“Can I buy a programme please? Do you have any left?” The attendant thumbed through ten pound notes on a counter set a little way back from the ‘public’ desk. She made piles of ten then rolled and slipped them into an elastic band. She flinched at the question and raised the volume of counting in her head ‘8, 9, 10’. Without turning she picked up a program from beside her and slid it across the counter.
‘That’s nine ninety nine please’ her eyes remained fixed on the task of counting the evenings takings so she failed to notice his ashen face, trembling hands and sweat forming on his brow. He fumbled around in his pockets rejecting keys and tissues grasping for change before emptying the flotsam onto the counter. Coins span and scraped to a stop by pocket fluff, chewing gum wrapper and keys. The attendant looked up forgetting to bite down on her chewing gum and as she watched him struggle.
‘Sorry I…er’ he stutters whilst searching fruitlessly through the rest of his pockets. He pats himself down with both hands then looks around for her.
The bumps of designer leather bags and graze of blazer jacket elbows was wearing on her. Having grown tired of reading the posters she looks over to where he dithers at the counter, fumbling in his pockets. Extracting a ten pound note from her purse she weaves towards him causing those leaving to tut disapproval at her walking the wrong way, their annoyance is met with equal disdain. On thrusting a ten pound note into his hand she spins and strides towards the exit. The crumpled note is examined for a moment before being recognised and passed to the woman at the till. The contents of his pocket are swept off the counter and jammed back into his trousers. He grabs the program and mumbles a ‘Thank you’, running a hand through his hair and rubbing the back of his head. A look towards the exit is just in time to see her leave. ‘Err’, he turns to the attendant, then back towards the doors. Half raising his hand like a nervous schoolboy he asks ‘Would it be possible? I mean is there any way that I could err talk to someone about the play? The director or someone? It’s just that I …’ he tails off leaving the sentence unfinished but the request hanging between them.
‘You would have to ring the production office in the morning, the numbers in the program’ she jawed at her chewing gum as she spoke, making no attempt to stop her eyes from looking up to the ceiling seeking strength.
‘Yes, yes of course. OK thanks. I’ll do… yes I will do that. Thanks’ he turns and hastens toward the doors bumping, apologetically past people who chat, laugh and smile as they stroll towards the exit and back to their lives.
He emerges onto the street. It is dark outside. The traffic is noisy and the lights reflect and blur in wet glistening tarmac. She is passing back towards him a look of annoyance darkening her face.
* * * * *
The football match ends, people turn to their friends, the bar or gather coats and head home. The game was disappointing, a goalless draw. Players trudged off the pitch tired and muddy with no glory won on this night. The old man slides off his stool and shuffles towards the door stopping to drop a pound coin into the fruit machine, the wheels spin then clunk one by one to a stop. He wins nothing and wobbles on unsteadily out into the street and lights a cigarette. He looks up and down the road. A young woman strides past him, her good looks rendered less perfect by a frown, a young man hurries after her. The old man smiles. She reminds him of someone. A pain stabs at his hip, he grimaces and shifts weight to the other foot then spits into the gutter and takes another drag of his cigarette. His body keeps on reminding him of his age. The scars it carriers. Aches and pains that trouble him are a result of choices he made, conscious or not. His body is getting old, it shows the signs of general ware and tear, the lines, liver spots and grey hair. A lifetime of thoughts, a lifetime of evaluating experience that is filtered, collated and reformed into something that can be more easily digested, better understood. He has lost bits, he knows that, a face, a film, a journey all gone. He has added bits as well, a wish, a hope, confusion, dreams that he was now convinced were real. All were now thoughts and feelings of equal measure that propelled him forward, thrusting him into the future, informing his every move. He boots a pebble aiming for the bin. It bobbles, chips and shoots off the uneven tarmac missing it’s target and landing in the gutter.
* * * * *
‘Where’s the car?’
‘Its down here’ he nods and half raises his arm.
‘Come on then’. She takes his arm and looking at the side of his face asks ‘Are you all right? You seem upset, are you feeling unwell?’ He looks down the road ahead. Light from the ’24/7′ corner shop splashes out onto the street. People walk towards him their faces animated and excited, enthused by the conversation they share. A homeless man spins on his heel the stoops to pick up a discarded coin. He tries to order the words of his sentence as they trip over a tied tongue and tumble from his lips.
‘It just got to me, the Play, it seemed… I don’t know, like’ He tutted, exhaled and shook his head. She waited for more. He looked at the street lights then down a dark ally and up at the stars. ‘I guess the Play reminded me of myself, my life and it got me thinking about things’
‘What’s wrong with your life?’
‘Nothing, it’s not that anything is wrong it’s just that it felt weird. Then at the end when there was the crash I thought that could be me, gone just like that, or you, she could have been you, you know and you could be gone and….’
‘Honey, It was just a Play’
‘I know but… oh I don’t know perhaps I’m being stupid.’
They reach the car. He drives unaware of the silence, unable to think of anything to say. She looks out the window. He runs over the Play in his mind.
There is no conversation during the journey. The car is quiet. Only the hum of the engine and the click, clunk of driving disturbs the peace. In contrast his head is full of noise as he searches for a plausible explanation, wrestling with ideas he looks for reason but no two ideas will come together to form a logical conclusion.
He pulls up outside her flat. Her irritation at being ignored for the journey home simmers underneath a pinched expression. She stares straight ahead waiting for him to say something. He looks at her pushing a smile across his lips before leaning over to kiss her cheek. She receives the kiss but does not move. He sits back and they both look out at the dark street ahead. After a few moments she turns to him,
‘You’ve got nothing to say?’
‘What do you mean?’
Silence fills the car once more. He struggles to articulate his thoughts, forms a sentence then discards it and looks around for another starting point. He ‘umms’ and sighs. Then with narrowed eyes his face concentrated: ‘I think…’ The car door slams behind her as she walks towards the doorway searching her bag for keys. He calls after her, the door to the flats swinging shut in response. His shoulders drop and with eyes closed he sits in the stillness for a moment. The street is shades of blue grey all lit in orange street light and off white spilled from kitchen windows. The dashboard glows green, patterns swirl on the car stereo display.
She sleeps in an old jumper, a favorite of hers. Striped purple and green it is a little musty and worn but she loves it like an old friend. It keeps her warm against the cold nip in her barely heated bedroom. What is left of the green tea that she was drinking sits on her bedside table next to an ashtray that contains the stubbed out butt of a half smoked joint. The bedside lamp has been left on. Her ankle sticks out from under the duvet revealing a tattoo of a dragon with butterfly wings and a cheeky grin. Hair, dyed flame red is spread about her face, red seaweed over a milky white rock. Her face wears a blank, peaceful expression with eyelids restfully closed under eyebrows plucked to a thin arced line. She breaths deeply, slowly in and out though her pierced nose.
Her mobile phone rings and vibrates against her bedside table top. The sound is amplified and changed against the wood to a deep rumble, low and loud. It startles her awake. She moans and reaches towards the sound, her eyes still closed. Her fingers find the ashtray first then nudge the teacup and a little liquid slops over the rim onto her book. The phone is still ringing. She withdraws her arm rolls over and props herself up on her elbow in one movement. With one eye still shut she wrinkles her nose and looks in direction of the buzzing noise. She picks up the phone and examines the screen, recognising her friend’s name. She presses the ‘Answer’ button: ‘What’s up?’
‘Not so much ‘what’ but ‘who’.
‘Let me guess, man trouble?’ She props up her pillows on the headboard and retrieves the joint from the ashtray. She lights it squinting against the smoke as it stings her eyes.
‘In one!’ She listens whilst her friend describes her evening at the theatre. She ‘umms’ and ‘arrrs’ making the appropriate sympathetic noises as she listens. As the call goes on a calm begins to return to her friend’s voice. It is twenty minutes later when she wishes her friend ‘Goodnight’ and ‘Sweet dreams’ before placing her phone on silent. She wipes the tea from her book cover on her duvet and clicks off the bedside light before rolling over and dreaming of being the lead in a play where no one listens to any of her lines.
* * * * *
He taps each letter of the play writes name into the search box, one letter at a time, one finger at a time. He looks at the name and hesitates. His finger hovers above the ‘enter’ key, he strokes it then applies pressure squeezing it down sending the search inquiry. The page goes white. The loading bar fills one block at a time. He taps his mouse. Time passes. Tick, tap, tick, tap.
The screen fills with text, search results relating to the play write and other famous and infamous and often mentioned people. The first result is from a Wiki. He clicks the link and leans in towards the screen. The play he had seen was one of many plays by the writer. It was described, in brief and there are some credits and links to actors, the director and the theatres where it had been performed, all of which he skims through looking for something more meaningful. He scrolls down the page. The inspiration for the play came from a notebook found in a hospital ward, according to the entry the writer had always claimed that it bore little resemblance to the play that he wrote and that it was merely his inspiration. It also stated that royalties had been put aside as a gesture of good will should the writer every come forward. This was unusual but instead of shedding light on his strange experience it just added more mystery. He clicks the back button and examines the next link, The writers biography according to which he was born, lived, wrote plays, articles and not much else. It was very brief. He clicks the ‘back’ button and goes to the next link. This is process is repeated several times, pressing the mouse button with more force each time until he flings it off the desk and stomps off into the bathroom.
He splashes cold water on his face which he then examines in the mirror. A tired man returns his gaze with dark circles around his eyes and a frown running deep furrows across his forehead. He urinates, chasing bubbles around the bowl. A though nudges its way into his consciousness. It could be the directors interpretation of the play that so resembled his life and not just the text? Hands are left unwashed in a rush to return to the computer and find a transcript of the Play. He follows the first link, adds the book to a shopping basket, gives his credit card details and address then clicks proceed. He sits back in his chair drumming fingers on the desktop. After a few moments he pulls out his phone and scrolls to her number, his thumb hovering over the call button. The phone is placed on the desktop, he stands and begins to pace around the flat. Finding himself in the living room he slumps down onto the sofa, scratches his head, and flicks on the TV. He hops from channel to channel for five minutes before returning to his computer and back to search for more information.