The rest of the day is off camera. Back down the hill, across the fields. When we returned to the car, (I remember now) a couple were standing by the roadside. All their bags lay on the pavement. The woman held a newborn baby in her arms. Their car had broken down a few miles away and they had walked this far along the roadside. It was one of those incidences when the world takes you over with its logic, when you follow it without question. We drove them back with us to the town. Even if they’d been criminals, if the man had held a knife to my throat and told us to drive, this too would have been rational. Instead, we chatted about Mona’s car, the songs on the radio. The man asked us about the camera. We told him about the film. I’d expected him to laugh— I expected everyone to laugh— but he was interested, both of them asked lots of questions. We were still talking about it when the baby began to cry, high pitched little coughs like the cries of a cat.
‘He’s hungry,’ the woman said, fingers reaching for a clip upon her bra.
Even now, I remember it as a moment of a balanced, almost transcendent, rightness. A family lost being taken home, a baby being fed, a girl I longed for; we were driving into the sun. But only a month or so later, we would split up. I couldn’t tell you the reason, reason didn’t enter into it at all: I can only recall a growing insistent frustration, which now seems so furious as to make me feel ashamed. And faced with this, Mona only withdrew into a detached impatience. This was what passed for reason during that hormonal summer.
At one stage, I managed to catch Mona’s eye, and we smiled at one another, and I knew we shared that feeling. I looked into the rear-view mirror, where the woman was breastfeeding. The man had leaned close to them and stroked his finger across the baby’s cheek and the woman’s breast. I could see the baby’s lips pursed around her nipple, the natural perfect seal.
We dropped them off in the town centre. The man shook my hand. When Mona drove me home, I invited her inside. Mum had gone out for the evening. I opened a bottle of red wine, making it appear as though this was a regular freedom I enjoyed. When I suggested that we watch a film up in my room, the way Mona agreed, a shy, nod of the head, a little laugh, made it clear that both of us understood.
For years, whenever I thought of Mona, it would be to remember that first time on the narrow single mattress in my bedroom. Her skin with its bone purity, the way the dimmed light, a desk lamp pushed down, seemed to be absorbed by its whiteness; the sharp triangle of black between her legs. Her eyes, I saw for the first time, were a smoke grey, and I remember thinking, ‘How can it have taken me so long to notice the colour of her eyes?’ We undressed on the bed. She opened herself with thighs lifted, rubbing the back of her hand shyly across her face. The television flickered through a film I can no longer remember.
There was one final scene on the tape:
Mona sits on the grass at the top of the hill. Behind her, the white brick of the water tower give the upright edge to a panel of blue sky. She swaps one, two glances with the camera until she speaks.
‘You’re filming again.’ She spoke flatly, without surprise.
‘That’s right.’ My voice is even thicker now, clogged with pollen and cigarette smoke.
‘What is the… how long has the battery got left?’
‘There’s one bar on the screen.’
‘One bar.’ She shook her head.
‘So I wanted to ask you,’ I say. ‘Did you enjoy today? The filming.’
‘The filming? I think so.’ She waves a hand idly in front of her face, fanning herself. ‘I think it went very well.’ She smiles, glances at the camera. ‘Did you enjoy the filming?’
‘I enjoyed the day,’ I said. ‘Very much.’
She nods, smiles, looks away. ‘Well, that’s good.’
(This is the reason I asked her for a copy of the film. This, I would later tell her, is the moment that I knew.)
‘Can we go home now?’
‘Yes,’ Mona says. ‘Yes, we can go home.’
Words © Daniel Bennett