I’ve known a lot of girls with incredible names. Clarity, Toast, Aubine, Taru, Boo, Chaka; self baptised by their own heart’s blood on a whim or after years of examining themselves from all angles like an interesting stone they found on the beach, full of quartz veins and washing up a different colour every time the water touches them. Toast once told me self-invention is a woman’s art, that girls are a canvas stripped by turpentine every so often, and it stings, but you get to put a whole new portrait over the fire.
I’m waiting at the airport when I meet the girl from one of those wild eastern lands where they take Our Lady seriously and barley and potatoes and all the different percentages you can wring out of potatoes. I’m on my way to Jack’s place, still sniffing like a lost kid into my sleeve because people I love have fallen away like cards thrown from a bad hand, and I miss them, and the winter stretches out ahead of me like some dead animal with a long spine, skin hanging down between the vertebrae. She sees my face set like a gargoyle, you know, when you try and hold the tears steady so they run down the inside of your face instead, turning your jaw to stone. Offers me a steel hip flask with something engraved on the metal but worn out now into hieroglyphs.
‘You are scared of flying?’ Her voice has this heavy music to it, hair cropped all urchin-ragged, streaked blue like a magpie, lip pierced with a tiny glinting ring. I swig whatever she’s offering and it turns out to be 100% pure fuck-you-up potato juice.
‘Nah,’ I jerk my head. I love the lethal getaway vibe of flying, the lift off into an upside-down world and everybody on the plane feels like a rockstar to me ‘cause here we all are, defying gravity together. ‘Just leaving good folks behind. You?’
She tilts her lips up, smeared in that kind of bleached pink you get from cheap fruity glosses. I’ll bet paper money her mouth tastes of cherries. ‘I’m meeting my boyfriend.’
‘Cool,’ I feel the potatoes drip lava into my belly. ‘He flying in?’
She shakes her head, she’s got a mole on her pointed little elf’s chin and smells of the big ol’ biker jacket wrapped around her. Too big, vintage or a piece of daddy’s history or something, swamps her like a pair of bat wings steeped in ancient cigarettes, sticky elbowed from years leaning on bars and coffee counters and cafe tables.
‘I’m going to meet him.’
‘Really? You look kinda nervous.’
She tosses her head, takes the flask out of my hand and tips it back. Sparrow wrists, pulse like living lilies; she’s wearing a cotton choker with a little silver moon hanging off it. Earlobes bare, something touching about that, they’re so pale and soft-looking like little baby rabbit ears, holy shit what is in this flask. She coughs, wipes her lips, peeling blue polish on her nails.
’We’ve never met yet.’
‘Wow.’ She pushes the steel back into my fingers and I taste some lingering sugar fruit when I take another pull. Can’t make out if it’s cherries though. ‘That’s risky, known him long?’
‘Two years, we were friends before. Online.’
‘What’s his name?’
‘Edward.’ Her mouth does something Slavic to the W, to that whole last syllable, and now I know two things about Edward: 1 – he has the sexiest name on the goddamn planet and 2 – he isn’t good enough for her. I think about scooping this vulnerable little jackdaw girl up in my hands and stowing her away in my hand luggage.
‘How come he isn’t flying to you?’ Someone’s little wheelie suitcase bangs into my ankle but I shrug it. She takes out her phone and flips through until she brings up a little square of light that makes those lips tilt upwards again. Edward has thin little plastic tubes hooked up to his nose but he’s smiling, crooked little smile like a guy caught hiding wildflowers behind his back. Chilli pepper red hair from a bottle and jade eyes flecked with bashful brown.
I pass the flask back, apologising to whatever angels congregate at airports, and I think they’re some of their favourite places, for my error and my judgement.
‘What’s your name anyhow?’
She smiles. ‘Kasia, in your language is Kate.’ Kasia, I add it to my list of wild girls.
‘You two are gonna be happy, I can tell.’
‘Yeah,’ I feel the vodka stoke up my blood. ‘Good souls find each other, you know? Doesn’t matter how far away you are, souls with lights inside are like magnets. It’s one of God’s mysteries.’
‘Are you going somewhere happy?’
I let the breath roll out of my nose like a sad dragon. ‘It’s new, but happy? I don’t know yet.’
She gives me this look, this precognitive Cassandra glance from under her eyelashes that I can’t decipher. A disembodied voice crackles out across the lounge and she gets to her feet, hoists her canvas bag up over her shoulder. Her boots are like shiny black beetles as they turn towards her future and it feels like a new and tender root’s being torn out of me, the same way it does every time I meet someone who I feel could have been in mine, somehow.
‘Fly safe,’ she says, firm, like she’s gonna come give me a stern look if I die falling into the ocean. ‘Remember me and be happy.’
‘Kasia.’ I salute her, potato juice is all over my tongue and saltwater is threatening the dam again. She vanishes into the light thrown out by the wall-to-wall glass of the airport windows. I laugh at myself, Magpie Girl never needed saving from anyone, she was flying before she ever got on a plane.