There’s a place called Confidence and you should go there more often.
That’s what Hannah’s mother said as she pressed a damp flannel to a colourful bruise just above her daughter’s eye. Hannah remembered being intrigued; where was Confidence and how could she buy a ticket there? Could she stay there forever?
Hannah never found the answer as a teenager and consequently the bullies picked on her every day until she left school. Each time she returned home her mother provided a remedy of flannels and tired maxims.
Hannah is made of tougher stuff now – more three day old turkey than fresh brie – and can withstand a little knocking about without too much of a problem.
But today will be the final blow.
She leaves Jasper with an overflowing bowl of food. Jasper purrs and rubs against her legs.
She places the fish bowl on the ground beside Jasper.
Better a swift death than starvation.
Hannah does not look back as she leaves the house and she does not take her keys.
She walks to the train station. Normally she would take the car but every now and again she treats herself to the luxury of a morning stroll – the scent of dog crap and weed is an added bonus.
…calling at, London Waterloo, Clapham Junction, Twickenham, Richmond…
She buys her ticket and stands behind the yellow line like a normal passenger about to take a normal commute to a normal day job. The train draws nearer, the ground vibrates, her skin shivers.
She times it perfectly.
He knows from the moment he sees her that she is the one. The one to sweet talk, buy a drink for, spend the night with and ultimately, the one to eventually screw over due to his woefully textbook commitment issues.
Although if he’s being honest, she chooses him. Women always do.
He buys her a drink. Three, actually. She says he reminds her of Adrian Turner; he nods and pretends to know who Adrian Turner is.
He’s still got it.
He texts her that same night and asks if she wants to get coffee at some point. She should take the premature text as a rightful sign of desperation. She doesn’t.
Got a cab and had another cheeky vodka (or whatever it was)
‘Cheeky!’ Gosh you’re so British
How dare you?
Sorry xD Do be safe. Where else am I going to find an Adrian Turner lookalike?
Hahahah it’s got to be rare.
Yeah alright, don’t get too big an ego please
Definitely spotting some narcissistic personality disorder in there. Should I be worried?
I’m sorry for worrying you. Please accept my sincere condolences
I am truly sorry. How can I make you believe me?
I accept my apologies in cash. And also occasionally in hot beverages
Perfect. What time shall I pick you up tomorrow?
You’re in luck. I get off early tomorrow. Say 4?
I hate to be the biggest douche in the history of douches…
But I was pretty drunk tonight and I’ve forgotten your name? I’ve literally saved you as ‘Adrian Turner’ in my phonebook
Who owes who an apology now?!
Actually, both of us. I forgot yours also.
So what am I saved as?
‘Super gorgeous bar girl’
I try. Rob by the way.
By the time Saturday rolls around, Rob has put more thought into his outfit – casual but not slobbish – than he cares to admit. Cut him a break. Usually he spends Saturdays in a passionate love-loathe affair with The Jeremy Kyle Show.
This is it – the day he and Hannah will finally have a conversation that surpasses:
How are you?
Good thanks and you?
Yeah not too bad.
And ten years from now, when he and Hannah are married and have three children, it’ll no longer matter that he spent half an hour psyching himself up for this very moment.
He has two letters to deliver to her house today and if he times it perfectly…
Where is she? All the lights in the house are turned off. Jasper, her cat, stares out of the window. Something that looks like a fish tail dangles from his mouth.
Justin blows on his hands and shoves them deep into his pockets.
A crunching of gravel. Justin looks up to see a man approaching Hannah’s house. The man has dark, wavy hair and the kind of meticulously groomed stubble worn only by famous people. Reminds him a bit of that actor. Adrian something.
The man looks up. Justin snaps his head down. Sweat pools in his palms. Nothing to see here, just delivering my letters…
Justin grabs a letter from the pile and hastily approaches the front door nearest to him. When he reaches the door, he risks a glance behind him. The actor lookalike sighs and heads down the road, shoulders tensed.
Friend? Boyfriend? Lover? The last one probably. There was a look in the man’s eyes like he knew Hannah but not well enough. Something inside Justin crumbles and disintegrates like wet tissue paper. He slots the envelope through the letter box and it slaps against the welcome mat. The realisation hits Justin like a speeding train.
He sighs (although it could just as easily be a sob) and pounds on the door. No response.
Screw it. The Townsends are good people. They’ll pop the letter round to their neighbour. It didn’t look that important anyway.
“Hello! I won’t be long. I just wanted to pop this by.”
The frown on Lucy’s face clears like the passing of storm clouds in an overcast sky as her neighbour waves an envelope in her face.
Lucy takes the envelope, pretending not to notice the way Tiana stares at her multicoloured dreadlocks and piercings.
“Thank you,” Lucy says.
“Justin must’ve accidently posted it. I’m afraid we’ve had the letter for a while. I did tell Ronald to drop it off but you know what husbands are li-”
Lucy raises her eyebrows and tries not to laugh. Tiana is a walking, talking faux pas.
“Thank you,” she says again and waits for her neighbour to leave before heading inside and closing the door. She turns the envelope over.
It’s handwritten. Strange.
This had better bloody well be your address. It’s the last one I have in the phone book for you, although knowing you and Marie, you’re probably off gallivanting in the Yorkshire hills with a caravan and several kegs of beer between you both.
Happy new year, girl! I miss you and as such, am throwing a little reunion party for all us Old Girls! Well, I say ‘little’; it STARTED off quite cosy but then I thought about all the people who’d be offended if they didn’t get an invite so now it’s turned into a pretty humongous thing really. (Don’t worry. You’re one of the few I ACTUALLY want to see!)
Anyway, the address is at the bottom. We’re going to celebrate in STYLE. I hope to see you on Friday night, lady! Scratch that. I WILL see you Saturday night. You’ve got no excuse.
- Do let me know when you decide to join us in the world of social media or bite the dreaded bullet and purchase a MOBILE PHONE (horror!) Xxxx
Lucy laughs to herself.
Keys turn in the front door and she looks up to see a whirlwind of tie-dye and heavy biker boots.
“Honey I’m home,” Marie winks, puts her bag down and gives Lucy a huge Hollywood-stars-would-be-envious kiss. “Did old busybody homophobe pay a visit? Everything alright?”
“She was just dropping this off,” Lucy says, passing her the invite.
Marie scans the letter.
“Reunion eh?” A pause. “That’s tonight, Luce.”
“It’s on the other side of London and it starts in half an hour.”
“I know. Guess we can’t make it. Shame, I’d love for you to meet the old school lot.”
“Oh yes. I never tire of hearing about Lucy’s School Days.”
“On second thoughts, maybe it’s a good idea we’re not going. If only our favourite walking faux pas had dropped it off earlier. Shame.”
Besides, a night in sounds ideal. Marie’s been stressed at work recently and it’ll be nice to order a takeaway, drink some wine and just talk.
Marie heads upstairs to change. Lucy moves to the kitchen and locates a bottle of red.
“Half or full?” she calls.
“I had to make small talk with Darren all day,” Marie yells.
“I’ll make it a full!”
Lucy opens a cupboard and grazes at some cheese biscuits.
“Hun?” Marie calls.
“I’m going to take a shower first.”
“You’re at the cheese biscuits again aren’t you?”
“No!” Lucy says through a mouthful of biscuit goodness. “Take your time. It’s cool.”
Lucy flicks open a magazine lying open on the kitchen counter. Lifestyle. Two biscuits later the shower rumbles to life. The sound of distant rain. Lucy flicks through the pages. Marie always takes her time.
Twelve biscuits later and the rain stops. Feet patter on the corridor above her head. “…shit. shit shit shit.”
“What?” Lucy calls, eyes still glued to the magazine.
“It can’t be. Luce. Luce! They’re saying…on the radio. Shit. Turn on the television!”
Lucy frowns. Marie’s probably overexcited about the latest episode of X Factor or something. She takes her wine glass and heads to the living room.
“Any of the news channels! Hurry!”
Lucy rolls her eyes and flicks to BBC One.
Thirty three deaths in a bar in Clapham. A potential terrorist attack…
Marie pounds down the stairs, half-wrapped in a towel, flesh scrubbed pink.
“Isn’t that where you were meant to be tonight?”
Lucy leans in closer to the television, looking for something, anything, which proves her girlfriend wrong. This is wrong. This is a joke. It has to be. The faces of the victims swim into view. A reunion in a bar in Clapham. Something about a –
The glass slips from her fingers and shatters around her feet.
He’s told her one million and one times but the cadela won’t listen.
It’s a shame, really. Here he is, coming back from post-work drinks and only a little tipsy. They could have had a good time – a chat, a conversation, more than a conversation…
But no. The cadela has the nerve to be sat in the dining room, conspiring. He can’t see who she’s speaking to because the laptop faces the wrong way but he recognises the voice. It’s one of the cadela’s friends.
The one who asks ‘How have you been?’ and ‘Is Abilio treating you well?’
Abilio enters the dining room and his cadela jumps. Abilio makes a cutting motion across his throat and she makes an excuse to the friend, cuts the Skype call and closes the laptop. Fear films her eyes.
“Abilio, it’s not what – it was urgent –Lucy needed someone to talk to.”
“How many times have I warned you about talking behind my back?”
“She needed someone. What was I mean to say? We went to school together and our friends just died. Turn on the radio. I’m not lying Abilio. I’m not -”
He cuts her off with words harsher than fists, with actual fists, with splintering wood and hair tugged from roots. And blood. Always so much blood…
But the cadela dances a new dance. A new fire burns in her heart at the memory of her friends. She strikes out. Leaves Abilio gasping and clutching his privates. Abilio dashes for the carving knife. Tonight it will taste new flesh.
But the cadela is not done. Scrambling, screaming for the front door and spilling out into the warm evening.. She ignores the shaking ground. She ignores the screech of silver upon silver.
She doesn’t see the tram until it’s too late
They’re always broken. Of course they are – it’s why they’re here. Still, Trilis knows all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are gonna need more than some superglue and pills to put this one back together.
This one reeks of Lynx and despair – the smell of any grown man trying to keep it together.
“Welcome,” Trilis says and holds out his hand for a handshake. “Let me explain how this works…”
Trilis tells the newcomer about Socorro. Socorro, he explains, is not a homeless shelter nor is it a registered charity. Trilis and the rest of the volunteers are here for anybody who wants a chat. Socorro rents out the room in the back of the Sé and the members meet every week to talk, rant, pray, whatever. The newcomer nods and says that’s perfect. Maybe he won’t talk; he’ll just listen.
And listen he does.
He listens to every single person’s story and waits until the meeting is over before approaching Trilis.
“I killed her,” the newcomer mumbles. “Well, a tram did but I would have killed her anyway. She was running from me.”
Trilis pours him a coffee and the men sit side by side on the sofa. Lynx and despair drenches the air.
Trilis wishes he could tell the newcomer what is so painfully obvious Freud would’ve slapped him upside the head – that he’s looking at a man whose own repressed sexuality caused him to take out his rage and self-hate on his now deceased wife.
But then the newcomer starts weeping and won’t stop and so Trilis just
Who will kill her first? Her father’s always had a quick temper but her mother has such high expectations of her. Last time Diane scored ninety percent on her calculus pop quiz, her mother grounded her for three weeks.
“Are you going to talk to me or are we going to sit in silence?”
Diane scowls and stares out of the window. The last of the students trickle out the gate.
Mr Younis sighs. “Is there something the matter? You can talk to me.”
Mr Younis is such a pretentious snob. Just because he’s from Portugal and all the female students have a crush on him, he thinks he can click his fingers and get her talking.
“I’m sorry – I wasn’t aware detention required me to talk.”
“It doesn’t,” he says. “But clearly something is wrong.”
“What do you care?”
“Do you know what I did before teaching?”
“I ran a support centre back home. So I’m pretty good at talking and I’m even better at listening.”
“Great for you.”
“It helps to get things off your chest you know.” He smiles. “Everyone has a monster which will claw its way out sooner or later. Trust me.”
Diane winces and places a hand to her stomach.
“Okay.” He draws the word out – okaaaaaay- and he sounds like such a sassy teenager Diane can’t help but smile. “Ha! Made you smile.”
“Smile, maybe. Talk? Not going to happen.”
“Ahhh so there is something amiss. Listen, I know a thing or two about keeping secrets. The first thing I know is burying a secret doesn’t work.”
“What’s the second?”
“That’s for me to know.” He taps his nose. “I understand though. You’re going through a lot right now. Pressure for good grades. Pressure to fit in. They say high school days are the happiest of your life but I hated every moment.”
Diane looks up briefly.
“I didn’t fit in,” Mr Younis says. “I had a secret I couldn’t tell anybody. Thought my parents might kill me for it.”
She locks eyes with him. Raises her eyebrows.
He folds his arms and studies her. “Turns out telling someone was the best thing I ever did. It meant I could help others too. My own partner, for example. I could tell he hated himself from the moment I saw him. I could almost smell the self-loathing.” He sniffs. “Well that and far too much Lynx. That was one of the first things to go. Diane your secret’s safe with me – unless you’ve been doing drugs or you’re toting around a gun in that bag because in that case I’m obliged to tell someone – threat to yourself or to others and all that – but seeing as I’m only a temp anyway -”
“You don’t seem surprised!”
“I told you – I’ve been helping people for a while now. Didn’t see this one coming, though.”
“Yeah well neither did I.”
Mr Younis leans against the desk and cocks his head.
“Who’s the father?”
“Ahh. First impressions are wrong clearly. Pegged you for a goody-two-shoe.”
“You’d be in big trouble eh?”
“Trouble doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
“You know your options, yes?”
“Keep, give away or abort. Although I’m not sure keep is an option right now.”
“Funny how one person’s joy is another’s sorrow. My partner and I have wanted kids for a while.”
“Slow swimmers?” Diane smirks. “Or is it her?”
“Actually, it’s both of us. Remember that secret I had when I was a kid?”
“Yeah well…I was gay. Still am, actually. Ha! Smiling again.”
“You really want kids?”
“Of course. Children are wonderful.”
“And the ability to bring new life to this earth…priceless.”
Diane buries her head in her hands.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You should probably start by telling your parents.”
“They’ll kill me!”
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. They’ll be angry, yes, but they want the best for you. I could help break the news to them if you want?”
“Uhm…I’ll think about it.”
“Good. Do.” Mr Younis roots about in his pocket. Pops some gum into his mouth. “Think about it. Go to the doctors, do the checks, make sure he or she is healthy…and see if you can find out who the father is.”
She breathes. Rubs her belly.
“Okay. Steps. A plan. Okay.”
“A tiny bit. Thanks.”
He spreads his arms wide.
“I’m amazing. I know.”
“What would happen if I kept it? I can’t believe I’m even considering this but – Mr Younis I don’t really want to abort her or him. I mean, I want to but only because that’s what I think I should do and because – I don’t know, I just –”
“I keep thinking maybe I could take a break from college until I’m ready to go back. But then I don’t know what I’d do for money. I’ve only got that weekend job. Mr Younis I just don’t know.”
“I know, I know.”
“Part of me thinks it’d be amazing. Like, there’s another human inside of me and don’t laugh but I love kids. Are you laughing?”
“Poker face, kid.”
“And like you said, the ability to bring new life to this earth. Life is so short, why make it shorter? I just don’t know.”
“I think you do,” Mr Younis says. “I’ve got to tell someone.”
“I’ll buy you some time. I’ll forget this conversation. Only for a week, mind. You’ve got seven days to come clean, alright?”
“You’re alright you know?”
“I know. I’ve seen it all. When you’ve been listening to people’s stories for as long as I have, you learn that following protocol doesn’t work for every scenario. You can go now.”
She stands, chair scraping on the floor.
She leaves the room, hand glued to her belly.
“Whatever happens, it’ll be okay,” Mr Younis calls after her. “Promise.”
She smiles through tears and stumbles blindly into the elevator in the corridor. Whatever she decides, it’ll be okay. Mr Younis said so. Everything will be okay. It has to be.
The elevator doors hiss shut and Diane leans against the wall, hand still glued to her belly as tears spill down her cheeks.
It’s just one life.