Trixie’s Last Kiss.
It’s a child’s drawing of an aeroplane – thick wings and stubby body, coloured in thick crayon, an unlikely shade of bright pink – and it sits there amongst the white and scribbled wax clouds with a smile drawn under its nose and with two passengers grinning and waving at me from behind their windows. The picture is held onto the refrigerator door with one magnetic letter, a bright red X, which will forever look to me like one last, final kiss.
Sometimes I dream that I’m about to get that kiss, that Trixie runs and jumps up at me, confident that I’m there to catch her, and then I wake into a dark room where the only warmth in the bed is my own, there’s a cold breeze coming from somewhere else and the slight tingle of her hair brushing my cheek fades into nothing as it goes.
* * *
Their names were Annabelle and Trixie – Annie’s choice of name, not mine, although she looked like a Trixie, and acted like one too – and I miss them more each day, although in a way which hurts less, but will last longer, although it took me some time to see the virtues of that.
When I first met her, she was Annabelle Cooke (Cookie to her friends, even after we were married and she, wonders never cease, took my name) and she made my world tip alarmingly and turn a bit more purple than I was used to. Trixie came a couple of years later, totally by accident. She changed our lives completely, as children do, reordered the architecture of our lives into something strange and alien that made perfect sense.
It wasn’t the sort of life that seemed as if it could be halted by something like a sheared bolt or a broken fuel line – I always imagined it stronger than that. Fragility has its own rules, I have come to realise.
* * *
My system, after the various methods of anger and depression and alcohol had failed to ease the pain, was simple. I was to archive their lives away, to catalogue them in ways that did not impact on my life, or the situation that my life had become. Pictures were boxed and placed in the attic, there to await the day that my heart had rebuilt its strength. Likewise, clothes and books, and all the other paraphernalia that made them tangible in the house even when they were gone.
When I tried to clear out Trixie’s wardrobe, the opening of the doors caused her hanging dresses to sway. It looked like multiples of her dancing there, a chorus line of slight ghosts performing for a second or two, then slowing back to stillness, leaving behind only the barest scent of strawberry shampoo. A silly moment, but it pricked tears from my eyes and hitched my breath in my throat and it took the rest of the day away from me in a fugue that I still don’t remember. These spirits of things had to be put away, behind me somewhere, for a time.
All I had left to hurt me was Trixie’s painting of an aeroplane, which she did for me so that I wouldn’t miss her and her mother so much while they went away. She tiptoed up on a dining chair and fixed it to the door of the refrigerator with various coloured magnetic letters that spelled her name across the top of the sky she had drawn. I remember that she placed them very carefully between the clouds, a tumble of helter skelter letters – trixie, they spelt, in round-edged lower case, purple and red, blue and yellow and green.
“That’s us, Daddy. That’s me and Mummy waving goodbye.”
I left it there. I could no more move it than I could a tombstone, and that’s what it became. It hung there, shifting ever so slightly every time I opened the fridge, its thick rustle a testament to my beautiful wife and my baby girl, as they smile and wave me goodbye.
* * *
I was in Inverness with friends, months later – people I’d known since school and college, some from university. We’d rented a house for a reunion, many of my oldest friends who had paired up and married, or found love outside the core group and done likewise. I found myself on the second evening of the long weekend coming to with a start, quite consciously noticing that I hadn’t thought of Annie and Trixie since earlier that afternoon. Something about reminiscing, or being with friends who knew me well enough to steer me round the emotional obstacles I’d placed in my own way, had given me enough space to find myself there.
Something happened that weekend, something that stayed with me, returned home as I did. My friends, their spouses and children, had given me back something I’d lost inside myself, something I’d pushed down into the darkness. I sat at the dining table in my kitchen looking at Trixie’s aeroplane and, without really thinking about it, I stood and walked over to the fridge. My arms and legs seemed remote as I moved up to the picture. I ran my fingers over their happy faces on the fuselage, moved a tracing fingertip up into the sky, weaving between the clouds and hovered there. Then I plucked a magnetic letter from the picture and placed it to the side, on to the cool white metal of the door. The magnet clicked as it held there, like a door unlocking.
For every small instance of happiness that began with a letter of Trixie’s name, I decided that I would take a magnet from the picture and move it to the side. And when eventually the plane fell, I would be there to catch it, and to set it down carefully with the other mementoes I had kept safe.
I for Inverness. There are worse places to start.
* * *
Of course, the reasoning seems almost trite now, not least because I was unlikely to find any happiness beginning with the letter X – unless xylophones had become considerably more exciting since I was a child.
But, over the course of the next few weeks and months, I found occasion to remove every magnet but the X from Trixie’s picture. I almost expected that one last letter to fail at keeping the aeroplane up, but it held, like the strength in the strongest kiss; my Trixie’s kiss kept them both flying there.
* * *
And, of course, the X was the one that stayed there for the longest time. I found that I touched my forefingers to my lips each time I saw the picture in the morning, returning the kiss that held it there, kissing them hello as they waved me, forever, goodbye.
Yet time moved on, and I moved as quickly as I could to keep pace with it. The point came when my friends’ attempts to set me up with someone of the opposite sex didn’t make me curl up and cry inside. I felt most times like a packing case: strong and sturdy on the outside, and with a reliable This Way Up printed on the front; but inside I was just scrunched up newspaper and polystyrene chips with broken crockery moving against itself. Still, there’s only so many times you can refuse your friends before they stop trying to help, and help was what I needed so very much.
* * *
Her name was Natasha. It was a nice evening. She didn’t cure my broken heart, and didn’t seem to feel she had to. We had a second date, and she wasn’t forceful or forward, preferring to listen and nod and interject comments and witticisms at just the right moments. It was like admiring ballroom dancers for so very long before realising that you can waltz. It’s just a matter of timing and movement.
On our third date I discovered that her middle name was Xenia.
* * *
It’s not a great romance – at this stage it’s not a romance at all, but it’s comfortable and it moves and we both enjoy that.
So I sit here in the kitchen and I watch that aeroplane frozen in its moment of going away, and I think that perhaps it’s time for it to vanish into the clouds, to go to where it’s going, and maybe to catch up with the ghosts of the people it left behind so many months ago.
And I take Xenia’s magnetic letter X – the final parting kiss of my darling Trixie – between my thumb and my forefinger and I grip it as best I can with fingers that tremble just a little there in the dark and I take the letter away and move my other hand to catch them, this time, as they fall…
…and it doesn’t matter that my rational mind realises that it’s some errant glue or paint – or, knowing Trixie, marmalade – on the back of the picture that continues to hold it to the door.
All that matters is that I love my little girl’s cartoon crayoned aeroplane, because it clings to the fridge with nothing else but love, and that is enough to prevent its fall.