A short story by by Mia Bleach

When Dad told me that in London, September is a summer month, I didn’t believe him. We’d moved to the cold north when I was a baby, a place where the wind whipped my fine hair into cobwebs and the summer jackets were fleecelined. “September is vest weather – see!” said Dad. He showed me a photograph of a young man wearing sunglasses, a singlet and belted shorts, who resembled him. He was holding a chubby, smiling toddler in a sailor suit, who resembled me.

Come my late-August birthday, the high-street shops would be pushing their uniform brands of back-to-school drudgery signalling the end of summer. You could watch the weather turn from the display windows as parents browsed the polo shirts in packs of three, the pencil sharpeners, the fountain pens, the backpacks, the frilly socks. But there’s no autumn on the Fylde; no trees for leaves to turn burnt orange and fall from. As the hard rain poured in sheets from school-grey skies and blew off the Irish Sea, I daydreamed of suburbia and avenues: bikes leant against cedar fences and back-garden gates at dusk; private lanes leading to evergreen woods; plump pigeons calling, honeysuckle on the nose – the comfort of the inland.

One year, I was the only girl wearing a summer dress at the start of the new term. The other girls, wearing pleated grey skirts and pinafores, pointed it out as we lined up for the bell. I’d told my mum, a Londoner like my dad, that it wasn’t winter uniform. “It isn’t winter yet!” she exclaimed, missing the point. “The breeze will blow up round your knickers and keep you cool.” It would be easier to argue with a teacher later than with her, right now, at the foot of the stairs as I buckled my shoes. Thirty-plus years in the tropical south would continue to eclipse Mum’s short-term experience of the north’s harsh winters for years to come. The walk to school was savage. The breeze blew up round my knickers. I jammed my arms down by my sides and licked salt from the corners of my cracked mouth.

At 17, I wore the black Gap duffel coat I’d had since school to catch the tram and meet my posh friend at the cinema. She had a car, and the same coat as me in orange, but said it was still in her wardrobe because it wasn’t the weather for it yet. She gave me a lift home, and I basked in the heated seats and the OC soundtrack, both turned up to max.

I moved to London when I was 22 and the city ate me alive. My ballet flats were no match for the snow that stopped the trains running out to St Margarets, where my boyfriend and I shared a box room and spoke in whispers in his uncle’s fancy house. When the snow ceased and a train got through, my boyfriend took his football socks off for me to wear. I arrived at White City two hours late to a cold receptionist and a warm waiting room, where the socks thawed around my ankles and made puddles on the floor. The internship was a grind. My accent was muddled and the adults made fun of it. I’d thought the north-south divide was just a myth.

But when spring came, it was really spring. After months of winter and working for free, I got a job. Crocuses shot through the earth like in pop-up books. I bought a pair of lace-up leather boots secondhand and stomped up Kilburn High Road. I rode my bike through the royal parks under canopies of oaks. My paychecks just about covered a box room, but it was my box room. I drank the dregs of my wages in the pubs and played music in the clubs and when autumn came around, I left my duffel in the wardrobe.

Back home on autumn visits, I walked the prom with my parents, both in coats now. I let the spray from the waves that crashed off the cliffs touch my face. The old dog barked at the seagulls balancing on the wind and the lights of the ferry boats winked in the wild grey. The openness of the coast crept in.

Mia Bleach is a writer and poet who publishes her work at www.canofwormspoetry.com. If you would like to contribute a shot story or poem to Get Lit, email us at [email protected]

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