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by Harry Tucker

Does a bottle of Limoncello say we should get back together?


I tap the cat-eye yellow glass with my long red nail, as if some dwelling creature might reply if I knock politely. He always said its nice to land with something sweet in hand.


The expensive one probably does, right? The one with the blue label and the cursive font that has the sheer nerve to only express itself in Italian. How are Irish people supposed to know it’ll get you pissed without the percentage on the front? Perhaps a picture of a hungover man in a lemon-shaped sleeping bag, giving a thumbs up and holding the bottle in the air like a trophy?


Maybe I’ll go cheaper – but no, not her on the label with the big tits and the half-wink. He’d see her smile and the twirl of her braid before the price tag. Thirty seconds later we’d be in bed together.


I spin the bulk sized bottle of Lola’s Lush Limoncello Liqueur so she’s not facing out to everyone at the airport. I’d say its for her modesty rather than mine, but she’s not the only girl in the duty free practically naked. We have pink-corseted Chanel poster girls and Dior goddesses in wind-swept gold gowns. I make eyes with the wind-tossed DKNY goths, standing smokey-eye-smudged by the Hudson, lips pursed into twin clitorises, dressed in designer leather jackets but somehow having lost their tops.


Then all around me in the real world are remarkably normal women. Puffer coated, rednosed, dragging suitcases clacking behind them. Some pick at spots, staring into phone screens. Some peruse, sneering at the smell of the cheap chap-sticks. Others left things too late, running full force, their unkempt hair bouncing, eyes possessed by the need to get to the gate on time. They clench their jaws and chew their cheeks. They snake through each winding line, their acid tongues primed to melt any bureaucracy in their way. The gap between us and the fantasy is probably why normal people don’t make major life decisions based on magazine covers. Only haircuts, shaving regiments, skin care and self harm. I smile thinking about what would happen if they traded places, if we showed up to flights dressed like Zendaya whilst the posters showed Geordie Anne chewing her nails and patting at her pockets for her Oyster card. Anne would model her favorite frayed woolen jumper and the shape of her wouldn’t have one straight line, the lining of her jacket loose from where she tore real pockets in for herself.


Nor-mull.” Anne would say in a thick Northern accent. “Oh De Par-foam.”


Meanwhile Johnny Depp gets to traipse through a desert looking philosophical in a navy shirt and we’re supposed to embrace this as the paragon of masculinity.


That’s when he would usually say that men have unrealistic body image standards too and I’d say yeah like when, pointing my beer at him like the barrel of a gun, and he’d murmur something about male eating disorders and Magic Mike. Then I’d tell him, ignoring the first bit for the sake of my argument, isn’t that supposed to be empowering, like I’m supposed to feel empowered by Cardi B’s sopping wet vagina blaring through the cafe like a public service announcement before I’ve even had my 9am coffee and he’d laugh and admit, yeah fuck it Leaf, I never really care about the way I look, can we just watch the fucking movie. And I’d smile back because that was one of the things I loved about him. Pink khakis, spotted shirts, striped sweater vests. He was the absolute worst dresser I ever saw.


I wonder when those little fights started to mean something. Maybe when they stopped ending, after a few smiling, silent seconds, twirling my hair as I looked at him, with the words I love you.


Maybe I’ll just get the bottle of Johnny Depp to make it clear, by association, that this was at the very least a very complicated marriage. I take the pale pink sample strip and hold it to my nose; musky enough. I turn Johnny over, putting my hands around his black-belted hips, look up his crotch to find a nasty surprise.


Forty-five pounds? The cheek.


I scoot over to regard the chocolates, skirting my fingers above the bright stripes and bubble writing. Red Lindt kisses, scattered like a field of poppies, sit beneath the coffee-colored couples cartons of Green and Blacks. There are Cadbury’s Roses and Celebrations, and that Galaxy one with the woman at sunset who looks like she’s having an orgasm.


Fuck me, chocolate’s a minefield. Might as well buy those dark chocolate cocks he served at my birthday to my sister. Handsome Alan had to apologize for that one for years. In his brother’s defense, it was after four bottles of wine and she’d just proclaimed herself not to be a prude by successfully identifying an Eminem song. He just misread the room a little. Especially when he tapped the tips with a teaspoon and said:


“Nice and hard, just like you like ‘em, eh Siobhan?”


Siobhan is a nun.


Can’t believe I still fucked him afterwards. Can’t believe I even shared the same bed. Laying there laughing. My giggle warm in his ear, his stubble burning against my cheek, lips tasting of–


No. No chocolate.


Twelve teddy bears stare out at me now with their beady-black eyes, as if they’re playing a game of who can hold the most still. Each one waves a different little flag – Italy, France, Spain. If Brexit ever ends, deporting them would be the one Conservative initiative I’d get behind.


Leaf, there’s nothing creepy about em, he’d say, they’ve got souls and troubles just like the rest of us.


I would have hated him for trying to scare me. If he wasn’t so thoroughly shit at it.


Back to the alcohol then.


Gin – crystal glints in green and violet glass. Can’t buy anything too big, only brought a wheelie, knowing its a fly-by trip. Half the brands say London on them so won’t be touched by any proud Irishman I’ll be seeing this weekend. Then there’s whiskey. If last time I saw his family is anything to go off, that’ll mean being physically picked up by his brothers and told by his mum, sourly smoking on the porch, that God makes sure that infertility is no coincidence. The way he stood up for her as well:


“She’s fucking old, what do you want me to say?” He said climbing into bed, whipping round his dressing gown over his striped boxers. “She’s only just got her head round the… Look, she was taught one way, us another.”


“Do you really think its fair?” I said, sitting on the corner of the bed, refusing to acknowledge the draft spreading over my legs, the itch of the shitty tartan throw rug pricking my thigh. “Am I supposed to just grow a working womb overnight?”


“Of course not. ‘Course fucking not!” he shouted back, then took a deep breath and caught himself. I heard the sheets moving behind me but daren’t move – his hand fell on my back. “Its just difficult, alright? For everyone.”


I shook my head, shrugged his hand away, kicked my feet against the wicker basket of magazines on the floor. I considered how they’ll only be nice to me the way you are to a friend’s dog: all smiles and hugs, but wary of the way they might leave a stain on their carpet. Even less so, really. You’d forgive the dog the next day.


“Okay.” He leaned back, the ruffing of fabric again. “I still love you.”


“There should be nothing still about it.”


“Okay.” I wanted him to close the distance, a hand, a word, anything but instead I just heard the light-switch being pulled and we were in the dark again.


I stared at the topmost magazine cover: the outline of a model walking down Bond Street. She looked just like me, the shape of her in the dark at least. Handsome Alan had told me over that last whiskey I could probably be a model. Probably more whiskey wishful thinking than wine truths. Probably a bit influenced by his browser history. Can tell a chaser from a mile away.


Even if he was chatting shite, I could see myself there on that cold sterile street. I could see myself making eyes at him after so many years, looking like I’ve moved on.


But you can’t really move on if you’re doing it to make them know you’re better off. Or even worse, that you wish they’d still be in love. There was a time I wanted him to follow me there too.


That time was surpassed by several New Year’s, Christmases, wasteful Westminster career paths, regrettable Shoreditch haircuts, Vauxhall binges, Margate detoxes, fucks both memorable and pointless, meaningless promotions, TV dinners, motorway meltdowns, firings, concerts, acid trips leading to hospitals, holidays, airports, home and back again. A lifetime, really. One propelled so far that I might as well have died when I stepped on that plane from Dublin. Yet even in the death of that old me, the pain survives.


“United Flight 0451 to Dublin is now boarding!” Goes the tannoy, spinning me out of my reverie.


“Are you going to buy anything?” The surly checkout desk girl asks with no expression on her face. Her tired eyes are bulging out of her head. “Otherwise, I’m off on break, so…”


“Oh, sure, fuck, whatever, um.” I wipe my cheek with my hand and look at the stack of candy through bleary eyes. I snatch the packet on instinct: Wine Gums.


Pound fifty for the value bag, easy choice.


Let me tell you a story about Wine Gums whilst I stroll to the gate.


Once, there was a man named Winny P. Gummerson. He was a banker in old Victorian London or something like that. He was short, stocky, never bawdy with the lads nor versed in women’s chatter. But if you got him talking about sweets, he’d light up a room. He’d tell you about tinkering with burning sugar pots and luminous syrups in his lab, steaming, bubbling and funelling greens and pinks through looping glass kits. He’d pass out there most nights, spent on the wooden floor, the vapours of his creations dancing in wispy trails along the ceiling. His wife hated it, of course, so one day he threw away his normal life, moved to the East End and opened his own sweet shop.


Months later, an American in a pink-pinstriped suit and a shock of ginger hair walked into the sweet shop, black heels clicking beneath a thin-lipped smile. He sampled each of Winny’s special creations, told him he loved the way Winny recommended each confection with a thought-out speech, how he stuttered at every insinuation that he was sweet, how he shrugged off every compliment. Suffice to say, the two of them fucked like ferets on the wooden floor of the lab that night, swaddled in each other’s arms, feeding each other crimson dabs of sherbet off the tips of their index fingers.


Winny awoke to a broken world. His lab in flames. He tried to put them out with his night shirt, reaching out to the searing equipment to save it only for the heat to singe his fingers. His recipes were ash, his future smoke. It would be months of hardship before Winny would see the American again, at his new store, using the recipes he had stolen from Winny’s lab.


As he came to the counter to demand an explanation, his wife descended the stairs of the sweet shop – revealing that she had had a taste for an unconventional life of sweet sucking the entire time, simply not with him. They both thought it best for Winny to get out of their lives. It’s not like we were exclusive at the time! they both lamented to Winny. He sat on the pavement in the freezing winter; destitute, passionless, alone.


That’s when the man at Maynards food production saw the look on Winny P Gummerson’s face and said: I want to make a confectionery that encapsulates that man’s exact expression – the essence of disappointment. That’s how wine gums were invented.


I take the escalator to the gate, ascending skyward, winged by blue rain-spattered glass. I notice a young couple in front of me kissing, paying no mind to whether they’ll get eaten by the rising stairs. She’s wearing a red scarf and he has the ends of it gripped in his black gloved hands, reeling her in like a wind-up doll. Its one of those kisses that are so tight you think they might be challenging Rutherford to split the atom between their lips.


Can’t they just take their love and fuck off?


And now I sound like mum, give or take the slurs. Following that assumption, I do exactly what she would do in this situation: stare in utter disgust. Their eyes are beady as marbles. He’s scruffy and pale as sin. She’s bronzed, beanied, black haired. I reckon its an Irish boy who hit the jack-pot and found himself one of those Mediterranean Catholics. Mary under the cross, Magdalene up the arse. I’m not a prude, I’m just too old to care anymore. Been a long time since that New Year’s Eve when he told me before I even put on my makeup:


“You look amazing, like a proper movie star or some shit.”


That is still somehow the most romantic thing that’s ever been said to me.


Well, maybe it was what he said when we sat in the bath. I lay warm on his stomach, our fingers interlaced over my head, marble and skin peach under candlelight and he said:


“Leaf, you’re the most important relationship I’ve ever had.”


Or the way he’d smile when he’d pick me up at the airport or the train station in his beat up black corsa, and be so content when he’d lean across from the driver’s seat to pop open the door, wink and raise his eyebrow to welcome me:


“Hey Leaf.”


When we board the flight, you’ll never guess who takes the window and aisle seat next to me, and spends the first two hours doing nothing but kiss and giggle, and share earphones to watch a film on her screen whilst he leans sideways across the lifted arm rest.


I lose my way into white wine one, then two, until it all becomes a run on sentence of those mini little bottles punctuated by the full stop of an ambien. Well, it should’ve been a full stop but it hatched into a semi-colon; just one more, for a little night-cap.


“Do you want a wine gum?” I hear myself asking the young couple. “I fucking hate them.”


The girl peers out from the archway of the sweat-shirt arm he has wrapped around her.


“Why would you buy them then?” She asks.


“Funny story.” I throw my hands up, almost knocking my open bottle over myself but catching it at the last second. Realizing, with the fuzzy rumbling world of the plane getting a bit much, that I should probably pack it in, I point to the table: “Do you want it?”


“Oh, we don’t drink.” She says, blankly blinking.


“Of course you don’t. So, funny story. I was in love once, just like you are now – swaddled up, feeling cold when he’d pull away… your smells all becoming the same smell. We had an awful first date. I was sweating through my dress, shaking like a leaf for fear of eye contact – now that’s all he’d call me: Leaf. Leaf, leaf, leaf. Never lived it down. Not that he was any better, mind, stuttering over every last joke. Do you know what gets me hard, he started up in a conversation about politics, then coughed and coughed and coughed, leaving me in suspense for a full thirty bloody seconds, before following up with progressive healthcare infrastructure and practical public policy. When the bill came, he took out a Santa sized sack of change, so we counted pennies and 5p coins on the table. Bloody mortifying. On the street corner, he reminded me that he’d told me we didn’t need dessert because he had something special in his car, pointing to his shitty black corsa, the one he’d never let go of. And I think, alright, smooth line, handsome enough – only to find when I slink down into the backseat unhooking my bra as I lie down, he’s fished out a pack of wine gums. And all I can do is laugh at this doe-eyed dickhead, proffering them towards me like a kid with a collection plate. Do you not like them? He asked. They’re my something special!”


I started cackling at that, to which I got a polite tap on the shoulder from an air stewardess – all blonde bangs and a wan smile.


“You’ll have to keep it down miss.” She says.


They asked me a question.”


“Well, they don’t look very interested.”


“Excuse me, I’ll have you know, they–” I turn back to find the girl is already asleep on his arm, or probably pretending to be. “Okay yeah, fair enough. Another wine please.”


The stewardess says nothing, only holds her smile.


“Guess we’re not in Ireland yet.” I tip my plastic cup towards her. “You ever heard about Winny P Gummerson?”


She just giggles and disappears into the dark.


I suddenly feel an anxious stir in my stomach, the clock striking thirteen: I don’t think I’m ready to see him. I suppose I could hijack the plane and swerve us somewhere else, or rip off the emergency doors and take my chances with where I land. Spiraling down, down – my body so light, doll-like twisting limbs, a speck of dust in the air. I grip my neck as my head lolls round on it, feel how soft my hair is – each curl, perfect, like the clouds outside. Feels like fuzz and sand, fur and velvet, atoms, soft little atoms. Didn’t realize how soft I must feel to other people until just now; how protectable.


Oh how predictable, I counter to myself.


I close my eyes and the outlines of the cabin lights disappear entirely. Its as dark as the night outside the windows. Silver and purple outlines dance beneath my lids, the shape of birds and Limoncello women, soaring and dancing to that purgatory sound of the engine, violet dots for the billions of particulate vibrations that are carrying us through the air. My fingers are wet, warm to the touch, too light, my stomach flips. I grip into the blue seats for gravity. They give too easily beneath my hands. He’d never do that. Solid as sunlight he was. If only he was here. If only he never met that thin-lipped American slut.


We touch down in Dublin – the rumbling of wheels shocking me back awake. I’m exhausted, my mind soft and silent, cushioned by the pill. The ache will be this afternoon. The sunrise is a tangerine pulped across the windows, the barren black trees and the plane wing’s purple shadows. I grab my wheelie and get out of the airport as quick as possible – desperate to reach the car, to collapse into that seat. Those words repeat Hey Leaf, Hey Leaf, Hey Leaf, beating through my chest, all the way down escalators, passing through passport control, out the double doors of arrivals.


There’s his car. There’s the lump in my throat, one I’d forgotten he could give me. I hold the wine gums close. For protection. I cross the gravel road to the door.


I duck into the passenger seat, fumbling with my bag as I do, I face his brother, Handsome Alan, in the driver’s seat. His face has gotten a bit rounder, his Elvis mane receded a little. His eyes are dark and tortured. They do not lighten up when they lay themselves on me. Handsome probably doesn’t cut it these days.


“Wine gum?” I try to smile. “He always said its nice to land with something sweet in hand.”


He shakes his head and clamps his lips together, a dam of tears threatening to burst.


“He’d…” Alan struggles. “He’d have been happy you came.”


I put my hand on his back but he puts his hands on the wheel to fix up and focus.


“He urm, it said in his… He wanted you to speak.”


Leaf, can we just shut up and watch the movie?


“Could never get me to shut up and now he wants me to have the last word?”


I still love you.


“Something like that.” He allows himself a weak laugh.


Leaf, you’re the most important relationship I’ve ever had.


As I clip in my seat belt and Alan starts up the car, I chew into a purple wine-gum. God they’re terrible. I still can’t get my head round that bitter-sweet fake-fruit taste.


You’re the most important relationship I’ve ever had.


I chew it down anyway, the juice squelching between my teeth. Somewhere in all this time I can hear him saying those words, on a road trip, on a morning just like this. I can’t even remember if he really did, in those words, or if he just keeps talking on inside my head. 


The sugar’s sweet but there’s something off about that after taste. As we drive through the Dublin streets at dawn, I stare through the bleary lilac window at the early-riser cafes and redbrick cathedrals and I chew down hard because without him, when else will I get the chance? How else will I remember how to bring us back together?

Harry Tucker is a queer British writer interested in reclaiming history, exploring the depths of troubled characters and drinking prosecco between periods of quitting smoking.

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