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The International Writers Magazine
: First Chapter by Lynn Ede

Lynn Ede
Chapter One

I can’t believe it’s come to this. Isn’t there a way out? I’ve been over and over it and I really don’t think so. God, though, what a grim thought. Would these people, my fellow travellers waiting on this platform, strangers to me and detached from me, be the last to see me alive?

Illustration L. Ede

I glance up from my rail ticket, which I've been examining a bit too closely, inexplicably, on the platform. Smoothing back my hair and squinting in the one shaft of hazy sunshine which seems to have randomly found me, I survey them. I suppose they're an average bunch. Just ahead of me, to my right, are three college or uni-students; two giggly girls and a clueless-looking bloke. They wear backpacks, baggy jeans sodden with mud around the hem, which covers any sign of footwear and from the waist down they appear to be of the same gender. Craving a diversion from black thoughts, I size them up.I suppose it's my artist training, but I see people as colours.

The students are primary colours to me, bright, energetic and chaotic, just ripe for mixing. My guess is that the bloke fancies one of the girls and, being emblematic girls of that age, they are exploiting him, bringing him along only to help carry bags. He gazes often at the fair-haired girl with braids, who giggles incessantly with the other one, totally ignoring her admirer, or at least in pretence. He occasionally offers an enthusiastic, verbal contribution, versed and well rehearsed in his mind, only when it comes out, it’s over exuberant and loud, his voice breaking horribly at all the wrong moments. They acknowledge him briefly, reluctantly, but return to their inane chatter, about shoes, films and boys, which is far superior. Love is blind, sadly, and he thinks he's in. Well, they replied at least, didn't they, he reasons. He simply knows that she thinks about him when she's alone, he just knows it, she must do. A wry smile plays on my lips. Hmm, not a chance mate. They barely know your name. I'm afraid you're simply a pair of stronger arms than they possess, no more. He catches my eye for a second and smiles briefly. Gentle; shy, meaning nothing but good. Hidden agenda is left to the female of the species and is something he won’t discover for, well, at least another six months, I feel. Or, knowing the men I’ve known, perhaps a year into a relationship, when they morph from the chasing, desperately puppy-like committed man to swearing, farting monster-man who realises you’re actually talking commitment with a capital C, whilst his version of commitment involved a small c of a very different kind. I don’t know though, you’re a little better than that. You're a nice guy, and you're oh so wasted on the young. Your time will come though. It'll happen, for sure, but not right now. Six months will mature you beyond your wildest expectations, and you'll show the likes of them. You won't give girls like that a second glance. I wonder where you'll be then, what you'll be doing? I wish you luck, but, although you’re still glancing at me and jerking your mouth into a nervous grin, I do not smile back.

So, how would they react then, these teens, when I move forward and cross over the yellow line and take that final step into the air before the big nothing? Well, if they got to me in time, they would probably all try hard, that's my guess. It's a fair bit of drama for them isn't it, even beating topics of shoes and boys. Blokey would spot a chance to shine in front of the girls and do the holding me back thing. Yes, it's a break, to be a hero. The girls would then follow in the mission. They'd be able to bring out their counselling skills, acquired from long talks into the night with their many and varied ditched, distraught girlfriends, of which there is an endless supply at the Students' Union. They'd certainly tell me, arms around my shoulders, in young, breathless gasps, how it can 'all improve', how life is 'really a trip if only you can see it', and how 'everyone goes through heavy shit at one time or another'. Yes, they know how it all works, all right. After all, they're late teenagers aren't they, starting out on life, assuming the honorary role of pioneer. No one, they are sure, has been this enlightened before. They drink education in theory and liquid form in alternate days and nights, and they have been put upon this earth to change the world, no-one before has ever been so wise. It is their unique, sole purpose, and they will see it through to the end. Yeah, yeah.. My eyes fall to the grey ground once more, searching around for the next pair of feet.

A boring, be-suited, tired male, fifty-ish, stands near me in charcoal grey. He clutches leather accessories all co-ordinating. Grey just about sums him up. I guess Mr. Grey has gone down the path of conformity, got the job his parents advised him to get, done the nine to five. Now he's got the house, comfortable car, the wife - I see a ring glinting on his finger as he picks up his soft leather briefcase - he has it all. Does he think so? I look at his face. Frowning, lost in his day ahead, he hasn't quite twigged that tomorrow is today is yesterday. Is he happy? Is anyone, though, actually. I wonder what he will do if I attempt to hurl myself, dramatically right now, in front of the train? Will he rush gallantly forward, preventing my path? Hold me back, perhaps? No, I decide he won't touch me, even under such circumstances. He's much too up his arse. You don't touch strangers, especially women, even if they're about to kill themselves. There are rules. And then, there's his gorgeous plush leather ensemble to consider. Couldn't leave that unattended on the platform, oh no. So. He's a no-hoper, he wouldn't save me. Do I even want him to? Isn't that the whole point of my jumping. I consider this. I don't want to be saved, no. No, I want to go. I'm merely interested in their potential reactions, that's what it is. Yes, that's it.

My attention turns back to the ticket I'm fiddling with. The paper becomes worn and soft at the edges, I flick it back and forth and my mind turns once again dark and defeatist. I owe such a fucking shit-load of money. I can't get out of it. I've struggled to do the honourable thing, given my kids a great start, an education costing the earth - was that really worth it I wonder, at the end of the day - and have been deserted in the effort by my unfocussed, gambling, downward-spiralling husband (I don’t even hate him right now, I pity him). I am accumulating escalating debt as we speak. Actually that's true isn't it, yes, the figures are literally clocking up more against me as each second passes. As we speak. As who speaks, exactly? I am alone in my thoughts. So, when I talk, who listens? I mean, really listens? Oh people do, of course, they do, in a superficial way, but essentially, at the end of the day, we're all alone. You can't truly rely on anyone. Not ultimately, in any case. It's the one thing you can't do with someone; you simply have to die alone.

I start to pull a thread from a button on my top and watch the cotton spinning and wobbling the plastic disc until it falls off, tinkling to the ground and wheeling happily along the platform, coming to rest in a feverish tiddly-winks vibration. Youngish executive, Black Jack, now strides onto the platform suddenly, bringing me into the real world again. What about him, then, I wonder, sucking in a deep breath of blackened air. He speaks loudly into his mobile phone. Staccato voice and purposeful, his life is going places. He's got it all worked out. Business-like in a casual way, he wears black jeans, thin black cashmere sweater and scarf, and thin black document case, which carries essential paraphernalia only. Yep, he's black, for sure, but not in a negative form of the colour. He's a positive black. No sandwiches in his briefcase, oh no, nothing so mundane for him. Leave all that to the fifties guy - this one will have only a laptop, and a thin file of selected papers for the day's meetings. Man in black is sharing with us a deal he's making with Tokyo. But it's not enough for him to shout out the finer details of the contract to the station at large, he must pace up and down too, with long, aimed strides, on a mission. He's Important with a capital I and must leave us in no doubt of it. Will he rush to my aid, then, as I try to end it all, shrugging off as he does so, the ensuing pats on his heroic back? No of course not, far too busy. He finishes his call and sits on the bench now, laptop balancing precariously on his knee, his beady black eyes scouring the screen for the latest figures. Quick look at his watch. Time is money and money is all to the man in black.

Money. Oh shit, oh God. It descends upon me again, dark cloud, surrounding me with suffocating worry. Throat tight, can't breath. Can't swallow. Lips dry. Ticket so soft and bendy now and the writing is barely legible. How can I ever get straight again? It's an impossible fucking feat. No way out. I peer down at my ticket again. It's a return ticket, but no, this is wrong. This is surely one-way. Why did I buy this? It's no return.
Train arriving.
I hear it in the distance. My mind is shut off but my ears take in the information. I take a tentative step forward. My backpack feels heavy. I could just leave it on the seat. Why bother with it, what did it matter now? I look back at the seat, but keep shifting the weight around from side to side all the same.

Train’s getting closer, becoming louder, screaming inside my head, people walking in slow motion. .
Man in black's fingers still tapping away. Blokey, shade of bright violet, is weighed down with all the bags. Girls, multi-coloured, oblivious to all, giggling, are wrapped up in their chat. Fifties man finds comfort in newly purchased grey coffee. He leans forward as he drinks. Wouldn’t want to spill on the suit.

Train so close now. Looming large and fast into my space.

My heart beats faster but at the same time I feel a strange calm. Peace. I will be free of worry, panic. Of all things, in fact, at last. This could be my last few seconds.
I stare at my trainers, old, worn, but comfortable, lived-in. My toes wriggle under the leather, encased in its warmth. I start to straighten my hair, and wipe mascara from under my eyes, but what does it really matter? You know, I'd read somewhere, though, that suicides take immense care over their appearance just before the final thing. I would be no exception then.

Train pulling in now, loud, screeching and windy. I'm unsteady. It's now or never.

Trainers take me closer, I get to the yellow line, my toes cover the edge of it, carefully lining up. Don't want to colour over the edges. My vision is blurred. I'm swaying slightly on my feet. Who would actually give a shit about this? Who will notice if you're gone? Surely they'll all get on with their miserable little lives. You'll just become a distant memory. Jo, that woman they all knew for a time. Oh hell, just do it. I make the leap from the platform in my mind, willing my body to carry out this instruction, carried by the wind into the air, it's slow, so slow. I'm not scared really, and go to make the fatal jump. I gather strength to propel my body forward to peace, escape.
"Excuse me?" says a voice in my head from somewhere.
I stop, dazed. This wasn't the plan. My backpack thumps onto the ground from my back. A figure blocks out my light in front of me, and I see that even he is dangerously near the edge. Vision sleepily comes into focus and I look up screwing my eyes up to make a discernible shape of the image in front of me. It's young Blokey, one of the unis. He's here, shifting from foot to foot nervously, and smiling the same brief smile. He holds out some keys shyly. He stutters a little, uncertain of his words, looking quickly from side to side and resting frequently back on my eyes.
"You dropped these."
I look vaguely at the keys in his hand, and back at him. I shall not answer him.
He persists, but I have only seconds to spare. Jesus, doesn't he know I've got stuff to do? Important, can't-wait stuff, like -
"They're definitely yours." He interrupts, "I saw them fall from your backpack. Here."
He lifts my hand and places the keys into it. As he does so he holds my hand and arm firmly, like he won't be letting go in a hurry. I pull my hand but he won’t let me have it back. I still don't answer but am aware that the train is now stationary, inches away from me, and I am alive. I am alive and breathing. He guides me, gestures for me to get on the train before him. I do it. Somehow this young man is in charge, he is here and I am locked into a lost moment. I will get out of it in a minute, I shall. I'm just confused, that's how I feel. Confused, lost, tired. Extremely tired in fact.

I see the girls approach out of the corner of my eye. They, self-absorbed, ask impatiently for his help and after seeing me safely to my seat and slinging my backpack onto the floor next to me, touching me on the shoulder briefly, he sprints off, carries and fetches for them as planned. I can see him running around them on the platform, but this time his focus is not on them, it's on me. His eyes dart back to me in between roughly carrying the girl's bags onto the train. I watch him vaguely through the window and he wills me to fix my eyes to his, like my life depends on it. Perhaps it does, since I am on this train now and not under it. The moment has passed. I'm still here, meant to be here, rescued by fate. All thanks to some keys, and to a young, random bloke.

As I sit here, on this train, the import of the event or rather non-event, as huge as it is, dawns on me as I begin to breathe again normally and take in my surroundings once more. My life continues. It will go on, I'm alive. If only one person had missed me, it would have surely been a waste, and in truth, probably more people would have done, wouldn't they? It would have been a selfish act, in fact, cowardly and escapist. The enormity of this hits me all of a sudden. Tears form causing pain behind my eyes and I'm glad I'm here. I’m grateful to the young man who showed me back my life. Crying silently with relief, my hand finds my mobile in my jeans pocket. I press the buttons, thinking of my lover, and my destination back on track. Options. Messages. Write. I key in the text.
I lean back, clutching this mode of communication in my hand. I close my eyes and drift.
"Hi." Young blokey slings two bags down, puffs dramatically out of breath and sits opposite. I smile lazily, sleepily, struggling to open my eyes wide, to look alert or at least mildly intelligent.
"Oh, hi. Where are your friends?" I manage.
"Back there. Only two seats." He explains, gesturing at the seat beneath his bottom.
"Uh-huh." I close my eyes again. So tired.
"Erm, I hope you don't mind me asking..?" he asks.
I open one eye and estimate his question in my mind. Could I lend him a fiver? Could I give him a lift at the other end? Can I write an essay for him? Still, it's none of these. It's worse.
"You were going to jump back there, were'nt you?"
Embarrassed, I feel my face flush with heat. Concern is on his face, but morbid fascination shows through, too. I will spare him and deny him.
"Good God, no." I smile, amused. "What a silly idea."
He relaxes just a bit, but I know he's unconvinced. A piece of hair tumbles into his eye and he makes no move to brush it away. He has the most direct blue eyes, soft and deep.
"Oh. Sorry, s'just that…" He turns slightly red.
"Yes. Yes, I know." I say, vaguely. "Sorry about that, I was … daydreaming. Thanks for my keys, anyway."
End of conversation hopefully. Close eyes again.
I feel he's still concerned, but attempt to mould myself, relaxing, into my seat. He clears his throat without needing to.
"That's my girl back there."
"Really." I say, wholly uninterested. "She's very pretty."
Yeah sure, as if I would know. I haven't even looked at her.
"And her sister." Oh, right. Thank God I know that. Please be quiet.
"Uh-huh." I mumble.
Go away, please just go away.

I close my eyes yet again, showing my desire to escape his pleasantries. Some moments later, my phone beeps. Text. Blokey watches as I read, his blue eyes falling to the phone and back to my face.
Smiling, I realise this is one person who would care. Jamie. He would really care if I had jumped back there. I see him suddenly at my funeral. My Jamie, distraught, crying openly even, I fancy. Telling people how wonderful I was, not that I am in any way, but he thinks so, so unconditional and deep is his love. He'd be avoiding my husband at the funeral, in case his temper left his control, remembering all the stuff I've told him. In case he felt a need to hit him, maybe. Do I like that idea? Actually yes I do. Wow, I am suddenly very, very glad to be alive. The only person in the world I want to see at this moment is Jamie. My Jamie. Committed, faithful and for some reason I've yet to work out, offering his pure love and delicious sex. I keep expecting it all to end, for him to disappear into another, less complicated woman's life. He, being fifteen years younger than I, good looking and talented, seems too good to be true. Rather like one of those fantastic dreams you have sometimes then you wake up to find you're sadly still here, surrounded by your shit and routine. I pray he doesn't wake me from this dream and run off into the night. He constantly rebuffs all suggestions of such a scenario. He wants only me and says he wants me for life. I drift off again, smiling, happily alive, with his face in front of me.

Blokey entering my consciousness again is the next thing I am aware of, as he nudges my arm and whispers kindly.
"Waterloo. We're here. At least, I hope you wanted to come this far? You fell asleep."
He points to the sign I've seen a thousand times before. Waterloo.
"Oh." I say, yawning, sitting up and putting my phone back into my pocket.
"Yes I did, thanks. Waterloo, yes."
Where's my backpack? I hump it onto my shoulder again. He smiles.
"My girl and her sister got off at Wimbledon. By myself now."
I'm surprised that he didn't follow them hungrily, tail wagging behind him, but smile in a friendly, unconnected way.
"Oh. Right."
He shifts in his seat a little. He's quite nervous, this boy. I wonder why.
"I don't suppose… " He colours a little, finding the right words in his mind.
"I mean, are you … going anywhere in particular? Would you fancy a drink? Do you fancy a drink?" He asks, correcting his own grammar along the way.

Having an advantage in years gives one time, I find. Time in which to answer. We can mull over the question at leisure, serenely think about it, decide and reply when we are ready and not before. The young are unused to such a convention. The very idea sends them into instant panic. They must answer straight away, even if it is unconsidered, badly put together or plain rubbish. At least it’s an answer, and it shifts the focus, so essential at that time in one's life, once again onto the other person, and you can breathe. He therefore waits agonisingly for me to speak, and I concede the ordeal it obviously is for him. He seems to be quite frozen, scared to death, awaiting certain rejection. He’s ready to die of embarrassment and inadequacy. It's all there, in his eyes, poor thing. Quite unnecessary, of course, but it's part of the inherent horror left from the teenage years, I guess. I like his face. Friendly, genuine, he secures a very small place, very, very small, hardly noticeable surely, in my heart and I at last reply.
"Well I do have plans," I start, unnecessarily pompously and, noticing on his face the beginnings of his desire for the earth to swallow him up, I add, "but I was going to stop for a quick drink at the station in fact. That okay?"
I wince at him in question, but he brightens straight away.
"Great." He says, triumphant.
His face changes completely. He becomes relaxed, floppy, happy. I then read his mind as his wayward feelings show whilst he lowers his eyes to my breasts. Oh dear.
He thinks deeply, unaware that I can read his mind. Probably along the lines of:
'Result. Older women are quite sexy really'.
Not this one, sweetie, and not with you.

Gathering my stuff and getting off the train I had earlier planned to be under in several pieces, I wonder not for the first time, at this attraction. I mean, I'm okay looking but nothing fantastic, hair needs a cut, could lose a few pounds in an ideal world, I'm not the type to trot around in thin heels and painted nails. I'm not worthy of the attention I seem to receive, I think, looking at my legs. They're not as thin as they used to be. Why the hell not? I walk a lot, swim a lot, I followed the lettuce and cabbage diet? I think these jeans make me look fat. Hell no, let's face it, it's the chocolate I eat that does that. Then, a thought occurs to me. Maybe they mean only lettuce and cabbage. Oh God, that must be it.

Why would a young bloke like that, accustomed to his world of tattered textbooks, meals of badly cooked beans on toast and days lost in new-found alcoholic haze at Uni. even note that I exist? I am, however, very happy with the way I look, I don't have too many hang-ups about it. Maybe this shows? Maybe that's it. I don't get it, but interested he certainly is, and we proceed to the bar.

It’s a mystery. In fact, only this morning I'd been to the supermarket, couldn't reach the water bottles on the top shelf so I had approached a man standing nearby. I wasn't flirting, being suggestive, nothing like that, merely acknowledging that my female arms and height were not up to the job in hand. It was a simple question.
"Excuse me, but you're taller than I am, could you help please?" I said, pointing to the water. Reasonable enough, I feel, and I was fully dressed at the time, after all. Strangely, I got the following response.
"Anything for you." He said, with a smiley wink.
Me? Anything? He'd never met me before in his life. He got the bottle and handed it to me.
"What else can I do?" he chanced.
"Well nothing thanks, that's great." I replied, bewildered, looking into my basket and wandering off, crossing water off my list. At the sugar, I saw him again.
"Here," he said, passing me a bag of the stuff.
"I can reach this!" I laughed, protesting just a little too much.
"I know," he smiled, dropping it in for me. "But I could follow you around all day picking up your shopping for you if you like!"
I chuckled, but moved on fairly quickly. When it came to paying, there he was in the queue behind me.
"People'll talk, you know." He said quietly.
I smiled, wondering if he'd waited for me to join a queue. I mean, how sad is that?
As I walked off, he called after me.
"Meet you by the butter at 12 on Saturday!"
Strange, though, somehow I think he might actually be there. I, on the other hand, will not.
Sipping my hot coffee, I am informed that Blokey's name is Craig. Turns out he's not in love with either girl, or even slightly smitten. Instead, he's just a nice guy doing a couple of silly girls a favour he says. Oh right. He'd lied about her being his girl, he'd just needed to get me talking. Uh huh. It had been the first thing to pop into his head. I smile easily at him. He's sweet and kind and not at all stupid. We chat about current affairs, his studies, and generally have a pleasant but forgettable time. He knows what had been on my mind, there's no point in denying it. He seeks assurance that I'm okay now. I sip my coffee then say I'm fine, but that I must go. He looks panicked.
"You’ve been very kind, you should be proud of yourself." I say, biting my lip and thinking how patronising I’m being, though I don’t mean to.
"Can I call you?" He asks, a little fast.
"No." I smile sweetly.
His face drops and he openly, with the bare curiosity of youth, stares at my breasts for a full five seconds, then quickly looks away.
"I just want to know you're okay." He says, almost sulkily.
"I'm fine. Thanks." I tell him, gathering my things.
"No, I mean, tomorrow, the day after, next week. Whenever." He persists earnestly.
Anxious not to offend, I offer a compromise.
"I will call YOU. Next week," then I add with an indulgent smile, "To tell you if I'm alive or not."

He laughs more than it's funny. I hand him my mobile and tell him to put the number on there. Keep him quiet and get away to Jamie. I put some lip gloss on, turn my head upside down to ruffle my hair and check in the mirror while he does that. He hands it back to me, then we part without any more words and I'm off to see my lover. After buying coffee I now have even less money. It's years since I used the tube and I stare at the map on the wall, feeling much like the foreign tourists next to me. Please don't ask me a question, as I won't know the answer. I spot my route. Jubilee Line, okay. I'm so looking forward to seeing him.

Half an hour's squashing by a hundred sweaty bodies in a metal tube later, I am in the arms of the man I love. Together again in our own private world, just the two of us, away from all pressure, relaxed and happy. I marvel at how I could have even contemplated leaving this life, departing a world so beautiful as this is now. Reaching over my man's body to grab my water bottle from the cabinet, I feel him gently plant a kiss on my neck and he tells me again and again that he loves me. I'm so damned lucky. I nestle down again under the sheet next to his warm naked body, and contemplate my love for him. It stands alone in its strength. He's the one.
"Use your phone a sec, hun?" he asks casually.
"Sure" I say.
He extracts the phone from my jeans on the floor and starts pushing buttons. I snuggle down, warm against him.
"I'll put the studio number in here for you hun, now that we've got it connected."
"K, sure," I smile, eyes closed.
Seconds later, it seems all hell's let loose, and it’s a complete shock to me. I rub my eyes and stare at him. Angry face. Why?
"Who the fuck's THIS?" he demands. There's no preamble with Jamie when he's annoyed.
"Uh?" I say, sitting up next to him. Jamie's face is red and fuelled. Christ what have I done?
"What's this all about, Babe?" he repeats, "Who the fuck is he?"
I look at him, completely puzzled. Who?
"Show me." I say nervously.
He tilts the phone towards me and it reads.
JO - LET CRAIG MK LV 2 U. FONE ME. Then his number.
Oh fuck.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.

"WHY?" he asks me over and over. He's reacting badly, and pacing around the small room.
"Jamie," I implore, "Get a grip! I haven't done anything!"
"Well why go for a drink even? Why give him your number?"
This looks far worse than it actually is, I have to admit.
"It was just for a quick drink! Nothing more, and I didn't give it to him. I got him to put his on my mobile."
"So you hand a fucking stranger your mobile? Christ, it gets worse."
Jamie holds his head, scratching and cursing. I try to placate him.
"For a second, only, Jamie. For a second."
Now I'm starting to feel got at, unjustly. This has become silly, impossible to explain. I'm exasperated, struggling. It just wasn't like that. I search for words.
"He's a silly little oik who saw fit to put a stupid message on my phone! Shall we let him devastate us?"
Jamie stares at the floor, unhearing, unseeing. He's got his image and he's sticking with it, moving around the room, angry, like a caged animal. Anything I say is just ignored. He's in a private world of hell, imagining much more than is real.
"He wants" he struggles with the words, "he wants to fuck you for Christ’s sake!"
He looks at me suddenly, a new thought occurring to him.
"Did you talk sex with him?" He asks in breathless disbelief.
"No! No!" I shout, shocked.
The idea is ludicrous. Sex, over a coffee at the station? So, one sugar or two, and which position do you favour most? No, don't joke, not even in your mind, this is getting serious.
"Just some bloke on a train then? Jesus, Jo, are you fucking easy, or what?" he's shouting now.

Oh, no, no, that's too far. I stop, stunned. I can't believe he's said that. I want to shout back at him, tell him off for saying that to me, and I do try, but I'm without strength. I'm hurt, weak, can't fight anymore and I'm crying into the pillow, all the strain of the day escaping into the softness. I manage a desperate, muffled reply.
"He saved my life Jamie. He saved my life." I mumble miserably.

We are once again on the bed, well, that's not difficult, since it's the only furniture in the room worthy of sitting upon. There is a chair in the corner, but luckily we noticed before using it, that it had only three legs.
"Darling you have to promise me something." Says Jamie finally, after apologies on both sides, comforting, long, long talking and exquisite intimacy.
"Anything." I tell him, looking at his face, the face I adore, full of tenderness and sensitivity. My Jamie. I mean it too, I would promise him anything. I just want to make it right.
"You must never think of hurting yourself again."
His poor worried face searches mine for my thoughts. I look down, suitably ashamed. He holds my hand.
"Not ever." He reiterates, and adds, "It's purely selfish. Think of me, if you like. I couldn't go on if you did anything. I'd have to follow you."
I look up into his gorgeous eyes, alarmed. He needs my reassurance.
"Yes, I'm sorry honey, just a bad day, a really bad day. It's all black sometimes, you know? It's about money, but also things with Bob. He's being such a shit."
Jamie sandwiches my hand between both of his and kneads it lovingly.
"Well, he is a shit," Jamie agrees gently. "We know that, but you'll be out of all that soon, when the divorce is through, christ knows why it has taken you ten years to get this thing moving. You can put that whole relationship will be behind you. Then it's us, Baby, just you and me, and the kids. That's what you want, isn't it?"
He makes me relaxed, safe.
"Oh yes, of course it is. Completely."
I want to dive into his eyes and stay there. There's no doubt in my mind. He continues.
"Just hang on honey, a while longer. I know it's hard right now, but things will change, I promise. And, if you get any of those 'black' thoughts again, ring me. Straight away, no dark ideas, no 'blokes' having to save you." He pauses, "because that's my job, okay?"
I smile a yes at him and love him more at that moment than I ever dreamed possible.
"Shall I…just…not ring him back then?" I ask, then wildly wishing I hadn't, judging from the look on his face.
He doesn't reply but silently takes my phone from me, presses some buttons and walks towards the bathroom. I see his face set and dread what he might say to the young and reckless Craig. Poor chap won't know what's hit him. The bathroom door closes behind him and I just catch some words before the air conditioning drowns him out.
"Ah!" he says shortly, getting through, "Yes, that would be um, Craig, is it? Yep, my name's Jamie and I just need to set you straight on something mate…"
Oh God. I cringe, lying on the bed covering my face with my hands like a teenager listening to her Dad. Somehow I like it though, I have to admit. He's in charge. It's one of Jamie's strengths. Think Craig's probably regretting that message now, pretty stupid as it was. Mind you, he did save me though…I could have been under that train now, dead, forgotten, gone. But for Craig.

Jamie's packing his things into his bag now.
"Sorry I've got to go back, my darling, but you stay here tonight. Have a well-earned break, huh? Read and relax. Great opportunity."
He stares at me, puts the bag down and comes back for another kiss.
"Sure you're okay?"
I nod.
"I'll ring you in a while. I love you." His kiss is long and hard and then he is gone.

Turning the key carefully behind him, I look around the hotel room. I feel a lot better now. I'm actually looking forward to this little break, staying overnight somewhere else, I need it badly. I jump on the bed like a girl skipping school, home for the day, and sit cross-legged wearing only Jamie's shirt and my white knickers, choosing from the box of delicious chocolates he's left me. I start popping them into my mouth and I'm happy. Three, four, yummy. Five? Nope, better not. Not without the lettuce or cabbage anyway. I lay flat on the bed, smile and pick up my novel to read. I'm just getting into it when the phone rings.
It's my love. He sounds worried.
"Just remembered! You've got no cash! Shall I come back?"
"No, no, it's fine," I say, stretching lazily on the bed.
I don't need any money here tonight. Although, the wicked thought of getting him back here for any reason is sorely tempting.
"Really," I insist, "I can draw a little from the bank in the morning, because that last cheque will have cleared."
He's relieved, I can tell. He needs to get back for work.
"Oh. Okay then hun. Got to rush for the train now. Night, my love. Don't open the door to anyone."
I chuckle, assure him that I won't and get back to my book. Five minutes after that, the phone goes again. I laugh. He fusses so much. I press the button and insist.
"Its FINE! Really! Now go!"
"What?" says the unexpected and unwelcome voice of my ex.
"Oh." My voice lowers. "Nothing."
"When are you coming back?" he says, trying the misinformed approach. Sometimes works.
"I'm not, I told you. I'm staying."
I also add for good measure that he has spent the last month away from the house, which we currently share at the weekends, with no explanation. Oh, Christ, he annoys me so much. This isn't fair.
"You didn't. Anyway, you can't now." He says simply.
Can't? I can't? He goes on.
"Sam's got a temperature and I've got to work in the morning."
I can almost hear his mind working. She just has to come back, no two ways about it. No way am I staying home babysitting. That's her job. I'm enraged and incredulous.
"How high is it?" I ask. "That’s ok, it’s not even high. Give him Calpol. Take his clothes off. You should have done. Yes of course I'm sure. Yes, but how do you think I manage when they're ill and I'm working? For Christ's sake, Bob, stay home for the morning. I'll be there by lunchtime and you can go to work. It's late to travel back on my own now."
"No can do, Josie."
Don't negotiate. I know what he’s thinking. Instant rejection's best. "I can't stay home." Not playing babysitter, I've got to get to work. Deep sigh, that'll help. Oh God, I know him so well. Bribery will come next. Oh, and bluff.
"Sam'll be okay here. I'll leave him here." He tells me, knowing it's not on. There's no way she'll accept that. She'll be home in no time. Yes, that's what's in his head, and it works, of course, it has to.
"He's nine, Bob!" I shout angrily, helplessly manipulated. "Don't be stupid, you can't leave him on his own!"
"Oh, he'll be fine."
Bingo. Casual, unconcerned tone coming in to play.
I'm short with him now, furiously left with no choice.
"I'll be back by morning."
Shit, shit, blood boiling.
"Give him Calpol. Take his clothes off."

I press the End button with some violence and throw the phone on the bed. I sit still for a moment, looking around the room. This is our room. My lover's and mine. It was also going to be the first tiny break I've had in months. Dejected, I note the debris of love. A packet of cheese, some olives, half a quiche Lorraine, some half finished wine, chocolates and my jeans still on the floor where Jamie had thrown them after removing them from my body. It's our haven, our sanctuary and now I have to leave. It's not the getting back to my darling child that irritates, it's how these things always happen to me, and how, yet again, my ex gets to manipulate me. I feel sick over the situation and full of resentment but powerless to change it, I get out of bed, rush around pulling some of the clothes on and stuffing others into my backpack. He goes away all the time! No notice either, just goes. One last look at our room, now devoid of our belongings but our personalities hanging in the air, I'm out on the hallway and heading for the streets of London and the cold night air. Suddenly my feet stop and it hits me. God! I've got no cash, have I? Jesus, how much worse will my life get? Throw some more at me, why don't you?

Walking along the streets I feel strangely safe, it being crowded with late night tourists, genuine happy people, out on the town. Until, that is, I have to turn down a less populated road. The lights have faded, there are fewer of them, the streets are littered. This is hotel town, the lights from the buildings spilling onto the wet roads, where only the purposeful come. I no longer feel secure, I know I must be vigilant.

My purpose is simply to get from one end to the other in one piece, and I'm starting to doubt the odds. Homeless people are huddled up against walls, arms wrapped around knees and shouting to me as I pass. I am sorry for them but know enough to keep my eyes ahead and my hand firmly around my backpack, for what worth it contains. Anyone mugging me now would find a half-empty box of chocolates, something to read, a t shirt or two and some dirty knickers. Not too attractive a haul, I feel.
Striding evenly now, I am picking up pace when I see three Arabs cross over the street ahead of me, in my direction. I keep going but as I reach them they leave it to the last minute to let me pass, then turn around and walk just behind me. Oh God. I quicken the pace. They speak to me in broken English.
"Where you go?" They say. I ignore them. "You want come with us?"
They are now looking around my body into my face. I consider shouting. I've read somewhere that if you shout at such people, they retreat. I'm not convinced, however, and I reply shortly.
I sneak a look at one of them, but it's a mistake to make eye contact. His tongue instantly protrudes grotesquely from his mouth and he waggles it suggestively, following it up appreciatively with the sound, "MMM!".
I keep walking but start taking notice of the busiest looking hotels in case I have to turn into them. The men are still with me, and still walking and talking in time.
"You come to Hotel with?" They try again.

I do not reply. My heart is beating faster and my mind racing with contingency plans. "You have anythink you want in Hotel. We buy for you." They say. I bet. Okay, that's enough, don't hang about anymore. Run, just run. I shift the backpack into a more manageable position and break into a fast walk purporting to be a run. It’s not so easy with this thing on my back and panic rising in my throat. I'm nearly there now, out of breath, but I realise they have stopped. I look backwards. They've given up, laughing, and are walking back the other way again, their fun over. There's always another English woman to hassle.

Christ, what a relief. I'm back on Oxford Street now; familiar ground and I feel relatively safe with crowded anonymity. My phone rings. It’s the uninformed Jamie. I fill him in quickly. He's horrified.
"You're WHERE? Oh God, no, I'm stuck on the train now! How are you getting there?" He doesn't wait for me to answer. "Get in a cab. Write a cheque. What? Why won't they take them?" He sighs. "Christ. Give them my address. I'll send them the money by return."
I don't want to do this, but I hail a cab anyway, it seems safer, this idea of Jay's.
While the driver sets off, I count the money in my purse. I have about £4.60 in total, collecting up all odd coins. I watch the taxi clock carefully and as it reaches the limit, I explain to the driver in a shaky voice that he must drop me here as I have run out of money. At least I know the area. I am at Holborn. It's dark and lonely, less people in this part of London at this time. I peer through the cab window. I will run again, if I can. However, the driver looks me over and seems alarmed at the thought. He hesitates for a moment then tells me no, he 'can't have that' and says he will drop me at Waterloo for nothing. I am hugely relieved and my faith in men is restored more than a little.

On the journey I explain about my unwell son. I am touched that he is now concerned that I have missed my last train! As he pulls to a stop, he insists on ticking over while I run inside to check the time of my train. He explains that he lives in the next county to me, as if this is merely around the corner, and that he could take me home if there is no train. He says he will not be able to sleep if he thinks I am wandering around London without a place to go to. I am amazed, absolutely grateful, astonished, and run off to check the timetable.

©  Lynn Ede April 2005

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