It's early evening, and we're side by side on the sofa, each of us at our habitual end, with just enough room for Martin the cat to sneak in between if he wants to. Tonight though, there's no cat, and it's Philip's arm that fills the space. I glance down at the pale, faintly freckled skin, and smile to myself in recollection of conversations we've had, more regularly than you might expect, about the way his arm hair shines in the sunlight or moves in the breeze. It's a long time now since I first declared them 'kindly arms', but that's what they've always seemed.
For a tall man, his wrists are surprisingly thin; small enough for me to enclose between finger and thumb, and there, just above his left wrist, is the watch he always wears. No fancy metallic timepiece, just a simple clear dial,with proper numbers and a no-nonsense leather strap. Perhaps he's seen me looking, "I got a new battery for my watch today" he says. Maybe he's realised I'm in reflective mode "I've had this watch for twenty-five years now."
Twenty-five years, a quarter of a century, more than half his life. I think about the young man he must have been back then, way before I knew him. A man prepared to leave his home town to find a job, leaving behind so much but never quite shaking off his political passion or his northern accent. A man who worked his way gradually southwards, making new friends, trying new experiences, keeping James Stewart as his moral guide.
Twenty-five years, a quarter of a century, less than half my life. I think about the woman I was back then, way before I knew him. Newly pregnant with my fourth child, excitedly planning the move to our dream home, busily building castles in the air. I never left the south of England, never lived more than twenty miles from the London suburb where I was born and grew up. My journey was a different one; circular steps through love and friendship gained and lost.
It's early evening, and we're side by side on the sofa, each of us at our habitual end. I glance down at Philip's arm, at the watch he always wears. The second-hand clicks forward and time moves on. Silently, persistently, through the minutes and the hours and the years.