Unfinished Story

Mark is stooped in a Crouch End coffee shop, nursing a hangover with someone else’s Americano. The black liquid swaying slightly, as the adrenalin of his restless leg translates to the uneven table. He reaches at the seat next to him for the newspaper abandoned by a previous customer.
The daily haunting headlines of a tabloid usually spark an endless firework of rumination within Mark’s mind. He was once banned from indagating in journalistic drivel as no good ever came from reading a newspaper. A twenty-five minute train ride to Central London could turn ugly if one of Mark’s neighbours were a Metro paper balanced on an empty seat, beckoning to be picked up, perused and undressed, sheet by sheet, revealing page by page of pain, suffering, phone adverts, pain, rage, more adverts, celebrities and worst of all, sports. Why would a newspaper tell its readers of potential terrorist attacks on its city? He wouldn’t get scared until they told him. Who are the real terrorists?
‘What happened to Mark?’
‘Well, he left the house in a positive mood but arrived at work wanting to kill everybody.’
What could’ve happened twix the two?!’
Today’s date. 29th August. He doesn’t bat an eyelid at the ‘Terror alert on New York and London underground’ header. This conflict has lasted far too long for him to care anymore. Today has lasted for too long for him to care about anyone anymore.
He rips the page from its bond and folds it a few times, and slides it under the crooked table leg, hoping the manifold thickness will help the table from doing its job. Stay still. Success.
Mark resurfaces and sees a fly at the end of his table. His leg stops shaking. He stays still like a lioness observing its next meal through the curtains of soaring Savannah. Has it been there all along? Surely the unsteady table must have bothered it too? Must have felt like an earthquake and yet it just stays there rubbing its hands as if it were plotting something. Mark scrutinizes the Machiavellian insect.
‘I’ve seen you before’ says Mark.
The fly doesn’t respond.
The hazy shadow of Mark’s hand slowly soars over the insect and immediately darkens as he crushes his victim. A small scream of success bellows out of Mark as he lifts his hand to see the tiny mutilated body. He looks around to see if anyone in the coffee shop has noticed. They haven’t.
Mark swoops in closer to examine the corpse like a hunter getting down on its knees to finger the fresh bullet hole. His smile and hoisted eyebrows fades almost instantly as he looks at his hands. The fly is neither living nor dead. Has he murdered the fly if it were not alive in the first place?
He swiftly picks off the little insect of his palm and places it neatly back where it was. He then quickly grabs sanitizer from his bag and starts cleaning his hands as if he were plotting something.
‘Out, damned spot! Out, I say!’ is all that comes to mind.
He places the antiseptic back in his bag. His brown eyes droop down onto his worn National Gallery notebook, struggling to focus, biro loosely gripped through the kind of fingers that would make Pol Pot proud. The skin around his unkempt nails ripped apart from biting. Bronzed from the constant outdoors. Calluses on the webbing wrapped around the thenar space. Worker’s hands for an unemployed man.
He writes the number 732, in black. Other colours don’t sit right on the page. The sound volume at an odd number. The beat of windscreen wipers not keeping tempo with the music on the car stereo. Symmetrical position of the television remotes on the table. The swan neck tap directly aligned with the sinkhole. Mark used to be so pernickety with every single second of his life he would not put the word fast in fastidious. He is more relaxed nowadays, although remnants of what he once was haven’t disappeared.
‘732.’ The number barely makes a noise as it escapes his mouth.
He drops the pen to thumb the blood-blotched bandage along his left wrist. It’s starting to heal. His embarrassed face scans around the coffee shop for judgemental eyes. Nobody looks at him. Nobody looks at anyone in London. Nobody cares.
The coffeehouse is eerily silent. None of the background noises that you can usually ignore. Nothing. No grinding from pulverised coffee beans. Clinking and clanking from spoons on saucers. Tapping on keyboards from wannabe writers. No hissing from heated milk or weary parents. Nothing but him as the epicentre of occasional throat clearing and tired sighs. Just like when you’re chewing on cereal and the only sound you can hear is the chocolaty crunching inside your skull. It took Mark a long time to acclimatise to the deafening silence.
He observes a man and woman sat on the other side of the room. Married, judging by the rings on their fingers, probably in their thirties, sat next to each other. Close in proximity, yet couldn’t be further apart form each other. Both dominated by their respective phones as if strangers on a bus. The two little girls sat opposite them, mimicking their parents. Their frothy babyccino moustaches shining bright from their individual illuminated iPads. The Father charging his phone in the nearby plug.
This is what coffee shops are for now. To charge ourselves. Coffee for the humans. Current for the handset. Have you ever been with someone whose phone ran out of battery? They react as though a close relative just passed away.
‘My phone died. Fuck! What am I supposed to do now?’
Have a conversation with me perhaps? It’s like a tweet, but I’m your only follower. We reply to each other instantly, no uninvited adverts and I may retweet one of your funny anecdotes.
Your phone’s not dead. I think you’ll be fine. If only life were that easy.
‘My Mother died, but luckily the doctor had a spare charger.’
Technology has brought the planet closer together, but the World further apart. Does this couple sat opposite him realise how lucky they are to have found someone they can share their status and take selfies with?
A surge of melancholy snakes up his body. His back straightens. His eyes close and he takes three deep breaths. In through the nostrils. Out through the mouth. In and out. In. Out.
He turns his attention back to the table and picks up the Polaroid picture taken last Spring of Suzie. He struggles to smile like an old woman frozen by botox.

‘Take it already!’ says Suzie, strangling him as she balances on his back.
‘Yeah, it’s not easy.’ His words choking as they escape through whatever gap Suzie has left in his neck. ‘Can’t we just use my phone?’ he exclaims, waving her old fashioned Polaroid camera. Weighty and large for a reverse shot. ‘Plus, you’re getting fat!’ he laughs.
‘Prick!’ she laughs back with a slap to his head.
Suzie is the kind of girl that hates things if they’re popular, which is a detested attitude to have by the masses, but she’ll always have an annoying reason proving her “right”.
She has a camera on her mobile phone, but it only gets used as a visual to-do list. A dress in a shop window she’d like to buy on payday, a cake on the shelf she’ll search the recipe for and make, that sort of thing.
‘Why do people take pictures of every fucking second?’
Most phone albums are megabytes of mess and then hoarded online, abandoned in cyber space, never to be seen again apart from the odd thumbs up of a mouse’s click. The only memory that crawls in the head of the person that took the picture is ‘I took so many pictures that night. And then my phone died.’ Why would you want a hundred pictures from a drunken night out anyway? It seemed ridiculous to her. And she was “right”.
She carefully chose when to capture a memory, so she could concentrate on living her life in the present rather than behind a lens to live in the future. And today was one of those moments she needed to concrete, for today was one of the happiest days of her life.
Suzie sets Mark’s throat free and snaps the camera out of his hand.
‘I’ll do it!’ She stands in front of him. ‘Get on my back, loser.’
Mark carefully climbs on her back.
‘You’re getting a bit fat too.’
‘Murr ma ma murr fat too’ Mark mimics childishly.
‘Smile.’

The sound of the iconic Polaroid wakes Mark back into his sorrowful coffee shop. This is a long-ago version of Mark and Suzie, forever frozen in that one second, in this picture. Their stupid grins underneath knock-off sunglasses from the market they bought that morning in Cassis. A colourful recollection. Her hazelnut face and his mirroring the English flag; white skin and red sunburns. Burning yellow sun reflecting in their glasses, clashing with the purple fields and azure sky behind them. The smell of past lavender fills his nostrils. One more deep breath and the picture is placed in the back in the notebook with an resonant slam.

He picks up the pack of painkillers, pops two out of the packaging and chucks them in his mouth, wincing as he forces the stubborn pills down his throat with the coffee dregs, then puts the cup neatly back into the saucer and slides in the direction of its previous owner.
A twenty-something waif, dressed as though he donned a Velcro suit and blindly ran through some hipster shop, and wore whatever stuck on, followed by a trip to a Pollockesque hairdresser, where a similarly dressed individual began work on his head with a lawnmower. After the rite ice-breaking conversation all hairdressers must abide by, they both look in the mirror and give each other a thumbs up, not knowing if this is what is supposed to look good.
The waif continues to stare out of the window, mouth open as if trying to catch flies. Mark follows his eye line to discover a young woman who has, according to the immaculate pha nung drapped over her fresh tan, recently-returned from finding herself in South-East Asia. He looks back at the waif with a grin on his face.
‘Good luck.’
Mark throws his notebook, biro, battered map of London and remaining painkillers in his backpack. He then pulls out some recently-robbed washing up gloves out of the freshly-filched sports bag, sticks them in his back pocket and makes his way out of the coffee shop. He steps outside and confidently strides across the street without a care for traffic.

Every step forward raises his awareness of his quickening heartbeat. His shoulders are tensing. His jaw is gurning. Fight or flight. A single bead of sweat trickles down his triceps from his left armpit. His forehead is moist. His eyes are fluttering. His back is damp. His breath locomotives out of control as he pauses for his heart palpitations.
‘I can’t do this’ he thinks.
He crumbles to his knees as he reaches the pavement.
‘What am I doing?’
Hyperventilation dominates. Fear responds.
Mark dives into his backpack and fishes out his inhaler. Shakes it thrice and pumps the mist deep in his lungs. Pause. Breathe.

He collapses on the floor looking up at space and his dancing floaters in vitreous humour. They are clearly there, for today is a sunny day. They hide when it’s dark. But not today. A turquoise canvas with brush strokes of cirrus in the distance and a solitary cumulus cloud overhead, resembling a rabbit, teasing the sun’s edge. Silver body with white fur skirting its edges and blinding white ears complete with halo. With hooked hands on his forehead as to not be blinded, Mark enjoys this hiatus with the white rabbit.
‘Oh dear, oh dear’ he exclaims with a hint of a titter, looking at his watch, ‘I shall be too late’.
An eructation of laughter, loud enough to reach the white rabbit, explodes from deep within that has long been heard by anyone. If something truly tickles Mark’s mind, or body, his laugh will go from a gleeful giggle to a hysterical guffaw complete with red cheeks and a high-pitched sound that can only be described as a braying donkey. His laugh usually had the osmotic power to infect anyone hearing it. But nobody is joining in this time.
It is 10:17 in the morning.

He gets himself up with the newfound energy from a long awaited laugh, places the sports bag strap over his shoulder, pulls the washing gloves out of his back pocket and puts them on, struggling as he does so. Another quick giggle.
‘Carpe Diem.’
He takes one more deep breath and steps inside the bank.
‘Nobody moves!’ He chuckles. ‘This is a robbery!’

————————–

‘Check’
Suzie’s Queen beams at the exposed King, mirroring her intimidating look, piercing Mark’s psyche. Threateningly sinking her teeth into a croissant. Delicious buttery crumbs rains down into her open Salvador Dali book, as his subjugated stare follows suit down to the theatre of war.
‘Nanny strikes again! What are you gonna do about it, bitch?’
Words will always sound muffled when traversing through Viennoiseries, but Mark manages to decipher them nonetheless, as Suzie so often brings up Nanny in a winning game of blacks versus whites. A name for chess she has adopted to irritate Mark’s political correctness.
Nanny refers to a Jamaican national hero, a leader of the Maroons in the 18th century, a Queen, who headed escaped slaves, protected her people for imperialism, and formed community in the hilly heart of the island. Suzie’s passport may say she was born in Surrey, but her veins flow with her beloved grandmother’s Jamaican blood, who would oft recounted tales of Caribbean folklore.
Suzie insists on being the black pieces for their habitual breakfast battle, so she can “get in his face” when whites are vanquished. A small victory for the atrocities committed by Caucasian colonialism, even though Mark had nothing to do with those past atrocities. He sells phones for a living, which makes an altogether different kind of slave.
A heavy sighs escapes a perplexed Mark.
‘If I try something new, I fail, and if I don’t, you know my moves.’ Mark remarks, sadistically patting his fresh razor burn.
‘You’re predictable.’ She says from within the pages. A smile-triggered dimple to the side of her cheek caves in.
‘I’m not predictable!’
‘I knew you’d say that.’ Suzie says, her eyes momentarily leaving The Disintegration Of The Persistence Of Memory to watch the implosion of his visage, before going back to her book with another smile on her face. He sneers and swiftly places a protected pawn in the trajectory of her Queen.
‘Your turn.’
Suzie’s claw cognitively hovers over the board, her chess elbow planted into the table with the forearm rising from its roots like an industrial crane operated by a fatigued engineer. The other hand nonchalantly scrapping dregs of pastry out of the crevasses of her molars.
Mark’s wide eyes flicker wildly attempting to translate her body language. Attempting to stifle his accelerated breathing. His hands, hidden underneath the table, fluxing between spread fingers as if they were trying to escape from their sockets and choking his thumb twix the palm of his hand.

‘Tension is a natural response to the body sensing danger. Your blood pressure and heart rate increases, as does your breathing. You muscles begin to tighten with the release of adrenalin. You start sweating. And all that physical stimulation triggers mental arousal. Does that make sense?’
Mark nods tentatively. Doctor Husain continues with his soft spoken and accidental denigrating voice.
‘It’s an evolutionary trait designed to keep us alive. Imagine early man is relaxing in his cave, and then a lion comes in to attack him. That’s the trigger. His body reacts. He thinks about what he has to do. Fight or flight. He sees danger so his brain sends him signals and his body is ready. But the same goes for the other way. If you start feeling tension in your muscles, your body sends signals to your brain saying it’s preparing for danger. So then, your brain looks around for the threat.’
Another nod from Mark.
‘So when you feel tension in your body, it’s important you massage all that adrenalin out, otherwise it tells the brain something is wrong, even when it isn’t. And that’s why you stress. You become tense and you don’t understand why. You sense danger.’
They both sit back in their respective chairs.
‘And now imagine that caveman would think about being attacked by a lion before it happened? He would’ve prepared for such a worst-case scenario. Perhaps an exit plan? Maybe he made himself a weapon. Well this attribute is still alive in us today, but we’re no longer being attacked by lions. Our dangers are social. We look for threat in our every day lives. Thinking of the worst-case scenario helps us to keep us alive. But it shouldn’t dominate it. So start by doing the exercises I’ve given you, and you should hopefully be more in control. Under duress, you tend to regress to primitive thinking, which in psychoanalytic parlance, is basically a backsliding from mature thinking to seeing the World as extremes. Not everything is black and white.’

Suzie looks up, from positioning a knight into an outpost, to see Mark rubbing his shoulders out of his crooked stance.
‘What are you thinking about now, my love?’ She asks calmly.
‘Global warming. The gap between the rich and poor getting bigger by the minute. I don’t know. We’re all fucked!’
Her eyebrows barely rise before Mark interrupts.
‘OK fine.’ He admits, annoyed for just flagging up controversial issues to the table as a failed distraction. He slowly fills his lungs for the escaping air to take the butterflies away.
‘Are you bored of me?’ Grabs his cup of coffee with both hands and swigs large gulps from behind it.
It’s difficult to deracinate a seed of self-doubt once it’s planted deep in the soft grey sulci of the brain. Particularly when the answers to your questions are hidden in someone else’s brain. Strange how you can look at someone’s head and know so much is going on in there, so much information, but only its host can access it. And somehow, you have to trust it.
Suzie closes her book.
‘Of course not, you silly bastard. How can I ever be bored if you? You’re insane.’ Which, in this particular relationship, is a compliment. Suzie’s pearly teeth brightening his day. ‘Come.’
She reaches out beckoning him to give her a hand. He rests one in her care. She begins to squeeze it firmly, caressing the dorsal veins bulging out of him.
‘I love you’ she says with penetrating, tender eyes. His face like that of a lost dog. ‘Why would you think such a thing?’
‘Well.’ Ellipsis. He looks around the apartment for clues. A grey sky permeates through the windows giving the room a single shade of sombre. The sound of rain knocking on the glass.

Mark & Suzie have lived in their flat for almost two years, on one of London’s longest street, Green Lanes in Harringay. The residence is typical of the capital’s over crowdedness. Situated above a bustling Turkish restaurant for a dose of nightly noise, and unwanted aroma if you wished to open the window to hear the music of round the clock buses and tooting impatience. But placed below parquet flooring so as to feel every single step the crepuscular neighbours insist on taking. Not to mention their biweekly arguments that bleed below.
The apartment came furnished with memories of past residents peppered about the place. Two modest bedrooms, undersized windowless bathroom, a kitchenette in the living room and yet rent so gargantuan one could probably get a condo on a beach facing a sunset in a turquoise sea.
They have to share their rent and their home with a cohabitant, Jacques, a Gaulois waiter of the same age as Mark, but still a jejune garçon with a penchant for video games, weed, masturbation and late mornings. His heart is in the right place. And so is his room, at the end of the corridor where his lifestyle doesn’t infect the lovebirds’ senses.
The nest’s décor chiefly fashioned by the artist of the house, the pair of pillows sandwiching the corners of the couch, various unused perfumed candles dotted about the place, superfluous pebbles in the corner of the sink and other mulled over touches to make this apartment a home, topped off with a melange of magnets on the fridge door, differentiating in style pertaining to their proprietors.
Mark looks around the apartment he’s existed in, repeating the same day over and over again. Wake, work, sleep, repeat, peppered with miscellaneous things to break up the monotony of daily life.

‘Well.’ Ellipsis. ‘Aren’t you a bit bored of doing the same thing every day?’
‘What, chess?’ Suzie asks, sitting back in her chair with palms facing the ceiling. ‘Is this because I’m winning? Because I’m – ’
‘Not that!’ exclaims Mark, glancing at the game. ‘I mean, routine. Predictability.’
‘Oh babe’ she rolls her eyes ‘I was just joking.’
‘Oh I know, I know. But – ’ Mark bites a bit of dry skin on his bottom lip. ‘You’re not wrong.’
Suzie smiles.
‘Is this is it? Are we gonna end up like my parents? Get a little home in the countryside and wait to die?’
A fire ignites in the back of Suzie’s hazelnut irides.
‘Firstly, don’t compare me to your parents again! Secondly,’ The eyes slowly turning to embers, ‘No, we will not be like them. Thirdly. Stop worrying about what’ll happen in the future and enjoy what’s happening in the present. I might die tomorrow. You don’t know where you’ll be next week! Relax.’ She huffs. ‘At the moment, our routine is coffee, chess and sex, which is pretty fucking good!’
Mark looks at his calculator watch. 08:43. Tuesday 20 August.
‘And work.’ Mark grunts, standing up to ritualistically snatch a couple of spare croissants and wrapping them up in foil. Suzie admires him and smiles as he then grabs some dog biscuits from the cupboard and wraps them up too, which he then places in his bag.
‘Yes, and work.’ She gulps some of her orange juice. ‘Although, school doesn’t start for another two weeks, so I’m still on holiday.’
She reopens her book.
‘You excited?’ he says joining her back to the table.
‘Yeah. I’m going to a couple of art museums this week. Do some research. Wanna take the kids out on a trip, Tate, National Gallery, I don’t know yet, but something. Get them thinking outside the box.’
‘Lucky sods. I need some excitement in my life.’
Suzie looks up at him briefly. He doesn’t notice.
‘You can visit London anytime you like. Now play your fucking move!’
‘Yes miss.’
The roaring of his phone’s alarm vibrates on the table. Mark snaps it up and looks at a Suzie’s whose eyes are back on Salvador Dali’s work. A reminder. Meet Lauren at lunch.
Mark looks at Suzie. The personification of pulchritude.
‘I love you so much. You know that right?’
Suzie looks up at him with embers still glowing in her eyes. She pulls a face and reluctantly replies.
‘I love you too, you shit.’
She flicks her eyes to the board, then back in the pages. Mark looks at the pieces and finally chooses. He slides a bishop onto her side of the table. Without a moment’s hesitation, she picks up her other knight and slams it in position. She gets up and downs her coffee.
‘In your face!’
Mark quickly looks down.
‘Checkmate!’

————————–

‘Good morning George’ says Mark, looking down at a grey haired man resting on a sullied sleeping bag laid out on a wet pavement. The muzzle of a sleeping black Labrador Retriever slumped on his thigh.
‘Morning mate’ replies he with a West Country accent weathered by age, booze and cigarettes. ‘I like the days when you work Mark. I seem to get ignored by everyone else.’
The image of a butterfly brooch sends a chill runs up Mark’s spine as George say this.
‘Don’t worry. I’ve got your back. And you don’t want to talk to this lot. They’re boring.’
Mark tentatively bends his knees to get to street level. He once debated with himself for a half hour about whether it was right or wrong to join homeless people at their eye level for fear of it looking patronizing. He decided it would cause them less neck pain if he joined them.
He grabs the two bundles of foil out of his bag and hands them to George.
‘Here you go. Bon appétit.’
‘Thank you so much’ he says through chapped lips, revealing his nicotine stained smile.
‘It’s the least I could do.’
Mark forces a smile back. Eyeing the handful of copper coins in George’s chewed up Styrofoam cup.
‘Hey girl’ says Mark an octave higher, annoyed that he instinctively puts on a silly voice when talking to dogs, cats and babies.

For a brief moment, a memory flickers of a chat with Suzie.
‘I hate cats’ she says, in her pyjamas, melted all over Mark, which she calls ‘snuggling’.
‘Why can’t we have a cat?’
‘Because they’re manipulative little cunts.’ The words are said matter of fact like a teacher to her students.
‘I hope you don’t talk to your kids like that!’
‘Someone told me they can mimic the frequency of a baby crying and that’s why women get all doughy eyed for them. I don’t want a cat controlling my mind.’
She hits him in the face with a pillow.
‘Fine, we’ll get a dog.’

Mark scratches the top of Princess’s head
‘If I didn’t have Princess, I don’t think anyone would bother talking to me.’
Mark looks down.
Princess was the catalyst of conversation between him and George. Most city-dwellers, what with the ban of animals in rented apartments and the lack of money in their bank accounts, can’t walk past someone else’s dog without cocking their heads in jealousy with hand reached out in front of them like a zombie in feeding on childhood nostalgia.
‘I’ve gotta go to work. Look after yourself yeah?’
Mark stands up and begins his journey down the stairs to catch the tube.
‘Always do. See you tomorrow’ he says sinking his teeth into a croissant. Delicious buttery crumbs rains down onto his dog’s head.

Mark’s eyes flutter as he works out a trajectory based on the velocity and direction of the rush hour commuters in front of him. Graceful and swift like a gust of wind rushing through a closing door, he snakes his way through a sea of people while silently, so nobody can hear him, making Formula One noises as he shifts gears to overtakes the slow walkers. Mark is 29 years old.
Every second has to be carefully calculated. The choice of chthonic gate to go through in case the fool in front of him doesn’t have the right amount of money on their travel card. Tailgating the more nimble travellers, making sure not to catch their feet as you speed up behind them. The precision timing of slipping into the fluid left hand lane on the elevator, hoping he won’t have to tut at a tourist for damming the smoothness of his downwards travel to the platform, and the last minute dash round the corner as he hears the alarm of train doors closing, which close in front of him.
Mark lets out a tired cry as he notices the two-minute wait for the next train, looking behind at the elderly lady who had trouble swiping her key on the yellow entrance disc. His brows get heavy for a second before he takes a deep breath of circulated air.
He fishes out the phone from his pocket and plugs in his earphones. He bobs his head up and down to the sound of shuffled music and looks around at the people he won’t be speaking to today. So many choices of people to ignore. He thumbs the latest downloaded distraction and makes some pixels move about on a screen in return for a feeling of accomplishment.
A multicoloured, multicultural habitat for people rich with stories, and yet people keep themselves to themselves, blocking as many of their senses from human interaction as possible. Ears blocked with sound at a higher volume than safe to ensure drowning the tempo of the train tracks and the bleeding of other people’s muffled music. Fingers pressing down on the earphones for maximum result. Palms clutching a mirror for that all-important retouch. Hands grasping some form of literature with eyes wormholed into the book or nose deep into a newspaper, so close you can smell the death the journalist is recounting. Ready to recoil and snarl at any neighbour attempting to sneak a peak of their words, as if they were trying to steal a stanza from their precious page.

Londoners will do almost anything to ignore someone. Institutionalised disregard. You can’t talk to a member of the opposite sex because they’ll think you’re flirting with them. You can’t talk to a member of the same sex because they’ll think you’re flirting with them. You can’t talk to, let alone look at, someone younger because everyone is told to automatically think ‘sex offender’. You can’t talk to someone older because you think on their behalf that they don’t want to be bothered by someone younger. You can’t talk to anyone in a group because they are too cliquey. You can’t talk to foreigners because you can only speak English.
There is no talking. Just staring. Observing the way they ignore others, until their eyes are surreptitiously snipered onto you and you are forced to gawk at someone else. Mark calls this ‘eyeball ping pong’. Sometimes observing someone observing another; looking at their wandering eyes, ping, imagining what they are possibly thinking of the person they are looking at and judging them for judging others, until pong, your critic of them is interrupted by someone observing you observing someone. Ping. A never-ending match of amateur psychologists with nothing to say. Nobody talks. Just stares.

‘Please stand back behind the yellow line’, murmurs the tannoy, as the rumbling from the approaching train begins its crescendo and Mozart’s Minuet in G kicks in. His music is on shuffle. He pauses the game and slides his avatar in his pocket.
Everybody knows to stand behind the yellow line. Just like everybody knows how to unfasten the belt buckle in an airplane. A modern populace desensitised to everyday monotony causes problems, hence the regurgitation of superfluous warnings. Repetition either equals perfection or ennui.
The headlight shines down the tunnel.
Mark would love to hear, just once, “Dear passengers. Do what you want. We really couldn’t give a shit!” as the train pulled in at the station. Not only would everyone take notice, but it would make everyone think twice, perhaps thrice, about their own safety. Everyone’s confusion would prompt people to look around and, maybe, just maybe, strike a conversation with fellow passengers.
‘Did dat geezer just say he didn’t give a fuck? That’s fucking rude innit?’ spits the boy in his late teens, with shaved head under his baseball cap and dangling price tag, and jeans so low everyone can see his cartoon underwear.
‘I believe he did. I’m terribly perplexed!’ replies the middle-aged businesswoman in matching cream-coloured skirt and shirt and crème de menthe flavoured breath.
They both burst into laughter and enjoy this single shared moment, before one final nod of the boy’s head to the woman as he gets off at his station seventeen minutes later.
Even in his mind, Mark’s imagined strangers have nothing to say to one another.

‘Please allow other passengers off first before boarding the train.’
The train door comes to a halt directly in front of Mark, who unconsciously steps aside for the passengers getting off. Furrowed brow fixed at the bearded hipster who swims against the flow of a Hasidic family struggling to get off the carriage with two children and a pram.
‘Unbelievable.’ Thinks Mark, giving the Father of the family a helping hand to get the pushchair off safely. Both men offer each other the briefest of looks. One courteously nods as the other curiously examines the side curls protruding out of the other’s furry hat.
He steps onto a crowded train and grabs the overhead handrails with his clammy hands, momentarily brushing onto the hipster’s fingers who got no further than him. They swiftly smile at each other before both going back to stroking their phones.
‘What is Jewish curly hair called?’
The alarm rings as the doors close. He glances away from the search engine long enough to see the wave of commuters running from around the corner. His Shadenfreudal smirk soon diminishes as the complimentary wi-fi disappears into the abyss of the tunnel.

————————–

‘This is ridiculous! The battery life is awful. I want to return this phone’ demands the customer, slamming the phone on the counter as he does so.
‘Yeah and throwing your phone will help, you prick’ replies Mark, in his mind.
‘I totally understand Sir’ replies Mark, hands clasped together as if praying for the man to understand, ‘but as I said, the more you use your phone, the more battery it will use. Emails, Twitter, Facebook – ’
‘I don’t use those websites!’ spits the old man.
Mark smiles and nods, subtly brushing the speck of saliva off his cheek with his index finger. ‘OK. It’s just that you clearly seem like a busy man so – ’
‘Yes I am busy!’ barks the middle-aged businessman. His face a melange of anger and alcohol abuse; reddening nose and cheeks patterned with blood lightning. His mood thunderous. Dark bags under his fiery eyes above lids as heavy as his escaping stomach. ‘And I certainly have no time to be wasting with a cretin like you!’
Mark’s hands launch in the air as to create a barrier. ‘Excuse me Sir, but there’s no need to – ’
‘Good afternoon.’
The man joining the kerfuffle is Terry; the manager. He has a ponytail and bitter breath from the hourly coffee he drinks. He has a tendency to get close when talking to his staff. Mark believes he does this on purpose. Terry moved to London at the age of 20 to pursue his dream of becoming an actor and joined The Carphone Warehouse, days after his arrival to sustain living in the capital. He has had seven auditions in total. One was successful; an advert for mint chewing gum shown in Italy, filmed in Slough. Terry is now 36 years old.
‘What seems to be the problem?’
‘This guy is doing my fucking head in!’
‘This gentleman has a problem with the battery life on the new phone’ replies a smiling Mark. ‘but unfortunately, as I tried to explain, it’s out of our 28 day exchange policy.’
‘By three fucking months!’ he continues wordlessly, still smiling.
‘I’ve been a customer with you for over ten years now, and this hasn’t happened to any of the phones I’ve bought from you! This is stupid. Simply stupid.’
‘Your previous handset,’ just like its owner ‘wasn’t smart, Sir. It wasn’t a smart phone.’ explains Mark, trying to diffuse the situation. He then turns to Terry with a slight hushed tone. ‘And Sir, doesn’t seem to understand that phones, just like people, need energy everyday to function.’ And smiles at the customer.
‘Settle down Mark’ snaps Terry, with heavy eyebrows, budging Mark out of the way. ‘Just go to the back and make me a cuppa. I’ll speak to you in a minute.’ Terry pushes a dirty mug towards mark as he turns to the customer with eyebrows light. ‘Sorry about that Sir, I’m sure I’ll be able to help you.’

How is social media changing brain?
Can’t log off. Addicted to being online. Psychological addiction but creates a similar reaction in the brain to people with substance abuse. (People who sell phones are basically drug dealers). Degradation of white matter, which affects emotion, attention and decision-making.
Immediate reward with very little effort required, your brain rewires itself to want these stimulations and you begin to crave more of this neurological excitement after each interaction.
Phantom vibration syndrome. New psychological phenomenon where you think you felt your phone vibrate, but it didn’t. Technology is rewiring our nervous system. (Think robots aren’t taking over now?)
Social media releases dopamine. Feel good chemicals. But these mainly get released when your statues, your views, your photo is being liked or talked about, as opposed to taking joy from others. We love to talk about ourselves.
30-40 % of face to face conversations are about our own experiences. 80% of conversations on social media is self involved.
The same part of your brain linked to orgasm, motivations and love are stimulated by your social media use and even more so when you have an audience. So our bodies are rewarding us for talking about ourselves online.
But the World is getting smaller. We can communicate to each other from anywhere, at any time.
He can text Suzie at any point.

Hidden from customers, Terry is skilfully rolling a cigarette, while Mark thumbs his phone screen, as he expresses a sigh of relief.
‘The curly bits of hair that Jewish people have is called a payot.’
‘OK.’ Terry doesn’t look up.
‘And the hat’s a shtreimel. Actually there’s a few hats.’
He looks at Terry who pauses what he is doing to look at Mark, prompting him to slide his phone back in his pocket and clean a couple of cups from the mount of used mugs surfacing out of the sink.
‘You can’t talk to customer like the way you did, Mark.’
‘The man’s phone was riddled with apps. No wonder his phone wanted to commit suicide! You made me look like an idiot!’
The kettle clicks, the noise of bubbles boiling slows. Mark spoons some coffee in one and a teabag in the other, and pours the water in both, rising steam bellowing out of the top, momentarily, blurring Mark’s view through his thick-rimmed reading glasses. He doesn’t wear them often, but finds his sales target are easier to reach with them on. People assume he is smarter and somewhat trustworthy.
He picks a few sugar packets out of the jar and empties them into the mixture. Most people would open the tube-shaped sachets by tearing it open from one end and emptying their contents that way. Mark however has been opening them by breaking the sachet in the middle and allowing the sugar out from both sides, since hearing the inventor of this sachet committed suicide because people misunderstood how to use his creation. He never checked to see if this was correct. And thought this was a ridiculous reason to kill yourself. But since hearing this at a party, he has been opening them the way the inventor intended.
Same goes for bananas. Mark squeezes what most people think is the bottom of the fruit. The nipple ruptures open allowing him to peel it and use the handle as a handle, rather than the accepted handle-as-a-zip method. ‘That’s how monkeys do it’ says Mark to anyone who questions his banana-opening technique. Monkeys however, do no commit suicide because of the misuse of what humans associate as their fruit.
He coils the teabag with its cord around the spoon’s head to squeeze those extra drops of flavour. And then, he carefully streams the milk in the mug and watches the solid white liquid turmoil around the clear brown tea, which he likes to think, resembles a storm in a teacup. He does so for a few seconds before stirring both mugs; coffee first so as to not stain the drink.
‘I’m sorry Mark, but customers are always right.’
‘No, they’re – ’ interrupted, Mark swats a fly hovering in front of his face, annoyed at their speed. ‘They’re actually mostly wrong, Terry.’
Mark places the drinks on the desk, looking around to see where the fly has escaped to, and flops onto the chair.
‘Thanks’ says Terry, smiling with lips pursed; aware of his nicotine-stained teeth, unaware of his stale coffee halitosis. ‘Well you didn’t have to be so sarcastic with him. Before you go on lunch, I need to talk to you about your progress.’
Mark folds his arms, sits back, his gaze directed at Terry, and yet distant. He hears the bump of a fly against a window. He has the same expression on his face and repeatedly takes his glasses on and off his face to clean them, every time they have this conversation. Neither of them want to be there.
Targets.
‘I’m not going to force insurance on anyone that doesn’t want it. I ask a couple of times and if they don’t want it. Fair enough.’
Punctuality.
‘Yeah sorry about that. But the underground can be a bit of a pain in the mornings. Even you’re late sometimes!’
Presentation.
‘I don’t care what the area manager said about my hair. It barely reaches my neck. It’s not that long! I still reach my contract phone targets! Next time you see him, tell him he’s a prick. I’m well-dressed and clean shaven. What more does he want? My hair has nothing to do with my work ethics. He’s just jealous cause he’s going bald.’
Work ethics.
‘Well, this wasn’t exactly my dream job, Terry.’
Both men pause and look at each other as if looking in a mirror. His phone vibration interrupts the silence. Meet Lauren at lunch.
Terry downs the rest of his coffee and slams it on his desk
‘Grow the fuck up Mark. You don’t have a choice. It’s a job. Nobody wants to sell phones for a living but we get on with it. Go on your break and don’t be late, for fuck’s sake!’
The door to the shop floor slams, echoing in the lonely stock room.

————————–

The Exodus of people out of central London during rush hour is a dreaded migration made even more hectic on Fridays. Thousands of workers whizzing past one another as if it were a race home, all gathering from various streets, and losing momentum as they heap closer to a shared chthonic gate, like water from a wide river surging through a tiny gap, and then gushing underground into pipes of human sewerage. The London Underground isn’t as bad as the sewers, Mark once thought, cramped in a pile of passengers with his face in a sweaty armpit, but every commuter is covertly harbouring shit and piss and travelling it across the city.
Every second has to be carefully calculated when entering a station during rush hour. The choice of gate to go through in case some fool doesn’t have the right amount of money on their Oyster card, the streamlining of nimble commuters as to get ahead, the precision timing of slipping into the fluid left hand lane on the elevator with pessimism that you’ll have to tut at a tourist for damming the smoothness of your downwards travel to the platform, and the last minute dash round the corner as you hear the alarm of train doors closing. Mark lets out a tired groan as he notices the three-minute wait for the next train. Mark doesn’t usually mind a delay, but today, he has to head south to Elephant & Castle first, to meet Suzie’s Father, and then head to Finsbury Park to join Jack for their regular Friday night drinks at the bowling alley.

A few minutes wait isn’t a problem to most people. But Londoners aren’t most people. A delay is possibly the worst thing that could happen to them at that time, especially when they hear the horrifying announcement that there is a passenger on the track. A polite way of saying someone has killed themselves by jumping in front of the train. An unnamed, male or female, who felt so alone in a city of eternal strangers rushing past and ignoring their tristesse, that their only hope for light down the tunnel was when they saw light down the tunnel. ‘For fuck’s sake! Why couldn’t they have killed themselves in a less selfish way?’ is the kind of thought most Londoners secretly shelter without any grievance. Mark used to think like this too.
He bobs his head up and down to the sound of shuffled music muffled directly into his ears and looks around to see which neighbours he won’t be speaking to today. So many choices of people to ignore. London has the advantage of being a multicoloured, multicultural habitat for people rich with stories, yet most residents will block all their senses from human interaction. Ears blocked with sound at a higher volume than safe to ensure drowning the tempo of the train tracks and tongue tutting. Fingers pressing down on the earphones for maximum result, palms clutching a mirror for that all-important retouch, hands grasping some form of literature. Eyes wormholed into a book which, God forbids, the neighbour sneaks a peak of what they are reading, otherwise they recoil and snarl like a teacher’s pet trying to hide the correct answers from the school fool, as if they in turn were trying to steal a stanza from their precious page. Possibly nose deep into a newspaper, so close you can smell the death the journalist is recounting. No newspaper fills someone with joy, and yet, Londoners will prefer this pastime than attempting a smile with a stranger. Institutionalised disregard.

It’s incredibly difficult to strike up a conversation with anyone in London. You can’t talk to a member of the opposite sex because they’ll think you’re flirting with them. You can’t talk to a member of the same sex because they’ll think you’re flirting with them. You can’t talk to, let alone look at, someone younger because everyone is told to automatically think ‘sex offender’. You can’t talk to someone older because you think on their behalf that they don’t want to be bothered by someone younger. You can’t talk to anyone in a group because they are too cliquey. You can’t talk to foreigners because you can only speak English.
There is no talking. Just staring. Observing the way they ignore others, until their eyes are surreptitiously snipered onto you and you are forced to gawk at someone else. Mark calls this ‘eyeball ping pong’. Sometimes observing someone observing another; looking at their wandering eyes, ping, imagining what they are possibly thinking of the person they are looking at and judging them for judging others, until pong, your critic of them is interrupted by someone observing you observing someone. Ping. A never-ending match of amateur psychologists with nothing to say. Nobody talks. Just stares.

‘Please stand back behind the yellow line’, murmurs the tannoy attempting to not sound bored.
The rumbling from the approaching train begins its crescendo. The louder it becomes the more nervous he is.
Everybody knows to stand behind the yellow line. Just like everybody knows how to unfasten the belt buckle in an airplane. A modern populace desensitised to the everyday causes problems, hence the regurgitation of superfluous warnings. Repetition either equals perfection or ennui.
The headlight shines down the tunnel.
For once, Mark would love to hear “Dear passengers. Do what you want. We really couldn’t give a shit!” as the train pulled in at the station. Not only would everyone take notice, but it would make everyone think twice, perhaps thrice, about their own safety. Everyone’s confusion would prompt people to look around and, maybe, just maybe, strike a conversation with fellow passengers.
‘Did dat geezer just say he didn’t give a fuck? That’s fucking rude innit?’ spits the boy in his late teens, with shaved head under his baseball cap and dangling price tag, and jeans so low everyone can see his cartoon underwear.
‘I believe he did. I’m terribly perplexed!’ replies the middle-aged businesswoman in matching cream-coloured skirt and shirt and crème de menthe flavoured breath.
They both burst into laughter and enjoy this shared moment, which fades into a silence of not knowing what to say, that the only other communication the two have is the nod of the boy’s head to the woman as he gets off at his station seventeen minutes later.
Even in his mind, Mark’s imagined strangers have nothing to say to one another.

The yellow line.
‘The yellow line only works if you want it to work. It’s not a force field,’ says Jack to a sullen Mark slumped onto a pub table with cider puddles.
Mark’s head is drowned between folded arms and alcohol. There is no response, but none is needed. The shared silence between two friends is enough, although this is the first time Jack has no idea what to say to his best friend. Jack gulps the remaining of his ale into his gullet and, with a friendly but crooked smile on his face, slams the now empty goblet onto the table, amid the other six empty glasses and the National Gallery paper bag with splattered red design on a white background. The clunk of the glass against the wood falls onto deaf ears and the smile goes unnoticed.
Jack taps his fingers onto the table like a four year old’s attempt at playing the piano and inflates his mouth like a balloon, slowly letting air rip out from his lips, using his whole neck to look around his local pub as if it were the first time he has seen it.
‘So…’ The noise from escaping air continues. ‘A force field would be a delightful idea. One day perhaps. They will exist.’ More air. More inspecting the surrounding area with bulging eyes. ‘Shall we go bowling?’

‘Please stand behind the yellow line.’
The train door comes to a halt directly in front of Mark, who steps aside for the passengers getting off.
‘Please allow other passengers off first before boarding the train.’ Mark jealously rolls his eyes at the, bearded, hipster who is swimming against the flow of oncoming traffic, confused as to why he is in such a rush to get on a train with no seats available. Mark is always baffled when passengers rush to get their allocated seats on a plane that won’t leave without them. ‘What’s he in a rush for?’ shared Mark with Suzie. ‘He won’t get to Marseille quicker.’
Maybe the hipster didn’t see how rude he was as it is difficult to see under ground when wearing sunglasses. Mark takes in a big breath before stepping onto a crowded train with Charing Cross as one of its stations. And slowly exhales with eyelids coolly closed. He grabs onto the overhead handrails with his clammy hands, momentarily brushing onto the hipster’s fingers who got no further than him.
‘Mind the doors.’ He takes in a second breath, so deep it almost inhales the alarm of the closing doors, preparing himself mentally for the secret rendezvous with Suzie’s Father.

————————–

129.
The rumbling resonates through the light brown maple hardwood underneath his feet, getting louder as it grows bigger. He only has three seconds to get out of the way of inevitable death, but stays put in a wild western-style shootout, hoping perhaps the pantagruelian projectile will somehow swerve out of the way. But it doesn’t. Not this time. Perfectly launched as to create maximum pulverisation. And Mark knows it. And that panics him. Two seconds left. Most probably thinking of getting out of the way now, but still hasn’t budged. 129. If this doesn’t budge, it’ll crush him. The massive red sphere, which weighs about 636 times the size of him, will definitely kill him if he doesn’t move. At the very last second, the tiny fly in the trajectory of the ball takes to the air dodging certain death. The ball continues in the straight line and smashes all ten pins to the ground.
‘Strike!’ screams Jack.
Mark falls to his knees. His hands sandwiching his head like an Edvard Munch painting. ‘No!’ he yells as he sees the scores transform on the above screen. Mark 136. Jack 149.
‘Your round’ laughs Jack, his Edwardian moustache dancing above his top lip as he does so. ‘Again!’ and kicks his leg high above his head like a ballerina fashioned as a trendy lumberjack.
Jack is either accidentally fashionable or what most Londoners would call a ‘Shoreditch wanker’. Mark thinks it’s the former, despite having all the signs. Immaculate side-shave hairstyle with moustache combo, neatly kempt, as you would expect from a barber. Sleeves rolled up on his chequered shirt revealing his tattoo sleeves of sharks and bohemian gypsy women. Brown equestrian boots tucked under denim jeans. His lacklustre clothing came out of the closet when he did.
Jack and Mark grew up together in a small town outside London that resembles any other small town. As if the layout perfectly matches the need of the entire populace. Side streets of less successful independent shops submerged with a main road dominated by the four types of shops it seems we all need in the UK; betting, phone, booze and coffee. Everything else is superfluous in these smallpox settlements dotted around the country. Mark can never stay long when visiting his parents. His hometown is far too depressing. London has more distractions.
‘Here you go mate. Got us a couple of tequilas too.’
‘Mr. Suzie is celebrating!’
‘You’re just jealous cause you’ll never be my husband.’
‘As if I’d want your ring around my finger!’
‘My anus is wonderful, thank you very much.’ Mark hands Jack the tequila. ‘Till death do us part!’ Cheers. Clink. Shot. Wince. Slam. Quiet reflection.
‘Marriage’ says Jack.
‘Yep’ replies Mark.
‘I still don’t get it’
‘There’s nothing to get. It’s just time. And it feels right. I’m turning thirty in a week. Peanut’s on his way. I can’t just – ’ Mark pauses. ‘I went past Charing Cross station today for the first time since. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot you know. I can’t let something like that happen to me again.’

Three minutes until the train arrives.
Mark’s heels are flirting with the edge of the yellow line, while the swinging white paper bag from The National Gallery’s gift shop disrespects it altogether. His back is to the rails as he admires a hooded man with a chisel, remembering what Suzie told him this morning.
‘That mural was done by a guy called David Gentleman. I remember his name cause it’s such a cool name. Gentleman.’ She laughs. ‘Hello, I’m Mister Gentleman,’ imitates Suzie with a lower gentrified voice whilst curtsying.
‘Hello Mister Gentleman. Nice wall Mister Gentleman.’ curtsies Mark with a similar tone.
‘Thank you.’ They continue their exit as normal. ‘Anyway, all those medieval dudes are stonemasons and other workers who built this station years ago. I love it when they make artwork on the underground. I was once trapped in Leytonstone station for like an hour staring at the Alfred Hitchcock mosaics. He was born there.’
Mark is ephemerally taken aback by the realisation that Suzie gets her haphazard fluttering facts from her Dad, but without the slow impending need to cut one’s wrists. Even more stunned by the fact he’s only just realised this now, after four years being together. Or as some would put it, four years since it was made official on Facebook. Like.
‘Come on you. Let’s enjoy our day off by seeing some art.’
Mark is now staring at the hooded man alone, as Suzie stayed in central for a meal with her friend Lauren. The man is chiselling on the line dividing each wall panel as if working on the station, but Mark smirks, as it appears the tool is being hammered in the neck of a crowned lady on the subsequent panel. ‘I wonder who she did to deserve that?’ he thinks, prompting more audible laughter, which prompts the sudden stare from one of the two strangers on his end of the platform. Embarrassed, he pivots on the spot to join them in quiet waiting. Silent judging.
‘What’s his problem?’ he thinks of the man who stared.
The man standing by the entrance of the tunnel, with his sweating shaved head back into his newspaper, is sporting jogging bottoms, tank top and Arsenal backpack. Probably back from a gym. ‘Probably a prick’ critics Mark, knowing his evaluation of the man is based on nothing, but the earlier stare and his love of football. Not enough to actually judge someone, but Mark resents anyone who loves football since he was bullied at school by fans of the sport, even though he knows this is an irrational hatred, now that he is an adult. The prick catches Mark’s stare. Ping. Mark moves onto the stranger between the two men. Pong.
Two minutes until the train arrives.
A woman perched on the bench. Her hair is cascading over her face as she is staring below at her grasping hands. A flowery dress with a cardigan over the top, a brown bag on the seat next to her and a butterfly brooch.
Mark pithily looks at her and then moves his curiosity elsewhere.
‘What a nice day’ thinks Mark, checking the sketchpad he secretly bought for Suzie still remained in the bag. He pulls it out for inspection despite knowing what every page contains. Nothing. An empty canvas to be covered with a story. He leafs through every page, ‘I should really see more of London.’ Another blank page. ‘One day.’
A nearby sob interrupts Mark from reading the sketchbook. It came from the woman with the butterfly brooch. He turns his head to look at her. She’s still in the same position staring down at her hands. He hovers over her to confirm it was her. Perplexed, he slowly swivels his neck back and places the gift back in the bag
One minute until the train arrives.
Another cry emerges from behind him. But he doesn’t turn. He stands still staring ahead. Another cry. His eyebrows furrow. And another. His mouth gapes open as he deepens in his thoughts.
‘Do something.’
Mark turns his head to look at the prick who is looking at the woman with the butterfly brooch. His head turns to look at Mark, who momentarily looks at her and then back at the prick. Each turn of the head is accompanied by the sound of the woman’s wailing.
‘It’s none of my business.’
The two men look at each other with mutual uncertainty. Nothing is said. No gestures are made. They just gaze at each other. Understanding each other’s perplexity. Confused about their own.
‘She’s gonna think I’m flirting with her anyhow.’
Their heads bouncing between him and her. But their feet rooted in the ground and their hands still holding their respective journals. The sound of her cries is becoming less frequent now.
‘Please stand back behind the yellow line’, murmurs the tannoy attempting to not sound bored.
The rumbling from the approaching train begins its crescendo. The louder it becomes, the more relaxed he is, as the noise engulfs what little sobbing there is left. He can keep calm and carry on.
‘Anyway, why doesn’t he help her? Prick.’
The headlights shine down the tunnel.
The two men look at each other once more. The prick looks at Mark and forwards him a single nod with clenched smile. Mark repays him with a similar nod and raised eyebrows.
The language of strangers. The gritted teeth and upward palms when someone asks you the time and you don’t know it. The sideways smile or flick of the eyes upwards after two people try to avoid each other in a tight spot by repeated strafing left and right like two amateur ballroom dancers. The nod. The nod can mean many things but is almost always understood by the noddees. This one between Mark and the prick can be translated in a few ways. ‘She’s not crying anymore. We’re safe.’ ‘Yeah, tell me about it mate.’ Perhaps ‘Women hey?’ ‘What are they like?’ Or even ‘What are you doing tonight honey?’ ‘I’m not gay, but thanks for asking.’
Everyone on the platform congregates nearer to the yellow stripe, like a starting line for moths, as the white light shines brighter down the tunnel. The roar of the metal snake pushes all the stale air in front of its nose and out of the tunnel, blasting everyone with the warm warning of its arrival. All the moths wait patiently to enter the belly of the snake. Mark looks behind to find the woman with the butterfly brooch getting up on her feet and marches towards the verge. The roar is loud. The light is bright. Mark doesn’t have enough time to say ‘you forgot your bag’ before she plunges in front of the train. He feels himself jump towards the person who actually does.
The screaming of the train’s brakes parallel the screeching of people’s alarm.
Those at the other end of the platform coming to a slow conclusion as they see their train arrive with a cardigan dragged in its mouth. Red Pollockesque graffiti sprayed at the head like some sort of bad joke.
The imagination of others gets the best of them as they crumble to the ground. Hearing the crush of the bones beneath twenty tonnes of train can be sufficient for some. Others, sitting comfortably ignoring one another, completely unconscious that a mangled corpse is tumbling around a metre underneath them. And then there’s Mark, in the epicentre of a person on the tracks at Charing Cross station. His hair cascading over his face as he stares below at his feet, covered in the blood of the woman with the butterfly brooch, distressed that this has happened to him.

‘It’s disgusting! I actually thought “Poor me. Why has this happened to me?” I’m so angry at myself for thinking that.’
‘She was the one being selfish!’ declares Jack in a matter of fact way.
‘How exactly?’
‘She wasn’t thinking of her family!’
‘Maybe she didn’t have any.’
‘OK. What about the train driver who now has to live with the image of her jumping? Or the people who have to clean up the bits of brains off the floor? The way she killed herself was selfish. And look at you. You’ve been weird since it happened.’
‘If weird is wanting to care a bit more then yeah I’m weird. She was a human being that felt so low her only solution was death. And I let it happen because, I don’t know, laziness?’
‘It’s Darwinism mate. Some people can’t handle it so they kill themselves. That’s life.’
‘Whatever. As of today, you’re gonna see a new me. It’s not just me anymore.

————————–

Mark balters home like Gene Kelly without the rain through Finsbury Park. Both hands in his jacket pocket, one playing with fluff while the other clammily fumbles with the engagement ring. It feels as though each step he takes, usually nulled by the accustomed bus trip, is exactly where it’s supposed to be. Mark is too logical for superstition, but tonight, he is on the right path. ‘How funny’ he thinks, that the death of the woman with the butterfly brooch metamorphosised Mark’s amor fati out of its chrysalis.
Determination to get home and hide the ring defines his stride. He pulls out his distracted hand to check the time. 9:37PM. Suzie is home tonight. By now, she’s probably slumped on the sofa, maybe in her pyjamas, enjoying a dose of mind-numbing Shadenfreude television, which most people have negative opinions about but secretly relish. Humans tend to use other people’s misfortunes as a way of measuring their own adversity.
The jangling of the keys may alert her of his presence. The closing door definitely will. He presses his index and third finger over his carotid artery, enjoying the pronounced pulses like a metronome counting down time to his arrival. He swiftly slips his hand back in his pocket to check the ring hasn’t somehow vanished. Mark is full of jejune excitement at the upcoming game of hiding the ring from his future fiancée. He looks up with a huge grin, which seems to worry the oncoming couple ahead. You can’t smile in London without someone thinking it has an ulterior motive other than happiness.
Flashing images of various locations around the house is suddenly interrupted by the scream opposite the street. Mark stops and looks in the direction of a young man carrying a heavy load of food shopping, encircled by three people. He notices at the corner of his eye that the couple has also stopped and is staring in the same direction. One other person in the distance has also come to a halt.
‘Help!’ The man howls, using his shopping bags as a way to defend himself.
This is the bystander effect of Charing Cross all over again.
Mark hasn’t moved yet.
Many Londoners can go through their entire life without seeing an attack or a suicide as Mark has in the past two weeks.
The words ‘as of today, you’re gonna see a new me’ ruminate around his mind.
He takes a quick look at the couple who look back at him. The warm feeling of tequila in his stomach has vanished. His eyes are wide. His spine is straight. His chest is big. His hands are fists. His heartbeat pounds against his ribcage as if it were pushing him forward. His feet move forward.
Mark has never been in a fight and does not have the Spartan physique required for what could be ahead. Forcing a six pack on your stomach while standing in the mirror does not equate to strength. The memory of getting beaten up once by the school bully and co loops around in his head like a bad boxing coach. Mark has often day dreamed about the different ways he would play that exchange differently. Anything to not have his braces dug into his top lip causing a red tsunami out of his mouth.
Rehearsals of his romanticised interventions take place in the theatre of his mind.
‘Hey! Leave him alone!’ Mark expels, his confident words pelting the three thugs in their backs.
A glimmer of hope penetrates the fear on the young man’s face as he looks at his rescuer. Two of the three perpetrators turn to face Mark as if on a pedestal. The puffer jacket and the hoody.
‘What you gonna do about it?’ asks the baseball bat pointed at Mark’s face. Momentarily perplexed at the thought of anyone playing baseball in England. One would imagine a cricket bat the more accessible weapon, but not a sport associated with gangs. And baseball bat in the street just screams danger. Or in this case ‘what you gonna do about it?’
Mark looks directly in the batter’s eyes and smiles. He grabs the end of the baseball bat and launches a kick to the weaponless hoody’s face throwing him into the air. Before he hits the floor, Mark avoids the puffer jacket’s punch by ducking low and bouncing back up with a fist to the chin. Mark steals the bat away from him. The third thug, the one with the jumper and beanie, pushes the young man against the wall and turns his knife to face Mark. The hoody falls to the floor. A quick hit of the baseball bat to the puffer’s stomach, forcing him in a solitary Heimlich position, and Mark swiftly moves his attention to the pointed knife. The hoody is about to get up, but Mark jumps on his back, using it as a trampoline and propels himself towards the third thug. Baseball bat high above him, he descends on the third with a blow to the shoulder. The sound of metal clanking on concrete stands out amongst the moaning of the pained thugs.
‘Let’s get out of here’ yells one of the thugs already running away. ‘This guy is crazy’ carps another.
All three men running away. Crying.
‘You’re going to be alright’ tells Mark to the young man against the wall, as he breaks the baseball bat with his thigh. The sound of applause from witnesses adds to Suzie’s romantic lunge towards him.
‘You’re my hero!’ They kiss passionately whilst he flies up in the starry sky.

Mark has reached his destination across the street with fists in his pocket. One gripping the ring rightly.
‘Hey.’ Mark says unheard. ‘Hey guys!’ The words barely managing to escape his dry throat. ‘I don’t know what this is about, but leave – ’
The thug with the puffer jacket turns the baseball bat so quickly that the weapon almost disappears. It hits the side of his skull, with a force powerful enough for a home run. One eye sees the blinding light from the overhead lampposts while the other sees the dark pavement. Black out. Curtains close.
‘As of today, you’re gonna see a new me.’

————————–

Mark lays broken in bed besides a nearly empty bottle of whiskey. His head, heavy and aching, twitches sideways, aligning his left eye with the dusty screen of morning sun shining through the gap of closed curtains. The subtle heat warms his eye, dehydrated from crying himself to sleep, forcing him to wake up. His lips, teeth, tongue, sticky from not brushing them prior slumber, like sucking on a slug, longs for liquid. His hand reaches for the bottle and hurls whiskey into his mouth. His eyes regain focus to see the culprit of earlier crying. The mould on the ceiling.
‘D’you not think they look like stars?’ asks Mark to a naked Suzie. Her callipygious body turned to face him as she strokes his freshly shaved cheek.
‘What’s that?’ she asks.
‘Do you not think the specks of mould on the ceiling look like constellations?’
‘They’re back? For fuck’s sake.’
She parallels him, lying on her back, staring upwards.
‘You said you would clean this, Mark.’
‘I tried but they just came back.’
‘Try harder please.’
‘I will. I promise. But look at it. It’s kind of beautiful.’ Mark points to the rotting sky. ‘You see those three big ones in a curved line.’
‘Yes.’ Responds Suzie, attempting to be disappointed with him, and yet intrigued with his quixotic view of mould.
Mark continues. ‘That looks like Orion’s belt. And if you look above that, you can make out the rest of his body and his bow.’
They lay there in silent. Admiring mould.
His eyes refocus on the present. Orion disappeared in the overgrown green galaxy on the ceiling, as if parallel to Suzie disappearance. Mark hasn’t seen her in what feels like weeks and he doesn’t know where to look.
Mark could lay in bed, desensitized by the pounding of his head, but this light is unbearable.
‘I should board up the windows’ he thinks. “Or an eye mask. I’ll get an eye mask.’
His micturient bladder forces him to crawl out of bed. His bare feet against carpet are loud. So it the unzipping of his jeans. He flinches at the sound of swift morning urine against the porcelain sink reverberating in the bowl and up into his face.
He makes his way through the gloomy hallway of closed curtains and folded blinds to the kitchen of unwashed crockery. Mountains of empty packets of crisps and cans of soda decorate the counters. He heads straight to the fridge and opens the door to grab one of the many pre-prepared store sandwiches piled inside. He grabs a random one and closes the door to be faced by the Polaroid picture of Suzie and him in Cassis.

‘Pull over. I don’t want you to crash.’
‘Why would I crash?’ asks the confused driver.
‘Just pull over!’ Screams Suzie as if her life depended on it.
Mark slows the rented Renault between the concrete road and the lavender field. The sound of tyres crushing the gravel below resonates in the eerie metal cocoon. The car halts. Mark pulls the handbrake and sits back staring straight ahead with his hands placed on his thighs. Both of their hearts are beating at an usual rate but for different reasons. Mark is the first to break the silence.
‘What’s up?’
He turns his head to look at Suzie. She is staring ahead. Her hands on her thighs.
‘Suze?’
She turns her head and looks deep into his eyes. Mark attempts to solve this new enigmatic look on her face. ‘What the bloody hell have I done?’ he thinks.
Her mouth opens but no words come out. Her hands shaking ever so slightly. Her breathing is slowed but pronounced. She has the symptoms of someone scared.
‘I’m pregnant.’
His mouth opens but no words come out. His hands shaking ever so slightly. His breathing is slowed but pronounced. He has the symptoms of someone scared.
‘Mark?’
They both stare at each other, waiting for each other’s questionless answer.
‘Mark.’
‘Suzie.’
‘Well?’
‘You’re pregnant!’
‘Yes.’
‘Is it mine?’ he thinks.
‘And before you ask, yes it’s yours.’
‘You know me so well’ he replies in his mind.
‘I wasn’t gonna ask that!’ bursts Mark defensively.
Suzie smiles as she notices his smile as big as his eyes.
‘You’re pregnant!’ His smile now big enough to fit two.
‘I’m pregnant’ she smiles back.
Both simultaneously erupt into screams of joy. Strapped seat belts suffocate their attempt at a hug.
‘Que-ce qui ce passe là-bas?’ thinks a French man walking his German shepherd as he hears muffled screaming coming from a swaying car in the distance.
Free from their safety harness, they explode into each other’s arms with a tirade of kisses expected from two long-distance lovers colliding after months of Skype.
‘Come with me!’ says Suzie as she takes out her Polaroid camera from her bag.

The ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ magnet propping up the memory on the fridge door along with the sonogram of Peanut. The nickname Suzie & Mark gave for their unborn child as he resembles a peanut, more specifically a cashew. Mark eyes the magnet and tuts as he walks towards the white board. He grabs the marker and adds a line on the right of the other eleven lines. 12.
‘Twelve days’ thinks Mark. ‘Days? Are they days?’
Suzie slammed the door behind her what now feels like two weeks, but Mark remembers it like it was this morning.

————————–

Mark lays broken in bed besides a nearly empty bag of intravenous fluid. His head, heavy and aching, spasms sideways. His eyes gradually opening to see white walls with white ceiling and white curtains greyed from an outside ceiling of dreary clouds. The subtle beeping from the heart monitor forces him to slowly wake up. His lips, teeth, tongue, like sucking on sandpaper, longs for liquid. His hand attempts to reach out, but he struggles to lift it. He manages to open his crusty eyes and look towards his hand in an effort to raise his arm, and sees a sleeping Suzie, sprawled out on a chair by the bed. He attempts to raise his arm. Raise any part of his body. He looks around numb-faced and muddled eyes with a neck of jelly, like a new born baby discovering its head.
‘Hospital.’
He slowly turns back to Suzie to be greeted with a side table of ‘Get well’ cards and a bouquet of red geraniums. A surge of sadness develops below his sternum and reposes behind his eyes.
He attempts to call for Suzie with a mouth scarcely ajar, but the noise barely escapes his mouth, let alone the oxygen mask.
‘Suzie’ he practices in his head. The word getting geared up in his trachea.
His jaw, tighter than someone who has taken too much ecstasy, endeavours at calling her. ‘Ssssssurrurrrssieeeee!’ he screams, with an intensity that would normally stun a stadium full of people, but only just manages to be louder than the metronome of the asthmatic ventilator.
Suzie opens her eyes imperturbably at first, unsure whether the familiar voice calling out to her was real or a dream. A flicker of the eyelids and she sees Mark with eyes opened, looking back at her.
‘Mark!’ she bursts as though it has been years since they’ve seen each other.
‘How long has it been?’ he thinks back.
Tears instantly coating her visage as she hovers over his comatose body to caress his cheeks ‘Hey baby. You ok?’
Mark hasn’t seen her so worn down since her Mother’s death. Bags under her eyes and the kind of spots that develop between her chin and lower lip when she gets stressed.
‘I’m fine. What happened? Are you ok?’
‘Can you hear me? Hey baby? Can you hear me?’ Her desperation scaring Mark.
‘Of course I can.’
‘Blink if you can hear me.’
‘Suzie. I can hear you.’
‘Blink if you can hear me baby.’
Mark blinks in answer to her question. The heart monitor hastens at he accepts his unknowing status.
‘That’s a blink.’ She gleefully remarks. She carefully kisses him on the forehead and begins to walk away backwards. ‘I’ll be right back. I’m gonna get the doctor. I love you.’
Suzie disappears.
‘What the Hell happened?’
Mark’s eyes flutter around his personal waiting room in search of clues for his situation. Detective is not a metier he should pursue. He hasn’t even noticed the bandage wrapped around his skull.
For a brief moment, Mark feels like he needs a paperclip. A paperclip!
Suzie strides back in the room with a lilliputian doctor close behind her with his white coat flowing at the rear like a cape. They position themselves akimbo to him. Her hands praying for Mark’s wellbeing while the doctor’s hands on her man checking his vitals.
‘Hello old bean. Welcome back to reality.’ says the doctor, the tone of his voice matching his physique.
The torch on the doctor’s iPhone and the bright overhead light bouncing perfectly off his glistening baldhead shines directly into Mark’s squinting eyes. The image of a lamppost and a pavement flashes before him.
‘He’s a fighter this one! You are marking…’ says the doctor, his smile fixated at Mark, staring as if it were stuck on a letter on a Snellen chart.
‘Thanks. Can you stop staring please and tell me what I’m making.’ thinks Mark.
The doctor continues pointing his Cheshire cat smile while Suzie’s hands still praying by his side. Mark’s eyes open as wide as possibly can through the rheum, observing the two staring back at him like Covent Garden statues.
‘Great recovery.’ Continues the doctor, turning his attention to Suzie. ‘He took a pretty bad knock so it’ll – ’
‘The man with the shopping bags?’ Mark questions.
‘ – and mood swings will happen. Remember, it’s the injury talking, and not Mark. He cannot be held responsible for his moods. He might make unreasonable demands. He’ll be forgetful at times. He’ll become agitated. But don’t worry. Be patient. It’s all part of the – ’
All of a sudden, that eventful Friday night comes flooding in. The bowling. The man with the shopping bags. The baseball bat. ‘The ring!’ The sound of Gregory’s laughter with the phrase ‘Don’t lose it’ loops in his head like a bad laughing gas trip.
‘He may struggle to talk and might even talk nonsense at first, he can still hear you and has feelings. Mark may experience hallucina –’
‘I am here dickhead! You just said I can hear you! Talk as if I’m here!’
‘Never talk about them, but rather with them’ continues the doctor. Suzie, with a single tear cascading down her cheek, would usually notice the irony of the doctor’s words.
‘Are you taking the piss?’
‘Traumatic Brain Injury is a pretty serious thing, but luckily, Mark is going to be alright. It’ll be hard for a few weeks. Your boyfriend will – ’
‘The fucking ring!’ He lets out a tired groan. Suzie grabs his hand and squeezes it hard. Her other hand is on peanut. Both hands ring-free.
‘ – sensitive to loud noises – ’
The surge of guilt and despair numbs him back into sleep, muting the doctor’s rehearsed speech about aftercare. A fly landing on his forehead to take a rest. Mark closes his eyes.

————————–

‘Good morning!’ chirps the lilliputian doctor as he strides into Mark’s temporary bedroom. ‘Great news ol’ bean. You’re free to go.’
‘Finally’ thinks Mark. His time at the hospital was not a great experience. Is any experience at a hospital ever great? A gateway between life and death. Humans either come here to be born, to die or to wait patiently in some sort of limbo to be saved from dying. Whichever one, somebody will see your bum in a backless robe when you’re at your most vulnerable.
‘I don’t mind people seeing my arse when I make the decision, or if I’m drunk!’ blurts Mark to a nursing Suzie ‘but not when I’m learning how to walk again! It’s embarrassing!’
Mark is standing stooped, perching onto a quad cane.
‘You show it to everyone all the time! I don’t see what the difference is!’ proclaim a surprised Suzie.
Mark has a tendency to show his arse to everyone. The build up of hair on the cheeks is unreasonably more than the rest of his body.
‘Look!’ Mark exposes his arms to a group of people at a party in Camden. ‘No hair on my arms! And now check this out!’ He undoes his belt and pulls his trousers down. This is how Suzie first met Mark.
‘The difference’ whispers Mark through gritted teeth ‘is I’m being overtaken by an old lady.’ His head cocks to the left ever so slightly in her direction.
Suzie laughs. ‘Baby, you’re doing so well. A few more steps and we’ll turn around back to your bed.’
Now Mark gets to go back to his bed in Crouch End.
‘When do I need to go back to work?’ asks Mark, stroking the newfound stubble before having to say sayonara to it. It takes days for Mark to sprout substantial facial hair, and even then the top lip growth does not connect to the chin. One of the only pleasures Mark has enjoyed was seeing how much he could grow. Answer? Little.
‘That all depends on you.’ Answers the doctor. ‘You’re making very good progress, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. How have you been feeling?’
‘Well apart from the bland food, the weird smells and the nocturnal screamer next to me that clearly belongs in a psychiatric ward, I’m doing great!’ Mark stares at the doctor with a glazed expression frozen on his face.
‘Well,’ continues the doctor, ‘how have you been feeling?’
Mark snaps out of his zoned out state. ‘I’ve been better.’
‘Any questions before I let you go?’
‘I’m OK. I get tired very easily.’
‘That’s perfectly normal. That’ll take some time.’
‘A couple of times I’ve had these weird moments where I black out. But I can still see everything. It’s just…’ Mark tilts his head as if jumbling the words inside his brain in an attempt to find the correct words. ‘How can I explain? It feels as though everything momentarily lags. Only for a second or so. As if I was streaming a movie on a bad Internet connection.’
The doctor nods without delay.
‘Yes. I’ve heard that before. Remember, you’ve been hit terribly hard on the head. It’s only natural your brain plays tricks on you while it’s not hundred percent.’
Mark nods.
‘I best be off. Have others to see. The nurses will come in and see you before you go.’ The doctor hands Marks an open palm. Mark grips it. ‘Hope I don’t see you again, ol’ bean.’
‘Thank you’
The doctor marches away.
‘Oh doctor!’ exclaims Mark.
‘Yes Mark?’ he replies, turning on the spot as he does so.
‘Thanks for keeping the ring hidden. I appreciate it.’
‘You’re more than welcome.’ He smiles and exits.
Mark arrived at the hospital unconscious with the ring still embedded in his pocket. The doctor saved Suzie’s surprise from death. The same could not be said for the young man with the shopping bags.

————————–

Suzie is slumped on the end of the sofa. Her feet snuggled under a pillow. Mark is rigid on the other end as if he were on a crowded train. A comforting glow from the corner lamps merge with the flickers of television news. The noise of torrential rain outside drumming against the window.
‘I know what’ll cheer you up; bit of bowling with Jack? He might even let you win!’ says Suzie gleefully in an attempt to revive him from wherever he is lurking in his brain. Another school shooting in America reflecting brightly as a rectangle on his circular glasses.
‘You ok honey?’
‘What?’ snaps Mark. ‘Yes, sorry.’ He removes his spectacles and rubs the lenses on the corner of his t-shirt. ‘Sorry. I’m stressed out.’ He puts his glasses back. Trouble in Eastern Europe now molotoving his retinas.
‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘No.’ Twelve dead in Kiev. ‘That’s the point. There’s nothing you, or I, or anybody can do. And it’s fucking me off!’
Suzie’s eyes flutters at the TBI aftercare pamphlet on the table. Her silence asking him to continue in his own time.
‘I don’t help. Someone dies. I help. Someone dies.’
‘It’s not your fault. You did the right – ’
‘Why am I even getting involved in other people’s lives? I sell phones for a fucking living! Phones! And you’re just a teacher. We’re just two more people on this planet that will do nothing with their life and be forgotten about along with all the other losers!’
Her unblinking eyes and furrowed brows fixed on his. His unchanging on the homogeneous news.
‘What’s the point? I should just work, shut up and wait to die like everyone else!’
‘You worry too much.’
‘How can I not worry when everyone in the World kills each other? How can I walk by the hundreds of homeless people and just ignore them? I’ve had enough of people saying that’s just how it is. It shouldn’t be! I can’t just walk past. But I also can’t take care of all of them. So who do I choose? What’s the criteria for who I help?’
‘Well I need your help.’ Suzie replies. Her lower lip struggling with her forced smile. ‘We’ve got our second ultrasound next week.’
‘I think it’s fucking selfish of us to bring a kid into this ugly World!’ barks Mark.
‘Enough!’ shouts Suzie.
They both stare at each other. One with sadness. One with anger. Each waiting for the other’s apology.
‘I’m sorry I’m “just a teacher”. Sorry our life together isn’t good enough for you. I’ve been patient with all your negativity and outbursts since you got back last week, but I’ve had enough. Take it out on someone else!’
Mark remembers the pamphlet on the table. He takes a deep breath in through his mouth, holds it for three seconds and exhales through his nose. Repeats. His features soften. So do Suzie’s.
‘Oh baby, I’m so sorry.’ He closes the gap between them two and grasps her hand between his. ‘Everything’s been really strange since leaving the hospital.’
‘I know. But don’t talk to me like a scumbag!’ Her finger pointing directly at Mark’s face.
‘Sorry.’ Mark looks down. ‘I don’t want to blame the head thing for my behaviour, but it’s so bloody weird. Everything seems to glitch. Only for a brief moment. It gets really silent and then, bam! It gets loud again. I’m not too sure what to do.’
‘I don’t think you should go back to work this week. After the scan on Friday, it’s half term for the kids, so I’ve got a week off. We could go on a little holiday somewhere?’ Said with caring anger.
‘Yeah. Maybe.’ And nods a few seconds later.
‘I’ll make us a cup of tea.’ The tone of her voice is cold.
‘Let me do it. I need distractions.’
Mark pushes himself up and aims for the kitchen resembling somebody who’s just woken up. He hears the television being changed.
Kettle. Click. Cups. Bags. Boil.
‘If you do go back to work, you will make sure to make time to come with me to see Peanut, right?’
The sound of Suzie’s irritated voice traveling through the doorways and zigzagging its way across their home. The words arrives in the kitchen muffled, but the emotion is very clear.
‘What?’ Mark asks. The kind of ‘what’ that people often raise before realizing they understood what was actually said. ‘Er yeah. Course I will! What time do I need to be there again?’ he hollers at the doorway.
He grabs the kettle and pauses to look up at the space between the cupboard and the ceiling where an awaiting velvet box is hidden. It was either there or in a jar of Marmite, which Suzie loathes.
‘Babe? What time’s the scan?’ He needs to know whether he will get caught climbing the kitchen counter to grab the ring. The question acts as echolocation. No reply. She could be anywhere.
‘Now’s not the time anyway’ he senses. ‘I’m not feeling great. Don’t want her thinking back to this day.’
‘So how did he propose?’ asks one of Suzie’s friends.
‘Well he said I was “just a teacher”, started shouting about how I was selfish for being pregnant and then asked me in the romantic location of our living room while we were both dressed in pajamas.’
‘And you said yes?’ responds the bemused friend.
‘No thanks’ thinks Mark.
He adds the milk to the black team and watches the milky storm dancing in the spinning liquid. Slower than usual. He then aims back to the lounge with knuckles burning from the mugs.
‘Cheer up you fucking prick!’ He forces a smile on his face as he walks back into the living room.
Suzie is cuddled up into a ball watching a man on a horse in a period drama on a noiseless television.
‘There we are my love. Tea, no sugar.’ He places her cup onto the table. The sound of the porcelain against oak louder than usual. He stumbles onto his side of the sofa.
He timidly sits down the way most men in the wrong sit down next to their partner after an argument, and locks eyes onto the television. The same man on the same horse is in the exact same position. Mark begins to worry he’s done something else wrong. ‘Why would she pause the TV and just stare at it?’
Suzie in the corner of his eye. ‘She’s not even grabbed her tea yet. I’m in trouble.’
He daren’t look at her, so he continues to silently sip his tea. His eyes ping ponging between the man on the horse and anywhere else in the room, but Suzie.
‘So yeah.’ Mark’s words knifing the stillness. ‘I will of course be at Peanut’s scan. Can’t wait.’ He promptly turns his head fishing for some sort of reply to his reply. Not a flinch. His head coils back to the neutral position.
‘So. What are we watching?’
‘Wouldn’t it be funny if Peanut turned out to be allergic to nuts?’
‘I love you.’
‘OK! Can you stop ignoring me please? I’m really sorry I upset you.’ He puts the empty cup on the table and turns to a static Suzie. ‘I’ve just been so – ’ Frozen midsentence. Mark just stares at his girlfriend. ‘Hey.’ The word barely escape. The air gets caught in his throat. His face whitens. His hands collapse into themselves and his body begins to shake.
Suzie is no longer breathing.

————————–

Unfinished Story

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