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Authors: Nicci Cloke

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BOOK: Someday Find Me
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Saffy didn’t come back for two days. I knew I should’ve texted Alice or Delilah and seen if she was with them but I didn’t, I just sat and stewed and sulked and listened for the door opening, which never came, and after a day or so I’d calmed down and I tidied up the flat a bit and put the heating on and a bottle of St Petrolsburg voddy in the freezer, and just thought to myself, Right, we’ll sort this out properly now, we’ll sit down and have a drink and chat all night like we used to, because at the end of the day, no matter what was going on, we always had each other and that counted for everything, it had to. So then I sat down and waited for her and waited and then waited a bit longer. And it was round about then that I started to worry and started sitting there running set-lists through my head like prayers and wondering how long is long enough before you start calling up important people.

But then I heard her key in the lock and that was a relief, but not for long because after that I could hear her stumbling about trying to take her shoes off. She wandered through and didn’t even see me sat there all disapproving like her dad, just floated around the kitchen, touching the drawer handles and the cupboard doors one after the other, and when she’d done a lap she finally turned round and saw me. She looked a right state, her pupils all big and black and the make-up smudged round them into big panda eyes and her face all grey and sweating in the dodgy flickering striplight.

‘Fitz,’ she sang out, shuffling across the carpet swaying, and she touched my face and I blurted out, ‘Jesus, Saf, look at the state of you,’ which I didn’t mean to, I meant to just think it but I was so surprised it slipped out. She never noticed anyway, just kept staring at my face and swaying away to herself, and in the dead silence between us I realised she was mouthing something, as if someone had hit her mute button and when I looked closer I could’ve sworn she was singing the Marvin Gaye one about sexy time we’d danced to in the kitchen a million years and miles ago, but the whole thing was so creepy that I had to look away and clear my throat all scared and awkward.

‘You want some of this babe?’ I said, holding out my cup of tea even though it was old and cold. ‘Sort you right out. A brew’s always good after a bit of a bender.’

She just stared at it all frightened with her pupils going in and out of focus looking boss-eyed, and then she started shaking her head. ‘No no no,’ she goes singsong, and turned and skipped out of the room, and as she went I could’ve sworn she was humming.

I stood and looked at the door for a little while and I heard her in the bathroom bouncing about and opening the cabinet door over and over, open close open close. I started thinking maybe she was just stood there smashing her face into it again and again, but then I heard the shower click on. I sat down and picked up her handbag where she’d dropped it and I fished around in there and I got out her phone and found the number I wanted, and I’m not ashamed to say a tear did fall out my eye when I heard that first ring.

In our world today, the apple is a sign of progress and of wealth. It glows on the back of screens and phones and it reminds us that there are always new things to discover, new clever ways to be close to other people.

A long time ago a different girl, so the story goes, took an apple and betrayed her lover because of a whisper in her ear she couldn’t ignore.

It’s a different story, but really there’s only ever one story. We let each other down.

 

We stared at each other in surprise. It was as if there had been thick glass forming between us for weeks and weeks and he had just taken a hammer to it. Things had cracked, things were shaking around us. He lowered his voice and it began to shake too.

‘Eat this,’ he said, and his voice was turning into a whisper. ‘Eat this for me. You can’t go on like this, please, you just can’t.’

The apple loomed between us and I knew that if I reached for it things could never be the same. The silence keeping us safe and together would be shattered; things would have to be addressed, things would have to be understood, and I would lose him. I looked at the pain and the panic in his face and knew it was no use. I reached out and took the pink apple in my hand.

As he went to fetch a jumper, I slid out of my duvet and walked out of the door without looking back.

It was cool on the street and everything began to drain of colour as I walked away from my flat of warm and love and pink apples. The world stood still and everything was broken. Anger and hurt and sadness swelled and filled my head and so I just walked.

 

When I was little, my favourite place in all the world was the library. There you could lose yourself in dusty shelves. There you could be anyone you wanted to be, even if just for a moment. You could hide yourself between tiny printed letters on a page, tuck yourself behind the straight of a
d
or the curve of an
s
, lie down in the tail of a
g
or the bottom of an
o
and let yourself be carried away. There was a small wooden train in the kids’ section, with books in each of the carriages and two little seats in the engine, where I could sit and read as much as I could before we had to pick our five books to take away, while my middle sister Jelli pushed me and poked me, and my mother chatted to her friend who volunteered behind the counter. The train took me a million miles all over everywhere.

I wasn’t much of a reader after that. The things we read in school left me cold, the letters too small to fit between, and after that the reading in Happy Blossoms was so heavily supervised by the nurses that it felt like homework too. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sat down to read. I had other ways to escape and other ways to hide by then. But somehow I found myself in the library that day.

We’d never used our local library, even though it was close to the Tube and had DVDs as well as books. It had a pretty brick entrance with two dead lamps hanging one on either side of the door. It looked like somewhere Jack the Ripper or Oliver Twist might go to check out the Recently Returned shelves. Inside, the air smelt like unopened pages and rusks. There was a little metal gate with an arrow pointing upwards to show ‘in’, and a swooping desk that filled up the rest of the space, save for the
little gate for ‘out’. I pushed the gate open with my legs and wandered in.

Books lined up neatly around the walls, looping in and out of the U-bend shelves, faded colours and plastic jackets all muddled up and short and tall. In the centre of the room there were computers and swirly chairs, two long desks and old saggy chairs with wooden frames dotted around them. The children’s section was in the far corner. There was no train. I found a book about magic, and then I went to the table and sat in a chair, crossing my legs beneath me.

The words on the page didn’t look like a place to hide that day. As I stared at the type, the letters knotted together, locking me out. Something had begun to happen weeks before but it was only then, sitting terrified in the library, that I realised I could no longer read. Could no longer watch television or look at a computer screen. After a couple of sentences, a scene or a paragraph of a webpage, my brain began to shut down, like a computer left idle. I had no concentration left, all of my energy tied into the empty cavern I was cradling at my centre. This realisation sent a bolt of cold fear through me. All my life was about looking for an escape but, in searching for one, I had unwittingly trapped myself in reality. I held the book to my face, breathing in the pages. One by one, I was saying goodbye to things I loved. But perhaps that’s all life really is: a long and drawn-out farewell.

I left the book on the table and went back outside into the weak sunshine. I walked until I came to a shop and I went inside and as the old lady behind the counter turned to answer the phone I slipped a bottle of vodka into my jumper and walked out again. I crossed the road and let the long grass tickle my legs as I cut across to the playground. The bench was old and chipped and there was rubbish in a perfect ring around it. I stepped over it and sat down, crossing my legs under me so that the flaking paint dug into my skin. The vodka was hot on my throat and thin in my mouth.

Two kids were playing in the park, too old for it really, a boy and a girl looking awkward about the fact that their friends had obviously left them to kiss or have sex or something magical and mysterious in between. He had hair that was cut too short around the front, leaving his eyebrows exposed and him looking permanently surprised. His jacket was zipped up too high; the lace on one trainer was a different colour from the other. She had drawn on her eyebrows with thick brown pencil; they both looked a bit startled and amazed to be on a jungle gym in a square of grey in the stubby green patch of grass in the middle of the city. She was wearing a skirt too big for her, and as she shifted on the bar she was trying to pose on, she had to shift it down and around, then up and around the other way. She had braces, which she was trying really hard to hide, so that all her smiles were only half-smiles and every laugh had to be corrected halfway through. I watched them and I fiddled with the hard red cap in my hands, and I drank my vodka. The sun was setting behind them, catching her braces each time she forgot about them, so that they had all the light in the whole park.

After a while the sun set, and their fingers, which had crept closer and closer across the chipped red bars until they finally touched, slipped apart. They left the park, the gate swinging closed behind them with a clang. At the end of the path that led to the road, they went different ways, waving to each other awkwardly, both turning back to look over their shoulders as they made their way home. I was on my own, only an inch of vodka left in the bottle, feelings still whispering around me in the half-light.

I stared for a long time, letting my mind go blank. And then I started walking again. Cars whizzed past me, lights tiny points of orange joining with the streetlamps in the pink and grey world. Sirens sounded far away and close by, hurt people all around. At the bottom of the road, the vodka was gone. I threw the bottle at the wall and it cracked clear in two instead of
shattering; just two broken halves lying on the pavement jagged and sad.

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right. I concentrated until the hard ground underneath my feet at each step was the only sound in my head, covering everything else that tried to bob up in my mind as I walked. Rows and rows of the same house followed me along, looming over me until I felt small and squashed. I could see people inside them, blobby shadows behind their dusty net curtains, little slices of life through the ribs of half-shut blinds, skeleton people and skin-deep lives. Eating dinner, watching
Top Idol
, dancing, shouting at each other, talking on the phone, kissing, washing up, pulling each other’s hair, pulling their own hair out. Crying at soaps, laughing at kids, poking people on their laptops and ignoring people on the sofa. I hated them. All of them and their stupid little living rooms and their stupid little lives. The wind pulled at my hair; my bag thumped my hip with every step. The whole world was moving with my steps. Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right. A Tube station loomed up ahead. The news cart in front of it was shut, the scribbled poster still stuck in the mesh on its side – ‘New Fate Jones Evidence Found!’ – and I carried on past and down the steps.

I moved fast even though I didn’t know where I was going, because if I stopped everything I was running from would catch me. Down the stairs, round and round, pushing past people and slithering over the thin ends of the triangular steps as they spiralled on. I got to the bottom and carried on without looking, not caring which line I was headed for and not stopping until I reached the far end of the platform with the big black mouth waiting to swallow me. I leant against the tiles and looked into the darkness. My brain was going a million miles an hour but my heart had sunk down into silence and I was empty. The billboard opposite me was broken, not flipping between images of Fate Jones and mobile phones and a rubbish film nobody
wanted to see like the others were doing, just a plain black screen. I could see my smudgy outline in it, just a shape in space, white for a face and a short, squat body that tailed off into nothing.

The platform was quiet, just two boys kicking a can around at the other end, and a tiny mouse running in circles behind me. They get brave, the mice, when nobody is around: up on the platform and running in wild zigzags and spirals and loop the loops, high on being up off the dusty track and free. I wanted to kick it. And then, just as suddenly, I wanted to pick it up, to kiss it and kiss it again, to put it in my handbag and keep it for ever. I didn’t do either. I left it to be free.

The train was rumbling in the distance, and for a moment I looked at the rails in front of me. I put a toe to the edge of the platform and ran it along the chipped edge. Two white lights pierced the darkness, still far away, and as the rumbling grew closer I imagined the roar, the rush of air as I fell into the gap between us, the bang and burst and then the silence. I should do it, I thought, but even as I did, I was stepping back. This is the thing about life. The things you want most are the things you are never brave enough to grab when they’re right in front of you. The train shuddered past me, brakes wailing. The carriage was empty; the doors creaked open and gaped at me. I stood and stared back for a second, and then, as the beeping began, I stepped in.

I sat in one of the dirty seats, sinking into the saggy cushion and letting up a puff of dust. Crumpled pages stirred in the breeze as the train began to move, empty lines of print and smudged pages, words that people didn’t want to read just left behind. I looked up at the map, at the little flashing light that showed us moving along the line. It seemed impossible, the little flashing circle moving so easily and quickly across the city, while I felt heavy as a stone and sinking into the dark. I stared at my face in the black glass and I thought nothing. I sat and didn’t
move as people got on, sat down, got off. I was still as they moved, as the train moved, as the pictures in the paper fluttered in the wind. Fate Jones’s face flittered on and off on papers across the carriage as the pages blew back and forth. Now you see her, now you don’t. Now you see her. Now you don’t.

BOOK: Someday Find Me
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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