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What Epicurus Left Out

The hand holding back the branch is pale, and it trembles slightly as the leaves once more obscure the view. She knows she has had a glimpse of something that doesn't belong in her world. She warmed herself over a reflected glow, only borrowed. She wonders why she alone seems to be too thin for the world, not slender like the girls in the magazines, but rather brittle and stretched, a mind, a soul, somewhere it just doesn't belong. She doesn't know the rules here, and she plays the games like a foreigner – watching and mimicking but never really understanding. She shrinks back into the shadows where it is safe, comfortable. She wishes you had never let her sit with you in the sun, waking with memories of the bright warmth on her skin, feeling you close. She opens her eyes into the dark, alone, suddenly so aware of her wrongness. You showed her the door she cannot open; and until then she'd never realised she is outside looking in.

She learned from the best. Stoic Greek men who advised her to keep her desires to a minimum. A little bread, a little wine, a little companionship and laughter every so often. Good health, a light touch on the world. A red-haired primary school teacher who made her class draw the rooms they wanted, and the rooms they needed, and the difference between them. Hours spent embellishing fantastical, pretty desires on one side of the page, and neat, clean lines on the other. A bed, a window, a cupboard. Twenty years on and far from home, knee-high boots and a librarian skirt emerging from the car that's only five years younger than she is, overpriced hairstyle slipping into her eyes, she is surrounded in disposable consumerism.

She seeks out the esoteric, buys her chocolate fair-trade and her biscuits from little German delicatessens, her apples from the organic grocer, handmakes and repairs. She doesn't smoke – probably the only promise she kept to her past – but she can't escape the game, not even close. She knows most of her desires can be put away, postponed, offset. She can make iced tea with tealeaves instead of buying a soda, bake a pie with wasted fruit, write letters when she's lonely. You didn't know it, but you taught her there are some desires that cannot be postponed, cannot be put away forever. Life cannot be stored in a box at the back of a cupboard until you are ready for it. I thought I was impervious to falling, and it had been so long I had forgotten how to get back up again. I covered it with a bandaid, but it hasn't gone away yet. I am suddenly aware of being ancient, dried out and inhuman – and horribly, horribly naïve. The world moves on around me. All the boats are gone, now, and the sea rises with solemn inevitability. There is no chance of rescue. I close my eyes and wait for the last memories of warmth to fade.