It was time. We'd danced around each other at work for long enough, and people had begun to smile when they saw us together. I'd asked her on the Friday if she fancied the park at the weekend - a walk, some wine - and she'd smiled. It was definitely time.
Saturday was hot, the sky a clear, solid blue. The whole of the city had headed to the park to sit on the yellowy grass, and there was a buzz of voices, traffic, music. I met her under the statue, both of us arriving from opposite sides at exactly the same time. We'd both brought a bottle and forgotten any food, so I went to the newsagents for chocolate and crisps. Walking back, I saw her from a distance, white blouse and jeans, just another woman amongst the Saturday crowd. But still I ran to be next to her.
I can't remember much about the afternoon. We drank, laughed, and talked. Both bottles of wine disappeared quickly, followed by a slower third. I remember that we kissed, just once, and when our lips came apart, her smile was a cracked, red promise.
As we walked back to her house, the sun low in the sky, we held hands, looking at each other, smiling: seducing and being seduced.
And then we saw the man.
We turned a corner into a tree-lined row of Victorian terraces, and there he was, about twenty yards away, walking towards us. He was old, and very drunk. We were laughing, stumbling around, and at first I thought he was imitating us, but just as I realised what a state he was in, he tripped. He didn't move his arms to break his fall like you might expect, he just keeled forward. And in that moment of falling, the sun was still warm, the sky was still blue, and we were still laughing.
The crack as his face hit the pavement was like the sound when you snap a lump of polystyrene in half. There was blood immediately, an obscene amount of it, pooling out from his nose, and as he lay there his body shook as if there were something wild inside of him. He moaned, a long, low, animal sound, full of defeat and quiet rage. The sound of him filled the air.
I threw up immediately, on my hands and knees, retching wine and half-digested crisps into the gutter. The world lurched, and I gripped the grass verge in my fists. My eyes were shut so tightly I could see a kaleidoscope of blues and yellows dancing on black. I have no idea how long I stayed like that, but it was too long.
The sound of her sobbing brought me back. I turned towards where the man was and saw her sitting next to him. He'd stopped shaking, and he was quiet now, but the silence and stillness felt worse. I managed to stand up and walk over to them, but the sickness came again and I fell to my knees.
Part of the paving had been raised by heat, or tree-roots, and next to the man's head a corner of a flagstone was sticking up a couple of inches. It was coated in dark gouts of blood. There was something else in the blood, lighter in colour, and glistening.
I turned to look at him; the bridge of his nose was hollowed-out and blood pulsed from his face. His eyes had rolled back, and sickly whites flickered beneath the lids.
I leant over to her, reaching out to touch her shoulder. She was covered in blood, big, wet streaks of it on her hands and her cheeks and her blouse. She was sitting in the pool of it at his head. She'd moved him, turned him onto his side, but now she was just bent over him, rocking slightly. Her hands were like a puppet's, moving down towards his head, hovering over it, then fluttering back up to her own cheeks. I drew my hand back. I wanted to hold her, to get her to stop, but she was impossible to touch. I could smell the hot concrete of the pavement, and the mix of sweat and alcohol coming from the man, and from us.
I just sat there.
People came, of course, eventually. We were picked up and taken into a house, where we were offered tea we didn't drink and biscuits we couldn't eat. An ambulance came and went, but we only heard it. I spoke to a policewoman who asked me some questions, but I can't remember what I said. They tried to get us to clean ourselves, but she wouldn't let anyone touch her. She just sat on the hard kitchen chair, staring out of the window at the cloudless sky.
The man who gave us the tea and biscuits drove us back to her house. His car was full of toys, and he had to move the baby seat in the back so we could get in. We sat together. As the door slammed, she grabbed my hand. I looked down at her fingers and saw that the blood on them was rubbing off onto my thumb. When the man started the car the radio came on, the weather forecast. He shut it off and pulled away from the curb.
None of us spoke. Her breaths were still coming too quickly, and her hand was shaking as it gripped mine. When the car pulled up outside her house, she didn't let go, so we got out together. The man didn't say anything to us. He didn't even get out of the car.
Inside, she went to the bathroom straight away. I heard the door lock, and I went to get a drink. The kitchen was scrubbed clean, surfaces glaring under the bright strip-lights. There was an open bottle of cheap white wine in the fridge, and I poured two glasses. I found the bread and made a cheese sandwich, wolfing it down without thinking. Sweat greased my forehead, so I opened the windows. Outside it was raining, and I got a sudden image of the blood on the pavement pooling away in the rain. I took the two glasses into the living room and was halfway through mine when I heard the sobbing.
She let me in after I'd knocked for a while, and slumped back onto the floor. She was naked, and there was still blood on her arms and face. Her skin was more grey than white, and her small breasts shook slightly as she wept. I stood over her and she looked up at me.
‘Help me,' she said.
She'd run the bath, but it was scalding hot. The room was filled with suffocating steam so I turned on the cold tap. My clothes were stuck to me and I struggled to pull off my shirt. My own smell made me gag, and I tasted the wine at the back of my throat.
‘Let's get you in,' I said.
Her legs shook as she stood, and I held her by the wrist and waist to guide her. She sat with her legs drawn up to her chest and started to rub at the bloodstains. I took hold of her hands and held them tight to stop her from scrubbing herself raw. Her eyes closed as I washed the blood and the sweat from her, sponging the creamy white soap over her cheeks, her arms and her hands. She was a doll, pale and quiet.
As soon as I'd finished I put my hand under her arm and helped her to climb out. Pinkish soapsuds stuck to her thighs, but she just scrubbed at them with a towel. She didn't look at me as she dried herself. I pulled the plug and watched the water drain. When she'd gone I took off the rest of my clothes. Perhaps she'd needed the comfort of a bath; all I wanted was a shower.
We lay in her single bed. I was wrapped in a bath towel but she was still naked, and as I held her curled up body in my arms she fell asleep against my shoulder.
We'd said almost nothing to each other, in fact we'd hardly made eye contact, but it seemed impossible that we could be apart, that I would just leave.
She fell asleep quickly as I watched her. The streetlight outside flooded through the thin curtains and shadowed her face. Her arms were as thin as bird bones and her lips were chapped and bitten. It was the first time I'd seen her without makeup and she looked very young. Her hair was still wet from the bath and it stuck to her cheek as if painted on. She smelt absolutely clean. I became hard quickly, and holding my lower body away from hers, I wept quietly.
My arm gradually deadened under the weight of her, and it was difficult to slip it out from under. She moaned as she turned over, but her eyes didn't open. I eased myself off the bed and crept into the living room.
The operator put me through to the hospital, and a tired-sounding nurse answered after a minute of ringing.
‘I'm asking after a man who was brought in today. Old, homeless maybe. He had a head injury.'
‘Are you a relative, sir?'
I knew what was coming. ‘No, I'm not.'
‘I'm sorry we can't give out any information about patients over the phone, sir.'
I forced my voice through gritted teeth. ‘Listen, me and my girlfriend saw it happen.'
‘I'm sorry sir.' I could hear people in the background, and I thought I heard the nurse sigh.
‘Listen, she's got his blood all over her clothes,' I hissed. ‘I heard his fucking face break. I just want to know that he's all right.'
‘Sir,' she began, but I knew from the tone of her voice that it was no good, and I put the phone down hard. There was no noise from the bedroom, but outside I could hear distant voices, a laugh, someone shouting. It was Saturday night.
I went to the bathroom and tried to piss, but there was nothing. Our clothes were still where we'd left them, and I bent down. My jeans and shirt were spotted and smeared with small stains, but hers were much worse. The white blouse was stained all down the front, and the blood had turned a thick, dark black. There were huge smears down the back of her jeans, and parts of them glistened in the light. Her white knickers were still damp from her sweat and urine. Everything was in a crumpled heap, but her tiny sports socks had been balled up neatly and placed inside one of her blood-smeared trainers. I got a bin-bag from the kitchen, stuffed all of the clothes into it, and dumped it into the big black bin outside the front door.
In the bedroom, she was still asleep. The heat was pressing down on everything, so I opened a window. A cool, rain-touched breeze brought goose-bumps to the flesh on my arms and my chest.
She had thrown the quilt from her, and the lines of her body were drawn under the white sheet. She was curled up, knees to her chest, arms around her shins. She had her back to me, and I could see the knots in her spine through the sheet. Her ribcage eased up and down with her breathing, slow and deep and regular.
I sat in the wooden chair by the window and watched her. Even with the window open there wasn't a sound, only the movement of the sheet and the rhythm of her sleeping body as I tried to match my breaths to hers.
Jason Jackson lives in Bristol with his wife. He has been writing for three years and his stories have been published in Cadenza, Momaya Press, and Slingink. He has also been published on various websites, including Smokebox, Eclectica, Chickflicksezine, and Opiummagazine.