The Sabotage of Nicolas Cage

THE SABOTAGE OF NICOLAS CAGE

David threw his cigarette to the ground and watched as the cherry hit the pavement and burst into a spray of embers around his feet. The orange ash quickly faded and he looked over the road at The Chatsworth which was starting to get busy. People were beginning to hang around outside and he smiled to himself as some bloke danced around a lamp post and professed his love to one of the barmaids who was watching from within. She smiled and shook her head in mock embarrassment. The man saluted her and lit up a cigarette as she turned and got back to work. David began to unzip his jacket and walked through the doors to the pub. Chris and Matt were sitting at a table by the window and he walked over and waited for Chris to finish speaking.

‘…I’m telling you man, Nicolas Cage is fucking mental.’ He lifted his beer and drunk from it.

‘Why?’ Matt asked.

‘Haven’t you seen that Freaking out thing on Youtube?’

‘No.’

‘You gotta see it. It’s fuckin’ funny.’

‘What is it?’

‘Just watch it. I’m telling you. He’s mental.’

‘Saying that, you look a bit like Nicholas Cage.’ Matt said and finished his beer.

‘What? You sayin’ I’m mental?’

‘No, just that you look like him.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Chris raised his hands to his face and felt his skin. ‘No I don’t.’

‘You do. He does, doesn’t he?’ Matt looked at David and they both turned to Chris and examined him. ‘Look at him. It’s the ears.’

‘Yeah, I guess. And the nose. It’s all about the nose.’ David agreed.

‘What the fuck are you guys talking about?’

‘Your nose.’ Matt and David smiled and watched Chris as felt his nose and moved his nostrils.

‘What’s wrong with looking like Nicholas Cage anyway?’ Matt asked

‘I dunno.’ Chris said.

‘So what’s the problem?’.

‘Nothin’, I guess.’ Chris continued to feel his face.

‘If you like that sort of thing.’ Matt added.

‘What sort of thing?’

‘You know. That.’ Matt pointed at Chris’s face.

‘Hhmmmm. It’s the receding hair line too.’ David pointed and smiled.

‘Shut up.’ Chris smoothed his hair down and began to examine himself in the reflection of the window. ‘I don’t have a receding hair line.’

‘No, course not. Just an oncoming forehead.’

‘Shut up.’

‘Well, anyway, what do you guys wanna drink?’ David asked and signalled the empty glasses on the table.

‘It’s my round. I’ll get ‘em in. Sit down. I wanna get away from all this Nicholas Cage shit.’ Chris got up from his seat and ushered David in. ‘What you havin’?’

‘Fosters please.’ David answered.

‘And you?’

‘Kronenbourg please man.’

David took his jacket off and placed it in the corner of the seat. ‘Where’s James?’ He asked Matt and leaned back on the cushion of the bench.

‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in ages. He doesn’t reply to my messages. I don’t know what’s up with him.’

‘Same here. I texted him earlier about coming out tonight and he didn’t reply. When was the last time you saw him?’

‘Shit, probably a month ago. Maybe more than that. What about you?’

‘I can’t remember. What’s wrong with him?’

‘No idea. He’s been strange since he lost his job. The last time I saw was when I went round there. His place was a dump. And you know what he’s normally like. It was weird. ’

‘Is he smoking again?’

‘I think so.’

‘Shit. How’s he managing to survive?’

‘I think he had a bit of cash saved up, but I think he’s on the doll as well, which I don’t blame him for doing. He’s been working since he turned sixteen so why shouldn’t he. I would.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

David looked over at the bar and saw Chris receiving his change from the barmaid. He said something and she giggled subtly and turned away, but not before giving him another little smile. He picked up the three pints and walked over to where they were sat.  ‘Here ya are lads.’ He placed them down and pushed each over to its owner. ‘Cheers.’ They picked up their drinks and clinked glasses. ‘Happy fuckin’ Friday.’ He lowered his pint and sucked in the head from his upper lip and moustache. ‘Ahhh. So what were you guys talkin’ about?’

‘James.’ Matt stated and took another sip of his beer.

‘What about him?’ Chris asked.

‘When was the last time you saw him?’

‘I dunno. A while back. Texted him today, not heard anything though. Why?’

‘Should we be worried?’ David asked and looked at each of them in turn.

‘Why?’

‘I dunno. Maybe we should go round and see him.’

‘Yeah, sure. Let’s do it.’ Chris looked at the barmaid and watched as she served another customer. He ran his fingers across the pint, smearing the condensation and clearing its cloudy grip on the glass. ‘What do you think?’

‘The barmaid?’ Matt asked and examined her up and down.

‘Yeah. What you reckon?’

‘She’s fit.’ Matt concluded.

‘You reckon?’

‘Yeah, man. But you ain’t got a chance.’

‘What you talkin’ about.’

‘I’m tellin’ you man. No chance.’

‘How much you wanna bet?’

‘I ain’t bettin’ nothin’.’

‘Why? If you’re so sure, put some money down. Or, if I get her number, you buy a set of rounds.’

‘What?’

‘You buy a round on each of our behalf’s. Three rounds. With chasers.’

‘Fuck that.’

‘Come on.’

‘No way.’

‘Do it. If I don’t get her number, I buy the rounds. Come on.’

‘All right.’

‘You sure?’

‘Fuck it. Yeah, go on then.’

‘Wicked. You’re going down, motherfucker. Down to China Town. Down to where the mi-so-miserable soup’s served. Over sticky ducks and to-fu chicken beaks. Dem Sing Dings gonna get you.’

‘Yeah, all right, well, you know what Jack Burton always says, what the hell.’ Matt picked up his pint and took a couple of large swigs. ‘Anyway, fuck this shit. Let’s get to the reason why we’re here.’  He looked at David and smiled. ‘So…Davey boy…you gonna be a man now huh…gonna be a daddy.’

‘Yeah, shit, congratulations man.’ Chris lifted his glass into the air and out across the table. ‘Well done.’

‘I didn’t do anything.’ David said and reached for his beer.

‘No, but your balls did.’

‘It would appear so, yes.’

‘So how do you feel?’ Matt added.

‘In comparison to what?’

‘The man with no balls.’

‘No, seriously.’ Chris nudged Matt and the tone was levelled. ‘When did you find out?’

‘Yesterday.’

‘Were you guys planning it?’

‘Yeah, sorta. I mean we talked about it and then forgot about it and then did it.’

‘You happy?’

‘I’m fucking chuffed man. Well happy.’

‘Good good. Congratulations. This is big. This is mega big. This is mega big trouble in mini little’ –

‘Stop all that Kurt Russell stuff man.’ Chris said.

‘Why? He’s a legend.’

‘So is Bruce Forsyth but I don’t keep going on about him.’

‘Bruce Forsyth ain’t a fucking legend. How can you even compare the two. Bruce Forsyth never met no Wang.’

‘Jesus. Stop it already man.’

‘Bruce Forsyth probably ain’t even got no wang. Like Cliff Richard. They’re probably wangless together with Debbie McGee and little Jeff Daniels.’

‘Paul Daniels.’

‘What?’

‘Paul Daniels. It’s Paul Daniels. Not Jeff Daniels. Jeff Daniels is the guy from Arachnophobia and Dumb and Dumber.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Jeff Daniels.’

‘What the fuck has he got to do with anything?’

‘You were talking about Bruce Forsyth and Cliff Richard and’ –

‘I was talkin’ about Wang.’

‘Fuck me man, stop this shit already.’ Chris looked over at David. ‘You wanna go out for a fag?’

‘Yeah, okay. You gonna be all right here on your own while we go out for fag?’

‘Course. I’m just gonna go over and talk to that barmaid. Tell her what Chris here is like. Tell her about his problem, you know, down there.’

‘I ain’t got no problem. Don’t even think about sabotaging this bet.’

‘Sabotage? Me?’

‘Yeah, you. I’m watching you. I know what you’re like.’

‘I like Gino Ginelli and his mint choc chip. But he gone. Gino gone.’

‘Shut up. I’m being serious. No sabotage.’

‘Okay, fine. No problem, Nic.’

‘Shut up.’ Chris turned and began walking towards the door. David smiled at Matt and put his jacket on and followed Chris through the pub. Outside, the queue for the Chatsworth was bigger still and the bouncers were slowly letting people enter. David took a cigarette out of his packet and lit it. He inhaled and stood beside Chris. ‘Do you really think I look like Nicholas Cage?’ He asked.

‘A bit, yeah. But he’s a good looking man.’ David said and inhaled again.

‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Hmmm.’ Chris flicked the ash from his cigarette and watched two women in short skirts try and sit on the window ledge on the other side of the road. They were drunk and unaware he was watching. ‘Check that shit out.’ He nodded towards the girls. David looked over and straight away noticed that it was possible to see up their skirts. ‘Sorry, I forgot you were married and gonna be a dad.’

‘It’s fine. I still like women.’

‘Good. Good.’ The two girls pulled their skirts down and closed their legs. ‘Ahhh. What? Why? Shit…So…anyway…how’s thing’s going?’ Chris asked David.

‘Things are fine.’

‘How do you feel about the whole baby thing?’

‘I feel good.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You nervous?’

‘A bit. But, I suppose I should be. I’m gonna have a little kid to look after. A mini-me. Shit, things will change and stuff, but I’m gonna have a kid. I’m gonna be a fuckin’ dad, man. It’s cool. I’m well chuffed.’

‘Congratulations.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Seriously, man. It’s proper good news. I’m happy for you.’ Chris threw his cigarette to the ground and put his hands in his pocket. ‘Shall we go back in?’

‘Yeah.’

As they walked through the doors and into the pub, Chris looked towards their table and noticed that Matt was no longer there. ‘Where’s Matt?’ He asked as they glanced around the pub. ‘What the fuck?’ The barmaid placed the beers on the bar and Matt said something and she laughed and threw her head back. She looked over at Chris and smiled. ‘What the hell’s he doing?’ They took their seats and watched and waited for Matt to return with the drinks. He said something else to her and then turned to make his way back to them. Smiling, he handed them their pints and sat down. ‘What was all that about?’ Chris asked.

‘What?’ Matt replied.

‘That. You talking to her.’

‘I was ordering a drink. She was there and served me. What did you want me to do? Ignore her.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I got the drinks. What’s the big deal?’

‘What did you say to her?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Bullshit. What did you say?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Tell me.’

‘I just spoke to her about Nicolas Cage.’

‘Oh for fuck’s sake Matt. What did you say?’

‘Nothing much.’

‘Nothing much? So why was she smiling at me?’

‘Well…I guess…we were talking and…well…I told her you were his hhrrrppgggh double in one of his films.’

‘What? What did you say?’

‘I just told you.’

‘I don’t know what you said. Stop being a prick, just tell me.’

‘I told her you were his hhrrrppgggh double.’

‘His what double?’

‘His ccccrrrrkkkkkppp double.’

‘What? Tell me.

‘Okay okay. I told her you were his cock double.’

‘Cock double? Cock double? Ah shit man.’

‘It’s fine, don’t worry about it.’

‘When the hell was he in a film when got his cock out?’

‘I told her it was one of his first films’.

‘Which one?’

‘Cock-off.’

‘No…shit…really?’

‘Yeah, man. And she fuckin’ believed me.’

‘For fuck’s sake Matt.’

‘Come on man. She likes cock. It’s fine.’

Chris pulled his hand down across his face. ‘How is this fine?’

‘Nothing to worry about.’

Chris was shaking his head and trying to ignore the fact the barmaid now thought he was in a Hollywood film with his cock out whist pretending to be Nicolas Cage.

‘She said she thought you looked familiar.’ Matt began to chuckle to himself and sat back in his chair. ‘What? What’s the problem?’

‘You’ve done gone and sabotaged me.’ Chris said.

‘No I haven’t. Here.’ He pushed a beer mat towards Chris. ‘Take it.’

‘I don’t want it.’

‘Take it.’

‘Piss off.’

‘I’ll take it.’ David said.

‘No, it’s for him.’ Matt repeated and once again pushed it closer to Chris. ‘It’s for Nic.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Chris finally took the beer mat and looked at it. ‘What’s this?’

‘That, my friend, is Chloe’s number.’

‘What?’

‘Sabotage. How little you think of me.’

‘Are you being serious?’

‘Yes. Take it.’

‘How do I know you’re telling me the truth?’

‘Why would I lie?’ Matt asked.

‘Because you’re a knob.’

‘You can thank me later.’

‘Hhhmmmm.’

‘Now go. Run free, little one, run free.’

‘But’ –

‘Shhhh. Hush now. Let us drink.’ Matt raised his glass and held it out in the middle of the table. ‘Congratulations to you both. To new beginnings.’

‘To new beginnings.’ They all repeated and clinked glasses. Chris put the beer mat in his pocket and rose to his feet. He squeezed past David and walked across the pub towards the toilet, disappearing behind the door.

‘Is that really her number?’ David asked.

‘Of course it is.’ Matt replied with a smile.

‘Really?’

‘No.’

‘Whose does it belong to?’

‘A girlie-man.’

‘Did you ask her for her number?’

‘Yeah.’

‘And?’

‘She prefers John Travolta.’

Advertisements

Bygone Barcodes

Sitting down at a table she blew on her tea and waited for something to happen. It was only quarter past eight and she wasn’t due to start her shift for another forty five minutes so she opened a copy of Now and skimmed through the pages. Barry walked in to the canteen and waved. ‘Morning Anne.’ He said and smiled.

‘Morning Barry. How are you?’

‘All right. You know how it is.’ He removed a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and checked how many remained within. He looked down at the pages of the magazine and noticed a picture of Beyonce and Jay-Z walking around the streets of Cuba. ‘Look at that.’ He tutted. ‘They walk around like they’re some kind’ve royalty or something. It’s bullshit.’ He realised the expletive but it was too late to suck it back in. ‘Sorry.’

‘It’s okay.’ She looked at the flock of people crowding around the celebrity couple.

‘I just don’t get it. Why do people care so much?’

‘I don’t know, but they seem to like them.’

‘People like Mongolian Boodog, doesn’t make it right.’

‘What’s Mongolian Boodog?’

‘Some barbecued goat. Saw it on a programme last night. Crazy. They bleed it, break it, stuff it with rocks, and then blowtorch the whole thing.’

‘Sounds interesting.’

‘Yeah, it’s more interesting than them.’ They both looked back down to the page of the magazine. ‘I wish I could go swanning off to Cuba.’

Anne closed the magazine. ‘You’ve just come back from holiday.’

‘I know. Why did I do that?’

‘Because you love us so much.’

‘Sure. And I love Mr Morrison even more. So, how about it Anne. Me and You. Next week. We’ll go to Cuba. Drink some nice wine. Eat some nice food. Meet Castro and smoke some cigars. What do you say?’

‘Sounds nice.’

‘Come on.’

‘We’ll see.’

‘Imagine it.’ He removed a cigarette and placed it behind his ear.  ‘That’s what I do. Stops me thinking about this place.’ He winked walked away, humming some summer tune Anne didn’t recognise. The canteen was empty again and all that kept her company were thoughts about Jim and the argument last night, but she didn’t want to think about it, so she decided to do some shopping before her shift began and made her way through the corridor back out onto the shop floor.

As she walked down aisle 12 she noticed the various cans of vegetables and remembered when her son Michael used to work there and once stacked the shelves she now examined. She remembered seeing him for the first time in his work uniform and feeling proud. It was his first job, his entry into the working environment, and now he was wearing suits and working for a University with his own mortgage and savings and life insurance. Time flew past so fast. Even Lorna was living with her fiancé now. It seemed like only yesterday that they were all in the house together eating dinner and talking about the things that made them curious. But that was then. Now things were different. Now there was only time that ticked away and left behind moments brief and brittle, all of which would soon disappear to be replaced by other particulars that were already waiting. Age had caught up with her and things were not quite how she once imagined, but images were radiant reproductions when life itself was real and disappointing. Life, it seemed, was wilting. Things were lost. Money. Cash cards. Keys. Children. They all moved on, eventually, and Anne wondered why she hadn’t done the same.

Pushing the trolley down aisle 13 she couldn’t help but notice the pink biscuits Michael used to like when he was a child. She wondered whether his kids would like them too. The nightshift workers were still finishing up and clearing pallets and bailing cardboard and she smiled at them as she passed. ‘Good morning.’ She said.

‘Morning.’ The man replied.

‘Good shift?’ She asked.

‘Shift good. Yes. Long. But good.’ Anne looked at the display the man had only just finished creating. Crates of Coke cans piled high in alternating patterns. ‘You like?’ The man asked and stood proudly beside his creation.

‘Yes, it’s very nice. Looks very sturdy.’

‘Sturdy?’

‘Yes.’

‘What means sturdy?’

‘Solid.’ Anne made a movement as if she was struggling to push something heavy. ‘Hard.’

‘Ahh, hard. Like work.’

‘Yes, similar.’

‘Good.’ The man smiled and nodded. ‘You work now?’

‘Yes.’

‘Hmm, me, I sleep.’

‘You deserve it. Go home and rest.’

‘Yes. Rest. I like rest.’

‘Me too.’

The man began picking up stray bits of cardboard and she watched him for a second before pushing her trolley into the next aisle. Many of the night crew didn’t speak English particularly well but they were pleasant and well-mannered and always seemed to be in good spirits despite working such long ungodly hours. She wondered what their secret was. For years work was just something that had to be done, something to be endured in order for what existed beyond it to thrive. But now, now she would leave only when there was enough time to prepare dinner before her programmes started. If she was lucky Jim would begin watching something on Setanta and after they had eaten she could disappear into the front room with little or none of his remarks and rage. If not, she would try and ignore him. That was how they lived together.

In ten days’ time it would have been her mother’s birthday. She would have been eighty four this year and Anne couldn’t help but wish she was still alive. She missed the visits and conversations and idle gossip of who did what to whom. The time they spent together spoke beyond the volume of their words. She missed the way her mother listened and nodded her head and occasionally asked for clarity amid her aged confusion. She missed the tea and biscuits and the comforting sound of the television as Michael Barrymore urged contestants to choose between the top, middle and bottom. She remembered her mother giggling at his jokes and the way she always used to incorrectly guess where the Hot Spot lurked. She missed her mother more with every passing day and wondered if Michael and Lorna would feel the same when she was gone. She hoped they would. Even just a little.

In aisle 12 Anne came to a halt and looked at the magazines displayed in the stand. There was still something unsettling about the sheer volume of magazines on which were plastered photos of scantily clad women and within which secrets were shared or shunned. She didn’t find them vulgar and distasteful like some of her friends, but merely a symbol of how times and tastes had changed. Now the women were so thin. Beautiful, but so very thin and fragile. She couldn’t imagine being young now, trying to find a way to fit in with all the pressures pushed upon a former innocence now defined by desire and trends and money. She didn’t agree with the popular sentiment that the young had it easier now. She didn’t think it was true. She couldn’t see how it could be.

Anne noticed the clock and realised she would have to hurry the remainder of her shopping in order to get it done before her working day began. Picking up her pace, she passed through the different aisles and found the items she thought were needed. At the end of aisle 16 she stopped at the little stand with the bargain DVD’s and looked to see if there was anything of interest. On the cover of one she recognised Johnny Depp standing in a pair of oversized underpants and after examining the back she realised it was something to do with that writer Michael liked, so she put it in her trolley and continued to walk towards the till. Sandra was working the staff checkout and Anne began to unload the contents of her trolley onto the conveyor belt. ‘Morning.’ She said and smiled at her long-time friend.

‘Morning Anne. How are you?’

‘Good, thanks. And you?’

‘Not bad. Did you see Eastenders last night?’

‘Yes. I can’t believe Lola took Lexi. Where is she going to go?’

‘I don’t know. But it was good to see that look on Phil’s face. He’s such a horrid man.’

‘I know.’ Anne put the last item on the belt and pushed the trolley to the end of the till. ‘I don’t blame her at all.’  She thought about the courage it must have taken Lola to make such a tough decision. She wondered how things might work out for her. A mother and child alone. It was a tough world, she thought, tougher than it should be. Sandra passed the items under the barcode scanner and let them slide down towards Anne who packed the plastic bags in ways much practiced and prepared. ‘How’s John?’ Anne asked and removed her purse from her bag.

‘Oh, you know, the same. He’s got a doctor’s appointment about his back today, so hopefully they’ll finally do something other than just prescribe pain killers.’

‘Is it still that bad?’

‘Yes. He can barely get up in the mornings now.’

‘God. He just has to be firm with the doctors.’

‘I know.’ Sandra waited for Anne to press her pin into the card reader. ‘How’s Jim?’

‘Good.’ Anne removed her card. ‘He’s good.’

‘Is he working?’

‘Not yet, but something will come up.’

‘Hopefully. It can’t be good for him to sit at home all day.’

‘No. It most definitely is not.’ Anne put her purse back into her bag and gripped the handlebar of the trolley.

‘Do you want to go to the cinema this week?’ Sandra asked.

‘Yes, but I’m not sure I can.’

‘Because of Jim?’

‘Not only.’

‘You know you’re more than welcome to come around and visit whenever you want.’

‘I know.’

‘You don’t have to stay in that house.’

‘Thank you.’

‘I mean it.’ Sandra tried to mask the concern she felt for her friend, but it was difficult to see her like this. ‘Lunch?’

‘Yes, of course.’

Pushing the trolley up aisle 29 she passed the countless wine bottles and spirits and beer and paused when she saw the little packet of tiny Babysham bottles. She remembered drinking them on New Year’s Eve with her mother, wishing each other health and happiness and expressing hopes of dreams that might become real throughout the night. She wondered if Michael and Lorna would remember these things. She wondered what they would remember and what they might chose to forget and ignore. They did have good times, and despite the latter hardships she was confident they had experienced a happy childhood. She was proud of the way their youth was lived and there were few things she would change in the way they were raised. They had been nice kids, and now, they were nice adults. They were proof of the good she had achieved and it made her feel a little better about how things had turned out. Things weren’t that bad, and blame was brutal when the facets of their fate had changed with little consideration for their care. It was just the way things were.

Anne left her shopping bags in the changing room and removed her jacket and hung it on the railing. She checked her name badge was straight and popped a mint in her mouth. Just as she was about to leave she felt he phone vibrate and removed it from her little purse. Looking at the screen she saw that it was Jim. She held the phone in her hand and paused. Finally she pressed the answer key and held the phone to the side of her face. ‘Hello’ she said.

‘Where are you?’ Jim asked.

‘I’m at work.’

‘Where’s my wallet?’

‘What?’

‘My wallet. Where’s my bloody wallet?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Bullshit. Where did you put it?’

‘I didn’t put it anywhere.’

‘Don’t lie to me.’

‘Have you hidden it again?’

‘What? No, of course not.’

No, of course not. So where is it?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘For fuck’s sake. I need it. Where did you put it?’

‘I haven’t touched it.’

‘No, you never touch anything.’

‘What do you need it for anyway?’

‘None of your business.’

‘Are you drinking already?’

‘And what if I am?’

‘It’s nine o’clock in the morning.’

‘So?’

‘What do you mean so?’

‘I mean so fucking what? I know what time it is. Where is it?’

‘Where’s what?’

‘My fucking wallet!’

‘If you weren’t so drunk last night maybe you would remember.’

‘Oh fuck off.’

‘I have to go.’

‘Yeah, of course.’

‘I’m leaving.’ Anne felt her heart beat at her breast and she steadied herself by leaning on the lockers beside her. The air was caught inside her lungs and she felt the pressure of their past tightening on the remnants of their love. She couldn’t think of a reason to stay, not anymore. Everything was different. Everyone was distant. They were all gone. Far away and safe.

‘What?

‘I said I’m leaving.’

‘Leaving what?’

‘You.’ For ages nothing happened. Neither of them spoke and all that echoed in the changing room was the sound of the ventilation fan overhead. The world was empty and there she stood finally whole again and free. ‘I’m leaving you.’ She said again. ‘I’m sorry.’ She put the phone down and tried to breath but her lungs were caught in casts of former cages. She closed her eyes and tried to think. So this was it. This was how it ended. A lifetime of devotion dead and buried. Days of dust diminished into darkness. Their life, nothing more than history. The phone began to vibrate again but she opened her eyes and cancelled the call. She didn’t know what to think. For all the years he’d been a kind and caring husband, all the years they’d shared and slowly lost, it was now perhaps the time to take a stand for those that were still as yet to come. She felt the tears roll down her face and she couldn’t tell what they meant. She didn’t know how to feel, and yet the feeling came.

She exited the changing room and walked towards the tills. At least she still had this job. She liked the people she worked with and the customers. She enjoyed talking with the regulars and hearing about their lives. It kept her in touch with the world. All the different people and their different lives and different habits and rituals and rules of engagement. All living together. She enjoyed watching them all. She remembered her first shift, forty three years ago now, back in the 70’s when these stores were new and novel. She remembered the uniform and unique emotions. She remembered the pride and joy Jim felt when he visited her at work for the first time. She remembered when he cried that evening as he handed her a bouquet of fresh frescia’s. She remembered it all. It was beautiful. But that time had gone. They had long since left it behind and beat their way atop a new one. Sitting down behind the till she typed in her access code and waited for the machine to wake up. She looked around. It was still beautiful. All of it. In different and unique ways and she enjoyed it more now than ever before. The till beeped and she smiled at the waiting customer. ‘Good morning.’ She said and scanned the first item. It was a new day. Perfect like the rest.

Drifting

 

Lee gets up from bed and disappears into the bathroom. I can hear the shower and the water hitting the plastic base of the bath and I wonder how it is he can do this every day like nothing’s happened. He doesn’t seem to be affected by any of it, or at least he’s better at concealing it than me. But it still hurts too see him every morning like this, like everything’s okay, like it never happened. How can he carry on like this? How can he resume his life as if none of it matters? How can he eliminate the emotions? Or does he feel anything at all? How do I know what he’s going through? How can I know? And that’s the problem. I have no idea how he feels. What he thinks. What he’s going through. I have no way of knowing because he never talks about it. He never lets me in. He never tells me anything, he just bottled it up inside. He keeps it locked away until he can’t hold it anymore and explodes after he’s had too many drinks. But he’s not letting himself drink like that anymore. He’s permanently in control. It’s been three weeks now and he hasn’t changed. There’s been no indication as to whether or not any of this has affected him. Whether any of it matters. Whether he cares.

He re-enters the bedroom and begins to look through his wardrobe for his clothes. I did the laundry yesterday and know that a couple of his shirts are downstairs on the clothes rail, but I don’t say anything. I hear him open and close drawers and then leave the room again.  I put my hand on my stomach and think about how things could have been. I think about what it might have been like. How it would have felt to have a little baby sleeping inside me. Feeling it grow day by day and knowing that there was something more important than anything else, everything else, waiting to be born to prove the validity of love and life. Knowing that from this point on, from this specific, historic, moment in time, the future was something to look forward to and embrace with greater enthusiasm and joy. Knowing that there was someone else to live for. Someone else for whom to struggle on and live each day. Someone to love. Forever. Instead, that prospect and future was taken from me, and now my hand lies on nothing but the remnance of the little I could eat last night. I feel empty. I feel lonely and cold. I feel awful and selfish and horrid for my part in the defining moments of the decision that was made. We spoke and agreed. It was amicable. It was adult. It was sensible. Only now, I regret every second of it. And I hate myself for my involvement. I hate myself for not saying ‘no’. For not expressing my desire to keep it. My baby. To keep my child and give my life to all that it might be. To care. Protect. Love. Unconditionally with no logic and reason and the groundings of reality. To be a mother. But it’s too late now. There’s nothing I can do. I played my part and now I have to live beside the death I caused. The absence of my baby a brutal reminder of my choice to live with greater ease. A burden of my will to kill and carry on. To go to work and eat and drink and rest and play and do the things I want, when I want, how I want, I want and want and want. Me me me. Now. On my own. The thing I want no more. The thing I truly want drifting in the sewers beneath me. Never to know of all the things the earth and sky combine to give. Never to know of all the things we have. All the things we miss. Air. Trees. Flowers. Butterflies. Choice. Opportunity. Life. I took it all away. I took it. Me.

Lee comes back in the room and sits on the bed beside me. I pretend to be asleep and ignore him.  ‘I’m going to work now.’ He says. I feel him stroke my hair and move a strand away from my face but I keep my eyes closed and try to ensure my breathing remains regular. I smell his aftershave. Boss. The one I bought him at Christmas, just before we found out I was pregnant. I feel my insides spasm. He leans in. ‘I love you’, he whispers in my ear. I don’t respond. He sits there for another couple of seconds before getting up and walking away towards the door. I hear it close and his footsteps descend the stairs down and out of our apartment block. I hear the car start. I hear him disappear. I open my eyes and roll over and look at the pillow on which his head had slept. I let my eyes follow the crease and curve of the purple pillow case as it folds in on itself by where his weight had crushed. I stare at the pillow and try to will it to give me some of what he dreamt. Some of what he may have released throughout the night. I want to know. I need to know. But nothing happens. I remain facing his pillow and feel a tear escape my eyes as I wish to God I hadn’t let it come to this. I wish I had been stronger. I wish I had spoken to my sister or my mother or someone else, anyone else, someone who may have made me think a little longer before doing what I did. I wish I had not done it by myself. But that was what I wanted. And here I am. Alone.

I stay in bed for another half hour doing nothing and trying not to think, but it doesn’t work. I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop thinking about almost every aspect of that which shall now never come to pass. What would we have called our child? Would it be a male or female? Would it cry or rest easy? What colour eyes would it have? What colour hair? How much would it weigh? How big would its finger’s be? Would it hold me tight? Would it ever let me go? Would it love me? And then I start crying and can’t stop. I can’t stop crying and I won’t. I don’t want to. I deserve it. I deserve this pain. My body rocks and I can’t breathe and so I lift my knees to my chin and curl myself up as tight as I can. I try to squeeze and force the guilt and hate down into my stomach. Down into the empty pit where my baby should be. I will keep this horrid truth inside me. I will never let it go. I will remember. I will make myself remember. I will never let it leave. Ever.

I finally get out of bed and go to the bathroom. I sit down to wee and look at my flat stomach. I’m beginning to be able to see my ribs as I haven’t eaten properly since the visit to the clinic. I’m finding it hard to put food in my mouth and swallow when I know there’s no longer a little life inside me waiting to be fed. Waiting for me to fulfil my role and nurture and protect it. Lee’s noticed and has told me that he’s worried. It’s about the only thing he’s told me. It should have made me feel better, knowing that he was there for me, looking after me, but it didn’t. I don’t know why and I can’t explain it. Everything just feels different. I get up and look in the mirror. There I am. I turn to my side and try to imagine what I might have looked like with a full and round stomach, but I can’t. My brain won’t let me. I let my top fall down again and splash my face with water. It doesn’t make me feel any better so I walk out and into the kitchen. Lee has left my coffee in the mug as usual and I turn the kettle on and lean against the worktop and wait. Across the room I can see a photo of me and Lee in Toulouse from last summer when we went to visit a friend of his from university. Since then they’ve had a kid. A little girl. Clara. We were invited out to the party but couldn’t make it because of work. We sent a card instead. I see the smile on our faces and it reminds me of how happy we were, but even though it’s right there in front of me and I can see it, even though I can reach out and touch it, I don’t remember the feelings. I can’t recall any of the joy. I remember laughing and joking and drinking wine by the river and being asked about our plans and marriage and kids and all the rest, but beyond that, it’s lost to me. I look at Lee and feel a surge of guilt rise within me. None of this is his fault. He didn’t force me to do it. He didn’t give me ultimatums or argue or proclaim and profess it was a necessary measure in our own survival. He didn’t do it. The only thing he tried to do was support me. Help me. Love me. But I know I’ve been treating him badly recently. I can’t help it. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. I don’t feel better for it. And I can’t stand it, yet every time I try and control myself and make myself realise what I’m doing and how much it hurts him, it doesn’t make a difference, I still do it. I still shout at him. I still blame him. And yet he never responds. He never reacts. He never yells back. He never curses or cries. Nothing. He just tells me he loves me. More than anything. He loves me. Still. I wish it was enough.

I make my coffee and sit down at the table. I’ve still got another hour and a half before I need to be at work and I look down into my coffee which I hold tight between both hands. I took a week off just after the clinic and told them I was sick. I never explained or told them the truth and I wonder whether it would have made a difference. We never told anyone. Lee never told his family and neither did I. Nobody knows. We just kept it to ourselves in some hope that we’d get through it. That things would turn out okay. I really hope they do, but somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that they won’t. I can’t help but think that what we’ve done has cast a cloud so dark and vast above us, that nothing we can do will make it go away. Nothing will save us. Not now. Every time I see him it reminds me of the child we chose to never have. I see him as a father. Sitting in the chair beside the bed, holding our baby, singing subtle songs as mother and child slowly fall asleep. I see him with vomit on his shirt. His tie with spit and dribble. I see the joy on his face when he holds our child for the first time. I see him look at me. I see us, together, as a family. Only now these images burn away inside me. They scold my brain deep behind my eyes and torture me for all the wrong I’ve done. I don’t believe in God, but I feel his pain. I feel the hurt of a million mother’s grief. I feel their anger when they discover I killed my own. I feel their rage in prayers that question how and why. How could it be so? How could they be granted the miracle of life and choose death? How could they do it? How? But I had no answers. I had nothing.

I sit there and think about the conversation. It’s as clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. We both sat at this table and spoke for hours about what to do. I’ll never forget it. It was awful. I can’t think of anything I’ve enjoyed less. The most dreadful fact of it all, was that the decision, our decision, in which I was involved and said my piece, was for no other reason that the desire to sustain the life we had. And now it seems ironic that it’s a life we’ll probably never be able to return to. It wasn’t about money. We both had good jobs and earned enough to be able to cope with a child and I was entitled to maternity leave and so we would have been okay. Instead, we chose to not have our baby because we deemed ourselves ‘not ready.’ We were not yet ‘ready’ to give up our social lives and lose our time to crying and nappies and sleepless nights and endless concerns and questions. Why is it not eating? Why is it not feeding properly? Why is it crying? Why is it not sleeping? What does it want? What can I do? How can I be better? We were ‘not ready’. I sit there and despise myself for believing this. I hate myself for letting the excuses win us over. Letting the friends and wine and parties and restaurants and good times take precedence over the child we could have had. And now, the real good times that could have come with the tiny features of our baby, are gone forever. The good times of a first smile and the first crawl and first step and first word and first poo and bath and look of love and recognition, were eradicated. It’s all gone. We were selfish. We killed our baby for nothing more than self-preservation, and now, sitting here trying to drink my coffee before work, trying to muster up the energy and will to get through another day, trying to prepare myself for the faces I knew would come in the Red Lion, I now know of real pain. I know how much it hurts. And despite the fact I’ve gone through sickness and witnessed family fade and wither, it was different. It was entirely something else. This was my family. This was my baby. This was my future. This was us. But now it’s not. We decided against it. We decided, together. And now, I’ve never felt so lonely.

Slowly I wash the dishes and stare at the tiles in front of me. I think about all the people I’ve served in the pub and all the pain they’ve hidden. I think of all the times they’ve tried to make it better with a beer. I think about how, at first, I judged them. I remember specific individuals I felt repulsed by. I remember their stories and how they made me feel. I remember who I was. But now I see it differently. Now, even more so after what’s happened, I feel somehow included. What I used to see in their eyes alone now looks back at me. I can’t help it. I don’t know how to stop it. So many times over the past couple of weeks I’ve wanted to drink during my shifts. So many times I’ve gazed at the bottles and wanted nothing more than a large glass of wine. So many times I’ve wanted to kill the voices in my head. I’ve wanted to lose myself to drink and forget about everything else. Forget about the guilt. Forget about the future that my baby will never have. Forget about the choices we will never get to make. Forget about the nurseries and schools and parts of parent life we will never have. Forget about the choice we made. Forget about it all. So many times I’ve just wanted to drink. Get drunk. Forget. Be free. But I haven’t. I haven’t done it. I haven’t poured the wine. I haven’t drowned myself in booze. I haven’t. I don’t know why. But I haven’t. I feel my phone vibrate in my bag as I close the door and lock it. I rest my head on it and breathe in and out. Another day. I turn. I reach for my pocket and take my phone out. I see a text message. It’s from Lee. I open it and read. ‘I LOVE YOU.’ Then I know. That’s why.