The first time he sees her after the breakup, she is a sparrow. He catches a glimpse of her as she flies overhead, and he knows it’s her. He watches her fleeting form soar higher, until she is little more than a dot, then he lets out a pained ‘ribbit’ and flops down into the dark water of his pond.
The second time, he is a bee, and she a wasp.
After that, he is a parakeet who lives in a cage in the corner of a bookstore. He recites snippets of Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to delighted patrons. She is human this time around; she visits the shop and reads from a book of her poems to an audience of men who will all approach her later and critique her work before making advances.
Later, they are both mayflies, but they die before they are able to have a conversation, and he never learns what she did to warrant such a backward step.
The stretches between sightings of her lengthen. He nurtures bitter theories that the universe is conspiring to separate them, but the years temper his acrimony. He spends half a century as a turtle, during which he thinks of her less and less.
And then she wanders into his yard.
‘Hi,’ he says, and he calls her by her old name, although the silver tag on her collar bears another.
‘Hi,’ she says. ‘You look good.’
She’s right. He used to wear his own body like an oversized coat; that’s changed. Maybe he was always destined to be a golden retriever.
She is a cat now, and yet he still can’t look at her without a twitch in his tail. But it’s been so long, he has forgotten all the things he wanted to say. He can’t even remember how long it’s been since they were together. A broken heart heals in dog years.
‘You’re still…’ he blurts out, but he can’t finish the sentence. Still what? The love of his life? Of all his lives?
She doesn’t reply. She doesn’t have to.
‘See you around,’ he says, and she vanishes into the undergrowth.
Philip Ellis is a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in The Independent, Men’s Health, i-D and Teen Vogue. He lives in Birmingham, where he is busy working on a book and having an opinion on just about everything.
Find him on Twitter: @philip_ellis