remains at the back of your throat forever, a scar which makes it difficult to swallow sometimes.
They never found her.
There are appeals.
Her parents on television, blinking into the harsh lights and struggling not to cry as they tell her she’s not in any trouble.
At night, you think about where she could be.
Sometimes you let yourself remember.
A copse of trees tucked into the corner of the caravan park. Sneaking past the caravans, and through a hole in the fence, brambles and thorns to slash at your legs.
The silver bark of the tree, cool and smooth, and the knot of roots. It is cool and quiet there, and you played there, silly games which made sense to you both. The language of a friendship learned in private.
They never found her.
Your decision stays with you.
It whispers in your ear on your wedding day.
It’s there in the delivery room when you give birth to your first child.
It stands by you at the funeral. Two coffins. Not too big and another, too small to look at without wanting to die.
It sits next to you on the train ride. Mute with loss, and going home to your parents after a stay in a place with clean white walls and a regime of pills to stop you from opening your wrists again.
You go for walks each day, and have to reconcile the changes with your psycho-geography. Your mum’s terrier, Bobby, has never known anything like it.
It is when you find yourself at the caravan park, that Bobby refuses to go in. It whimpers, pulling away but the terrible gravity of your guilt pulls you in.
Bobby comes with you. The caravans are empty this time of year, but you wonder if you’ve ever seen them occupied.
The gap is still there, but you have a job of getting in, although Bobby pulls away, you manage to get inside.
The effort and the humid air have brought you out in a sweat, but here it is still cool and dark.
You hear the ragged breath of someone with you.
Movement to your left. A palsied hand, with long black nails ragged and sharp against the bark. She does not move like a person, alien in the way a bird pecks at the ground. The face, frozen in youth but the skin is mottled and loose, like a mask too big to fit.
‘Hello, my friend. It’s good to ssee you.’
She steps out, the dress hanging off her shoulders, a black stained rag as she scuttles forward.
Bobby barks at her and she snatches it up. You shut your eyes and try not to throw up at the wet, crunching sound like someone opening a bag of crisps and the wet slap of something falling on the ground.
‘Oh god, Mary, I’m sorry.’
Her breath is cold at your cheek.
‘She was your best friend and you betrayed her. Terry had not even looked at you, but his hair turned white and he had a stammer which never went away. Her touch burns like frostbite, but its the first time you’ve felt anything in years.
Her fingers close on your throat, sudden and impossibly strong. She smells of rot and secrets, and you try to say how sorry you are before you run out of breath.
Friendship is forever, you tell yourself before the world goes dark.