Murmuration

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic
I can remember the exact time the telephone rang. 12.32pm. Why so certain? I reserve an uninterrupted hour for my lunch break. Despite the fact I only teach from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon, this hour, this golden hour is all mine. Mine alone. It fills me with the greatest pleasure to shut my office door and turn the key in the lock.

Submitted: August 24, 2012

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Submitted: August 24, 2012

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Murmuration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murmuration

Adam

I can remember the exact time the telephone rang.  12.32pm.  Why so certain? I reserve an uninterrupted hour for my lunch break. Despite the fact I only teach from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon, this hour, this golden hour is all mine.  Mine alone.  It fills me with the greatest pleasure to shut my office door and turn the key in the lock.  The students are well aware that if the Headmaster’s door is closed then it is closed for a reason and they should not disturb.  At 12.30pm I stand, with my back to the door, looking over my desk and out of the large window at the view to Frederick square. I bend down to undo my shoelaces.  I’ve tied them using the standard shoelace knot, which means I only have to pull one end of the lace to undo them without having to actually touch my shoes.  If there is a pencil out of place or if the two cardinal red leather chairs are not lined up then all this needs correcting before I can relax. I slip out of my black brogues and smile at my emerald green socks.  The light from the window creates a shadow across the floor and I arrange my shoes so that the rim of the soles lines up precisely with one of the crucifix like shadows created by the glazing bars.  The grey carpet comes into a life of its own as I take a seat at my desk.  The screen saver on my computer has already kicked in to images of overly green forests and freeze framed waterfalls.  I sit back in my Eames wicker chair, my fingers behind my head and let out a long and satisfying sigh.

 

12.32pm I look at the clock above the door as the telephone demands attention like a hungry cat or a baby. 

Beeeep,beeeep,beeeep.

How can something so visually static create so much drama is annoying.

Beeeep,beeeep,beeeep.

The phone stops, my head eases back into my hands once more and my eyelids close in perfect unison.

‘Mr Morgan?’ follows a tentative knock on the door.

‘Mr Morgan it’s Charlotte’.

She turns the handle and pushes the door until the dead lock stops it with a satisfying clunk.

‘Mr Morgan, I’m sorry to disturb you but I have an important message for you’.

She knows I am in here as the door is locked.  I sit quietly, my eyes burning through the door wishing she’d go away.

 

They never learn, 12.30 till 13.30 hundred hours is my time.  The carpet lets out a little brushing noise of resistance as Charlotte pushes a ‘while you were out post-it’ under the door.  The perfectly square yellow piece of paper lies still on the carpet, quite offensively yellow against the grey of the carpet.  The note is shouting at me. I catch my hip on the armrest of one of the chairs as I bend down to pick the note up.  Damn, not only for the bruises, which will surely follow, but damn also for the chair that is now out of alignment.  I pick up the ruler from my desk and realign the armrest until they are 20mm apart.  ‘The devil is in the detail’ I whisper.  I put the note on my desk and sit down again.  Its harsh yellowness seems to be burning right through the thin skin of my eyelids. I open my eyes to see it staring at me like a wasp intent on causing irritation. 

Time: 12.34. 

Name: Mrs Sheila Fouthergill.

Message: Please ring. Your mother is seriously ill.

I remove a white handkerchief from my pocket and wrap it around the telephone receiver. My mother used to say ‘you have an annoying little habit of always getting your hands dirty’ always searching for woodlice under rocks in the garden. I select a pencil, which I use to dial the number.

‘Morgan’ I say into the receiver in a slow and monotonous voice.

‘This is Adam Morgan’

‘Mr Morgan this is Sheila Fothergill’.

It may as well have been my Mother speaking herself.  I have not spoken to her for over twenty years and any contact reminds me all too well of the destruction she is capable of causing.  I hold the telephone a little further from my ear.  Not content with trying to ruin my entire life she is now trying to ruin my lunch hour.  Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly.  This is what I have been told to do by a therapist I visited years ago.  It never works and with so much mental scaring, as they call it, from my childhood it’s hardly surprising. 

‘Mr Morgan I am afraid your Mother is very ill’

‘Mrs Fothergill my mother has been VERY ill for over twenty years’.

‘Well, I’m afraid the doctor does not expect her to make the night’

I push into line the three piles of paper on my desk.  Perhaps I should get a couple of in-trays, loose paper does look messy.  A messy desk, a messy mind.

‘Mr Morgan are you there?’ enquires a voice on the other end of the phone, so small it is almost comical.

I replace the receiver and look at the clock again.  12.54pm.  It annoys me, no it infuriates me, that students borrow pencils and do not return them back to the correct pot.  To me it’s quite clear.  The soft water colours need storing point up and the graphite sticks need to be kept in their own container to stop them covering everything else in grey dust.  It’s not rocket science!

 

A breeze catches the blind through the open window behind me.  I twist round to see three children chasing a whippet across the lawn and on the pavement below two telecommunications workers, in high visibility vests, are crouching around a cabinet filled with multi coloured cables.

Perhaps I should get a goldfish?  A large fat orange goldfish that swims round and round in a large fat glass bowl.  Unlike me it won’t remember everything it sees.  An elegant scattering of white gravel and maybe a predictable sprig of oxygenating greenery.

She’s ill again I think to myself.  How many times have I heard this?  It’s a little of the Peter and the Wolf situation.  Two years ago she had three brain tumors but made a miraculous recovery.  ‘She won’t make the night’ is rather like something they would say in a 1950’s film:  Black and white, I’m kneeling at her bedside choking back tears of guilt.  A somber looking Mrs Fothergill enters stage left wearing a ridiculous three-peaked paper hat and upside down watch.  ‘I’m afraid the doctor says she will not make the night Mr Morgan’, I drop my head into my hands with despair and the dramatic music builds.  I hate those films, so melodramatic and full of false, I don’t know, full of false expectation.

 

It’s not soon enough as far as I’m concerned.  My Mother lost the right to my love years ago.  The last time I saw her she said goodbye with her arms crossed and her face turned away to avoid a kiss.  Is this really the end?  It can’t be.  Another lie, another pathetic attempt to gain my attention. The relief of her impending death is without question.  It’s like a knife being pulled out of my heart and instead of leaving an open wound the skin heals as the tip of the blade moves out of the final layers of skin.  Nothing, not even a pinprick reveals the knifes plunging entry. Why am I spending my precious lunch hour thinking about her?  Why doesn’t she just fuck off?

Beeeep,beeeep,beeeep.

The phone rings for a second time.

Beeeep,beeeep.

‘Adam’

It’s Olivia, my wife.  Her voice sounds unnaturally low and there is the hint of worry, a slight vibration in her tone.

‘Adam are you ok, the care home has just called.’

‘You know what she’s like.  Why are you falling for it again?’

‘Adam, what are you going to do? They say she won’t make the night’

‘I don’t give a fuck.  I dare say it’s all bullshit anyway.  Another attempt to drag me to her bedside’.

‘The doctors have said…….’

‘I don’t give a fuck what the doctors have said.  It’s the same crap over and over again’.

‘Adam, it’s not their fault, you are the only one who can sign the release forms.’

‘Why doesn’t she just go to hell’.

I’m aware that my voice is getting louder and louder and I am speaking to Olivia in a way I should speak to my Mother.  With utter disrespect. Of course I haven’t spoken to her nor do I wish too but I know this tone and this is the tone I would use.  I replace the receiver.

 

 

Olivia

Olivia wakes to the locking of the front door not once but four times as her husband checks it is locked again and again.  They have two locks, a Yale and a Chubb.  It’s the Chubb that is the loudest with the noise of the key going in and turning like some one is pushing it into her head.  Olivia covers her face with her pillow.  She leaves it there just long enough so that she is left gasping for air as she tosses it aside. She doesn’t really understand why he has to do this in the morning. Nighttime yes, but at seven in the morning?  If someone is that desperate to break in let them.  As she gets out of bed she sleepily knocks over last night’s cup of chamomile tea.  A crisp white mug rolls across the floor until its handle stops it rolling any further.  She moves to the bathroom as if her body is twice its usual weight.  She stands in front of the mirror head down.

 

She takes an enormous amount of pleasure in slowly unscrewing the top from the toothpaste and squeezing the tube until it yields its red and white striped sausage.  She smears a little onto the edge of the wash hand basin whilst smiling to herself.  Adam cannot abide a dirty wash hand basin.  It is these little incidents, as she calls them, which fill her dull days.  She finishes brushing her teeth and studies the suitability of yesterday’s makeup.  It will last another day she thinks to herself.  She rolls some deodorant under her arms and sprays perfume across her chest before walking downstairs. She places a mug of cold coffee left over from yesterday into the microwave and heats it for thirty seconds.  The over enthusiastic ping shocks her system.  She sits down at the kitchen table overlooking the garden and opens her computer.  She logs onto an online dating website and begins methodically typing mindless chat into it.  Hi, it’s Fiona here ready to chat.  She has fourteen new messages since last night. Most are from men in Ghana wanting money urgently to pay for their daughter’s medical condition.  There is a man in Spain, rather obviously called Juan, who needs money to fly to England to see her; of course he is going to pay her back the minute he arrives as he is just waiting for a cheque to clear.  Then there are the ones who just want to talk.  They just want to share their sad lives with anyone who will listen.  Most are going through a divorce or are thinking about getting one.  So many fake names and fake stories.  Still, she doesn’t care, her made up or slightly exaggerated, profile was just as bad.  Fiona, forty (what is the harm of knocking off a couple of years), devoted her life to work now seeks a life work balance and is ready to find Mr Right.  Later she changed Mr Right to someone to share her life with.

The phone rings. It must be lunchtime, she thought, as she looks at the time in the top right hand corner of her laptop.

‘Hello’ she says suddenly aware that there might actually be a real person on the other end and not a virtual one.  She has become so used to typing replies that talking has become difficult.  It’s more the fact that she has to think of what to say quickly; at least online she has time to think of the right words.

‘Mrs Morgan, good afternoon, this is Sheila Fothergill from Lovelace House, your Mother-in-law’s care home.’

‘Hello Sheila, how are you, I hope nothing’s wrong?’ I hope nothings wrong, why did I say that?

‘I’m afraid that Mr Morgan’s Mother has taken a turn for the worst’.

Olivia’s immediate thoughts are not for her Mother-in-law’s health nor are they for her husband.  She immediately thinks of herself.  How would she break the news to Adam?  Would she have to go to Lutterworth and would she have time to rearrange her doctors appointment and then there was the man coming round to fix the tumble drier.  Oh, she was also meant to be having coffee with Nina: the mindlessly boring neighbour who lives two doors down.She moves around the kitchen as if floating effortlessly on air with a smile mask fixed on her face.  A cocktail of Diazepam and Prozac has its plus points she thought to herself.  The Prozac was prescribed five years ago for the depression Adam was convinced she was suffering from.  Her doctor was reluctant to give it to her but the presence of her husband at the consultation added weight to their story of the desperation of never having children.  Of course the doctor stopped prescribing it after six months but due to Olivia’s newfound love of the Internet it is easy to buy online.  Along with that came the little cream wonder pill, which is Diazepam.  Thirty percent off if she bought them both.  Why not, she thought, Adam will never notice. Poor me, poor little selfish me.  Popping little pills to numb the pain. Over the last couple of years it had started to become not just a mental pain but also a physical one.  Her body is starting to articulate her inner feelings by curling its-self up.  Her neck is beginning to refuse to hold the weight of her head and she finds herself walking slightly stooped and continually rubs the back of her neck.  She wasn’t always like this and she blames Adam explicitly for this pain as she calls it.  This sweet numb pain.  Adam had to be to blame, there wasn’t anyone else.  He had suggested she stop work. He had suggested she see a doctor and now he thought it best to keep her locked in the house.  She is free to leave of course but windows and doors need to be locked whilst she is in the house so that he knows she is quite safe.  Safe from what she thinks, safe from herself?

She picks up the phone to call Adam.

‘Darling, it’s Olivia’.

As she begins to explain about his Mother she hears his tone rise to that which he uses when he discovers that there is dust above the wardrobe or when he sees the iridescent trail that a snail has left on the front path.  Her mind floats away as she dreams of evading her loveless marriage.

 

He, Adam, is adamant that he is not going to see his Mother.  This isn’t the first time; he’s been before, however he’ll be on the first train back not even daring to leave the station.  She can imagine him getting off the train all fired up to meet his mother and then seeing something that would bring back all the bad memories.  He would catch the next train home. She recalls a telephone call in the middle of the night when he had raced from his bed to be at her bedside.  He got as far as Victoria Station before deciding that she was ‘probably alright’ and Olivia needed him more.  She needed him once but that was a long time ago.  Now the drugs are the only things she truly needs, they have replaced Adam emotionally.  She moves up the stairs holding onto the handrail like a geriatric.  She begins to pack an overnight bag for him.  In many ways she wishes she were going with him.  They went away together about ten years ago.  A weekend in Barcelona he had announced.  Of course it was work related, some lecture about Catalonian medieval ironwork or some such bore.  Just like at home he suggested that she stay in the hotel while he was out.  Perhaps the most memorable part of the trip was the time she had spent alone defying his over cautious orders to stay in the hotel and had walked the paths of Park Güell.  Anything to escape the suburban claustrophobia of her life. 

 

She walks into their bedroom and remembers how it was once filled with the smell of last night’s sex. Now the room is filled with the reminders of her husband’s obsessions.  Neat rows of books, in height and alphabetical order, line the shelves.  The blinds are open to exactly half the lower windowpane and his loose change is arranged numerically in the silver armada dish on the bedside table.  She opens the wardrobe.  Rows of crisp shirts and suits in graduating shades and tone hang from cedar hangers. She throws her head back to savor the smell of resin.  Pine trees in summer, pine trees in the hot Spanish hills.  Each item of clothing is hung one-centimeter apart to prevent creasing.  She eases the mahogany leather overnight bag out from under the bed and opens it.  She pulls it apart, her face like a dentist inspecting a mouth full of rotting teeth.  She quickly strips a white shirt off its hanger and lays it on the bed.  Skillfully she folds the sleeves in towards the long crease running the length of the shirts spine and folds it in half until it resembles a shirt pulled straight from a shop shelf.  She lays it gently, as if burying a much loved family pet, in the bottom of the bag. She places trousers, underwear and his wash bag on top before adding a final pair of well-worn brown brogues.  She smiles at herself, smiles with such pleasure at packing his bag upside down and imagines Adam opening the bag and removing the shirt shattered with her deliberate creases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam

It takes me two hours and fourteen minutes to leave work.  I know it’s sad, I have this annoying little habit, and I have made many attempts to change but I feel safe in my routine.  Even after I lock the door to my office I stand here wondering if I have shut the window, drawn the blind, turned off the light and whether the chairs are lined up correctly.  ‘What an annoying little habit’ I repeat quietly to myself again as I unlock the door for the third time.  I bend down to untie my shoelaces, line my shoes up with the shadow from glazing bars, that has now moved into the middle of the room, and walk over to the window.  I raise the blind and check the window lock.  Of course it’s locked; I lower the blind to the right height.  Just so that it rests on the windowsill without bowing the white fabric.  I reposition the two chairs so that they are facing the desk at an exact 30-degree angle with the armrests twenty millimeters apart.  The lights are off however I switch them on and off five times just to check how they look on so I am sure they are off.  You see if I know what they look like on then I know they are off.  I bend down to replace my shoes picking up the ends of the laces carefully so as not to touch the dirty shoe.  Repeating to my self ‘left over right, make the right into a loop, take the left and pass it around the right, left end around the right loop, feed the left into the hole, hold and pull both loops until the knot is firm’. I lock the door.

I make the walk to the station being careful to follow my preferred route.  On Tuesdays walk along St Georges Drive and cross the road at Hugh Street and down Bridge Place to Victoria Station.  It’s the less glamorous walk but it avoids the late afternoon shadows from the Square’s railings.  I find if you walk in shadows you cannot see what you are walking on, especially in this rain. 

 

I walk through the station to platform eight.  The train has not yet arrived and I find myself shoulder to shoulder with wet commuters.  On the opposite platform a young couple catch my eye; I watch them kiss.  They are glued together like china figurines.  Their glaze morphing them into one as they embrace.  Arms crossing and hands squeezing the flesh on each other’s backs. Her left arm hangs down, hand upturned, her fingers grasping a cigarette now long extinguished.Their eyes are closed mouths locked together breathing the same nicotine filled air as she angles closer into him.  I am entranced by their rawness.  Their bags lie at their feet, abandoned.  He slips his hand into the back pocket of her jeans and she moves hers up to his neck and lets it rest where the curve of the skull begins, pulling his head deeper towards hers. Their hair is so wet from the rain it clings to their egg shaped heads covering their faces in parts.  I find myself smiling as I see people struggle hopelessly to move around, suitcases are wheeled past the couple scuffing their shins in a silent protest to make them move out of the way. They twist their bodies into one another abstracting into silhouette. They are still as all around them chaos reigns.  I watch as they part, they say goodbye yet their love is still joined.  It fills me with adolescent curiosity to see these two together.  My relationship with Olivia is, I suppose, what you would call conservative.  Pyjama people you could call us.  There is a time and a place for everything and a station platform is not one of them.  There is something so juvenile about this couple, so disrespectful to those around them. My heart is beating faster, I can feel their passion and it confuses me.  How can they express such emotion in public without seeming to care?

 

Why am I sitting on this train?  Or at least this is what I am asking myself.  If I get to Lutterworth and decide to turn around I have lost nothing and gained some thinking time alone.  My reflection scares me.  I’m forty-nine and beginning to look my age. My reflection is that of a man I do not recognise anymore.  There is a single deep line between my eyebrows, which no longer disappears when my face relaxes.  Squinting through the window I notice the numerous lines, which converge like a delta into the corner of my eye.  My blond hair is peppered with grey and I have taken to dressing smart as casual seems so difficult these days.  Will she remember me?  Will she know my eyes?  I have not ventured near for twenty years.  Can a person become unrecognisable in twenty years?  I walk to the buffet car, swaying between seats like a drunk narrowly missing the other occupants.  I return to my seat with a cup of tea and a ridiculously small pot of Pringles.  Surely this cannot be it; surely she isn’t about to die?  There are some people in life who you feel will live forever just to spite everyone else.  You cannot imagine them aging.

I lean my head back onto the crisp Great North train recycled nylon headrest.  How can I be relaxing at the thought of my own Mothers funeral?

 

My eyes close as the rhythmic movement of the train lulls me to sleep.

I dream of the funeral. It’s raining, she makes sure of that. It would be the type of rain that comes down straight and then as if it suddenly changes its mind, it lifts back up and changes direction.

The church is 600 years old. Cold and grey overlooking the village. People are gathering in the narrow lane outside the church.  The fresh green virgin verges are being squashed to mud, broken down by the feet of mourners. I watch from outside the gates, watch this gathering of people as they make their way through the churchyard. People are moving in and out of sight behind the bell shaped yew trees.  It is winter just to be bloody.  Probably January as it is the worst month to be home.  Biting winds come from across the fields from the Urals and whip the tops of the great sycamore trees. The hearse draws up followed by a small black cavalcade of cars.  People get out of the cars, stooping their shoulders over to try and avoid the driving rain, following my mother in her plain oak coffin. I watch as she is carried through the wrought iron gates forced open by the tilt of the leaning stone pillars. In this little wooden box lies the woman who once sought to destroy my world. (She never understood what I saw in the shadows.)  A small box for a big woman metaphorically speaking. The funeral director places a small bunch of wild flowers on top of the coffin.

I walk through the Yew trees towards the church.  They don’t seem to have changed size since I was a boy but are now, in my dream, somehow creepier.  I remember pushing the dense black green foliage aside and climbing into their cave like interior to hide.The porch however is how I remember it, damp and cold, smelling of a mixture of moss and mothballs. The rotting notice board on either side covered in disintegrating emerald green felt.  Out of date notices fading with the damp are held with rusty drawing pins.

I don’t think anyone notices me as I slip into the back pew. I tug at the stiff white collar of my shirt.  My neck has swelled.  I reconise the face of the old lady in front of me. She is looking right at me as she nudges the equally old lady by her side.  She recognises me and shouts my name, it is my mother.

 

I jolt awake at the magnitude of the nightmare, hot and sweating. 

Boom, boom, thud.

The steady nod of the boy’s head sitting across the aisle snaps me back into reality.  Why does he feel the need to block out the entire world with a rhythm so harsh not even the trains’ vibration can distract him?  Boom, boom, thud. Boom, boom, thud. I can hear the beat but not the lyrics. For a minute I think I reconise the song but why would a boy half my age listen to anything I know.

Boom, boom, thud!

 

I spread my arms out on the table in front of me.  The man opposite is staring out of the window.  His blank expression leaves me wondering what he is thinking about.  There isn’t even a hint of life in his face.  As I look into his reflection I think for a second he is looking back at me and then I realise that he is looking straight through me.  Is he alone?  Is he traveling alone on this train not quite sure where he is going?  Running away from a life that doesn’t suit him.  Perhaps he is going to bury his mother with the same resentment and anger, that I have.  His knee, which I cannot see, is jiggling up and down at a ridiculous rate.  His dark green cords, stupid striped socks and over soled sensible brown shoes are at it like rabbits right under the table.  Nervous jiggling.  A nervous jiggler in a kumquat orange knit sweater and a slowly balding head of hair lost on a train to somewhere he doesn’t know.

 

As the train slows for Lutterworth I stuff my book into my bag and lean around the back of the seat to place the newspaper in the ridiculously small bin.  I see a carriage of feet and legs.  The semi circular tops of people’s heads poke out over the headrests and the occasional elbow or naked arm.  I get up leaving jiggling man and irritating headphone boy and make my way through the seats to the door. As the train pulls in I can see out of the window.  People are standing on the platform.  The train is still slowing to a stop and the people outside seem to blur into one.  Impressionist strips of hair, face and clothed bodies.  A murmuration of colours.  Slowly appearances are revealed as the train comes to a stop and I instantly think I reconise the old faces of school friends in these blank expressions boarding the train to Doncaster.  I wait for the door release button to flash and as soon as the pulsating squeal of the alarm goes off I press it eight times and step out. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia

Olivia Morgan describes herself as ‘unattached and in need of love’. She thought about ‘looking for a soul mate’ but decided it was all too desperate.  That said maybe she is desperate, desperate and determined to be someone else and live someone else’s life.  She stands looking into the floor to ceiling mirror, the one thing she had insisted in having fitted in the bedroom.  Adam chose everything, from the curtains to the floor; it had to be just right. Age is beginning to take its effect on her skin.  She smiles a wide smile as if having her photograph taken.  That stupid pose she does which makes her think she is a model. She has one foot carefully placed in front of the other, a hand on her right hip with the other loosely hanging down angled to hide her wedding band.  Dressed in a long navy blue dress with her blond hair resting on her shoulders.  If she smiles like this the lines look like laughter lines, she thinks to herself as she moves closer to the mirror and with both hands she smoothes her face out.  For a second she catches a glance of her old self.  The young and attractive Olivia, tall, slim and confident.  If she avoids mirrors she can quickly forget what she looks like and can allow her mind to conjure up its own image.

 

 

Adam has gone to see his Mother and this is the first time for years that she has been left alone.  She feels free, free from the need to be perfect.  The last time this happened Adam had been unexpectedly asked to stand in for some exam adjudication at the last minute when someone had called in sick.  She remembers it clearly as there was no last minute rush to make sure dinner was on the table by 6pm.  6pm on the dot, no later, no earlier.  Adam would arrive home from work at 5.37pm in time to change from his office clothes in to what he thought was more casual.  5.50pm he would expect to be sitting at the table with a gin and tonic in his hand with Olivia acting every inch the 50’s housewife.  Tonight is her first taste of freedom for as long as she can remember and tonight she has plucked up all the courage she needs to meet Martin, a shy wine importer, ‘looking for fun’.  She sits at the table hands shaking over the keyboard.  She has already slipped her wedding band onto the other hand as she types in a suggested meeting place.

 

 

 

 

 

Adam

The Victorian station has remained unchanged despite all these years.  Perhaps a new layer of black tarmac laid over old cobbles on the platform and the yellow-stenciled ‘mind the gap’ lettering glimmer with newness.  A palimpsest of history. Cast iron pillars have been painted royal blue and their rope detail highlighted in cheap gold paint.  Alarmingly red geraniums dribble with thirst from the hanging baskets as a station attendant chips chewing gum from the ticket office floor.  Stations never remind me of coming home but rather the opposite.  Stations remind me of going to school and more importantly leaving alone.  I’d sit in the toilet cubical urine pooling around my feet waiting for the train avoiding the old men who seemed to think it was acceptable to mistakenly run their hands over the knees of young boys.  Clear skinned hands encaging blue veins interspersed with liver spots and white hairs.

 

There is a row of taxis waiting outside the station.  All white with Station Cars clearly written down the side.  I opt for the second in line, as the driver looks less like a mass murderer than the others.  I give him the address.  It’s funny how despite the fact that you have not used an address for so long you can still reel it off in seconds if needed.  I just stop short of giving him the postcode and telephone number.  I get into the back and chuck my small workbag on to the seat next to me.  Why didn’t I just go home first?  I have no wash stuff and no clean clothes.  The taxi driver looks at me oddly and he holds eye contact uncomfortably long.  I presume it’s because I should have got into the front seat, this isn’t a London cab. 

‘Been to Lutterworth before mate?’

If there is one thing sure to really wind me up it’s the use of the word mate or buddy for that matter.  How can I be his mate if I’ve never met him before?  Over familiarity makes me angry.

‘Do I recognise you?’

‘I used to live here as a kid’.

‘Right, coming home for a good home cooked meal then’.

‘Something like that’.

A silent journey continues. I can feel the driver starring at me in the rear view mirror.  I avoid eye contact and look out of the window.  In such confined silence you can hear everything.  The gold chain, that holds the traffic light shaped air freshener over the air vents jangles with its plastic crystal empty of scent.  The squeak of his rubber sole on the clutch harmonizes with the roughness of the air being forced through an ever-expanding hole in the exhaust.

The windows are dirty and I suspect by the number of short black hairs on the seat and the smudge marks on the glass that a dog was the last passenger.  A single line of green moss grows along the rubber seal on the outside of the glass.  A little strip of life.

As we drive round the corner into my parent’s village suddenly the reality of the situation hits me.  I can’t just put the key in the lock, open the door, and turn back the clock.  This needs thought, this needs time.

I ask him to stop just short of the village sign.

The taxi driver pulls over and turns round to look at me with one hand on the adjacent seat.

He pauses and says ‘Changed your mind have we’.

Why am I here, why am I feeling it necessary to explain myself to a taxi driver?

‘Can we go back into town please?’

‘It’ll cost you double’.

‘Double, triple, I don’t really care, I’ve left something behind’.

‘Drop me off at a hotel would you, does The Angel still exist?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia

The pub is busy and she is not immediately noticed when she walks in.  Her head is full of guilt although she cannot quite understand this. After all this is only a bit of harmless fun.  Why is she wearing this dress? It is far too low cut for a first date.  A first date she thinks to herself.  Who is she kidding?  At forty-two she’s had her fair share of first dates.  Martin, if that’s his real name, is sitting right where he said he would be.  Olivia has been to this pub before many times with Adam.  More as an obligation than a nice evening out.  She felt sorry for him, sorry for her husband and his inability to let go.

 

She stands for a while in the doorway-observing Martin.  Over fed, over dressed and she thought, over loved by someone else.  He catches her eye and she returns a smile before sitting on the bar stool next to him.

‘Martin’, she says in a calm middleclass voice.

‘Fiona’, he says with a hint of Hull or was it Leeds?

Fiona seemed like a good choice.  She knew a Fiona at school once and she was beautiful and alluring.  Martin’s eyebrows look like unkempt hedges.  They stand out at least ten millimetres from his tanned and oily skin.

‘I’ve never done this before’ he says trying to sound coy.

‘I’m sorry’ she says a little too abruptly.

‘I’ve never done this before, I’ve never met someone over the internet before.’

‘Oh, neither have I’ she says acting surprised.

‘My wife died two years ago and this is all a bit new to me.’

‘Mine too, I mean my husband died.’

The silence that follows is unbearable and Olivia is determined not to get up and walk away.

‘Shall we start again, my name is David.’

‘I’m Olivia.’

The evening moves from exchanging pleasantries at the bar to dinner at a table in the window.  Ironically it is Adam’s favourite table as it overlooks the river and it is away from the other diners, who so irritated him.

‘So how was your trip to Inverness?’  Olivia asks suddenly remembering an earlier virtual conversation.

‘It was ok’ he replies stopping the conversation dead.

After two hours Olivia is becoming bored.  So much so she has to work hard on hiding her yawns under her hand as David waffles on about his children now grown up and at university. Martha is studying economics at Lincoln and James, ‘not the brightest cookie in the jar’, is at Manchester doing a foundation degree in art ‘but never mind’.For a minute she is glad that she has never had children with Adam; the dull existence, which precludes the parental years, is all people seem to be able to talk about.  A generic like-mindedness.  She’s risked so much on tonight that the disappointment in her partner choice is overbearing.  Her feet are tapping the table leg and she is counting and recounting the pearls around her wrist as if they are worry beads.  Get a grip, she says to herself.  He has no idea who I really am or what my life is like.

 

There is the obligatory mirroring of body language.  Her hand under her chin, his hand under his chin.  His right knee crosses over his left, her right knee crosses over her left.  All straight out of a singleton’s how to date handbook.  From time to time he tests the water by gently leaving his hand a second too long on her knee. 

He excuses himself and goes off to the ‘little boys room’ as he calls it.  She looks at her phone – nothing.  Where is Adam?  Has he arrived?  Has he met his mother yet?  She starts a text. 

My daring I hope all’s well, the house seems empty without you Livi x. 

Yes the house seems empty without Adam but the reality is wonderfully liberating.  She allows the radio to play loudly through the house and it wasn’t Radio 3, popular music pulses through every room.  She flung open windows and the breeze set fire to the house as the curtains swirl like flames.  She had left every dirty mug of coffee where she drank it and within a couple of hours the whole place looked like a teenager has been home alone. 

 

She hasn’t used Livi for years.  It’s the name Adam used to call her when they first met.  ‘Livi the lovely’ he used to utter in her ear, the thought now seems rather disgusting to Olivia.  She can sort of remember the first time they met.  She was wearing a polka dot dress and he was just standing.  Standing much as he does now she thinks to herself.  Standing and staring at her in a kind of creepy way yet it made her heart jump.  He was wearing horrendously coloured trousers and a jumper, which had clearly seen better days.  Holes at the elbows revealed a blue check shirt beneath.  She remembers his shoes more than anything.  Brown and well worn with a thick textured sole, which came someway over the toes – like a toddlers first pair.  No socks.  No one wore no socks in 1991.  It was the realisation of what had happened during his childhood, which changed him.  Olivia almost had to force him to see a therapist.  The panic attacks convinced her that action was needed.  Now she feels that if the therapist hadn’t asked him to explain the shadows perhaps they would be like every other middleclass couple.

 

Martin appears from behind the bar, she pretends she isn’t looking for him.  He walks purposefully to the table.  A drunk trying to hide his drunkenness.  He sits down looking flushed and smelling very obviously of whisky.  Presumably from the hip flask he thinks she had not seen as he slips it into his back pocket.

‘Another glass of wine Olivia?’

She wants a fuck not a slow waltz.

 

 

 

 

 

Adam

The Angel’s receptionist seems less than amused at my ‘walk in’ request for a room.  I begin to wonder if having guests in this hotel is more of a chore than a joy to this clearly uninterested and unimpressed girl.  Her hair looks greasy and is parted perfectly down the middle of her long and pale face.I remember this hotel when it was a country pub with a B&B upstairs.  The hideously unattractive Axminster carpet, which I used to go mad on trying to follow its swirls and curves, has long gone. The original stone slabs have been buffed to within an inch of their lives.  The once dark oak bar and leather topped bar stools have been replaced with tongue and groove paneling painted in what looks predictably like pale green Farrow and Ball paint.  I can remember playing beneath the stools imagining their legs to be a forest of tree trunks sitting eating a packet of crisps.  The type in the blue, red and white bags with the extra sachet of salt to season.  I used to suck this tiny blue paper envelope until the salt came out and my lips were blue with ink. 

 

Lutterworth was hardly the most exciting place to grow up but whenever we caught the bus into town to go shopping my Mother would have a drink in the then Angel Public House.  A crimson red Campari and Soda served in a large round prawn cocktail glass with last night’s disc of lemon for added class.  She’d sit and relish the taste in her mouth enjoying the fact that I was chasing my tail somewhere away from her.  She could be single and childless again to the man resting his drunken elbows on the bar next to her.  This flirting was later denied as chatting to a nice man in the café. I remember looking back over my shoulder trying to catch my mother’s eye to show her the den I had made out of tablecloths only to see her taking an envelope from such a man at the bar.  She opened it shamefacedly looking at the used notes within.  She looked at me. I pretended not to notice what I’d seen.  ‘I just need to have a chat with this man darling’.  She would only call me darling when she was drunk.  We’d all go upstairs, my mother, the man and I.  ‘Why don’t you go and play boats in the bath darling’.  There would be laughter and then silence interspersed with the odd moaning noise.  The light from the bedside lamp would shine through the narrow gap in the bathroom door.  I used to use a soap dish and an ashtray from the bar as boats.  Crashing into each other as I leant over the bath.  The lamp projected shadows from the bedroom onto the tiled bathroom wall. Grey shapes moving up and down cast onto the wall in front of me larger than life as my mothers voice whispered ‘my darling’. And so my ‘perfect’ childhood continued, following the sticky patterns on pub carpets and making boats out of ashtrays. Waiting for the next bus home, then missing it, and having to wait for another.  What harm could one more drink do?

 

It is a very different story now and the old farmers who frequented this space are replaced with busy city types up from London.  Every face glued to a glowing open laptop, making the most of the free wifi.

 

The room is small but I've been upgraded. Twin beds have been pushed together, dark furniture, mustard yellow curtains and the predictable flat screen television uncongenially welcoming  ‘Morgan Mr’ to the hotel.

The hotel's logo is embossed on everything.  A giant black A on all the towels, it is even counter sunk into the perfectly formed black bar of soap encased in clear plastic on the side of the sink.  I suppose I’ve been upgraded as the hotel's quiet or maybe they feel sorry for me.  I'm alone and it is this solitude that I have sought for as long as I can remember. Does my desire to be alone really just demonstrate a lack of commitment?  Alone in keeping my options open.

 

I run a bath.  It's now late evening and I could not contemplate eating alone.It is a big step too far from simply having a coffee or grabbing a quick lunch on the go.  Dinner is a two-person exercise or family a get-together.

The bath is small, too bloody small. But I'm determined to lie down under the layer of rather unnaturally scented hotel bath foam. My phone is carefully balanced and a book is cantilevered on the edge of the basin. I sink under the water, neck bent to 90°, feet up on the facing wall. At least I’m under.  I immerse my head so the water is just over my ears and the bunged up noise of a quiet hotel vibrates the water.  Sound is numbed from my brain.  I lie alone in my bath for one in a room for two.  With a clean flannel I start to wash, wash away an entire layer of skin.  The red rawness of my actions fills me with pleasure.  I must dry now, damp skin breeds disease. 

 

I order room service that arrives within the quoted 25 minutes. Medium rare rib eye steak with shallots and fried potatoes.  A selection of mini condiments for one sit on a mustard yellow napkined side plate.I open the mini bar. Two cokes, two sparkling waters, two lagers, one half bottle of champagne, a mini Toblerone, two bags of salted peanuts and a packet of Pringle crisps.  I ease the top off a bottle of lager and sit cross-legged on the bed with my ‘stay in picnic for one’ spread out around me.

My phone vibrates.  There is a message from Olivia.

My daring I hope all’s well, the house seems empty without you Livi x.

I dial her number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia

Whilst David is clearly nervous this is all a little game for him, a game he has played over and over again.  She sits looking out of the pub window overlooking the river watching, as the tide grows steadily higher against the native banks.  She catches his hand sliding across the table and without moving her head away from the view she moves her eyes to meet his.  The key, abhorrent with blatant obviousness, lies on the table before them.  Attached to the key is a round blue plastic disc about the size of a coaster with the number eight etched out so that the lower white layers come through.

Olivia uncrosses her legs and picks up her handbag from the floor.  In one move she stands up threading the bags strap over her shoulder.  David stands slightly after her and picks up the key from the table as he does so.  David leads the way.  Surely everyone is watching her as she follows David through the bar, out into the reception area and up the stairs to room eight.  She walks about six metres behind him flicking her hair from her face, as if this was the most normal thing to do in the world.  As the little guilty procession mounts the stairs she reaches into her bag for her phone. 

I presume you are ok?  Still no word, yours always Livi x

He fumbles at the door, how difficult can it be to open a door she thinks to herself.  The room is small and sparsely furnished.  I guess it serves its function she thinks to herself.  David smiles at her and signals that he is going to use the bathroom.  She hears him lock the door behind him.  Olivia thinks he is probably having another swig of Dutch courage from his bottle.  She sits on the bed and spreads her hand over the bedspread.  The texture of the out of date candlewick fabric reminds her of one her grandmother had.  Two pictures rather awkwardly hang above the bed head; both faded Van Gogh landscapes whose swills of vibrant colour are now bleached with time matching the pale green carpet.

 

The toilet flushes and she can hear David clearing his throat as he washes his hands.  She removes her arms from her dress and lets it fall so that it covers her stomach.  As if in a trance she slowly undoes her bra allowing it to fall to the floor.  The lock to the bathroom turns and she moves her torso so that it faces away from him and turns her head to see him enter the room.  This is a pose she has practiced in the mirror whilst Adam was at work, one hand open on the bed the other playfully twisting the string of beads around her neck.

This bizarre moment of pre-illicitness is broken by the ring tone of her phone.  The digital Charleston music grows louder and louder as she retrieves the phone from her bag.  It is Adam but now is not the time to be taking a call.

‘Phones to silent’ says David trying to break the ice.

Her mouth brakes into a painful smile as she turns the phone off and moves back onto the bed where David is now sitting.  He has undressed much to her surprise and is wearing the hotels dressing gown.  His over hairy arms look embarrassed sticking out of sleeves, which have clearly shrunk over time.  He reaches over to touch her cheek with the palm of his hand and with this he slips the other between her thighs, as he does so she flinches before guiding his hand deeper.

 

The sulphur yellow light from the street outside spills through the open curtains.  Ashamed shadows are creeping out from underneath the dressing table and the legs of the chair.  Olivia lies entwined in candlewick starring at the ceiling.  The cheap cornice has been badly fitted and they have chosen an out of place baroque ceiling rose to complement the equally out of place brass spotlights.  David is lying with his back to her.  His out of shape frame rising and falling with each breath.  It is this easy she thought to herself.  Two weeks chat on the Internet and here they both are.  Two weeks and one night to ruin a marriage forever.  A thought crossed her mind, how was Adam ever going to find out?  This is her mistake not his.

She reaches for her phone.  10.34pm.  It isn’t exactly late but she has no intention of staying here the night.  One missed call is flashing and she dials voicemail. 

‘You have one new message sent today at 19.16pm, to listen to your message press one, to return this call at your normal….’ She presses one. 

‘Mrs Morgan this is Sheila Fothergill.  We have been trying to get hold of your husband with no avail.  I’m, afraid we have some bad news about his mother.  She died this afternoon’. 

Olivia doesn’t quite understand why she can’t put the phone down.  She sits naked looking out of the window as David lies by her side.  Tiny flashes of darkness fill the room as lorries pass the streetlight outside.  She quietly goes into the bathroom and stands looking at her reflection her hands either side of the wash hand basin.  Her face looks pale and drawn, skin has begun to sag on her arms and her painted nails look like they belong to someone much younger.  She stands up and wraps her hair into a bun behind her head.  She dials Adam’s number. 

‘Adam, it’s Livi.  Call me darling, call me urgently’

She stands in the room looking at a space she doesn’t reconise and at the man lying asleep she doesn’t know.  She has feelings but she isn’t quite sure what they are.  He begins to stir and upon awakening he gives Olivia a quizzical look.  Surly he remembers who she is?  He sits up and reaches for her hand.  She extends hers to meet his before quickly withdrawing the gesture at the last minute.  She turns and without removing the sheet within which she is wrapped they both begin to get dressed in silence. They are careful not to show too much flesh, they stand back to back either side of the room allowing their clothes to cover the embarrassment of the preceding hours.  He struggles with his shirt and for a moment she catches his reflection in the wardrobe mirror.  David is an aging and desperate man, standing in his butter yellow briefs, ridiculously long socks looking like a bird trapped in a net of his own shirt.  She looks down and moves her hands round to her back to zip up her dress as elegantly as she can.  She sits on the bed as he does the same and as if in formation they both put their shoes on.

 

 

 

 

Adam

I wonder how she will look?  I’ve never seen anyone close to death.  I’ve seen a dead person, my neighbour, old and grey sat bolt upright in her favourite chair.  Lips blue and hands gripped around a television remote control.  ‘Deal or no Deal’ was on full volume, and green mould covered her meals on wheels she had not touched.  A cup of tea, which had started to evaporate leaving layers of brown rings around the inside of the mug.  She’d sat there for two days before anyone noticed there were two pints of milk turned sour and yellow by the morning sun still sitting on her doorstep.  The smile left on her face suggested she was at peace and had slipped away listening to Noel Edmunds.  She’d had a good life, ninety-two and never been in hospital.  Despite living alone she used to cook a full roast every Sunday.  Bacon lying across a chickens back and brilliant white pyramids of lard around roast potatoes crudely peeled.  Somehow once a week the smell of this feast would permeate through the party wall and fill our house with hope.  Is this how my mother will look surrounded by the mundane rawness of life? 

 

My phone is still in my workbag.  Interruptions are not an option.  If I am to be back home then I need to feel it too. After breakfast I decide to walk home.  Home is such an odd word to use for a place I never wanted to be.  Home is supposed to be warm and friendly.  Families sitting around an open fire toasting crumpets and playing board games.  How wonderfully innocent this depiction is, I cannot remember a time when my entire family were all talking to enable us all to sit around.  Not least without the thought that one of us wanted to kill the other!  This idealistic image of home is rather like a mirage to me.  I can see it in the distance but it has never been real.

 

It’s a seven-mile walk from town to home.  I can think of no reason not to do it.  The thought of another chatty taxi driver or waiting for an unpredictable bus is not appealing.  I work out that it will take me fourteen minutes to walk a mile so that’s ninety-eight minutes in total.  I used to do this walk when I was a kid.  If I didn’t walk I’d cycle.  There was a whole summer holiday spent deboning frozen chickens in town in order to save up for a bike.  A bright yellow Raleigh Banana bike.  The chicken would arrive in open plastic crates still slightly frozen.  You had to feel through the opaque flesh to find small bones, which a machine could not.  Row upon row of white-coated students wearing matching white trilbies standing in the overwhelming stench of dead meat. 

I travelled miles on that bike.  Miles of seemingly endless country roads leading to nowhere. Hunched down low over the yellow tape handlebars gripping tight as I flew down the hills avoiding the winter damage potholes.  Puberty squeezed into lycra.  Derelict farm buildings displayed evidence of the previous nights lovers. Indecently twisting under rotting rafters.  Dried and brittle condoms disintegrating in the summer sun. Disused airbases abandoned since the war stood lonely as if aliens had abducted their occupants.  Neatly lined rows of single story concrete huts decorated with inexperienced attempts at graffiti.  ‘I shagged Simone here 1.7.84’ and ‘go home Nazi pofs’ amusingly misspelt.  It was these long outings of freedom that took me away from village life and from the monatomic claustrophobia of family life.  I would sit for hours; it could have been days, watching as hares came close without realising I was there.  Watching as jays flashed their petrol blue wings in their dust baths beneath the horse chestnut trees.  Minutes, hours, days and summers passed on my deboned Raleigh Banana.  A freedom from routine.

The wind is now in my hair once more and for once it does not matter.  It does not matter that a hair is out of place or that there is a crust of red mud forming around my shoes with every new step.

The walk has taken longer than I thought and I guess this is because there is so much to remember with every new step, with every new view.  I’m getting carried away remembering the hedged lanes where I had picked elderflowers in the summer arriving home covered in a layer of soft yellow pollen.  I remember returning to the same lane in autumn looking for sloes.  Deep purple fruits covered in a duck blue powder.  Bitter tasting beyond belief their long spear like thorns made it impossible to return home blood free.  My mother would always have the bottles of gin waiting on the kitchen table.  Each bottle missing a quarter of its contents so there was room for the sloes.  My mother’s cheeks blushed pink by this pre-lunch drink.  Each perfectly formed oval fruit stabbed with a fork so that in time it would absorb the gin and turn the liquor purple with its juicy flesh.

 

Finally I arrive at the field in front of the house.  There is one field muddied by sheep, a hedge and a narrow country lane between my home and me.

The house doesn’t seem to have changed since I was last here.  Of course I’m only looking from the outside and have no intention of ever stepping foot inside again.  The row of large Georgian windows line the roadside, each with an exact mirror image above making it almost dolls house like but without a central front door.  The front door is round the back and only accessible if you walk through the solid black gates, which guard the entrance.  Large blocks of honey coloured sandstone form the construction with an even softer mortar eroded by the driving wind and rain.  Small perfectly round holes mark the entrance to tunnels made by masonry bees as they search out suitable homes in the lime encrusted joints.  A thin strip of gravel covers the ground between house and pavement surrounded by a low stonewall evenly punctured with lead filled holes where once grand black railings stood.  The house being on top of a hill commands an impressive view back down over the village.  The tapestr


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