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Authors: Nicci Cloke

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BOOK: Someday Find Me
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Sometimes, when people say something to you, the reply whispers itself in your head before you can stop it.

‘You look tired.’

You mean I look rough.

‘You’re looking very thin.’

Jealous?

‘You’re looking very thin.’

Liar.

‘I went off him a bit.’

He dumped you.

‘We want different things.’

He dumped you.

‘We’re just worried about you.’

You’re worried about what people think of you.

‘I love you.’

No, you don’t.

‘I love you.’

How can you?

After he’d gone, the flat was silent again. I tried to look at Fitz, but he was squinting up at the ceiling and he didn’t look at me at all. When I tried to say something, he blinked once, hard, and then he squeezed my hand.

‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry.’

I wanted to disappear.

 

We sat on the sofa, and though he put his arm around me there was a mile between us. The news was on, and he didn’t get up to turn it over. He wasn’t really sitting in the room with me any more. We were both alone.

Police had released new CCTV footage of Fate Jones, and the news was playing it on a loop as they read the latest statement from her family and from the fat detective who was working on the case. It was grainy, black-and-white, and showed her leaving the doors of the pub at the top of the screen, and walking down to the Funky Chicken, the takeaway place at the end of the street whose cameras had caught her. She walked down our screen again and again while we sat there in silence, with the buildings looming black at the edge of the picture and her blonde hair turned white and her face grey in shadow.

In the fuzzy image, we looked almost alike.

I was looking down at my chips, and that didn’t take long because there were only three left to look at, wondering if any of our cards had money on and if Saf had been paid yet. I had a couple of quid left in my pocket, which I thought I’d get changed up into silver and play on the fruities with. I’ve got a soft spot for the fruities. They may not be the most fancypants in the casino and maybe you don’t ever win or if you do you don’t ever win more than a fiver and that’s the jackpot, the big guns, but they’ll stay up with you all night long and flash nice lights at you to make you feel better and all they ask is 10p a go. They even have a little cup-holder, see, where you can stick your drink. Nice little stool to sit yourself down on if you’re so inclined. Everything is easy when you’re sitting at a fruitie; nothing is dark or sad. I put two of the chips in and looked down at my battered cards. It wasn’t going well but I didn’t mind that because in some little part of my little brain I still thought there was always a chance of things turning around.

And then I heard a crash and a bang and a tiny little, ‘Whoops,’ and my leg’s all dripping wet and smells a bit like beer. I looked down at my wet leg and there was a plastic pint glass rolling around in a white frothy fluffy pool of lager on the grim carpet and a sticky tray with chewing gum on the bottom taking a little spin around the floor before falling down ring-a-ring-a-roses-a-pocket-full-of-posies. When I looked up again there was this
girl stood there looking about as red as a bus and a phone-box and a postbox all rolled into one and she looked at me and said, ‘Whoops,’ again but this time even quieter. All her hair was falling out of her ponytail onto her face, and her white shirt, which all the waitresses had to wear, had these big wet patches under the arms.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, and she looked like she was about to cry.

‘No worries,’ I said. ‘Bit of beer never did anyone any harm.’

And that made her smile a bit and she was probably just bus and phone-box red by then. And then there was a bang from over by the bar and a fat sweaty man who looked like he might be the manager started hotfooting it over, making all the floor wobble as his chins went from side to side.

The waitress went white as a sheet and the tears started popping back up. ‘He’s going to kill me,’ she said. ‘He’s going to take it out of my wages.’ Like they were one and the same thing, which I guess for a lot of people working shitty jobs in the city they are.

‘Here y’are,’ I went, taking out my last two pounds and holding them out so as he could see. ‘My fault,’ I said, nice and loud so he could hear me over the thundering of his chins. ‘Sorry about that, miss.’

He stopped and looked at us for a minute, then he made a little huffy noise and turned around and wobbled all the way back. The waitress stood there with the two pound coins clutched in one hand and the tray still lying where it had fallen across one of her feet, and she was shaking like a little leaf all over and she was just staring at me.

‘Why’d you do that?’ she goes. ‘You never had to do that.’

I shrugged. ‘’Sall right. I do things like that all the time, a right butterfingers.’

She looked down and saw her tray but she didn’t pick it up. She looked back up with eyes like saucers. ‘Thank you,’ she goes, and her voice was all little again. ‘Thank you.’

I shrugged again. It was only a couple of quid. I thought I should probably be getting back to Saffy anyway. I really was worried about her the more I thought about the party and the bloke from next door and this debt we were gonna have to pay and I didn’t think all of it was going to go away this time. Every time I looked at her hair all hacked off I had a little shiver, even though it did suit her. The gap where the rest of it had been made me even sadder than the gap where my decks had been. The waitress was looking at her feet, well, the one without the tray napping on it – tracing the patterns on the minging carpet with her toe and going red again. ‘I’ve finished my shift now,’ she goes, looking really hard at a sicky yellow spiral. ‘I get free chips if you want to share?’ and she pointed at the little noodle-chip bit under the karaoke rooms but without looking up from the floor.

Well, I’m never one to turn down a chip and when I came to think of it I was pretty hungry, plus she seemed a bit on the lonely side and I really don’t like seeing people on their tod and I thought, What’s ten minutes of my time to keep her company for a bit, in the grand scheme of things? ‘Why not?’ I said, and I hopped off my stool.

We walked over to the food bit and I sat down at a table while she talked to the man behind the counter. There was a fly walking across the plastic table, all little dots of salt stuck to its feet. I blew at it and waved it away with my hand and it zoomed off up into the greasy air and into the bits of song that were floating out from under the karaoke-booth doors. She sat down opposite me with one of the squeaky white trays of chips. ‘I didn’t know what sauce you wanted …’ she goes, and her voice trailed off. We both looked down at the plain yellow chips.

‘Looks good,’ I said. ‘Maybe just some salt, eh? Can’t go wrong with the classics.’ And I shook the salt with a little flourish and dug straight in to make her feel better. She held one between two fingers like she was afraid of it. It’s not as if I wasn’t used to girls
who didn’t like to eat in front of people and so I said, ‘Best hurry up if you want any, I’m starving.’ And gave her a grin to show I was only messing. She smiled back and chomped down on her chip.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked, to try and get her out of her shell and make her feel a bit more relaxed.

‘Win,’ she goes, looking at the floor. ‘It’s short for Winifred.’

‘That’s an ace name,’ I said, and I did mean it. ‘Fits right in here, with the gambling and that, you know.’ She nodded like she wasn’t all that sure and then she popped the rest of the chip into her mouth. ‘I’m Fitz,’ I said. And then there was that bit of weird silence you get when you meet somebody new and the introductions are over but the knowing each other hasn’t arrived yet.

‘You come here often?’ she asked, and then she went a bit red again and laughed into her hand, like a weird chuckle. ‘I didn’t mean it like that. But do you?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, shaking more salt on the chips, cos we’d eaten the top ones and none of the salt had snuck through like it should do. ‘A fair bit, yeah. I like it here. You been working here long?’

She shook her head and pushed some sticky bits of hair away. ‘I used to work at their other place. You know Wheel of Fortune?’ I nodded, cos I did, but I didn’t like it much. A bit posh for me. I like a place where your feet stick to the carpet if you stand still too long; where nobody’s pretending to be something they’re not and everyone knows what they’re there for and you know where you are. ‘I used to work there. But I kept dropping things and getting into trouble, so they sent me here instead. Same owners innit.’

‘Oh, right,’ I went. ‘You like it then, waitressing? I work behind a bar so quite similar really. I don’t mind it. The free drinks are good. Get to chat to people. Not bad really.’

She poked at her fingers with the points on the little bendy plastic fork. ‘I’m not very good at it.’

‘You just need a bit of practice.’ I folded the lid over on the empty tray and brushed the salt off the table top. ‘Honest, it’s like when I started at the bar, couldn’t even pour a pint, you know, all fluffy and foamy like a cloud and people getting moustaches every time they even sniffed it. And now it’s like people come from miles around just for a fine golden pint poured by my fair hand.’ I gave her a little wiggle of the fingers so she could see. She was a bit of a starer, actually, like she’d forgotten she was meant to talk when you’d finished or she was just frozen into place waiting for the words to catch up.

After a minute, she shrugged and said, ‘Maybe. Hopefully I’ll get better.’ And then she sat and waited for me to say something.

There was a little telly up over the counter, kind of pointed so as we could see it and most of the empty tables could see and the guy scraping the silver hot bits you keep the food on could see it too. The news was on, same as it was everywhere, but it wasn’t the front door any more, they were playing this dodgy short clip of CCTV footage instead, to try and jog people’s memories, which I never understood really, as if you’d look at it and suddenly think, Actually yes, I did see that girl whose face is on all the buses and billboards and fag packets in the whole city and I’m just now remembering looking at this blurry little clip. It was playing on a loop while the presenters were reading headlines we couldn’t hear because the volume was turned all the way down. It was like we were being hypnotised with this black-and-white video of a blonde-haired girl walking out of the pub, down past Wok Around the Clock and the Funky Chicken and then disappearing behind the bottom of the screen. I watched her go down the screen ten or twelve times and the whole time I felt more and more that I really needed to cuddle Saffy, and to kiss her, and to make sure things went right again. It bubbled up inside me until I had to stand up and say as politely as I could, ‘I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to go. Nice to meet you, yeah? I’ll
be back, ha ha. See you.’ And then I turned and hurried back out through the casino, through the doors, down the street and all the way home.

 

I trotted up to the house just as the sun was going down. I had a proper fizz of excitement in me, like I was going to see Saffy for the first time in weeks and I wanted to make a big fuss of her and smother her with cuddles and watch something crappy on telly and laugh about silly things that had happened that day. The key was all hot in my pocket and I had a really funny feeling like I was about to sing or laugh or maybe just smile. I hopped down the stairs two at a time and put my key in the hole and turned it with one fat click and let the door swing open.

The house was dark inside. I wandered in and let the door shut behind me, wondering if it was a trick and if she was going to pop up out of the pile of shoes that had collected in the hall or from behind the sofa and planned my surprised face just in case that was what was going on. Everything was quiet and dark and cold, so I went through the kitchen to wait for her to come home. I sat there for a very long time, watching the shadows in the corners and waiting for the sound of her key in the lock or her steps on the stairs or her laugh on the air. After a long long while I gave up and I put my glass in the sink and I put my shoes in the pile and then I went into the bedroom and it was too cold and dark and sad to even take my clothes off so I got into bed all dressed and hugged the duvet.

 

She stood at the sink that morning with a pint glass, filling it up and necking it down and filling it up and necking it down, just staring up through the skinny window and carrying on, until I felt like I had watching Fate Jones on CCTV, all hypnotised and jittery and confused for no real reason at all. When we finally got out and walked to the Tube she had to keep dashing into caffs and pubs to have a piss and I thought to myself she ought to get it all out cos they wouldn’t like her doing that at work, dashing off the shop floor every five seconds to wee, but I couldn’t say it because she was in quite a good mood and for a minute it was almost like all the other stuff had just been a bad dream. She was skipping along next to me in her little ballerina shoes, babbling on about painting the flat, which she did a lot but never actually got around to doing, so I just nodded and squeezed her hand.

‘It’ll all be white,’ she was saying, turning on her step on the escalator and looking up at me. ‘Lovely and white and clean.’

She was fiddling with a button on my shirt and I put my hand over hers and it was cold, really cold. I said, ‘It’ll fall off, hun,’ and she looked up at me in surprise as if she’d forgotten I was there and said, ‘Yes, you’re right it will. Fall off.’ And then she hopped backwards off her step onto the ground, laughing, and grabbed my hand again as we walked with the flow to the platform. We could hear the doors beeping as we tripped down the stairs, and by the time we rounded the corner, the train was sliding off.

‘Oh, well,’ Saf said, swinging my hand like my little cousin did when she was tiny and me and Han used to take her to the swings. ‘Next one’s in four minutes anyway.’

She was never in a rush Saffy, like time would wait for her like everything else did. We walked to the end of the platform like we always did – and you do, don’t you? After a while, you work out which door is going to be the one that pulls up next to the exit wherever you’re going and that’s where you insist on getting on even if it’s packed, I mean really packed, like everyone in the other carriages has got their La-Z-Boys out and their picnics in the aisles, and you’re all cramming into one section of one carriage because you want to be the first one loping up the stairs at your station two at a time and it saves you like what two seconds off your journey but that seems really important, well, that’s what the Tube does for you, it makes you crazy. It wasn’t exactly my favourite place to be after Hannah’s accident, which is what we all called it for want of a better word even though that makes it sound like she just fell down the stairs or got her handbag trapped in the doors or something boring and everyday like that. After that all happened I did find myself looking about at people’s backpacks and parcels and that’s not a good way to be. I just counted myself lucky that I’d moved to Saffy’s not long afterwards so at least I didn’t have to use the station where it happened, the one by my old house, which I’d lived in with Eddie, where Hannah had been coming to visit me, because that would just have been really shit, day in, day out.

So there we were, stood right at the end of the platform looking up the big black hole with all the little white lights running up it, and the screen said three minutes and it was hot down there like it always is, even in winter when you have to wrap up like the Michelin man to make it down the road without freezing mid-step like that bloke out of
The Shining
, but then once you get down the escalator into the Tube it’s hotter than hell and in summer it’s even worse than that. I blew up at the sweat on
my face and pushed some of the hair off my neck. There was still ages till I had to be at the bar so I thought I’d walk Saf to work as a treat and also because I was really pleased she was actually talking again because even if none of it made all that much sense, it was still a step back in the right direction.

Two minutes on the screen and I suddenly realised the girls behind us were talking about sex and so I leant back to listen because I’m only human really and caught the words ‘cum’ and ‘tongue’ but then they started whispering and the giant round woman behind me and Saf started talking to the skinny tall man next to her about the roadworks outside and how she was sure they weren’t doing anything much except digging holes and filling them back in again and she wouldn’t be surprised if it was all a scheme to get us to spend money on the Tube, which as a conspiracy had a lot of holes in it when you thought about it but he didn’t say so. Maybe he was scared she’d sit on him or maybe he agreed. There was one minute on the screen by then, which was a relief because I could feel my hair starting to get sweaty at the edges and stick to my face and when that happens I look a right prat. The bloke with the speaker thing was telling everybody to use the whole length of the platform although obviously nobody was listening because they already knew exactly which carriage they were getting on whether they had to flatten themselves against the door to get in there or not.

Saffy had taken her hand out of mine and she was wiping sweat off her top lip and when I looked down at her she was a bit grey and pasty, so I said, ‘You all right, Saf?’

She nodded and wiped a bit more sweat off and the bloke was announcing our westbound service and the first flicker of light was just showing on the furthest bit of black wall we could see and I could hear the rumble of the train, and then I suddenly thought, OH FUCK I haven’t got my fob and I was really pissed off because that would mean going back because I couldn’t go to work without it, you needed it to work the till and to put
orders in to the kitchen and to get in the stockroom. So I knelt down on the platform and opened my backpack up and started fumbling around in it, and there it was at the bottom of my bag next to my gimpy little apron thing, and I breathed a sigh of relief and zipped my bag up quick because the train was blaring round the corner now, lights in my eyes and roaring up the tunnel, and then there was a little plop as Saf dropped her bag and I picked it up and held it up to her but her eyes were closed and she was rocking forward, toppling like a skittle when you go bowling. And the train was rushing up behind her and someone was screaming and I realised the someone was me, as the giant fat round woman was rushing up behind her and grabbing her by her little twig arms and pulling her back and she fell backwards onto the platform and lay there still. And then time pinged into place and the train was in front of me an inch from my face and Saffy was sprawled on the tiles with her short hair spread out around her head like an angel’s halo. And people were gathering around and some were filing round us like ants to get on the train and I was still kneeling with her little yellow handbag held up in the air to no one. I crawled forward on my hands and knees and peered over the round woman’s shoulder and wailed. The tall skinny bloke put a hand on my back and said, ‘It’s all right, mate, she’s just fainted, it’s hot down here, she’ll be all right,’ and I nodded up at him and clutched at her yellow bag but really I wanted to yell at him, Well, it’s not all right, is it, mate? It’s really not, because from where I was sitting she looked like she was dead.

BOOK: Someday Find Me
11.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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