Unintentional Hermits

She sat crouched on her duvet looking out into the garden, listening to the drills of the builders down the street. The breeze shook the shadows of the apple tree almost against her will and reminded her of her childhood. But it was a wistful collection of thousands of sensations rather than anything concrete and probably not true. It made her head ache.

No one would come. Her mobile phone was near her in case anyone called, her lap top was on the floor so she could easily check her emails, Facebook and twitter. She wanted him to contact her. Caught in the whirlpool of waiting, her fingers uselessly pressed buttons over and over, minute after minute.  She thought that, not so long since perhaps, six months or a year ago, she was not unhappy. She still had faith. Not a religious faith because Eveline didn’t believe in God and she didn’t believe in anything now, except perhaps drinking. But six months ago there was something. Not an ideology perhaps but more a belief in herself. A joy in simply putting one foot down in front of the other on a newly tarmaced road for example. She loved that, the hot smell took her back to Pontefract and walking to school every morning with her father up the long hill and passing the toy shop with the police motorbike in the window she always begged for and playing British Bulldog in the playground and peering over the wall at funerals in the cemetery and watching for the ghost in the derelict red brick house…

Yes, she still felt a sense of herself then, there was still a sense of her own minor importance as she opened the door and walked down the road to the bus stop. Men looked at her too.

She glanced around the room. Perhaps she was going to have to leave all of this. The old dining room she’d made her own, the books on the mantelpiece, the black and white photocopy of her grand parents, aunts, uncles and great grandparents, people she’d never really known. They were all dead now. She often found herself gazing at her Aunt’s young face, wistful, a big Jewish nose- it was said the family came over during the pogroms. The last time she saw her Aunt she was standing staring out of the window of her care home in Sheffield. She stood there for hours, Mum said, waiting for that first glimpse of their car nosing up the steep hill.

Eveline hadn’t gone to the funeral, she wanted to remember her Aunt in her own way. She didn’t want others to laugh and poison her memories.

She was thinking to leave. But to leave to what? For wasn’t it that she would take her problems with her, wherever she went? She told herself if she went back up there she’d leave her vacuousness behind. She’d be able to walk off her depressions along the cliff tops.  She couldn’t here, the streets weren’t as expansive as the sea. But could she bear to leave the streets, the humdrum life, the teenage school boy she saw lazily kicking a pigeon because he was bored or angry or both. She’d wanted to ask him to stop and why but she didn’t dare. But could she leave him and go back to the possibility of more violence? She was stuck. There was no here and no there.

She would not cry.

She had to go to work soon and she couldn’t go looking like she’d been crying. No sooner did you have a day off then you had to go back to work again. Not enough time to collect one’s thoughts.

They wouldn’t miss her at that place. Not a word of greeting, not an attempt to treat you as a human being, just orders, commands. Yet she knew the fault was partly her’s, she wasn’t outgoing, always grumpy, wouldn’t play the game, wouldn’t pretend she was happy for someone else’s sake and especially not a corporation. She was exhausted at the end of the day, the customers took it out of her, she felt their energies like hot flames as soon as they approached the counter. They bled her dry somehow. She wouldn’t miss it.

But would she? It was a safe place after all. It was a space she was familiar with. There was something about the life that pulled her although it could be  just the ritual, the certainty of it. But she wouldn’t cry if she left. Back up there it might not be like that. She imagined enjoyable times with her family, comforting times by log fires against the cold, a warm dog, perhaps she would feel differently. Perhaps what was troubling her would fall away. Perhaps the delusions he said she was experiencing would stop up there, there would hardly be any reason, any motivation. But she knew they’d be arguments, even threats. She wouldn’t feel safe, not with him in the room. Not with him sitting on the settee and glaring at her until she thought his eyes would pop out and hit her in the face like bullets. She could still feel his hands on her from the last time, pushing her on the bed, getting on top and holding her until she stopped struggling. Even though that was more than ten years ago.

Post traumatic stress syndrome they told her. And now she was passing it on, she thought.

Little things made Eveline anxious. A door slamming. Someone standing too close. Someone shouting was like the shriek of a bomb to her. Tension in a room after an argument. And staring, even if it was in a nice way. She couldn’t understand or trust very well.

That’s why she had to get out of here.  But she was waiting for him to call and he hadn’t. Everyone said he wouldn’t now, too much time had gone by. Time was always a deciding factor in people’s lives, but by time they meant real-time, not memory or fantasy or hope time. They were too real.

It was electric when they met. At someone’s party who was at the Beeb, some back room club somewhere in Central London. It was like stepping back to the 1950s, all the women had their hair piled on top of their heads and wore ball gowns and spoke in RP. But he was there. She’d known he was interested because he was always standing near her talking to someone but with one eye on her. The first time he saw her he’d stopped mid conversation.  At times he gave her soft smiles but she was sure, when once she stood in the corner, stupid and with no words in her head and feeling unbearably alone, that he shot her a look of exasperation. She was losing him already. She wasn’t how he wanted her to be, she thought and was angry suddenly, very angry. He thought about her in the same way her parents and friends did- with pity.  She knew she wanted to shout away the pain, or smash her fist into the wall, there was a razor in her pocket and she let her hand brush it and hold the sharp edge against her skin but she had no plasters and besides she’d stopped doing that years ago. She suddenly saw he was approaching her and didn’t know where to look . She stared at the wall, staring hard at a hole in the red brick.

Don’t stop, don’t stop, she thought, I don’t want you see me upset.

But he was slowing down, he was going to talk to her after all. She made herself turn, careful to hold her face away so he couldn’t see her eyes.

It’s crazy in her isn’t it? he said.

He was saying it in passing, he wasn’t stopping after all, it was a test, his voice was RP like everyone elses, she felt a stab of disappointment though it was warm, gentle and with depth too but then she remembered his earlier look and her anger came back.

Yeah man whatever, she said vehemently and was astounded. What had got into her? She never spoke like that to anyone, never used those words with anyone.

He had moved to talk to someone opposite her and his eyes were on her again but now there was a hurt puppy dog like look on his face, she was sure of it and she was sorry. He didn’t understand how stupid and ugly she felt. Yes, she felt stupid and ugly suddenly, standing there with all of them, all these beautiful hyperactive women snorting coke in the toilets. Besides she couldn’t stay here, not after how she’d spoken and under his gaze. She took a note out of her bag and scribbled down her name and number and as she went past she handed him the note, pushing it into his warm fingers, her only touch. Then without looking, she left.

The next day there was nothing. She was certain but nothing came. But she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She’d called in sick so she was alone and that made it worse. Then she couldn’t resist, she knew his name and she needed to know about him, she needed to fill the vacant space inside her, rub out the vacuousness and lack of thoughts, she found out his profession, looked him up on LinkedIn, on Facebook, twitter. All day she’d felt no connection to him, she’d lost the sense of him she’d felt the night before and she needed it back. As the days and weeks went by and still nothing she needed the feeling more. And when still nothing came, no word, she began to think she’d imagined everything, the memories of that one night started to lose their potency, the potency at least had made her feel a little something, now she was empty of that. Not knowing how, she found herself outside his apartment one day. She stood opposite looking over and immediately he pulled up in his car and a woman got out. They entered the apartment together but a moment later he came back and walked across the street towards her.

What are you doing? he said.

Nothing, I found myself here.

Stop facebooking me OK, stop! OK?

That was the last time they talked face to face. She wanted to stop but she couldn’t, that was the top and bottom of it. There was nowhere to go and no one to go to.  If anything bad happened it was to him she wanted to go, him she wanted to contact first.

She wanted the dream, that’s what she wanted. She wanted to leave her banal life where she barely talked to a soul, leave the life where she was careerless and without prospects and be saved. It was hard work, her life now. Hard work getting up in the morning to do a job she despised with no chance of anything else. It wasn’t that she was stupid, just really timid. Or some would say, too nice.

She thought he was a man, open, manly. In control. Conveniently forgetting the other woman, she imagined herself with him. At the party, the two of them side by side watching a jazz band, she had felt excitement. It was one of those nights where she felt up for anything although the anything failed to materialise.

Her day was coming to a close. The hours for day dreaming, fantasizing, the desire to FB him nearing their end and coming to the point where she must sleep.  She suddenly felt terror. She must make him see or else she would be lost. She couldn’t move back home. Turning her back and leaving the city where he was would feel like death. She could hear the white roar of the buses out on the main road. That’d be the 68, the 468.

She was feeling angry again. Angry at him for abandoning her. Angry at not being able to go home.

Don’t go in the army, her Aunt pleaded when Eveline was eight and under the illusion she would be a peace keeper. Now she wished she had, she had no channel for the aggression seeping out of her. Unwomanly, she thought, unwomanly.

The hours were running out. She’d promised herself she’d make a decision by tomorrow, really think it through and decide. Dammit, she thought, he was going away to Europe, she must leave too so as not to feel the loss. But there was no money to go anywhere except home.

She must escape! It came to her now. Escape!

Get down, please get down!

He was a young man, fine, slender and with long curly brown hair. A teenager still but only just. He was full of repressed sex, she could see it in his eyes and he was as earnest as a preacher.

She was balancing on the parapet of Chelsea Bridge, swinging high above the Thames. She could not remember how she had got there, she had no recollection of the bus ride, only the words escape were imprinted in bold capitals across her eyes. She gazed at the swirling Thames and recalled a conversation with a friend.

How many bodies, he had said, do you think are in the Thames? I think about it all the time.

She had laughed at his morbidity then, she shuddered now. If she went now,there would be no tomorrow. No romantic young man with long hair and brown eyes. No perceptions. For it was all about perception.

Without you, the world would not exist, another friend told her.

It was a terrible world she was making for herself, for others. She looked at the river, dark, swirling. There was something in that swirl, something complete. At the end of the bridge there was a Kenyan woman begging. For a moment she wondered why she too was not up on the parapet. The woman turned and looked at her and smiled and she had her answer.

Come down, please, the boy man said.

He held out his hand and she thought she saw in that hand an offering of the whole world.

Come on, it said, come back to life. There is more.

There is more.

She stretched out her hand to touch and shook hands with the air. Deluded.

You’re deluded, he had said.

He was right after all, she thought with surprise. For there was no one on the bridge with her, no Kenyan woman, no pleading young man.  She was having to concoct a story to try to save herself. In her mind he was shouting at her not to, he was pleading with her not to. She had to believe it.

Her face was white as she stared at the water. She was helpless, like an animal gone to slaughter. She wanted to give a sign of farewell but there was no one to give the sign to.


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