ON THE EDGE OF THE CITY

He misses her.

He's not sure why, but he does. He misses the companionship her presence brought. Although she was not a woman of many words, the opposite of him, which did not matter. She sat, in silence, and she listened, and she comforted, and she did not speak a word. No judgement passed her lips and no judgement showed on her face.

He remembered meeting her for the first time. It was a night of firsts, for him, although most of that night was a blur because he could not remember. But what he did remember was stumbling drunkenly up Wellmire Hill. Wellmire Hill was a slope that led to a precipice, and it was grassy and covered in bracken and a little bit of heather. The drop from the top was sheer and for that reason a railing had been placed along the edge, stopping people from jumping over the cliff to their deaths in the river below. Wellmire Hill wasn't in the countryside; it was on the edge of the city.

He wasn't sure how he managed to stagger up that hill, but somehow, he did, and then he collapsed on the bench that sat right at the top of the hill. He was so drunk he hadn't even noticed his companion until he felt her eyes staring into the side of his head.

He didn't remember first impressions, but he did remember talking until his voice was hoarse, unloading his worries upon this stranger. And at the end of it, all she did was smile.

The next morning, he woke in an unknown bed, fully clothed and sore headed. There was a note pinned to the bedroom door as he got up, and it read: "I'm glad I met you."

He searched the small, cluttered house but couldn't find anyone. He phoned for a taxi and left, realising he was on the other side of town.

That night, his curiousness got the better of him and he returned to Wellmire Hill, slightly tipsy but not inebriated, as he had been the night before. She was there, and he saw her properly for the first time, a petite woman with a round face and strawberry blonde hair, clad in a black coat and grey woollen tights. There were faint lines upon a face that looked as if it had seen many hardships over the years.

And again, she sat, she listened, and she smiled at the end of it. That night he walked her home and then got a taxi back to his own flat, and so the meetings continued.

He wasn't sure when, exactly, that something in the relationship shifted. Not that it was really a relationship; he chatted on with himself, and she listened to him. Whenever she did speak, she didn't have much to say apart from the fact that she was happy that she had met him.

He had no idea why a woman like her would be happy to meet a man like him, a man who drinks and swears and complains about his life but doesn't do a damn thing to change it.

One night, he asked her why she was happy she'd met him.

"Because you need me," she said with a small smile, one that was bittersweet and beautiful. Her voice was soft, delicate, with a northern accent. He loved it. "You don't need me much, and you probably won't even admit that you do, but you need me to listen. That means I'm good for something, right?"

And then he hastened to assure her that she was a brilliant person who had a lot more going for her than just the fact she could listen to a loser like him.

"Don't lie," she chuckled, "My own daughter hates me, which must mean something."

"You have a daughter?" he heard his voice asking, a tiny part of him actually feeling hurt she never mentioned this.

"Yes," she answered. "Her name's Judith. She'd be twenty now. I had her young."

"You never mentioned it."

"You never asked."

Which was true, so he couldn't deny it. He knew nothing about her, really, which he thinks is particularly silly, as she probably knew everything about him.

"I'm asking now," he'd said eventually, after a few moments passed. "Tell me about your life."

And she did. She'd been born and raised in a city up north by her mother. Her father died when she was young, and she was an only child. She got pregnant at sixteen and had Judith. She tried to look after her but she couldn't cope. So her mother did it for her. While she went off to try and do something with her life – got to university, and so on – her mother raised Judith as if she was not her granddaughter but her child. Judith was none the wiser until she hit sixteen, and it somehow all came tumbling out at their mother's funeral. After that, it was 'I hate you' and Judith was gone from her life.

They shared a kiss, that night, a soft kiss that felt like one shared between two teenagers rather than two thirty-something's struggling to cope with life.

The next day, It happened.

It. Looking back he wasn't really sure what 'It' even was. It was an argument, but what about he didn't know. He'd had a bad day. He'd gone out, got drunk, and turned up for one of their meetings and it had all blown up in his face.

He remembered phrases like, 'You don't care about me', and 'you're so selfish. It's always about you and never about anyone else!'

And then he remembered screaming right back at her, horrible, nasty things that resulted in her tears. And he could never forget that, her face flushing red as the tears flowed over her freckled cheeks, sobbing tears it was clear she'd fought so hard to keep in.

"You know what?" she'd screamed, throwing her hands in the air and turning on her heel, "I take it all back. All of it. I never want to see you again, and I'm sorry I ever met you."

She practically ran down the hill, reddish hair flying out behind her as she vanished into the darkness.

Parts of him – his feet and his heart, mostly – knew he should have gone after her, apologised, kissed her, done something to stop her from walking away and out of his life for good, because he did need her, he needed her so badly because she was the one thing in his life that was actually helping him.

Months passed, and still, he returned, those last words she'd spoken to him echoing around his head, but he'd lost her companionship. He even went to her flat, only to find her gone. And that was probably when he really began to miss her. He went back to that bloody flat all the time, just in case, and one day, he met Judith.

It had to have been Judith, because she was a carbon copy of her mother, only younger and taller. On her arm was a skinny boy with shaggy hair and a piercing in his lip.

"Excuse me," she had said to him, voice soft and delicate like her mother's, "Do you know anyone who lives here?" Her eyes were desperate, pleading, as she pointed at the tall terraced house.

"I used to," he confessed. "I never knew her name, though."

"Yes?" Judith pressed, eyes lighting up. "Red hair, like mine..."

"I knew her," he interrupted. "I think she's moved away, though. I've not seen her for a long time."

Judith's face had fallen, and she'd pressed her face into the crook of the man's neck.

"You don't know where she's gone, then?" the man asked, squinting.

He'd put his hands into the pocket of his trousers and shook his head. "No," he'd murmured in response. "No, I'm afraid I don't."

"Thanks anyway," the man had replied with a heavy sigh, and he had led Judith towards a small black car and they'd left.

It was then that he really got a sense of the fact that she was, indeed, gone, and probably wasn't coming back to him.

But still, he went back to the meeting place, though he didn't know why because it killed him every time he did. He didn't sit on the bench, however, he leaned against the railing that ran around the edge of the cliff and peered down into the black river water, trying and failing to make out his reflection. He'd smoke a cigarette and talk to the blurred outline of his mirror image, pretending that the swaying and shifting reflection was she and not he.

"I met your daughter," he decided to confess one night. "By accident. She didn't know who I was." Here he frowned, but ploughed on anyway. "Not that there was anyone to know. She's cute. Pretty. Looks a lot like you, I guess. That's how I knew it was her."

He sighed, flicking the ash from his cigarette over the edge of the railing. "I don't think she hates you," he said sadly. "Not like you thought. She wanted to see you. I told her you were gone, and I think it upset her."

Silence reigned. The blob of his reflection shifted, and he shrugged to himself. "If she finds you, I hope to God that'll somehow send you back to me. I've no idea how but...Just come back. I miss you."

And he buried his face into his arms, folded on the railing, and tried not to break down.

So focused on his task he didn't hear the footsteps, padding their way up the hill, didn't recognise her presence until he felt her arm bump against his. He raised his head, looking sideways at her.

She tried for a tentative smile, and he tried to return it.

She came back after all.