A pound coin clatters down the slot. I scroll through the song choices of the old jukebox, and punch in 624. A seven inch of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ moves into position. The tonearm slides across and there’s a crackle as the needle settles into the grooves. A melancholy guitar chord erupts from the speakers into the hushed pub. The familiar steady rhythm and haunting vocals begin, stirring my gut.
I’m in The Angel, a pub Siobhán and I frequented in the early nineties. Tonight though, the heavy snow’s left it empty. It’s a lonely place to spend my thirtieth birthday. I go back to my seat, undo the top button of my shirt, remove my Anglican clerical collar and place it on the table. I’m twenty again.
The place hasn’t changed. It still has the same decor: oak beams, lead windows, black walls with torn posters of The Charlatans and The Stone Roses, the smell of ale and stale cigarettes. I glance at the door and imagine Siobhán walking in. It’s been eight years since I’ve seen her.
As ‘Purple Rain’ plays on, I take out a photo of her. There’s a white fold line across the middle of the picture but it’s the only one I have. It’s from her student house in Leeds. Her eyes, wild and dark, stare back. Her skin is unblemished with naturally pink cheeks. Blonde, cropped hair hangs long at the front, blunt cut to her jaw-line on one side. I place the photo on the table next to my dog collar.
Out the window, snowflakes tumble in ever-changing courses. Fleeting shapes fall and disintegrate on the glass before my eyes can catch them, and I’m lost in memories of her again.
Sitting outside the tent, a short distance from here, under the cloudless blue sky, we took in the endless moors and breathed the sweet summer air.
‘Purple Rain’ came on the battered stereo that I had brought along. Siobhán pulled me to my feet and we danced, close. She looked into my eyes. “When you hear this song, think of me.”
I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I was scared she’d turn me down. Instead, I asked, “Do you think we’ll still be together when we’re in our thirties?”
“Maybe,” she smiled, amused at my question.
And then, to ensure we didn’t lose contact, I came up with this ridiculous idea: “Let’s meet back here on my thirtieth birthday, no matter what. At midnight.”
“Okay.” She smiled again.
A glance at my watch tells me it’s ten past twelve. I place my collar and photo in my pocket and step outside into the cold night air. There’s no sign of anyone. It’s stopped snowing and the wind has died down. I pull my coat collar tight around my neck and look towards the hills where Siobhán and I camped. A warm tear rolls down my cold face.