Timothy sits before me eating his pie. His crisps and beer have been devoured. Big mouthfuls of strawberries and cream, he talks with his mouth full.
“Are you alright man?” he asks, mouth full of pie. He sounds genuine, actually concerned.
I’m aware that I’ve slipped in the chair and my knees are pressed against the table. I sit up embarrassed and wipe my mouth.
Maureen notices I’m awake and wastes no time in talking. “More cake? Paul isn’t it? I am most forgetful. I never...”
“No, no, I’m fine thank you.” I cut her off sharply from her polished remedy.
“You were shaking a lot man,” says Timothy from opposite. A strawberry goes round his mouth like watching a washing machine. Man, man I say to myself. Are we best friends already?
I want a glass of water. I look over to where the dresser was. It has gone and in its place is a water cooler. I’m not surprised. I walk over to it and pour myself a glass. The water tastes pure, cool and sweet. I drink a second cup. A third, fourth, I fill it again and notice no water is being displaced by air. I drink the fifth and slowly fill it again. I crouch down closer and re-fill it, all the while watching the water in the plastic drum carton.
I fill another glass, and a third there are no more. I’m amazed. I don’t know what to do with them. I pick up all three glasses and notice Paul is watching me. He picks up a glass from his desk and motions a cheer before taking a sip. I raise my three up to my chest and cheer him back.
I make my way to the table. I place the glasses in front of my fellow roommates.
“You can’t rob a bank with toothpaste...” I hear Maud say. Timothy laughs and smiles and nods at me a thank you. He politely listens as Maureen tells of bananas and hairdryers and home grown rhubarb.
I sip my glass of water and study Timothy. He is wearing a black leather waist coat. Both his upper arms have been tattooed to the point where you can’t tell where one starts and the other finishes. His right ear is pierced I notice as he turns his attention to Maud. His jeans look new and have ironed creases down the front. His knee high motor cycle boots finish the attire. With strong cheek bones and jet black hair I guess he is in his 30’s. His saggy eyes and tired neck though make him look about 50. I wonder what his story is, remembering what Paul had spoken of. Maud seems to treat everyone the same, a gift. I am jealous of the attention he is getting, Maud talking as if they were long lost friends, as if he were her son. It’s making me angry and I wonder why he gets beer and a big chair. What right does he have anyhow?
I get myself worked up over this trivial stuff. I get angry at myself for allowing this to upset me.
I leave them talking, Maureen with her tales of toothpaste and Timothy a motorcycle hoodlum.
I walk the opposite way to that of the desk. I don’t want to pass Paul and start talking. I want to be left alone.
I walk out past the white table. This time the wall papered wall is on my right. I try my luck and wish for a Kit Kat. I close my eyes and ask again. I look down, checking my pockets to see if one has arrived.
I stop walking and put my hand out.
Eyes tight shut.
I cover my eyes with my left hand, my right stretched out palm upwards. Peeking through my fingers I see nothing. I try again, again nothing.
I get angrier with myself.
I get angry with Timothy I get angry with Paul, with Maud bloody Maureen. Just shut up. I don’t care, I’m not meant to be here. Leave me alone I’m not dead!
I say it this time: “I’m not dead!” I say it again, again.
I shout it. “I’m not dead!”
I feel a hand in mine. I can’t see it but I rub it against my cheek. A cold towel wipes my face. I feel water on my forehead and nose. I wipe it away with both hands.
My mother met me at the hospital where I offloaded my two children, not twins, onto her and rushed to the Accident and Emergency.
The front of the car had been un-recognisable.
Somehow, miraculously the rear was intact. I heard the crash from inside the door. Then there was the pause.
Frantically I grabbed my rain coat and ran out into the road. The momentary ‘has this just happened’ blink, pinch me, look of terror, just before the screams come penetrating the dream, welcoming you back to reality with open arms.
I don’t know who called the ambulance but it seemed forever to get there.
I gave Jessie to our elderly neighbour, grabbed Thomas from the back seat through the passenger rear side door. I had to hold him before I could get to Paul. Reassure him.
Paul was the only other one on my mind. I didn’t know who was in the other car.
I gave Thomas to another bystander, my nursing practicality going overdrive. He was in shock it would be a full ten minutes before the situation got to him.
I had to go into the front of the car through the passenger side. I could see people working on the other car.
I didn’t care.
Paul was breathing but unconscious. I couldn’t get him out myself. I turned my attention to the other car. Its left hand side had been destroyed as it slammed into the front of our car before turning 90’ and slamming into the opposite parked car.
I could now hear more screams. A high pitched voice, I locked eyes with the driver. I knew her I thought. There was blood on the windscreen above our gaze and I could make out something in the rear seats.
I noticed people were removing a body, a child’s body from the rear door. I shouted at them to stop. If they had no medical background I urged them to stop.
The rain was heavy. They were on the other side of the car to me. I could see lights flashing, coming our way. I knew it wasn’t my fight anymore.
I rushed back to Paul. I checked him out, looking for obvious breakages or cuts. His head had hit the wheel that was clear. Blood poured from a gouge on the right side of his head. I managed to work out he hadn’t been looking up the road as he had pulled out.
Two hands pulled me from the car. I didn’t recognise the paramedics. I stated my evaluation and went back to Thomas.
He was wide eyed and pale. I took him inside and packed us a bag.
I rang my mother and Paul’s. I dropped my mobile phone and as I reached down to pick it up I banged my head on the banister.
I shouted and cursed. This began Thomas’ tears, I was glad. It is a reaction that somehow lets you believe everything is ok. Nothing broken, no cuts just shock. Crying is the only relief.
I had managed to calm Thomas down and reassure him, even if I didn’t believe it myself, that Paul, his father, my Husband was going to be fine.
I’m now at the hospital sat by my Husbands bedside. I’ve calmed myself down. I breathe deep, deeper, I release it slowly closing my eyes. I open them to see nothing has changed. Only the clock is different.
The machines churn out their data like something off Star Trek. I let out an involuntary laugh thinking of the captain Kirk song. If only they could ‘find reverse’ has some hold on this morning’s proceedings. I try to relieve the sound.
Nick cries into this pillow. Hannah rubs his naked shoulders softly. The red digits of their alarm clock glow in the dark of their room.
Hannah reaches over Nick, her husband to see the time. She turns on the lamp beside the radio alarm.
Lying back down on her side of the bed, facing the ceiling of their bedroom, Hannah releases a quiet long breathe.
She never thought that Nick’s past would catch up with them like this.
Nick hadn’t said anything all afternoon, from returning from the doctor’s surgery earlier that day.
He had quietly played with his children, read stories and tucked them into bed.
He had locked the house up, cleared away the diner, turned off the lights closed the red and white rose curtains in their off white bedroom. He had showered and brushed his teeth alongside his wife in the family bathroom.
Yellow ducks covered the window sill and empty cardboard loo rolls cascaded onto the floor around the toilet. James not allowing them to be thrown out as he saved them to make a rocket he had seen on ‘blue peter.’
Now he cries without talking to his wife.
“Call someone Nick,” she pleads. “If you don’t want to talk to me you have to talk to someone.” Hannah got out of bed and went to the bathroom.
She squashes two cardboard tubes under her feet.
From here she could not be heard from her bedroom, from her Husband.
She cried herself. Sat on the closed toilet in her green dressing gown she allows herself a little moment of insanity. Shaking and rocking on the toilet the sobs come low and long from deep within her.
Nick had met up with his brother and sister a few weeks after meeting his mother. Apart from their weight they both looked exactly as he had last seen them.
Nick had arranged to meet them in his lunch hour at the same cafe as his meeting with his mother. He wasn’t so nervous this time, but it still felt like it was a lifetime ago that they shared the Victoria sponge of their mother.
He ordered coffee and pointed to the table where he wanted it delivered. The staff of the shop knew Nick well enough to allow some sort of rudeness.
His younger siblings were already at the table that he and his mother had shared a few weeks before.
His brother stood as Nick approached the table and started talking. He didn’t stop. Talking of his life since they had last seen each other, loudly and overshadowing his younger sister, showing off his tattoos and the picture of his bike he carried in his wallet. As an afterthought he showed a picture of his girlfriend Clare.
Their little sister was quieter than he remembered. She was single, living with their mother and feeling a little isolated Nick thought.
He quickly built up a relationship with his younger brother although he hated talking about bikes, fast cars and women in same context as what he did.
“You should see her she rides like my Harley,” Timothy said of his pierced and tattooed girlfriend.
Feeling uncomfortable with the conversation the little sister looked anywhere but into her oldest brother’s eyes. Nick suspected she had never been with a man. He thought of the young girl he had left behind.
She was twelve when Nick left the playground at the age of sixteen, attractive, intelligent and popular with both girls and boys. Nick never had that natural look, that friendly air of being able to relate with anyone.
Now he looks into the same eyes of that little girl and he sees sadness, loneliness.
When they were left alone as the middle sibling went to use the bathroom the conversation went to Nick’s children.
Hoping she could see them one day, Nick felt some pride in being the one to lift his sister’s mood. She was excited about being an Aunty.
Hannah had just found out she was pregnant with another baby. Nick told his sister this as their brother approached the table. It was to be their little secret until Hannah was ready to tell the world. He could see his sister was excited with this news, the one to share the early excitement.
They met up regularly after this. Their mother joining them, and later Hannah when the kids were in play school.
At this time Hannah was heavily pregnant and everyone knew about the arrival of their third child would be soon. Nick’s sister took pride in bragging that she knew all along. She had confided in their mother too, and this she had delight in keeping a secret.
All of his family had been present to witness the baptism of Nick’s third child. His parents were civil, his sister happy with Clare looking after James and Maisie, his brother loud. Hannah’s father enjoyed the company of his counterpart and the mums drank as the celebrations wore on.
That was 18 months ago.
Now Nick sits up in his bed with his address book opened at his brother page. He dials the numbers slowly, carful as not to make a mistake. He didn’t want to be ringing a wrong number at two in the morning. Hannah had gone to make herbal tea leaving Nick alone. He had dried his eyes after talking with his wife about who to call.
Nick’s brother was the person they had agreed on. Knowing that his habits as a bullied teenager had made him wake up at one in the morning, even now his brother got up to play on his computer.
Clare his partner making him quit his night time snacks.
He answered after two rings.
Nick burst into tears. In 24 hours he would be lying next to his brother in Hospital whites, waiting for the alcohol to pass through his large frame.