Per Annum

So, it’s that time of year again. It’s kind of customary for me to write something for it, so here’s a short piece that popped into my head. Enjoy.

A chill wind blows through London, and she adjusts her scarf, her teeth chattering slightly, her gaze fixed ahead until she hears footsteps behind her. She turns, tensing – but it relaxes into a pleased smile at the sight of her follower. “How long has it been?” she asks.

Next to her, Andy gives an easy smile, catching up to her with a couple of steps, and replies, “Too long. A lot can happen in a year.”

They walk on, the streets unusually quiet, the only sounds their footsteps and the odd vehicle driving by.

He puts his hands in the pockets of his coat and sighs, darting a glance to the sky. His breath steams in the winter air. “I saw Carla today.” It’s said matter-of-factly, but she’s known him for too many years to miss the notes of curiosity and of anxiety in his tone.

She shakes her head. “You’re my little brother. I’m meant to protect you. Stop worrying.”

He frowns. “A little late for that, isn’t it?”

She stops to look at him, hurt crossing her face. “A little late to protect you, or for you to worry?”

He gives her a smile, but there’s no warmth in it. “From what I hear, she has keys to the flat.” When she doesn’t contradict him, he adds, “And I suppose her toothbrush is in the mug, too?”

She closes her eyes, huffing an exasperated outbreath. “You have no right to be jealous. You moved on. Besides, you know what she is to me.”

He watches her for a long moment, only looking away as they pass a glowing pumpkin. His mouth twists into a smile that’s nostalgia and pain all at once – for far away years of terrible homemade costumes; nausea from overdosing on chocolate; holding tightly to his sister’s hand and shrinking away from the older kids. His gaze moves back to her, and their eyes meet – the memories are a shared thing, flickering in the air between them like an old, grainy movie.

“Don’t think I ever really understood this night when I was young,” he says at last. “Too busy getting wrapped up in the tat and the treats.” He swallows. “Are you happy?”

“What?” she asks, confused.

“Does she make you happy?”

“Yes,” she replies firmly, nodding, and his sudden seriousness breaks into a relieved smile.

“Tell her I approve,” he orders her as they walk past the twisted metal gates, tall and imposing in the darkness.

“I think that might scare her a little,” she says with a rough, pathetic attempt at a laugh.

The sadness in his eyes nearly breaks her, and then it’s shuttered over with his usual flippancy. His smile is small and fragile. “Probably.” He looks to the horizon, his eyes worried. “Nearly dawn,” he says, and she nods. They come to their destination, and he gazes down at the uncut grass, his mouth a miserable line.

All Hallow’s Eve. The night the dead can cross the boundary between themselves and the living, and it’s nearly at an end.

They gaze at the stone – it’s small, nothing fancy; but it’s practical and careworn, very like the man that lies under it used to be. His eyes trace the letters, and then he looks at her. “Another year,” he says, struggling to keep the despair out of his voice.

She nods slowly. “I know.” She turns to him, and suddenly the words spill out: “God, I miss you.”

He steps forward, puts his arms round her; she feels nothing, of course, though perhaps the night is a little colder, and she has enough memories of hugs like these to remember an echo. She closes her eyes as he speaks, his voice quiet. “Me too, sis. Me too.”

Then he’s gone, and she’s alone again in the graveyard, looking at the lightening sky. She runs a gentle hand along the top of the headstone, remembering her brother. Then she walks away from that place, preparing herself to live for another year.

The ghosts that we knew

Will flicker out of view

And we’ll live a long life

~ “Ghosts That We Knew”, Mumford & Sons


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