There he was, the goofball. A weight left Rosa; Ernest’s floppy hair was visible once more.
Oh dear, he was holding a sign. She squinted, having forgotten her contacts: “Rosa ‘(Please be) On-Time Show’ Colbert”. Rosa assumed this was a bizarre reference to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
‘I think this may be your worst sign yet.’ She gave Ernest a kiss.
‘I’m inclined to agree.’
They planned to be as antisocial as possible that weekend, at least until Bert’s baptism on Sunday. As far as Rosa was concerned, no-one deserved to speak to Ernest besides her, and, once again, he was inclined to agree. The only stumbling block was Gylfi.
Ernest had done his best to reassure Rosa: although Gylfi’s behaviour was suspicious, she could choose to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was abusing substances. Or maybe he was sick of spending each night on the bus and went to 24-hour cafés to unwind. He was a night owl, after all.
No good could come from worrying now, and Ernest was determined to craft a cocoon against the outside world, spinning silk with a verve rarely seen amongst holometabolous insect larvae. Tomorrow morning he would outstrip the Buff-tip moth caterpillar: he was going to let Rosa read “Yellow and Brown”.
The tale of the young couple’s courtship is a long and chequered one. Indeed, it became so chequered that Ernest once wrote a short story about his failed attempts to woo Rosa. No-one had gained access to this story, although Rosa and Bert knew that it was called “Yellow and Brown”. The young writer had tried to compose a sequel detailing his eventual romantic breakthrough, but, like many finer artists, he found it easier to write about sorrow than joy. Although he’d intended to keep its contents under wraps, Ernest now felt compelled to unveil his infamous story. Their first evening together was an unsuitable occasion: why would Rosa want to read his long-winded prose when she could hear him rambling in person? But as they lounged in bed on Saturday morning, an opportunity presented itself.
‘We should probably think about getting up soon,’ she said.
‘I’ve been thinking about it for a while. It’s a daunting prospect.’ Ernest was torn between kissing Rosa’s lips and watching them smile. He gave them another moment of respite before leaning over.
‘What do we have planned this morning?’
‘Well, now that you mention it, I did have one idea.’
‘Should I be worried?’
Rosa was used to Ernest’s games. ‘What is it?’
‘Well, I was wondering if you’d like to read “Yellow and Brown”.’
Rosa’s eyes threatened the confines of their sockets. ‘You’re serious?’
‘Thank you. So d’you want to read it?’
‘I’d love to. But isn’t it a bit of a tome? I don’t want you to be waiting around all morning.’
‘I wouldn’t call it a tome. I’ll go for a walk. I couldn’t cope with you reading it next to me.’
‘Gosh, how ominous.’
‘I thought you might like this plan.’
Half an hour later, Ernest left home listening to a podcast about Dolly Parton. Rosa, meanwhile, had decided to shower and change for the event; this was not a story to be read in bed. Having found an appropriate skirt, she opened the curtains and fluffed her armchair pillow. Ernest had been quick to point out that the story was five years old, so naturally his style had developed since then, etc., etc. Having prepared herself with a sip of tea, Rosa picked up the fourteen sheets of A4:
Yellow and Brown
It made no difference whether he looked at her or not. He would sit there in his usual spot, awaiting her return; and then she would glide into that quiet haven, brown hair bobbing, head up with innocent confidence, eyes wide like always. They were beautiful bright blue eyes, thrown into relief by her clear complexion and swoonworthy cheekbones. When he lifted his gaze they would share a smile; for a moment, everything would fall into place. Her smile formed so easily (mouth open, eyes aglow, head tilted slightly back) that others might have thought it feigned; but, seeing Mary then, he knew that her joy was not artificial but effortless. And he too felt happy for a moment. It was difficult not to revere this passing joy; this wave carrying him towards the safety of land. But then she would walk on by, taking one of her three favoured seats in the neighbouring room, and the wave would break too early, forcing him underwater, depriving his lungs of air, until he thought that this was it, his time had come. And although he always reached the surface, his vision laboured against drops of obstinate water.
Then there were the times he didn’t look up; the times he resisted the urge to swim. By now he could recognise her approach through intuition – or perhaps it was just the swish of her puffer coat. Either way, he would decide not to brave the waters, since lifting his gaze and saying ‘good morning’ would prove her mastery of these depths; Mary would pass his stack of books unnoticed. But rather than providing some much-needed distance, these times reminded Giles of the connection he was not allowed to cultivate, like a wave surfed only in his dreams.
The first time he saw her, Giles wondered if she was insane. They were listening to his friend Elisabeth playing love songs in the college bar. Mary had recently joined Oxford, whereas Giles was an aloof second-year enjoying the set with a drink in hand.
Although Elisabeth was an outstanding singer, you’d have thought she was Whitney Houston reincarnate from the expression on Mary’s face. She sat there transfixed, staring at Elisabeth with wide-eyed glee. It wasn’t so much the expression itself that unnerved Giles but its duration. Had Elisabeth hit a high C or put that distinctive trill in her voice, then a glimpse of Mary’s broad grin and manic eyes would have been understandable. But her euphoria refused to wane. Giles pointed her out to one of his friends: ‘See that girl? I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone look so happy.’ Torn between admiration and disdain, he felt compelled to watch this strange naiad revelling in her newfound freedom. When he overheard her talking, Giles drifted closer to contempt: Mary’s voice was whiny and loud.
She walked towards him, cartooned her eyes, swayed as if to fall over. This was how they met, at the end of an uncivilised dinner. An assumption flirted with Giles: here was a first-year who couldn’t handle her booze whereas he was a calm and collected second-year. But something told him she was putting on a show; he later discovered that Mary liked to act. The moment was too surreal to elicit more than a chuckle, but their first encounter proved easy, helped by the wine no doubt, and Giles realised that her voice, rather than annoying, was full of life, just like the eyes he had seen at Elizabeth’s concert; the eyes staring at him now. And yet, when he and Mary parted ways en route to the nightclub, he still wasn’t sure whether she was insane.
He soon had a chance to make up his mind, as they spent close to an hour talking in the smoking area. Looking back on this conversation, Giles could not help smiling at its subject matter: their lack of experience with the opposite sex.
It had taken until university for Giles to manage his first kiss, and Mary was now in the same boat. Half a year later, Giles wished he had stopped talking and given her an average-at-best first experience, but he was infatuated with someone else at the time and thus failed to appreciate Mary’s joie de vivre. Besides, when it came to women, he had the confidence of a suppressed public-school boy (which is exactly what he was). And so they were united by their lack of experience. He wanted to say that this unity was an indictment of modern society, but he couldn’t work out how to phrase it without sounding like a pretentious arse.
‘If I were a fruit,’ she said several months later, ‘what would I be?’
‘I was thinking about that the other day, actually.’ He knew which of her laughs would come next: the one where she leaned forward with a slight bend at the waist, played a low, staccato song whilst looking at the ground, then lifted her gaze with an expression that said: ‘Are you weirder than you are funny?’ When this look arrived, Giles reminded himself that she was the one asking about her spirit fruit. ‘I’d have to say a plum.’
‘Wait, no, I jumped the gun. A nectarine.’
‘Why a nectarine rather than a plum?’
‘Well, my initial thought was something sweet and quintessentially English.’ Somehow this didn’t seem like the weirdest sentence he’d ever said, and she smiled, not looking the least bit fazed. He liked to think that rather than being a product of the wine they were drinking, this proved the snugness of their world; they existed in that single corner of the room. ‘But there’s a bit of tang to you that often goes unnoticed. And a good nectarine has some tang, whereas a plum is only tangy if it’s unripe.’ Ach, he had to admit it, the wine had something to do with this. ‘Besides, a plum is too understated.’ Before she could provoke the embarrassment that he was surprised not to be feeling already, he said, ‘What about me?’ She hesitated, took a sip of their cheap white wine, pursed her lips.
‘I’m actually writing a play.’
‘Ooh, what’s it about?’
‘It follows this guy who’s obsessed with Jimi Hendrix. He ends up thinking that Jimi Hendrix tribute bands are tainting the singer’s name, so he decides to kill all their members.’
As expected, there were the wide eyes. ‘So sinister!’
‘You’re probably thinking, ‘Christ, I’m with an absolute weirdo’.’ No comment from Mary, only laughter on both sides as they walked through Oxford’s Botanic Gardens on their first date. It was, in hindsight, not the best time of year to visit a garden – the end of January – but he’d always been more romantic than practical. Given the sorry state of the gardens, their eyes were drawn to the lemons in the greenhouse; they glowed a deep yellow.
‘Yellow’s my favourite colour,’ said Mary. ‘It’s so bright and cheery. How could you look at those lemons and not be happy?’
‘Life-affirming,’ with a nod. ‘My favourite colour’s brown.’
‘Yep, it’s just so solid and understated and surprisingly stylish.’ He pointed through the glass. ‘Like that bench outside,’ letting her follow his gaze. ‘It’s subtle and smooth.’
‘I actually get what you mean.’
‘I remember this one team we used to play at school, they wore a yellow and brown football kit. It was awful.’
‘Oh no, that sounds horrible. Who on Earth would try to mix those colours?’
A few minutes later, one of the gardeners smiled when she saw them laughing, and he knew that others sensed it. Yes, his happiness tended to be reserved whilst hers was spread across her face. Yes, he was cynical whereas she was busy expressing her delight in the lemons and daffodils. And whilst it mattered that they shared a love of music, books and family, that he wrote novels and she was in plays, that they were both studious, sporty, and contented people, these were all just adjectives and labels and hobbies. What mattered to him was that their first one-on-one conversation had lasted three-quarters of an hour, that the woman in the garden had smiled as they laughed, that he knew she was a nectarine and she knew he was a kiwi.
It happened two mornings after the date; the date whose end she had wanted to avoid, as they moved from the gardens to a coffee shop, where they shared a peanut brownie and discussed her passion for dance. So it was on a Friday morning that she opened the door for him and asked if he was busy.
‘Yep, I’ve got a class. What’s up?’
‘Giles, last night someone asked me if we were dating.’ Her tone did not suggest enthusiasm.
‘Why does this always happen?’ It had never happened to Giles. ‘I wanted it to be like how you and Elisabeth hang out.’
Loneliness, he realised on that Friday morning, is not a question of being by yourself. He had spent the previous evening reading in his room, thinking of their date between pages, listening to Mellow Yellow because it reminded him of her. Nobody else in sight, and yet he could hardly have felt less alone. Whereas now, as he stood right next to the woman he wanted to love, he understood that loneliness was a question of being too broken to look beyond oneself.
‘I’m going to be late for my class,’ which was true, ‘but I’ll have a think and we can chat later?’ Quite what he needed to think about, he wasn’t sure. All he wanted was to escape the sickness in his stomach.
They met for lunch an hour later. As he waited in line at Prêt, they passed the time with idle comments that neither would remember; they had never struggled for words before. And then they went outside and the bubble burst.
‘Well,’ he began, ‘we should probably have our chat.’
‘Oh, I wish we didn’t have to.’
‘Tell me about it.’ He nodded to a passing friend. ‘So someone asked if we were dating and you didn’t like that?’
‘It made me scared. ‘Cause I thought you just wanted to hang out, but then people have been saying we went on a date.’
Her earlier comment about Elisabeth had been the bullet wound: she wanted to be friends and nothing more. And now, with these last few sentences, she had extracted the bullet, reminding him of the gunshot and aggravating the pain, before handing him the metal slug as a memento of his courage on the battlefield. ‘I meant it to be a date,’ was all he could say.
‘Oh, Giles, I’m so sorry.’
He tried to look at her but only reached her left cheek. ‘Maybe I should have made it more obvious. I kind of thought you’d realise friends don’t go for a walk in the Botanic Gardens.’
‘No, you’re right, I was being naïve. It’s my fault. I just thought that after the other week…’
Ah, the other week. Given their tendency to find any excuse to drink, the students marked the start of Easter Term with a party. Giles arrived with his head and his heels battling for ascendancy: having always thought of Mary as a friend, something had changed two nights earlier.
They bumped into each other outside the library. Her hair was wet from water polo training, and she clasped a bike helmet in her right hand. She was wearing a sports fleece. As they chatted about the holiday, which Mary had spent dancing and visiting grandparents, Giles found himself captivated by her dripping hair and goggle-marked eyes. They talked for some time, as they always did, until Mary declared that she really had to go to bed; her spick-and-span room awaited. Giles, meanwhile, cycled home faster than ever, having awoken to his true feelings; or perhaps it was on that night that those feelings began to take shape. Maybe there wasn’t much of a difference between the two.
Even if he hadn’t quite struck the ground, he was now rapidly falling for her, after a term of denying such allegations. He and Mary had laughed about this one November night, since she too had been a victim of the rumour mill and all its insubstantial corn.
He arrived at the party to the sound of Mary crying ‘Giles!’; this squeal of excitement infected him with joy. Yes, that was it: he found his joy in hers. He gave her a warm grin and said, ‘Hey, Mary. I just need to pop to the loo, but I’ll see you in a second.’ In hindsight, there are better ways of wooing a girl. He returned a minute later to find her bounding across the dance floor with a smile too theatrical to be false. From there, they spent most of the night together: dancing, chatting, drinking, saying things they would remember, things they would forget; things he would try to forget but always remember.
He wished it had been more romantic. Sure, the sentiment was refined, but he had slurred words he wasn’t yet sure he meant, something along the lines of ‘I think you’re amazing, Mary, not just as a friend, it’s more than that, you’re so pretty and I have a crush on you.’ Not words to remember a man by, but words that meant far more in the months to come.
He woke up to the taste of rejection-steeped beer. He remembered what she’d said, that his friendship was all she wanted, that she genuinely loved that friendship, that he was wonderful but confused, and then she’d begged him to stop saying how much he liked her, assuring him that he really just wanted to be friends, all the talk had got to him and he was drunk. He admitted that he was confused, he wasn’t sure how much he liked her, but the important thing was that he did like her, enough to stay in her room for forty minutes eating her gluten-free rice cakes and rambling on about how great she was, before borrowing her coat for the walk home. He returned it the next morning with an ovine smile.
And that was why she said: ‘I just thought that after the other week…’
‘I get that, but I had to try again. Even though I remember the gist of that night, it’s all a bit of a blur. So I didn’t want to over-interpret it. Also I was confused back then, but I’m not anymore.’ She looked up, stopping herself from going completely wide-eyed. ‘Which is probably not what you want to hear.’
As the conversation progressed, he laughed from time to time – a defence mechanism fired in short, sharp bursts. When she mentioned this, he said it was to hide the pain.
‘Oh, please don’t say that.’ Her eyes were blinking rapidly behind her glasses. ‘This all makes me so sad.’ He nodded. ‘At least I have an audition this afternoon to take my mind off things.’
‘Well, onwards and upwards, hey?’ He smiled at her, but even she must have seen how unlikely that was, as she let out an unexpected chuckle of her own.
‘Onwards and upwards,’ she said, trying to believe it.
A few weeks after The Chat, he went on a date with a girl called Olivia. As ever, he and Elisabeth discussed how it had gone, and it was not long before his thoughts returned to Mary.
‘So I bumped into Mary on my way back.’
‘Oh, Giles, come-’
‘No, let me indulge myself.’ She had to smile at that. ‘It just made the difference so clear. Obviously when you know someone better the conversation is more likely to flow, so it’s not a totally fair comparison, but what I mean is, the conversation with Olivia was nice and pretty interesting, we had some things in common, but then I spoke to Mary and we just couldn’t stop talking.’ He prepared his next sentence, not wanting to break the flow mid-sentence. ‘Pretty much every conversation we have only ends because one of us has to head off. Sure, it’s usually her, but she always says she’s going to be late now, not to make me feel bad, but more as an acknowledgement of how we lose track of time when we chat.’ He looked at Elisabeth, checking that she was still listening. ‘You know how with lots of conversations, it’s pretty clear when things are coming to an end? Well, with Mary, one thing just leads to another. We’ll bump into each other outside the library loos, hardly the place for a catch-up, and we’ll still be there ten minutes later, when all I’d been planning to do was fill my water bottle. What I’m saying is, it’s almost like we have to bring the conversation to an end, rather than us wanting to. Or, at least, I don’t want to.’
Elisabeth advised him to keep some distance from Mary. And whilst it pained him to agree, he knew that she was right.
The setting for their next encounter was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a nightclub. Her eyeshadow flashed amber, and he could not resist joining her for a dance. He tried to strike up a conversation over the sound of The Killers, but fifty students screaming ‘Cause I’m Mr Brightside’ rarely makes for an easy tête-à-tête. When he realised that Mary was more carefree with others than with him, he managed to walk away, although he stole frequent glances whilst sipping at a gin & tonic and half-listening to a friend.
After that night, the waves began to settle. Mary was working on a play; he paddled in the shallows. With the distance growing bit by bit, he went on another date with Olivia; he liked to see this as his bodyboarding phase.
It was hard to say what triggered the relapse. It may have been the time they smiled at each other through the library window, sharing a moment that was lost on others. Or perhaps it was the honey she made. Having discarded this delicacy to the back of a cupboard, he lost his nerve, spread it on toast, and thought of her, muttering a few lines of ABBA between each mouthful. Whatever the cause, he soon recovered his earlier sadness. He had little desire to see Olivia, who paled in comparison to Mary’s yellow. A friend suggested that the one who got away will always be glorified, but there was more to it than that. The first time he met Mary, they spoke for close to an hour. The first time he met Olivia, they spoke for ten minutes; he wouldn’t have given it much thought if he’d never seen her again. He soon realised that this wasn’t a question of distance. At times, absence made his heart grow fonder; at others, it made it grow numb. Seeing Mary could wash away the pain, but it could also stir the waves into a frenzy.
With the end of term approaching, he had fewer commitments and more opportunities to see her. The first such occasion took place on Broad Street. Having spent the past few days creating an entire World of Mary in his mind, reliving their conversations, placing her on a pedestal that perhaps only his image of her deserved (he refused to believe this; he could not betray Mary like that), it was almost surreal to see her in the flesh; he wondered whether he had become more comfortable in his world of dreams and regrets than in the waking, living world. But then she smiled and he forgot their saga, feeling warm because she had crossed the road for him.
‘Giles!’ A soft exclamation. ‘How are you?’
‘Hi, Mary, all good, thanks. It’s been a while! How’s life? How was the play?’ After watching her first performance at Oxford, Giles had created a Spotify playlist called “She is (a) wonderful (actress)”. The playlist was yet to receive its first follower, although that said more about Giles’s music taste than Mary’s acting ability. She was far too good an actress not to sow seeds of infatuation in her audience, which was why Giles had bought a ticket for her second play, only to sell it after heeding Elisabeth’s advice. ‘Sorry I couldn’t make it, life’s been pretty hectic.’
Two friends walked past, smiling because he was with her; at least, that was how he saw it. Mary explained that he hadn’t missed much. ‘I only had a small part. Anyway, I’ve finished all my assignments for the term, so I think I deserve to cut loose tonight.’
They laughed together, anticipating her drunkenness. ‘Well, I can’t wait to see your moves.’ Keeping his shoulders very still, he pouted his lips and moved his head from side to side. Mary was a much better dancer than Giles, which may have been why his caricature made her laugh so much.
‘And you’ll be doing your usual…’ She imagined herself as an Old Etonian: giving her chin a haughty tilt, she made her lips go serious, clenched her fists, and moved her arms in feigned effortlessness. She couldn’t keep the pretence going for long, as they ascended into laughter.
It was a cold, dry night, and he was beginning to understand something about nightclubs. Whenever he was feeling low they grinned at him, promising a chance to hide from it all: the pressures of work, England’s icy winds, his lonely thoughts. Each club provided a number of escape routes, although these often became intertwined: drinking and dancing were his usual fare. Sometimes he did feel that a door had been unlocked, with Elisabeth tending to provide the key. Whereas now, as he stood in a crowded room where Mary danced and Olivia lingered, he recognised the fine line between liberation and imprisonment. He spoke to Mary, and a cocktail of chemistry and awkwardness was poured down his throat, making him feel sick rather than drunk. He sensed the presence of the guards until after she’d left, whereupon he had visions of the clichéd days they might spend together: punting, visiting galleries, hiking the Yorkshire Dales. But here he was in a dark, congested room with a floor made sticky by vodka lemonades, as reggae remixes blared from immodest speakers. The songs, which were wonderfully relaxed at first, soon blurred into a hellish concoction of slow beats, muddy bass-lines and high-pitched vocals, until, at long last, he made his way outside and found a form of respite.
‘Gi-yals… Gi-yals.’ Mary was saying his name in a sleepy, smiley drawl. He hesitated – not even the dreaded jägerbomb could put his heart in this much danger – then perched next to her on the bench. To make matters worse, she was soon resting her head on his chest. He placed a hand on her arm, wanting to keep her close but aware that it meant something different to each of them. Sometimes he felt particularly bold, particularly drunk, and stroked her coat or hair. At one point she held his earlobes and said, ‘You’ve got wonderfully cold ears.’ He did not expect to forget that moment.
‘I wish we could hang out more often,’ he said.
‘Why can’t we?’ Oh, she just didn’t get it. Part of him wished she would gain some perspective, understand the depth of his obsession, but her obliviousness was also part of her charm, her youthful abandon, her ability to find joy and simplicity where he experienced this combination of profound harmony and profound longing.
All he could say was a suggestive ‘Well…’, which he repeated once or twice, hoping she would fill in the gap. Either she was too drunk to do so or she wanted to avoid the subject, because he received no direct response. Instead she asked him what he thought of her black dress, which was beautiful and told of an under-appreciated maturity beneath her innocence, and he was acutely aware of her failure to grasp the complexities of their friendship; complexities that existed largely in his mind. But these were occasional skips on the record, mere distractions from the fact that she was resting on him, telling him how wonderful he was.
And whether it was the result of her praise or his second tequila shot, the hours they spent on the dance floor were some of his happiest at Oxford until then. Sometimes it was just the two of them, sometimes friends appeared, and sometimes, in her seemingly unflinching happiness, she included total strangers. He remembered a group of Turkish men whose gleeful smiles revealed the effect she had on others.
When he and Mary danced alone, they displayed the full array of basic turns: with one hand held, he spun her; with arms aloft, they spun each other, twisting as one. There came moments when their faces drew so close that he almost tried his luck, but he knew she was far from sober. And yet, it was his fear of a third rejection that truly made him hesitate.
And so they danced together. She repeated how great he was, whilst he let slip the words ‘I love you, Mary’. It was unclear whether they were said in romance or solidarity. The truth lay somewhere in between, and she did not respond.
There was a roundabout. It was yellow, of course. For a short while, he believed they were riding it together, with mutual affection providing the required spin. In reality, he sat alone, smiling as she pushed him round. She was not toying with him; this simply made her happy. But as soon as he realised the truth, she left to find a swing-set nearby; she giggled as she flew. And still the roundabout turned, propelled by his thoughts, by his tendency to create an entire world of past and future. He sat there watching Mary, delighted by her laughter but wishing it was he who made her feel that way. It was not anyone. It was just her sweet, life-loving self and the rhythm of the swings.
They moved whilst going nowhere. She found joy in this tension, whereas he sought the courage to leave the roundabout and return to solid ground. The summer breeze blew the hair from her eyes.
There danced through his mind a series of memories – her cold hands, her head on his chest, her body swaying backwards – and at last he understood: he could not experience it whenever he wanted, that feeling of laughing with her, talking to her, focusing only and entirely on her. He had to wait his turn and find joy elsewhere.
He tried to keep Mary in view, but the roundabout was going too fast and all he managed were glimpses: she reached the apex; she flicked her feet; she extended her legs, preparing to plummet. He clung to the yellow railing, willing the roundabout to slow down. Just as he felt ready to collapse in a dizzy heap, the ride settled. For once he felt no need to work out why; he was simply grateful for the respite, relieved that he could see Mary’s grin rather than a brief flash of the sun on her teeth. She continued to swing, moving her legs without a trace of adulthood. Even when she dragged her heels to bring this game to an end, there was no fatigue in her bearing. She rose to her feet, patted her shorts, and, much to his surprise, walked towards him. He suppressed his confusion and focused on her confident strides, the glint in her open gaze.
She stopped by the roundabout and grabbed the railing. Without a word, she pumped her legs. What was happening? What bitter-sweetness lay ahead? As if to reassure him, she smiled. Her fingers tightened their grip, her thighs bulged with effort, and he realised that she was running. She was running, she was laughing, she was pushing the roundabout! He forgot the past as she galloped with speed and grace, forgot his sorry self, forgot even who she was, this girl with shoulder-stroking hair, swoonworthy cheekbones and beautiful, bright blue eyes that seemed destined never to close (did this girl even blink!). He was meeting her for the first time, but they met in silence, speaking not with words but with running feet and laughter. They moved together, and he understood that he could not move alone.
But what was this? What bold step was she preparing? Her legs became less frantic; she held fast to the metal. And as he sensed the dwindling power of their spin, something told him he could trust this nameless woman. With an intake of breath, she leapt from the ground and landed on the roundabout. She did not take a seat – no, she had no time for leisure – but began instead to dance! She was dancing on a roundabout! dancing on the roundabout, keeping her shoulders very still, pouting her lips and moving her head from side to side. He felt that he had seen this dance before, lived this moment before, and he watched her, mesmerised, as they turned again and again. And even had he known that this strange and wonderful experience would be over soon, that this girl whom he knew and yet did not know would return to the swing-set, he would have been grateful to have had the experience at all. For perhaps that was enough, perhaps that would be enough, to know this joy just once or twice, or, if he was lucky, a dozen times or so, not whenever he wanted, but whenever she wanted, and perhaps he would rise to dance with her one day, or she would sit alongside him and stay there forever, or he would never see her again, perhaps this one experience would make the perpetual motion of the roundabout bearable, this cycle, this ride without end, as he went on spinning and thinking of the girl he knew and yet did not know, the girl who was taking something from her pocket, a daffodil which she tucked into her hair, a yellow flower amidst brown locks, yellow on brown, yellow and brown, and he hoped that this moment would be enough.
 Incidentally, Giles later discovered that the UK was not even in the top ten for national plum production.
 After searching online for pithy statements about loneliness, Giles gathered that this was not an original thought.