Impossibly huge, indigo blue clouds press against the angular concrete corners of faceless corporate office headquarters that loom over the dull duel carriageway. His car is surrounded by unsympathetic edges, slick wet darkness and a confusion of lights. It was late. The rain had driven anyone with any sense inside. It bulleted down onto the hard black tarmac then ricocheted back up into the beam of his headlights. Tyres spray surface water up into a mist caught in lights, the refractions mesmerise. The dazzle and confusion of oncoming traffic blurs as he blinks spreading the lights. His eyes track two red dots ahead, they jump amidst raindrops that are swept away with the rubberised squeak, ‘clunk’ , ‘click’ of windscreen wipers. There is a moment of clear vision before the raindrops are replaced and everything becomes obfuscated again. He rubs his face screwing a knuckle into his eye socket knocking flakes of crud loose. It is late, too late to be driving in this weather and he needs a piss. Thoughts grind over each other. He clenches his teeth, punches the steering wheel and tugs at his hair before rubbing the back of his head. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”.
He had been to her flat. He wanted to talk face to face, not at a cafe in the day but at her flat, at night. Inside, away from collisions and cars veering off course. She had not been at home, no matter how hard he knocked and shouted through the letterbox. Her phone remained unanswered, a digital emptiness ringing at his ear. He posted a scribbled note dotted with rain drops that looked like tears before heading home for another night alone with a cacophony of thoughts.
He pulls up outside his flat but stays in the car unwilling to go inside and be alone. While he is still in the car the chance of him going somewhere else seemed possible. Raindrops run down the windscreen their paths altered by a greasy patch, a breath of wind or collision with another. He checks his phone for messages. If she calls now he could drive back over, if she called now then perhaps it would be all right. If she would only call him. He turns the ignition key killing the engine, listening to the last gurgles and splutters of life leave it. There is no longer any light from the dashboard, no friendly glow to comfort him. He retreats to the flat. The light is cold and sharp illuminating dusty shelves and brown thirsty leaves of a neglected home. He is exhausted, sick of the ramblings of his own mind. Worn out by the endless thoughts that plague his every waking hour and tormented by the nightmares that chased him in restless sleep. When would it be over? He wants it to end but not like the Play, please God not like that. Pills would be more gentle, a soft slipping into the gentle, peaceful sleep of an untroubled mind. He looks down to find a bottle of paracetamol in his hand. The bottles smooth sides are a comfort to hold but the comfort scares him. He sinks down into his grubby, brown sofa. Its soft, round form molds to fit his body and he is grateful for it but jealous of its unconcerned, inanimate and consistently ‘brown’ existence. Tipping pills into his hand his eyes well up. He sniffs and a sob shakes free of his throat. He squeezes the pills in his had and glares though blurred vision around the room squeezing the pills tighter and tighter, nails pushing into his fleshy palms. The pills grind together. His other hand comes to his face rubbing his forehead then violently slapping, repeatedly hitting himself as he rocks back and forth. At the crescendo of his face slapping, gnashing of teeth and grinding of pills he suddenly stops. Arms drop to his sides and as he slumps back into the sofa he releases his grip letting the pills slip from his palm.
* * * * *
He wakes on the sofa. The night had seemed bleak but now in the optimism of dawns early light he feels a little better. Everything is the same, the sofa is still brown, the dust still lies on the shelf and he is still alone but he allows a sliver of positivity to season his thoughts. He looks around the flat and decides that it is well over due a clean up, starting with the washing up.
Bubbles reflect the spectrum of light. A slick of colour slides across the waters surface. The water is warm and pleasant against his skin. Grease and crumbs are removed with a slow circular movement of the wrist. He watches his hands, tendons pulling and relaxing, controlling the intricate movements of his fingers. A graceful and effortless grip and release with a delicate sensitivity of touch. The gentle abrasion of the brush cleans to a squeak. There is a satisfaction in a simple job well done. How many more times will he do this before the end? His breathing is slow and regular. He transcends the tedium of this everyday task. Feeling the difference in texture between a plate and a pan. Listening to the slosh and slop of soapy water. Clean, rinse, stack then repeat. The pile of dirty cups, cutlery, plates, pans and bowls from one side slowly turns, drip dry, clean on the draining board.
He dries his hands on the rough fabric of a tea towel which he then folds neatly and hangs on the oven door. He moves towards the living room, aware of each step, noticing the weight shift from one leg to the next, the feel of the cold floor through his socks. He reaches out for the door handle. There is a splash of white paint against the gray metal. A point of impact with fingers of paint shooting off. The shape records the drama of motion in the moment. The splash had gone unnoticed until now. How many more details were there in his own home yet to be discovered? How many details in this city, country the world waiting to be seen, discovered, enjoyed. How much would he miss? He listens to the creak of the door hinges rise in pitch as he steps into the living room.
At first he thought that the woman had been crying. He felt the urge to put an arm around her shoulder and comfort her. As he contemplates he looks more closely and notices that what he thought had been the trail of a tear was actually a scar covered with make-up. Running from just under her eye down her cheek it was a little darker than her flesh tone and softened with make-up. Relieved that he had not spoken to her after all he looked back at her eyes and recognised a sadness there. He double checks the scar, was he mistaken? No, it was a scar. Realising that he had been looking at her for too long he looks away, his eyes sliding across a poster, onto the tube map. Then, using the faces of other commuters as stepping stones he steals another glance. He imagines being with her, a smile breaking across her face and joy shining from her eyes as bright and happy as the sadness that fills them now. A swelling of emotion wells up in his chest giving rise to an idea: Run away, forget trying to patch things up with his existing damaged relationship. Give up the struggle to regain her trust. There would be no more need to explain, he could just start again. Rather than nudging around the same niggling issues, gripes and old wounds he could sweep them all away. Start a new life. By just uttering a single word he could change everything. This woman could be a portal to a different life. It had to start with a word, a small act. He had to take the first step. Take a deep breath and speak to this woman with a scar like a tear, just say ‘hello’. He gathers himself and steps off the cliff, turning towards her with lips parted ready to speak. His heart pounds and the white hot electric pulse of possibility revs his ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ instincts up to screaming pitch but when he looks she has gone. He catches a last glimpse of her walking away along the platform to somewhere else, to be with someone else, to smile with someone else.
He stands alone holding another missed opportunity, turning it over in his mind imagining another life for himself. A change is needed, a paradigm shift to break the cycle and tear free from the destiny written for him in the Play. His life has been following the path of least resistance since he was pushed from his mothers womb. He had made little attempted to kick against the currant and alter its direction. He was not the type who attempted to shape their future. No great plan consumed his actions or drove him. His moral compass span and pointed with little interrogation. He felt undeserving of what he wanted and contented himself with what he got. Making the best of whatever fell across his path. Until now he had been content with that, until the thing that had fallen across his path was sharp and loud and fell with a crashing and crushing weight of metal on metal and jagged torn flesh, splintered bone and guts spilled on engines, blood mixing with boiling oil. It made him tremble to think of, so he tried not to think of it, but he could not escape his nightmares. In dreams he ran with heavy and aching legs away from his pursuer, slipping, unable to gain purchase on the ground that cracked and fell away below him. Waking tangled up in twisted sheets wet with sweat, his heart pounding he would moan ‘Why me, why now, why? Why?’. The answer coming in the smug, nasal voice of God or was it his own, omnipresent self?
“All your choices, your actions brought you here. You chose this.”
He would try and reason, answering in the voice of his childhood, a scared boy alone in the dark “But, I didn’t want this.”
“Want?, Deserve? What did you intend?” Laughter booming in the darkness, in his head. “My dear boy. The choices you made in the past form the foundations of your future. You made this.”
“No, I didn’t want to make this.”
“You went to the Play. You kissed the girl at the party. You ignore the needs of others. You drink. You fight. You fart. You live. You chose. You make your life. You die”.
“I don’t understand. I didn’t think going to a Play would lead to all this. How could I know?”
“You are lazy. Your life has been built from a passivity. You float aimlessly downstream towards the roaring waterfall enjoying the flowers on the bank as you pass. You have been following the path of least resistance for so long that you have almost forgotten that you can make changes and shape your own life.”
“But I don’t even know why I do what I do? Why do we do what we do?”
“Do ba dee doo, a doo ba doo ba dee doo. Poor you!” The response coming in a Jazz Scat. “Make a change, wrestle back control. Bring the authorship of your life under your own penmanship. Do you have the guts?”
He looks down the carriage at the empty space where the woman with a scar like a tear had been. Hesitation brought on by fear of failure had made him pause, a moment of inertia, a minute too long spent pondering the infinite possibilities of ‘what ifs’, ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ none of which ever have the chance, the possibility of coming into being without action. But on the other hand by acting there was no guarantee of the outcome. Sit down or stay standing? Get off at the next stop and walk the last mile or stay holding onto the hand rail. Turn the page of the newspaper and read a story that days later, remembered makes you stop and cry or just buy a different brand of instant coffee that you don’t like so it stays in the back of the cupboard for months until you are spring cleaning and you drop it on the floor and it smashes and you clean up the glass but miss a piece that days later gets stuck in your foot and as you hope around the kitchen, tears stinging your eyes you cry “Why, why do things like this always happen to me?” but it was your choice you chose it all, actively or passively but you chose it!
“Deep breaths” he says to himself then quickly looks around to see if anyone else has heard. He sucks in a lungful of the stale, warm and sickly commuter air. The odour of other peoples lives fill his nostrils, their choice of perfume, breakfast, soap, no soap, leather jacket, coffee, cigarettes, sweat and moisturising cream. They brushed up against him, pressing him this way and that crowding the space with all their thoughts, which of their plans would last the day? A man sneezed behind him, his germs released into the air, a woman’s heel momentarily squashes down on his toe then moves off, there is an elbow in his ribs and a bag in his gut. He has to get off, the train is not taking him in the way that he wanted to go so he decides to leave it.
He steps out of the underground and onto a street lit with bright winter sun. A fresh breeze brushes the back of his neck. Commuters pass in front of him, weaving in and out of each others path. They brush and bump a little but never collide. They altered their own and each other paths intent on getting where they are going. He leans back against the wall, standing to one side. For a moment he feels apart from the chaos. The space that he has taken against the wall makes a mini bottle neck at the same point in the pavement. It caused the throng of people to slow where they passed him. Some twist their bodies in an attempt to maintain momentum others slow and falter with apologetic smiles. The all handled it differently but his position affects them all. Even whilst doing nothing it seems that he could not avoid causing something to happen, effecting change. Paralyzed by the impossibility of making a choice from the infinite number of options he stands staring into a void of nothing as the crowd blurs in front of him. Perhaps he had only had one option left: to follow the path already created from the sum of all decisions he had made before. Perhaps he was too close to the waterfalls edge to kick against the current now. He takes the phone from his pocket and dials her number.