I can still recall the first proper conversation I had with Amanda. We had spoken from time to time in the context of our class. These exchanges had not gone beyond a simple greeting or conveying a message. Though they were memorable to me, I doubted she attached the same import to them as I had done.
It was early October in our Lower Sixth at College and a geography field trip had been organised. It was physical geography much of which concerned the effects of glaciation. The impact of a huge body of ice on its environment. ( Eerily prescient don’t you think?) I found the study of over-deepened glacial troughs, lateral moraines, aretes and striations interesting although I always preferred human geography. I have always found the human element holds a fascination for me.
I sat on the coach with my group of friends and watched as Amanda boarded. She wore a bright yellow ski jacket (for back then wearing such jackets was regarded as the height of fashion) and held her bobble hat in her hand. I could see the straps of a backpack across her jacket and as she walked along the aisle of the coach, she caught my gaze and smiled at me. Those wonderful lips, fresh and devoid of the masking make-up that I would come to taste on other women as I grew older, curled upwards as she smiled for me. I was entranced by the widening of that mouth and the white teeth that were exposed and it was all I could do to break my reverie to return that smile. The chattering of my friends drifted away and just became background noise as I felt that strange warmth wash over me.
Later that day I was engrossed in taking measurements on the limestone pavement that formed part of our study on this field trip. The large incised surface of exposed limestone spread in all directions atop the hill. The sky was a mixture of blue sky and the encroaching grey of the clouds which threatened to lower and encompass us in their foggy embrace. It was dry and cold, a slight icy breeze brushing across my face, but I did not mind as I concentrated on my work.
“This is where they sat together,” said a voice. I knew in an instant who it was. Amanda did not speak with the local accent. It was something that I was drawn to because neither did I. Even now, nobody is able to place where in this country I hail from. The well-spoken neutrality we both shared was not something that lacked colour or depth but rather elevated us above the adenoidal whine and the blunted vowels of our peers. Some regarded us as posh, but that was incorrect, for neither of us could be said to come from such stock as the upper class. I only knew that I loved that voice. It was clear and precise, yet with warmth that made me want to listen to every word, to each syllable and picture them forming in the air as they floated across to enter gently my ears.
I stopped my work and turned to see Amanda as she walked towards me, hopping over a gap in the rock formation.
“Yes I know,” I answered and gave a small smile.
“You know?” she said as she dropped down and sat next to where I was stooped, her long athletic legs dangling over the edge of the limestone pavement. I could not help but let my eyes look over her legs, clad in tight leggings, from booted ankle up to the hem of her long jacket. Slender and enticing lines.
“Yes, I do,” I replied as I set down my clipboard and pen and sat beside her, mirroring her position. She looked at me for a moment as if scrutinising me, her eyes rounded and enquiring. I said nothing, waiting for her next words as I held her gaze. How I wanted to lean in and kiss her, feel the warmth of her lips against mine, such a contrast with the ice-tinged day around us.
“Who sat together her then?” she asked with a sweep of her arm. She removed her gaze from mine as she looked out over the valley beyond, away from where we sat.
“Catherine and Heathcliff,” I answered.
“Very good,” she trilled and clapped her hands together in delight. She kicked her feet forward and let them fall back, booted heels drumming against the smoothed stone on which we sat. Her delight at my answer was akin to that of a child, yet I did not think of her as immature, but rather her naked enjoyment of my answer not only delighted me but made me feel closer to her.
“I love Wuthering Heights, it is one of my favourite books,” she explained.
“It is one of mine too,” I admitted.
“Really?” she looked back at me. The question was not accusing but rather one of pleased disbelief that I liked the same novel as her.
“Yes,” I affirmed, “I am studying it in English Literature but I had read it before anyway.”
“I wish I had chosen to do English Literature,” she admitted, “but there are only so many subjects you can do.”
I nodded in agreement.
“They sat here enveloped in one another, just the two of them as if the rest of the world no longer matter or indeed ever mattered. I would love to be so entangled with someone like they were, part of one another. It is so romantic, so beautiful,” she continued. I listened relishing every word that came from that wonderful mouth. Dare I admit I felt the same way? Dare I even suggest I thought this about her?
“You know, it was when Cathy and Heathcliff were here on this limestone pavement that Heathcliff said one of my favourite parts of the book.”
“I think I know which one but I would like to hear you say it,” I replied and then felt that I had sounded too keen and gushing. She looked back at me and gave me that smile again.
” Close your eyes,” she said and I knew immediately the part that she was reciting. It was what Heathcliff had said to Cathy. I sat waiting for the next line, but instead she nudged me with her elbow.
“Go on, HG, close your eyes.” she urged. I felt a surge inside as she said my name and I immediately obliged, shutting my eyes and waiting until she spoke once more.
“Close your eyes, if when you open your eyes the day is sunny and bright so shall your future be, but if the day is full of storm, so shall your life.”
I waited as she fell silent. My skin tingled and I felt so alive as I was the subject of her words.
“Now, open your eyes.”
I obeyed and her beautiful face filled my vision. She was sat smiling at me as the dark grey clouds loomed behind her, menacing and ominous.
“What is your favourite part? It has to be from here though, from this place,” she pressed interrupting my thoughts of her angelic face and the darkness that surrounded her. I paused for a moment as I reflected and looked to the side. The words rose into my thoughts as I turned back to her. She was waiting, hanging on what I was about to say. I had her entire attention. She was focussed on me. Just me. I cleared my throat and began to speak, I spoke the words slowly and deliberately.
” I pray one prayer, I repeat it till my tongue stiffens. Catherine Earnshaw may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you. Haunt me then. I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always – take any form, drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you.”
My words faded and she just looked at me. The smile was gone and instead a look of awe was etched on her face. I realised that her hand had taken my hand and she had done this part way through when I was speaking. She squeezed it and then let go, standing and moving away. I watched her depart as she looked over her shoulder at me and smiled that smile once again, just for me.