Caroline England

A Day of Nothing

He wakes to black and white again, wrenches his mind into focus. Bank holiday Monday. A day of nothing. Closes his ears to the hum of traffic and the cheerful bloody birds.
  The ring tone confuses him for a moment. He changed it the same time as deleting her number. He’d like to switch it off for ever, to execute an act of absolute finality to the fucking thing, but he needs it for work and his parents. He knows that it’s her, she never uses his landline. She likes an instant response and he always obliges.
  “I’m in love, Jamie. Are you around this morning?”
James closes his eyes as sparks of colour fly. He wonders where the shred of hope comes from.
  He slumps on the sofa, savours the warmth of her skin against his, closes his eyes and lets her talk. “Jamie, are you listening?”
  Oh yes, he’s listening. He likes the sound of her voice. Lets it wash over him without hearing a word.
  “Well, what do you think?” She’s peering at him. Her face is bare of make up, she has dark hollows under her eyes and there are at least three spots on her chin.
  “I think you should get more sleep,” he replies.
  “Open a window. Let in some air.” He watches her lips form the words from his bedroom window. She always looks up before she climbs in the car. Smiles and gives a small wave. Her parting gift. Remember me. Think of me.
  James looks down at his t shirt. An amoeba of grease surrounds a bright orange stain. Last night’s chicken tikka masala. For now his heart is in spasm. He’s glad he was dirty and smelly; he’s fucking elated he wasn’t a sap. He clenches his fist, punches the air, and then heads for the shower.
  He notices the sunshine for the first time in days. Runs for the blue bus but doesn’t give a toss when a smirking Pole slows down but decides not to stop. Keeps on walking stop to stop, his back perspiring, until he’s so close to Town that the fare’s not worth it. Focuses his eyes: Gemini Café’s changed hands, Townly building’s been demolished, another Tesco Metro, a cycle shop warehouse, an empty Lloyds TSB, all the things he looked at last week but didn’t see. He hasn’t flipped up his mobile for hours.
  The cubicle’s getting smaller and he’s holding his breath. The jeans are his size but he can’t breathe. He stares at the mirror. A man he can’t stand stares right back. He chokes back the scream of self loathing, then head buts the glass. Tight fucking jeans. He hates tight fucking jeans but he’s trying them on. Just for her. He sits on the bench, puts his face in his hands, feels wet flood his palms. When he lifts his head everything’s grey except a smear of bright red blood on the glass.
  He’s tired. Tired of life being on repeat, tired of being so bloody predictable. Torment in monochrome. It always kicks in sooner or later. Her legs thrown over his on the sofa. The tip toe kisses at the door. Her even white teeth. Her occasional tears. His head throbs and his hand vibrates with the judder of the bus as he stares at the screen. A smug icon of an envelope winks. He hopes it’s from her, but he knows its not. She’s told him her latest news; his usefulness for now has expired.
  The text is from his mother. Don’t forget dinner. Her recently acquired skill from months
of waiting in hospital rooms. Always the same until the medics gave up. Dad’s next in line. Can you believe we’re still waiting? Sure someone’s jumped the queue. Wish we’d gone private. The Consultant seems nice. Are you alright James? Haven’t seen you in ages. Dad says hello.
  The rain flattens his hair and drips off his nose. His t shirt is plastered to his chest and his teeth are chattering but he doesn’t feel cold. His mind is in overdrive, keeping him warm. He wishes he’d listened that morning. The who, what, when and why. Especially the who. Who the fuck had she fallen in love with this time? If he knew who, he could kick out the bastard’s brains instead of trying to spew out his own. Stripes of colour explode at the back of his eyes. He leans forward against a wall and for a moment he wonders if he’s haemorrhaging as he spits out some bile, but the thought is overtaken by the clarity of what he can do to stop the endless bloody cycle of conflict. And this time he knows he’ll see it through.
  His mother’s in the kitchen at the sink. She doesn’t turn round. He’s glad. Postpone her painted cheerful face a little while longer. “Dinners on the table in five minutes,” she calls. “Why do you always leave it so late, James? Better say hello to Dad first. Be careful of those stairs. Alice is already up there.”
  He’s shrunk again. Every time James sees his father he’s shrivelled a tiny bit further into his yellowing flesh. James hates his father for dying, for losing his strength. He loathes the wasting stranger left behind. “How’s it going, Dad?” he says.
  “Better for seeing you, son.” His skeletal grip is surprisingly strong. James resists the urge to pull back his hand. “And my Alice, of course. James…”
  James closes his eyes, sees nothing but black. He knows its coming. He wants to cover his ears and bolt from the room. His father’s breath is laboured, worse than before. “James. Son. Promise me you’ll look after your mother and your sister when I’m gone.”
James peels back his eyes and glances at Alice. She’s gazing at him and her forehead is creased. He’d forgotten about the cut. “What have you done to your forehead, Jamie? It wasn’t there this morning.” She lifts up her hand and explores the cut with soft small fingers. “More like me looking after him, Dad,” she laughs, but her father is asleep.

His knuckles are white as he waits for her at the top of the stairs. The hammer of his heart burns in his ears. He pulls back against the wallpaper to let her go first. But Alice stops on the landing, puts her arms around his waist and leans her head against his shirt. He’s sweating profusely and can smell her shampoo. “I will look after you, Jamie. I promise,” she whispers, her cheek against his.
  A rainbow of fantasies shoots through his veins. He had a plan, he knows he had a plan but he’s lost it for now.
  She pulls away and takes James’ hand. “Come on, little brother, dinner’s waiting. Did I tell you that Angus wears these really tight jeans?” And she smiles her smile with even white teeth.

Caroline England © 2008