Eight-een

I am eight years old when my father takes me on a ghost hunting tour
and I do not sleep for weeks afterwards.
My mind cannot shake the spectres on my dreams –
they have embedded themselves into the bricks that built the city
and pave the streets
I think about how they must have watched over me as
I put one foot in front of the other, shiny shoes on crumbling tarmac
all the way to Magdalen Bridge, where they tell me people used to jump.
I can’t stop thinking about their lungs being drained of air
the cool water hitting their skin like a thousand microscopic bullets
all fired at the same time
the body being found                                        floating
on a summer afternoon by a couple punting out on the Thames
they drop their Taylor’s deli pickle and cheddar panini into the water from the
shock and it            sinks.

I am eighteen years old and on a first date and he walks me over
that bridge, his hands strong but soft in mine as we laugh,
feet pounding the concrete pavements of the city that is mine and he is only borrowing –
a three-year loan.
I don’t realise how important it is that he can walk away, and I can’t             not yet
so I am naïve enough to be surprised that when he leaves me
Oxford becomes haunted once again
the dreams return – who knew a single syllable
name and two piercing blue eyes could hold so much fear?
Every street is a hospital ward treating my heartbreak
why did he have to kiss me on St. Aldates?
(avoiding it makes my journey to work take fifteen minutes longer)
I cannot go to Jericho without remembering the way he looked at
me there
the ghosts once again hold me prisoner, infected the skirt I wore
when you first kissed me so I throw it away
and then I move away               to a city that I will borrow
for three years
it is not Oxford but it doesn’t haunt me                             not yet.

by Amy Beecham

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