‘Hi Joanna. Aw, and hello you, beautiful dog,’ Sarah says, leaving the corridor door behind her.
It’s a bit chilly outside, Joanna can tell by the sudden change of temperature that takes place in her house after Sarah enters.
‘Hi Sarah. How was your journey?’
Sarah says it was fine while she quickly strokes Zoe’s hairy head. The rushed gesture makes Joanna smile. She has the impression that Sarah is pretending. Sarah does not seem to love dogs, and yet she caresses Zoe.
Is she doing it to please her? Legitimate question.
Sarah has grown a lot since the last time she’s been at Joanna’s place. She is not an adolescent anymore; she’s approaching adult life. Joanna feels for her. Being twenty-one is not easy. You have no idea what kind of adult you are going to be and the only way to find out is wondering about your true self. It’s so obvious to Joanna that Sarah is in the middle of that process.
‘Mum would never let me have a dog. We got a cat. It’s easier, she says.’
Oh, here’s what it is! Conflict! Probably Sarah doesn’t even fancy having a dog, but it’s still something to go against her mother.
‘Easier?’Joanna asks, while looking for her car key. She’s thinking of when she had shared the little flat near the Royal Observatory with Miriam. They had a cat back then. Kira was her name. She was a pain. She climbed on every shelf of the apartment, breaking everything she could break: glasses, ashtrays, vases. How could Miriam say that owning a cat was easier than owning a dog? That was a clear sign of how different their personalities were.
‘You don’t have to walk a cat. That’s what makes it easier for her,’ Sarah says, exhaling, to make her disappointment visible.
‘I see,’ ‘well, to be fair, your mum has always loved cats. We used to have one when we lived together, and Miriam was definitely the one who cared the most for her.’
Joanna remembers it as if it was yesterday. It was their first year at Uni, before Miriam got pregnant and went back to Reading. She would have taken Kira with her if it wasn’t for her parents. They had strict rules about animals in the house.
‘I’ll visit every time I can,’ Miriam had told Kira, but not long after Miriam’s departure, Kira had disappeared. Where she went, they had no idea. The new flatmate must have left the door open and Kira took the opportunity to go and see the world. She must have thought that there was no point in staying there without Miriam, and how could Joanna blame her? Joanna had thought to leave it all behind too when Miriam left. They had moved to London together; they had also picked the same university: English literature in Greenwich. How was she supposed to continue without her friend? And yet, Joanna did continue. She finished Uni and became a professor at UCL.
If Joanna had to pick the moment when Miriam’s life and hers had taken opposite directions, though, it wouldn’t be when Miriam returned her keys of their flat to the landlord. In fact, Miriam’s decision to go back home didn’t change their relationship much. Miriam needed help – especially considering Sarah’s father was nowhere to be found – and staying with her parents seemed the most sensible thing to do. Yet many were the occasions in which Miriam jumped on a train to London just to spend time with Joanna. Sometimes Miriam brought Sarah with her, sometimes she didn’t. Joanna was ashamed to say it, but back then she preferred the times when Sarah stayed in Reading with her grandparents. Miriam loved her daughter deeply and she would probably never admit it, but the parties that Joanna organised were far more interesting when Miriam didn’t have to take care of her baby. Joanna used to invite all her friends from Uni, or from the Book Club and they spent entire evenings sipping wine and discussing literature, so that Miriam could still feel part of that circle. An illusion, perhaps, and yet the joy that sparkled from Miriam’s eyes confirmed to Joanna that those parties were all her friend needed.
It was in one of those evenings that Miriam had met Charles. He looked like a typical Australian surfer, although he knew nothing about the sport and loads about writing and writers. This opposition of characters must have been what Miriam had liked about him. Miriam had fallen in love easily and when Charles graduated and decided to return to Australia, she followed him.
That was the actual moment when Miriam and Joanna’s lives had parted.
Sarah was six back then. Many years had gone by since, years of distance, and not only geographical. It’s weird how relationships can change so dramatically for no apparent reason. Miriam called every now and then, but not as often as Joanna expected, and rarely visited, even if she flew to the U.K. every year to see her parents. Things were about to change, though. Once again.
Joanna had received a call from Miriam five weeks ago.
‘Look, there’s not an easy way to say it, so I’m just going to say it, all right? I’m moving back to the U.K., Joanna,’ Miriam had unexpectedly announced.
Joanna was so shocked she didn’t know what to reply, so just waited for her friend to continue.
‘Just me, and Sarah. Charles isn’t coming.’
Joanna took a second to digest what her friend had just told her, then finally asked,
‘What do you mean he’s not coming?’
‘It means,’ Miriam clarified, ‘that pig is fucking one of his students. Well, ex-student, to be fair. A certain Lila. She’s twenty-five, Joanna. Twenty-five! Only a few years older that my daughter, for fuck sake.’
Miriam’s honesty had left Joanna disoriented and pleased at the same time. Joanna was terribly sorry for what had happened to Miriam and yet she couldn’t help but think that she hadn’t felt that close to her friend in a long, long time. It was like their familiarity had just been restored. They had discussed “The Pig” for another twenty minutes, until Joanna said she had a class and had to hung up, but she couldn’t wait to see her and Sarah.
‘Me too,’ Miriam had said, ‘and, Joanna, one last thing. Sorry if I have abandoned you.’
It had been in that exact instant that Joanna understood. So many times, Joanna had wondered if Miriam was even aware of her own behaviour, and finally, in that simple sentence, she had found the answer. In those simple words it was hiding the truth. Miriam felt guilty, she thought she had let Joanna down by leaving and she couldn’t face it. That was why Miriam had been distant for all these years. It was the easiest of the explanations, and yet it had taken Joanna fifteen years to get it.
Joanna smiles at her memories and checks the clock on the wall by the kitchen door. It’s 9:15 pm. It’s almost time, and luckily, she’s found her car key. For some reason, it was on the bedside table.
How did it end up there?
Joanna looks around her house. Zoe is lying on the couch, while Sarah is looking out of the living room’s window. Lea bridge Road doesn’t have much to offer, especially at that time of the evening but, Joanna guesses, it’s all so new to Sarah that even the simplest detail must feel exciting to her. This is the first time Sarah has been in London without Miriam. She couldn’t miss the beginning of the academic year at her new Uni, so she had travelled by herself and left her mum arranging the last details with the moving company. Joanna had picked her up from Heathrow airport and drove her to the apartment in Canning Town that Miriam (with Joanna’s help) had rented for them.
Sarah has been in London for only a week now and, of course, she is still familiarising herself with the city. That’s probably the reason why she insisted on going to Joanna’s on her own instead of being picked up; she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. And that’s probably also the reason why Miriam had insisted on catching the tube from Heathrow (even if she was carrying two luggage and a backpack and she had been travelling for twenty-four hours). Luckily, Joanna had managed to make her change mind, at last.
These two are much more alike than they think.
‘Are we ready?’ Joanna asks Sarah, ‘your mum’s flight will land in about a hour. I think we should go, if we don’t want her to wait for us.’
‘Sure,’ Sarah says, ‘let’s go and get mum. I thought I would never say it, but I kind of miss her.’
Joanna gives Sarah a complicit smile. She misses her friend too. All these years she has learnt how to live without Miriam and she could potentially continue that way. Joanna had thought about that option, but eventually she came to the conclusion that she didn’t want to. What she wanted was her friend back.
© Brooxy Moon