This was happiness. The day-to-day stuff, not the burn and scorch of fast-flaring love; that was now in the past. Why did I not tell him that I was pregnant? Because this was happiness. And because I knew what havoc the introduction of a third party could wreak. So I blocked out the knowledge when I was with him to avoid it showing on my face. The physical effects of the pregnancy I blamed on bugs and food poisoning, trusting that if he really were an alien, human biology would not be his strong suit. But of course, I would have to tell him soon; nightly our bellies came together, and whether for the purposes of alien research or out of plain human curiosity, he remained observant of our life together, sometimes astutely so.
I kept giving myself one more day; then, as each seemed as ordinarily perfect as the one before, I kept feeling disinclined to cast a possible shadow over it and all the days that followed. When not lingering in the present moment, I made my memory work hard to avoid thinking about the future – about, for example, how I would navigate the health system with a life form that just might turn out to be regarded by it as freakish. I knew I needed to think about that, but I didn’t want to yet. So I wandered back to the last time I had been as happy as this, day-to-day. The year before my parents died, the summer that began with the invigilator signalling the end of the last exam. It was a song that sent me there, one of the ones the wild slim alien and I listened to in front of the fire, after eating, before bed. ‘Harvest time’. I found myself before the memory of a boy who worked holidays on the farm whose acreage surrounded our house, and of a girl who had nothing she needed to do with her summer, nor anything better than read or listen to music, except to meet the boy in his lunch hour, and on Sundays.
When we were aged thirteen he and his friend whose name I can no longer remember had on a perfect summer’s day chased us – me and my friend who I last saw a dozen years ago – along the rutted furrows of a farm track. When we broke across the lines of discarded barley stems, they followed us, until eventually we tumbled down laughing, glistening and unrelenting in the shade of a stand of trees whose coolness was doubled by the neighbouring pond deliberately and artlessly dug into the shallow bowl of the landscape, its chalky sides the scummy white froth atop the muddy brew of weak coffee-coloured water. An East Anglian oasis, and we on that day were their mirage, conscious for the first time of a power that we could call upon but they could not. Straw stuck to our clothes, we flirted, and they learnt to take it, and deal with it the best they could, or could not. They panted like dogs and begged to be petted, but they were boys and we were almost women.
Three years later and we were both full-grown. His shoulders had broadened and his muscles were toned from working the sacks on the potato harvester. I led him by the hand through the ancient corridor of interlinked barns, lit by gaps where the wood had rotted. At the time it felt like we were the first who had ever made such a walk, the first who had ever settled in such a nest constructed and walled with hastily re-arranged bales of hay, but now I realise that the barns would have seen many such couplings over the four centuries that they had stood. But at the time, of course, there were no ghosts, just me and the boy, and our beating hearts and sweaty palms. His insistence, my acceptance, my choice of place. I wanted the transition as much or more than I wanted him. I knew I was not for him, but I was happy enough to let him be the one. I couldn’t wait to tell the friend who had run with us that perfect summer’s day, the friend who had chaperoned me when I first visited his house. In his surprise at our visit, he had leapt through the door of his bedroom and clunked his head on the lintel that long habit usually and automatically allowed him to avoid. His mother brought tea and a cold flannel and we looked him in the eye to make sure he wasn’t concussed. I sat next to him on his bed and gingerly dabbed at the cut with the flannel. Emboldened by his injury, unembarrassed by my friend’s presence, I put my arm around him, lifted the blood-matted hair from his hot, damp forehead, and softly kissed him there.
In the barn we lay a while, straws of straw marking our backs as we gazed into the time-blackened depths of the roof above the cross-beams; there were bats up there somewhere, for sure, and mice beneath the bales. Occasional sparrows flitted over us, having found their way in through the same gaps in the wood as the sunlight. Arms flung over each other, I reflected on his absence of knowledge, his expectation that I would know what to do, that I would be his guide rather than he mine. And so with clumsy directness and overswift accomplishment on his part we both made the transition. But oh! the extraordinary particularness of it, the feel of him slipping hard inside me. I had had a taste of the tidal tug that existed between those two overlapping forces, desire and satisfaction, and I wanted more of it.
Today the barns are unrecognisable. I went back to East Anglia for a period, before coming to Cornwall. I ate a meal in the fancy restaurant that had once been home to bales and bird shit and a girl and a boy, and drank wine from the vineyard which became the farm’s chief raison d’être; the rest of its thousand acres sold to an agribusiness. No-one recognised me, and I didn’t declare myself. The young waitress who served me might have been me. I didn’t doubt that there was a kitchen hand who coveted her, nor that the after-hours privacy of the restaurant’s toilets or linen store cupboard ensured that the barns still saw their fair share of transitional moments.