At first, her laughter was a salve. When I heard it, I knew I had done something right. It came in different guises: sometimes loud and glittery like coins flung at a wall; other times, it was a silent thing that shook her shoulders.
In a cafe, on our second date, the laugh was light, puttering along like a toy car. Our table was butted up against a wall beside the toilets. She went to the toilet and I studied the table: a tatty tablecloth, fresh cut flowers in a glass of water, a tea candle. I passed my finger through the flame of the candle until the smoke blackened and my skin singed. I could hear the hand-drier blasting air.
We had met in a gallery. She was looking at some impressionist painting; a street scene. She tilted forward as though considering walking into it.
“I was hungover when I did this one, that’s why it’s a bit wobbly”. I said. She turned her head towards me. A grin bloomed across her face.
We left the cafe and walked to the park, arm-in-arm. She wore a heavy black coat wrapped tightly around her. The winter wind blew in hysterical gusts; the branches of the trees bent desperately to please it. We let ourselves be blown around. Then I walked her home and she said:
“See you Saturday?”
That Saturday I met her at the market in town. Stalls were strung out along the footpath selling produce: apples and turnips and tarts and juice. She knew a man who worked there. He smiled and they touched hands on forearms. Their conversation was singsong. I listened to her laughter. It pulled me towards her and shoved me away at the same time. The man kissed her slowly on both cheeks and walked off. I had a hot flickering sensation in my temple.
Before I looked at the stall to my right, I could see the crate of onions. Before I picked up the onion, I had it in my hand. And before I had thrown it, the onion was already making a shallow parabola in the air. It landed will a dull thud at the base of his neck. He turned towards us, wincing for a moment; all expression then fell from his face. He came towards me and lunged with his fist. I stepped out of the way. His momentum carried him past me. At one point in its trajectory, his flailing body paused and became something graceful.
And then he hit the ground with a slap. She bent down to him and looked up at me. I stood there, with my empty hands open.