Beth owns two cats. Beth owns two cats, and every morning, once she has fed her cats she gets the 8:21 bus to work.
On this particular morning, in early January, she dashes onto the bus, pockets of tousled ginger hair sticking upright at angles. It is raining outside, the type of British rain which drenches you to the core and devours soggy socks. She seats herself at the back of the bus and pulls a hairbrush from her pocket, dragging it through her wet hair: scattering more handbag lint into her tresses than brushing it out.
‘Here, would you like to use this?’ The woman on the aisle seat opposite to her holds a clean hairbrush out. She wears a yellow raincoat, and a grin.
‘Please!’ She runs it through her hair nervously, removing the lint and dust. Her hair is now static, but clean.
‘You seemed to be making your hair worse by doing that … I thought I’d help out.’ The woman in the yellow coat says.
‘Well, thank you.’ Beth nods, giving the hair brush back, before going to put her earphones in.
‘I’m Bea,’ the woman says, ‘it’s short for Beatrice.’
She draws the earplug away from her head, ‘Hi, I’m Beth.’
Beth smiles, and thinks how Bea possesses an elf-like quality to her features: a pinched nose and small pouty lips.
‘I don’t usually get the bus, but my bloody car broke down didn’t it,’ she continues.
‘Alright for some, I get this bus route every day.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I figured … where’s work?’
Beth blushes, ‘The accountancy firm on Brooke Road.’
‘Not a long journey then.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Well, I suppose I best tell you about myself sooner rather than later then.’
Bea is a teacher. She tells her about her favourite students, the quiet ones who hang back after class, and she tells her about the ones who draw anatomy on the desks in biro and punch holes in the wall.
By the end of the bus journey they have exchanged numbers. Beth gets off the 8:21 bus, clutching her phone in her still damp palm.
January, one year later. This is Beth and Bea’s first Christmas together. They have been dating for five months and there’s something novel about this company in the depths of British winter. Rain hammers on every wall of the house, a fortress under attack. Yet they are safe, watching nature documentaries under a cloak of candlelight. Images of dolphins which dash over waves appear hypnotic upon the screen.
‘Don’t let it get to you.’ Beth says, embracing Bea. Her mother had come over earlier that day, and she decided that would be the day she announced that the girl friend she spent Christmas with was her girlfriend. It was not taken well.
‘It was just the expression of dismay which took over her face. No one wants to see that look on their parent’s face. Especially not as a result of something that makes me so happy.’ Beth looks at her, ‘Well … someone that makes me so happy.’
The narrator of the documentary is emphasising the importance of a species of dolphin in the Mediterranean sea. ‘Jesus, Italy is gorgeous,’ Beth attempts to move the conversation forwards.
‘The dolphins are only the start of it.’
Beth can almost hear the idea materialising in Bea’s head.
‘What if we left it. Left this storm and disappeared off to Italy.’ Bea proposes.
‘The weather will pass.’
‘I’m not talking about the weather, Beth.’
Three years later, Bea and Beth have made the move to Italy. They bask in the buttercup rays of Sorrento sunshine, where that long gone morning in January seems something of a muted dream. Bea’s yellow raincoat hangs stagnant on the coat hook, untouched as the thirty degree heat doesn’t call for rain macs.
The cat stands boldly on the table, gently mewing as it sniffs the top of the bottle of the sweet white wine they are sharing. The other cat was buried back home in England, in a plot of garden which belongs to someone else now.
Bea kisses Beth on the nose, a notion warmer than the sun.
‘I spoke to my mother this morning.’ Bea announces, as she swirls her glass of wine, her expression unreadable from behind her sunglasses.
‘How did she sound?’
‘Bitter.’ Bea takes a gulp of wine.
‘Nothing has changed there then.’ Beth sighs.
‘No, though if we gave them some grandkids I’m sure that’d shut them up.’ Bea remarks, pouring more white wine from the bottle.
Beth laughs, in doing so she throws her head back to reveal her imperfect, yet white, teeth. Bea loves when she laughs that way.
Three years from then, Bea and Beth still live together in the Italian countryside. Bea teaches English to Italian students at a nearby school, whilst working freelance as an artist. Bea always tells Beth that her art career is going to ‘sky-rocket any moment’. She knows it won’t, but it doesn’t bother her because the money they make from teaching and accounting is enough for a comfortable existence. It is an existence embellished with bottles of wine on the veranda behind sunglasses, driving the old red car to the town centre for days teaching at the school, and cheese and olives on bread in the morning: orange juice on the side for when their mouths are parched from the wine of the night before.
Or at least, this is what would’ve happened, had Beth and Bea actually met that January morning. But the English rain was temporal and cruel.
Beth owned two cats. On that particular morning, in early January, the rain lashed at the back of her hair as she handed over her bus ticket to the driver. She dropped the ticket in horror upon remembering she had forgotten to feed her cats. With a stifled gasp she turned around and exited the bus, her red hair moved separate to her head.
She bounded back down the road, her black heels getting scuffed upon the pavement in doing so. Short of breath, Beth swung through the door and dropped her keys on the sofa. She shovelled a tin of rancid-smelling jelly into two bowls and laid them down for the cats. She wiggled her toes to keep them warm through the damp which sept into her tights.
The two cats stared at her, unblinking and letting out vocal mews. Beth thought how she would have to get the next bus to work, the 8:45. She was alone now.
Bea was a woman who was sat on the back of the 8:21 bus that day in a yellow rain coat, and Bea was a woman who Beth would never meet.
– Emily Black