There was a pause that lasted a little too long then, when she failed to think of a good enough reason why not, she agreed to meet him. The tightness in his shoulders and neck muscles fell away, his body sagged and he swayed a little. He leaned against the wall without consciously thinking that he should. The weight off his feet felt good as the cracked paint peeled and fell away from the bricks that supported him. “Tomorrow? What time? Can I come to your place?”
“No, I’ll meet you for lunch at that cafe on the High Street, look I have to go some ones at the door. See you tomorrow at 12.”
“No wait, not the cafe!” but she was gone. “Not the cafe” He called her back but there was no answer. “Not the cafe”. He stared at his phone and rolled into the wall, scuffing his face on its rough surface. No, he could not meet her there, inviting the fulfillment of the Plays prophecy, walking head first with eyes wide open into the jaws of his own violent end. Why did she want to meet him there? She knew how the play ended. Was she taunting him, testing him? Did she hold a macabre fascination, a twisted desire to see if the conclusion of the Play came to pass across his broken body. As he lay there, bloody and dying would she cry out his name? Would she cradle him in her arms and brush the hair from his fading eyes? Would she breath mint scented words of regret into his ear as blood trickled from it?
He was probably being irrational about the whole thing. There was no certainty either way only probability, lukewarm and fuzzy clouds of limp doubt that balanced risk and benefit. His needs, his desire pushed him deeper onto the horns of the dilemma. A leap of faith was required, a leap from the cliff of his own reasoning, from this mountain he had made from, from what? From a molehill of a coincidence. He had to jump into the void of the unknown. Uncertain and afraid he hoped that his nagging doubt came to be true. Tired of trying to avoid the seemingly inevitable. Tired of running out of reason and needing to be proved wrong he would go. With hope, with fingers crossed and eyes on what might lie beyond he would go. Like a lamb to the slaughter. With acceptance he would go.
* * * * *
Dust gathers on a collection of old notebooks in his attic. They contain thoughts, concerns and memories from many years ago. His notes are a time machine, full of inaccuracy. They contain spelling errors and bad grammar. They are just the ramblings of a confused soul attempting to navigate the world and make sense of what was happening. It always felt better to get the thoughts out of his head and capture them on paper. Better than leaving them free, buzzing around his mind and taking up all the ‘air time’, allowing no room for other thoughts. When he read them back years later he found them hard to follow. Still they took him back, intensely and uncomfortably, more from the shape of the letters, the bleed of the ink into the paper than from what the words described. His notes are just escaped noise.
* * * * *
A mole pushes earth along her tunnel, she turns upwards and breaks the surface of the earth forming a small hill of soil that changes the world.
* * * * *
The Old man peers at the fluttering wing, glorious colours hang from a perfect and delicately balanced structure. It really is a remarkable bird. It must have escaped from the zoo or the private aviary of a millionaire. Perhaps it got lost migrating, blown off course and now here it is sat lost and disorientated amongst the dirty pigeons, sparrows and rats. He takes a step closer, the bird ruffles it’s feathers in the breeze but does not retreat or scare and take to the sky. He moves towards his pocket and inches the phone from it’s warm depths. He fumbles for the camera button, wondering if he has turned off the shutter sound. His fingers, numb and clumsy try to navigate through the baffling array of options: sepia tone, invert camera, zoom, auto flash on, auto flash off. He steps closer raising the camera phone to his eye, he steps closer still snapping twigs under his size ten boots, still the bird does not scare, this is a brave creature indeed. He takes a photo as a large gust of wind blows the bird inside out and off the twig where it had been snagged into a puddle revealing it for the cheap plastic bag that it is. The Old man stares down at the formless thing, beauty had deserted it, leaving it to drown in a dirty pool of water. The sorry wet creased plastic lay limp and ugly at his feet the magic had died. He felt, with some relief, all hope leave him in that moment. He shoved the camera phone back into his pocket and trudged off to buy a pasty.
The cafe was mumbling along with just enough bums on seats to justify being open. It was a pleasant autumn day. The sunlight slid through the trees. Red, gold and brown leaves rustled and blew in the breeze that was bringing winter. He chose a seat outside and watched people shuffle, bustle and hurry past. Walking from somewhere to some place else propelled by the events, the moments that preceded this one. Drawn on by the desire to encounter another different moment somewhere in the future. So many faces pass by. Tragedies etched into some, anger in others, a smile, a frown some are just set to neutral, intent only on reaching a destination. People walk in pairs, lost in each other unaware of the passing of time. A young man bobs his head in time to the beat that occupies a space larger than the physical between his headphone cupped ears. Time ticks on, seconds pass. Moments that mean nothing and everything exist then are gone. Life’s little dramas, worries and epic, inconsequential events carry on occurring, changing and reshaping the future.
He was on his second cappuccino. He was used to waiting for her and far from being annoyed he was just glad that she had agreed to come. He begged his phone to stay silent. No phone calls, no texts meant that she was not contacting him to cancel. While she was not there, there was still hope that she would come. He did not mind waiting as long as there was still hope. He never could make her do anything that she did not want to, never learned the knack of bending her will to that of his own. He held her close but loosely, an embrace that she had always enjoyed until now, until the Play with it’s judgment and predictions, it’s prophecy and it’s bloody revelations.
He looked eagerly down the road at each face as it appeared out of the crowd willing her to be next. A whole cast of people filtered past with whom he had no connection. People with their own hopes, fears and agendas for the day. For them he was just someone sitting alone at a cafe occupying a seat that they would like, that is if the noticed him at all. Walking along the street he was just an object in-between a stranger and their destination and now sitting at the cafe alone he was merely a selfish man taking up a table for two. Perhaps one in ten might catch his eye and look away. One in thirty of them might have a thought about him. He might remind them of someone from their past sending their thoughts skipping off down ‘memory lane’, later they might even search Facebook for the Old friend or just forget them amongst the billion of other thoughts that they had and discarded that day. One of them might like the look of him and wonder what he was like and what life they might have together but only for a moment and the thought would pass and he would be forgotten, lost to unpaid gas bills, library books that needed to be returned and falling autumn leaves. Perhaps they would have been right about him or have imagined someone quite different. Perhaps they could see him and his life in his face, his expression. Perhaps they could have written a play about him. Given enough people, enough monkeys and enough typewriters it could happen.
He sat forward and strained his neck up and out looking further down the road for her. More faces walked, wobbled and strutted passed, more lives crossed and barely touched. Still she refused to appear. She was just a little further away, around the corner or getting off the bus. She would be passing other strangers some of who would catch her eye and think ‘I wonder what it would be like to be with her, what kind of life would we have together.’ But she was coming to meet him, talk and smile with him and if he could find the right words she would be leaving with him too. More faces passed, eyes focused on the middle distance thinking about the future, they passed, saying a prayer, dreaming, wishing a hope will come true. Perhaps she was not going to come after all. He checked his phone for messages but there were none. The people on the next table got up to leave then she was there and it began, the beginning of the end.
* * * * *
The Old man is back in that street, the one of his nightmares. The road where the accident happened, the place where it all started to go wrong. Perhaps it had started before that but the turning point was here. He felt older than his years and tired, so very tired of feeling sad and alone. The pain in his hip never seemed to leave him now, the pain killers numbed his senses and he felt little emotion but a slow, lumbering sadness and detachment from the world around him. He had come back to finish the job.
* * * * *
He spoke, his voice thin and waving. He gripped the angular edge of the table’s cold metal surface. His fingers pressed into used chewing gum that was stuck to it’s underside. He pulled his fingers away, snatching his hands back into his lap then searched her face, looking for her eyes that refused to meet his.
Listening to him felt like a deja-vu experience. She tried to go first, to save them both some embarrassment and him some pain. She did not wish to strip him of his dignity. The need for revenge had died with her feelings for him, but he insisted with an awkward, flustered flap of arms, a shake of his head and then placating, pleading wide eyes. She looked down and allowed him to continue.
‘We’ve built it up in own minds too much, We’ve allowed it to effect us and take a hold of our lives. It means nothing. It was just a highly unlikely string of coincidences. We have to stop letting it define what we are, who we are, what we do. The whole thing is ridiculous’
Her expression remained unchanged, impassive. It was set to neutral, worse than defensive she seemed uninterested. Her eyes did not met his once as he pleaded. He tried again, this time, more passionate and a little more annoyed.
“I’m sick of living in the bloody shadow of that fucking Play. I need, we need to start living again. Is any of this going in? Say something please” She looked at her glove, the leather stitching neat and precise holding the soft brown leather together. The stitching was reliable and sure, dependable and certain of its role which it did impeccably well. “Babe?” He touched her arm. She looked at the concrete slabs beneath her feet. Cold, hard and solid concrete. Grey and certain. “We must take control of our lives, we can change our futures we just have to decide to do it. We have to start living again.” Her indifference was killing him as sure as any car would. Her mind was closed, impervious to his reason, immune to his pleas. He felt humiliated. She looked like a stranger to him. The woman with who he had shared so much was not the one that now sat in front of him. His words fell against her wall. Like a fly he buzzed against the window of her made up mind. He exhausted himself, there was only anger fueling him now. There was a change in his face, a hardening. His muscles tensed and a redness came to his cheeks. An incredulous tone crept into his voice replacing the nervousness in the space that the hope had left when it vanished. ‘Well what do you want then? What do you want me to say?’
‘I don’t know’
‘Well give me a clue, what should I do’
‘Nothing, You can’t do anything. I’m sorry it’s over’
‘Over?’ The word began to sink slowly through the murk of his confusion clearing a path as it went. ‘Over’ cut a shaft of light through his thoughts, it was bright and sharp and it hurt. It killed the comfort of his rationalisation, illuminating shadowy thoughts, things that he knew but did not want to admit to himself. The fog cleared. He stands, thrusts his chair back and strides off towards the road. Tears sting his eyes. He bumps passed people. He has to get away. He did not, could not look back even though he wanted to. He wanted to see her looking after him with concern, a logging or regret or anything other than relief. He wanted to hear her call out to him. Could she not see how wounded he was? Hurt and lost. Did she not care for him even a bit? What a cruel, cold heart. ‘Fucking bitch!’ he spat. ‘Fucking cold hearted bitch!’. What now? Where now? Who was he now? How could he know without the reflection of himself through her?
The Old man wished his life had ended on that day. Little good had happened since, no wife, no children or grandchildren, no career just one bad decision after another soaked in more and more alcohol and regret. He felt sick to his core, sick of feeling sick about it. He felt numb to any emotion, insignificant and ignored. At least his end may register a paragraph of copy in the local paper, a line in the free ‘rag’ perhaps. A dot on a statistical map. A stain on the pavement.
He was free falling, tail spinning, rudderless crashing and burning in a cacophony of rejection and failure. Thoughts clanged like bells ringing in his pain. Tears ran down his cheeks a lump caught in his throat, a sob, a sagging of the shoulders as he walked, wounded and defeated with tears blurring his vision. He was not focused on what he was doing not looking where he was going. Other people were just shapes, gray and brown with the odd offensively cheerful, brightly coloured scarf. A few people see the broken man, manic in his misery as he curses and swerves and pulls at his hair. They move to the side and hurry passed avoiding the danger of a wounded animal. They stare but not for too long least they are noticed and mistaken for someone who can help, someone who wants to get involved with this misery. They fear the infection of sadness, see the poison and see inoculation in some bright object in a shop window. He pushes on in a hurry to keep going, desperately needing to put more distance between himself and now. Suddenly all his energy seeps from him and is gone. The tears dry up he looks around the cold, plastic polish and pigeon shit of the high street. Through red eyes he sees teenagers guffawing, vying for recognition. He sees sick in the gutter and a half eaten sausage roll. Dead pig and pastry in a tasty, sixty nine pence snack. Taxi driver beeps, white van man curses, baby cries and an old woman inches her way one walking frame wobble and stutter at a time along the chewing gum and fag butt, polka dot pavement. He steadies himself with a hand wrapped around a lamppost. His arm has no strength and gives way, he slumps shoulder then cheek against the cold metal. His hand comes away with a cold, gray wet sludge running through the lines and across the veins. There is no forward or back just here which is where he stays.
An Old man stands beside him teetering on the edge of the curb. He turns and their eyes meet in total understanding, instant and beautiful. Time is frozen. The Old mans mouth turns up almost imperceptibly at the corner before he turns away. He spits into the gutter, takes a drag of his cigarette, looks at the sky, looks at the ground and sees nothing before stepping out into the road.
There is a terrible screech of brakes, metal screaming on metal. A car swerves out of control. Everyone freezes, unable to act and afraid to move.