It was during the lockdown that the idea first came to her. Everyone had a pandemic project. Virginia decided that finding Gail would be hers. After all, Gail wasn’t lost, merely living her life somewhere else. She assumed.
There’d been no goodbyes, there wasn’t time. But twenty years. They could talk from one side of the world to the other as if they were old friends. They could even Zoom. How very Jetsons, Virginia thought, smiling at the memory of her favourite cartoon. Since the pandemic she’d become an expert on Zoom, even though she didn’t have a clue really how it worked. Just like electricity.
There had been others afterwards, but Gail was Virginia’s first. Not that Virginia had ever told her that. It seemed too significant, too much pressure on both of them. Whenever friends talked about their first love, it was always how sexy they were, how luscious. But those weren’t Virginia’s words.
‘She was older. Kind of wise. And so smart,’ she’d always add, but Virginia couldn’t really know that. After all, the whole thing had only lasted a couple of months, and Virginia was always unsure when to start counting anyway. She’d been sitting on the other side of rooms for weeks before they finally met. One night, feigning indifference, she’d even stood within touching distance of Gail, talking with someone else.
She could feel heat coming from Gail’s direction, and wondered if others could feel it too. Or whether they were as overwhelmed as she was to be near someone who surely was another species, another type of being altogether? How else to explain Gail’s face and that magnificent smile, that luminous skin and those eyes, green, sparkling emerald.
But it was the first time they danced that Virginia really knew. When she felt Gail’s hand on the small of her back she thought oh god, I’m gone, I am so gone.
Her search was surprisingly easy. Virginia liked to be organised. She started a file (Gail) and saved all her research. After a false start on Google, she landed on the idea of the UK electoral roll. All she had to do was pay a small amount of money and she had three months access. She knew the town Gail had lived in back then, so she started there.
She was surprised at the information she found. There were twenty-four Gail’s living in the same town as her Gail. Once she’d excluded those too old or too young, she found her, living in a house with a woman of a similar age, both of them directors of the same company. She wondered if it was the woman who had appeared on that last night, the night when a friend, seeing Virginia’s devastated face, had pulled her aside.
‘C’mon Ginny, wasn’t it just a fling? Gail and her partner have been together forever. They came over separately from London. Some project or other that had to be sorted over there. Thought you knew.’
Virginia couldn’t remember anything after that, just Gail’s face when they bumped into each other in the loo afterwards. Gail grabbed her hand and whispered, ‘oh God … I think we’ve lost everything,’ before disappearing out the door.
After her success with the electoral roll, Virginia soon had the phone number of Gail’s business. All she had to do was ring the number. She stared at the screen.
‘Yes,’ the nice man at the other end had confirmed, ‘Gail did travel to Sydney … a few years back, now … I’ll let her know you called.’
Virginia agonised over the second call—don’t want her to think I’m a stalker she’d said to friends. Ha ha. In the end she rang again, a week later, but even as she entered the numbers she knew that nice people tend to be reliable too. She hung up, realising she’d never be able to say to Gail hey, we didn’t lose everything, here we are talking. Then it occurred to her that just like electricity or Zoom, she didn’t really have a clue how Gail worked either, and probably never did.
She did a final spell check, saved her research, and folded her computer away. She stood up to go and make a coffee, but stopped. She sat down and opened her computer again. There it was, the Gail file. She hit delete, twice.
Sharryn has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from UTS, Sydney. She has been published in Southerly, The Law Society Journal and Grieve, and was the winner of the OutStanding Miniature writing competition in 2020. She lives in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.