Susan Slade’s Busiest Year

Susan Slade always made an impression. They used to say that fire followed her, but that’s only because she wore her red hair long. Walking in the wind she looked like autumn in fast forward.

In spring the autumn had seemed far off, as it did every year. That was the spring in which she learned to sail. Spray in the air, the colour of her eyes, there had been laughter then. Roger had been a good teacher, a strong teacher. He had taken her small hands in his own and guided them to the correct positions, making sure that the yacht skimmed lightly across the surface of the shimmering water. She felt the shift of his muscles as he moved next to her, and breathed in, once, deeply.

Afterward they had gone back to his cottage at the side of the reservoir. He had waited as she called home, checking that everything was in order. She always became anxious after a few days. She smiled as she pressed the cream-coloured plastic of the telephone receiver against her ear, where the glimmering diamond ear-rings that she liked to wear so much clicked as they made contact. She laughed as she checked that everything was fine, telling the nanny the merest snippets of her time, and surely filling her with jealousy.

The sheets were clean and newly pressed. He smelled of oil and the sea. They shared a single cigarette as the gulls made early morning circles above the reservoir.

But Roger was in the past now, of course, and Susan laughed to think of the girl that she had been in his arms. It all seemed so distant, like the snowflakes that had accompanied her as she skied down the French slopes. Jean-Luc, her instructor, a great (yet somehow graceful) brute of a man, had helped her improved her technique, though truthfully she was already quite accomplished on the slopes. As a child she had wintered with her aunt in Switzerland, and skiing was the only pastime available to her, year after year, until the time she discovered boys for herself. After that holiday, she wasn’t allowed to go to Switzerland for her winters.

Jean-Luc had arranged to meet Susan at the lodge that night, and she had been looking forward to it. The day had been so bright out on the slopes that she looked forward to the dark of the evening. Everything should have been perfect, after all, Jean-Luc was a beautiful man, with a fine, strong back and thick arms. He stood in the hall, waiting for her, a glass of wine ready in his hand. Behind him, a fired roared in the hearth. Susan stared at the flame, her eyes wide.

Later, when she told her best friend, society columnist Susanne Villette, about the affair, she would leave out the moment when she broke down. It was something to do with the way that the flames curled around the black coals. The way that the fire lit areas of her memory that were supposed to stay hidden. It was an obvious mistake, but not one that Alfredo, the Olympic gymnast that she met in the British museum would ever have made. Despite his thick neck and low centre of gravity, Alfredo had a sensitive soul, and would often surprise Susan with short bursts of poetry in his native tongue. His passion had been all that had kept her going in the bleak summer months that year, especially after the accident. The steady pulse of his arms as she clung to him.

Of course Terrance, a wine connoisseur and smuggler, who, together with his impossibly glamorous sister Saffron, introduced Susan to nights of delicious intoxication like she had never known, was never fond of Alfredo. A notorious deviant, Terrance had branded Alfredo a bore, and it was true that Alfredo had not enjoyed the parties that were a regular occurrence throughout August that year. Susan lost track of the handsome young men that whirled her around the dance floors at those parties. It was a decadent time filled with colours and lights and something that looked like happiness. Terrance and his beautiful sister kissed Susan goodbye at the end of the month, content that their little arcadia had made her laugh once more.

In autumn the trees lined the driveway from her house in a ragged blast of colour, so Susan stayed indoors. The reds and ambers reminded her too much of the past, and her other memories seemed weak and pale in comparison. Winter was soon to come.

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Douglas Noble was born in Scotland and grew up all wrong. Don't blame his parents though, they tried their best.

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