The car ride to the coach depot was a dark one. Michael couldn’t believe he left his art portfolio on the bus. Cocteau Twins played in the background, the sweeping glissandos and airy guitar noises seeming as if they weren’t from an electric guitar, but sampled from the winds of Victoria Land itself. They made the stars in the night sky seem closer to the car, and Michael felt as if he was in an astronaut suit. He wondered what future Michael would think of him now; if he would remember this feeling of joy which only came from being somewhere that wasn’t reality, lost in the otherworldly magic of this new song he had discovered.

Michael looked out the car window, and saw in his mind’s eye Charlotte Swatton, sitting down the corridor from him with her back arched over, wearing a knitted white top two sizes too small for her, which she told Michael that she bought by accident. She got it online and didn’t expect it to be so small. Or for it to be a crop top. So she wore a vest underneath. But today she must have forgotten, since Michael could see a cake slice of skin peeking over the back of her jeans, the bottom of her spine protruding against her pale skin, revealing a single mole.

He hated how his mind made him see her like this. But it still aroused him. He wanted to envelop her (with her permission of course); he wanted to see her not as an object, but as a human being with a complex body, and a complicated mind, and an intricate personality affected by her memories and experience.

He hated not knowing what to say when he sat next to Charlotte. His mind kept screaming at him to tell her he loved her, but the timing never seemed right. There was always the wall of spikes between his brain and mouth preventing him from saying those words. The words he did say, he rebuked himself for saying, as it was always small talk, and he thought she was worth more than the weather. No wonder Charlotte’s replies were so short. No one was going to add kindling to a conversation with such a weak starter.

***

He couldn’t believe there was a time he didn’t know this Mortal Coil existed. But he never forgot the moment he first heard “Lazy Calm.” To this day, it gave Michael the good kind of shivers.

Charlotte still came into his head. And it was always when he was alone. Or when he went back home from uni. It came as a blessing to him that he found himself thinking of her less as the distance between them grew. But he would not wish for one second that the feeling of infatuation his seventeen-year-old self experienced never happened. Far from it, he revelled in watching it happen to the seventeen year old waitresses he worked with.

There was one who came to visit him in the kitchen often, where he worked as the kitchen porter over the holidays. She kept scraping the food off the plates until they were spotless, and often stayed afterwards to talk to him. She kept apologising for things she thought she said wrong, though it was never a big deal, so he often dismissed it, saying, “Don’t worry about it,” thinking, “Oh my god she is so sensitive, I love it!” It reminded him of his low self esteem and the way he put a microscope over every word he said, which he thought was part of being a seventeen-year-old in love.

Love to him now was talking to somebody easily, maybe hesitating a few times to begin with, then after fifteen to thirty minutes, you find that without knowing, you’re facing each other not just head on, but shoulders on, your bodies looking at each other as if every atom in you cannot break eye contact with the other person’s molecular structure. You want to make oxygen; you forget you’re breathing when you’re with her, until you find you’re suffocating when she’s gone. Conversation happens so easily; there’s no need to force words out. Just a friendly conversation, perhaps with some awkward chuckles, and a realisation or two that what you said was a blatant innuendo.

He thought all this as he drove to the art gallery. He looked up at the night sky, and turned up the volume on “Lazy Calm.”