Our first date he took me to the circus. The night was starry and cold and the music crept up on us across the field, where dew soaked into our trainers and we didn’t notice because our hands were almost touching.
He talked nervously, quickly, pointing out this and that as we walked. The colours and smells surrounded us, dazzling us with their intensity, crackling with the static tension of our desire; acknowledged, but not yet invoked. A huge fire danced outside the Orion bar, where he darted in and returned quickly with two steaming glasses of hot mulled cider. Cloves, and flecks of orange peel floated in the cloudy surface and we stared together into the amber brilliance.
Tiny miracles seemed to be taking place all around us. A turbaned man with night-dark skin blew fire from his bearded lips; exotic-eyed women juggled knives, bare-footed and barely clothed; an enormous jewelled elephant strode casually past, sweeping the air this way and that with her enormous trunk. These days you’d never see an elephant at the circus, but to us, back then, it was like magic.
I remember that we shared a sticky pink cloud of candyfloss, I remember that we laughed as some of it stuck in his eyebrows and I remember the electric feeling when our fingers finally entwined, dissolving the coating of sugar and uncertainty. We smiled confirmation at each other and walked confidently into the Big Top. It was full of people, children running excitedly, chattering families and blushing couples, like us, holding hands.
The show was breathtaking. The performers danced and swooped and tumbled in the dazzling lights, fearless and fantastic. The lions roared, the clowns fell, the ringmaster bellowed, the cider fogged the edges of everything and it all seemed like a living dream of glittering lights and sawdust and colour.
When we left the night wrapped itself around us like a cloak and he walked me home, my head full of everything I had seen and tasted and heard.
When I finally got inside, dizzy with the sugar and cider I remember how I leaned against my front door, silently, so as not to wake my parents. It was only then that I realised that my shoes and socks were drenched from the walk through the fields. I hadn’t once felt it, though the night had been icy cold.
I struggle to remember so many of the details now. It was all such a long time ago and he’s not with me, anymore, to remind me. To nudge me in the street, or interrupt a movie, or to squeeze my hand in bed and ask me excitedly if I remember the way the sea looked that time we went to Greece or if I could still recall the time it rained so much we stayed inside for three days straight, eating tinned pineapple and drinking tea.
But I’ll always remember the taste of those cider and candyfloss kisses that night, at the circus.