The night before, it was supposed to be Lucy’s turn to close up the shop, but she’d had to nip off early because the baby had the croup, and Tim had a work thing to go to. I’d offered to do it for her, because I actually quite liked the silence; the soundlessness of the shop floor as order is once again restored. Like a big jigsaw. In a way, I thought it would do well to prepare me for the following morning. Something practical, to take my mind off things.
At closing time, Arthritic Maggie had said Rather you than me, petal, and asked if I had plans for the weekend. How’s your fella, the one from Hull? She’d asked, and I’d told her he’d gone back home for a while because things around here were too depressing. So, he went back to Hull, of all places? She’d laughed. I laughed too. Why not, I thought.
Then I’d gone to Mam’s for tea. I cooked. After the fourth brandy, she’d started on about grandkids and living in a bedsit, and how just because he’d sodded off it didn’t make it too late to do something. It was like her to make him the cause of all that had since unfurled. His leaving was something tangible. Nothing chemical about it. She could sink her teeth into a dumping. When I mentioned what Dr Farouk had said about treating the mind not the symptom, her lips pursed, as though the very mention of anything to do with the hospital had wrung the moisture from her mouth. What did he know, she’d said. He’s not even from this country.
I knew immediately I had to forgive her because, at that point, she didn’t know what I was going to do, and all she could see were the desiccated remnants of my youth spread out like an upturned refuse sack. But then, she was going to have to forgive me, too. When I left, she brushed a spec of dust from my coat and told me to comb my hair. You’ll never find a man looking like that.
As I lay in bed that night, I made a mental checklist of what needed doing. I had left out enough food for the cat, to last until they came to sort out my things. I had checked the train times and calculated roughly that one left the station every four minutes or so. My clothes were laid out on the folding chair beside the desk. A sense of small satisfaction came upon me as I marked my own efficiency, when I noticed the digital display of my alarm clock, mapping a ghostly neon hatching across the far wall. It reminded me of the paintings in Dr Farouk’s office. Abstract, he’d called it. Much like the human brain. Both complex, both beautiful. We need to analyse to understand. I thought about how many hours I’d spent staring at those paintings, as Dr Farouk laid his delicate fingers on the desk between us, and tipped his head to one side. I thought about the garish, lazy colouring of them. If that’s my brain, I thought, I don’t want to understand.
I turned over, away from the clock, and felt my back stiffen. It occurred to me that I was far older than I’d once felt, as though the number had been allocated a different meaning, displaced by more important considerations. It crept upon me, with the realisation of a slow winding down.
The next morning, I deliberately didn’t wear my boots, despite the cold, because heels attract attention. I knew that the irresistible sound of hard foodsteps on concrete platform would be a problem, and would command the attention of onlookers. I stuck to soft soles and silence. Platform four, being the furthest from the station entrance, would be the least fuss to decommission for the rest of the afternoon.
It was one of those days when the sky is cold milk, and your breath is hung before you in wet heaps.
Four trains arrived and departed before the right announcement shook its metallic din from the speakers above. The platform master appeared, and it was then that I could see he was only a boy. He wasn’t what I’d pictured. The next train arriving at platform four does not stop here. Perhaps he was twenty, or twenty-one. He still had acne on his face. Please keep back from the platform edge. I wondered if he had ever seen a dead body before, on the internet. Whether his mates had shared something like that with him on their phones. Keep back from the edge. Did he have mates? The train now arriving does not stop here. Would he know what to do? Had he been doing this job long enough to know? Keep back from the edge. Would he forgive me?
I didn’t stand up straight away.