Armadillo. That’s what Ryan had called her, an armadillo. It made her smile now, but when she had first heard it Rosie lashed out at him. Ryan just sat there, covering his face with his hands until she stopped hitting him.
“Have you finished?” he laughed and she immediately started hitting him again. But this time it was not with as much fury as before. Ryan laughed at her, but it didn’t hurt her. They both laughed as her blows turned to a hugs. Ryan released his head from his knees and stretched his arms around her. Then they sat in silence.
“You’re a cheeky f..”, she started but her words were lost in a kiss as his stubble made a path for his lips to reach hers.
It was years after they had first met that he told her how he had been watching her for about an hour before he came and sat next to her. He had noticed that she would slowly look left three times, then look right twice before releasing a measured sigh and close her eyes for about ten seconds; then she would do it all over again. Left, right, eyes closed. He was high when he told her about his secret observation of her. She was too, but she never forgot.
“After you blinked,” he paused as he took another hit while she waited to hear what he had to say. She was suspended in a cloud above his head and she could see the words as they fell from his lips. They were like a Scrabble tile board. When she got to the edge of forgetting, Rosie disappeared inside her head and re-imagined the scene. She saw herself on the pavement outside the bookshop as she sank into herself a little bit with each turn of her head. That’s what Ryan had said, now she felt it to be true. Ryan was her only truth in the past decade.
“It was like you were disappearing right there in front of me,” he finished as he blew a thin line of smoke up above their heads.
As her hand reached upwards to her face Rosie realised that she was crying. It was a river of silent tears but they steadily ran down her already wet face.
Startled by the clarity of the voice she heard Rosie looked over her shoulder. There was no one there. She sat alone on the bench in the church graveyard. She knew the voice was in her head. It always was.
“I remember what you sound like, Ryan.” She whispered aloud. In her head she knew this was a lie. His voice had faded from her memory but she would never say that, not even to herself.
“You remind me of me,” he said, sadly.
“You weren’t supposed to see me,” Rosie replied. “Nobody usually sees me.” She laughed in her special sardonic way – it held no joy. “I sit there all day sometimes, and I’m always invisible.”
“Why do you want to be invisible?”
“Yeah, you do.”
“Don’t want to say, then.”
They had smoked in silence for a long time after that. When the spliff was finished Ryan flicked the roach into the gutter and spoke again as he threw a sideways look at her.
“I’ll tell you my story if you tell me yours.”
Rosie didn’t look up. Her heart was beating too fast and she was afraid that the memories would be visible on her face if she raised her eyes from pavement level. As she concentrated on breathing evenly she heard a loud clock ticking and she started counting in time with that.
Ryan sat totally still as he waited.
Eventually Rosie spoke. She still did not look up. “You can tell me yours if you like. I haven’t got a story. I haven’t got anything to say.”
Hoping he believed her Rosie stole a glance in his direction. He was rocking backwards and forwards – the way he always did when he was thinking.
More silence punctuated the air around them. People walking past felt it and looked down at them for the first time all day. Then they hurried on. The pair on the ground with their back to the shop front automatically looked up like programmed mannequins. Everybody was uncomfortable with the shift and quickly retreated back into their individually cocooned silences.
“Fair enough.” Ryan spoke again. It must have been about half an hour later that the silence between them was broken. It was early evening and the streets were getting quieter after the shops had closed, they were exhaling before the next set of people took over the streets for the night.
“What?” Rosie forgot what they had been talking about, in her mind she was at her friend Claire’s house and they were playing with her dolls. That bit of her life was good. That was before it all went wrong. She went back there often.
“Do you want some?” Ryan had just finished rolling the last spliff. He held it up and gestured with it towards Rosie. Then he moved it back towards himself and re-twisted the ends.
“Uh?” She was still vacant in her eyes. Ryan knew it was a bad sign, but he had been trying to talk to her for weeks about what had happened so he ignored the look and tried again.
“Are you sitting comfortably?” he used his best radio voice and laughed as he spoke. He hoped it would help. He knew he had to talk before he burst from all that information whirling around in his head. Rosie looked at him and blinked herself back to the present.
“Go on then,” she spoke casually pretending she had been waiting for him to speak, “you first.”
“This?” he questioned, holding the spliff between his fingers. She nodded and leaned forward with her lighter. It was the only thing that she had from before she lived nowhere.
She was always playing with it. She had scars on her hands where she had fought people who tried to snatch it away from her. He often wondered what was so special about it. But he never asked. The look on her face told him that it was not safe to ask. He trusted his instincts.