Friday, February 4, 2022

Short Platform

The rumbling of the train seemed to have more bass as the speed of the carriage dropped. Outside the windows, lights flickered in the distance. The far distance. Beyond the fields, beyond the valleys, beyond the persistent river. Digital watches shimmied to 10:45pm and the passengers sighed; yearning for beds and loved ones and sitting on a different chair staring vaguely at their phone screens. Not far now.

The grass of the field shifted. Stirred. Like it was blown by a wind, except that it had too many directions to be natural. Like wind pushed through a colander by a haphazard chef.


The faint sound of amplified air filled the carriage as the train tannoy buzzed into life. “The next station stop will be Greater Wair. If you wish to alight, please ensure you are travelling in the first three carriages of the train as this station has a short platform.”


The light definitely changed, although there was no one there to witness it. Even if there had been, it wouldn’t have been as definite for them as it definitely was. It would have prompted questions like “did the light just change?” to which vague replies like “yeah… maybe” would be the common response.


The carriage filled with audible grumpy mutterings from the hostaged travellers. “Where?” Was passed repeatedly down the carriage as the brakes scraped a tame scream into the night.


Greater Wair existed. Not in the passive sense in that all things we know of exist. It began to exist. It appeared, except that it wasn’t just an appearance. It became, except that it had been before. It developed, except that it was instantaneous. It began to exist again despite its continued existence. It flew out of the blurry grass and became itself, as it had always been, except that it had stopped for a while.


Cobbled streets jumped out of the earth and lay themselves down looking nonchalant. “Oh me?” they said, “I’ve always been here, don’t be silly.” A post office complete with rubber stamps and drawers of important forms settled itself busily on the main high street between a well stocked general store and the home of someone who had ignored all calls to sell up for a big commercial fee.


A dozen phones pulled up booking apps, rail enquiry apps, email confirmations. Eyes re-checked the stopping schedule.


“Have they added a stop?”


But no, there in black and white on the screen for what felt like the first time, was Greater Wair. Phones disappeared back into pockets or flicked back over to simple pixelated distractions as the passengers waited to move on. A resigned listlessness filled the filtered air of the carriage.


Faces peered out of glass window panes, gazing at the streak of fluorescent light coming closer.


The train halted. The doors beeped. No one stirred.


They more than stirred in Greater Wair. Even the somewhat insecure short platform rippled imperceptibly with joy at the thought of a foot caressing the hard tarmac of its back.


Breath was held and hearts raced as the inhabitants of Greater Wair stared out at the carriage; willing. The bunting was primed, the cafe was polished, anecdotes were sharp and punchy. Everything was ready.


A man in a crumpled suit snorted himself awake and looked, alarmed out of the window. The train had stopped. He grabbed his briefcase from the seat beside him and slapped his large feet hard against the floor in an effort to reach the door before the train moved away. He jumped off the train, still blinking sleep out of his eyes and puffing stale station beer past his beard.


As his feet hit the platform several things happened. The train doors beeped and closed. He realised this was not his stop.


The platform grinned.


Painfully slowly the train pulled away. The man in the crumpled suit could only turn to face it and feel the pulse of each carriage as it passed him. The woman who had been sat opposite the man in the crumpled suit put her feet up into the space he had been in and he was entirely forgotten.


The man in the crumpled suit looked around him. Where was this?


“Hello!” Said a friendly voice. The man in the crumpled suit whipped his head around and saw… he saw a watercolour painting of the cast of a musical standing before him. A musical whose costume budget was tight and so had dressed their actors in costumes from whatever era they could get their hands on. Victorian dresses swept the floor next to full shell suits. There were at least a dozen crumpled suits, just like his.


“Welcome to Greater Wair.” Another voice spoke up, “Let us walk you home.”


“I… I don’t live here?” The man stuttered, beginning to wonder if he was still asleep.


“You do now.”


The chimneys began to blur. As if heat haze were developing all around them. They wobbled and melted into nothing. Roofs followed, then walls, windows, faces and gardens. The fields rolled up back over the village, zipping it back into partial existence somewhere out of sight. The platform was the last thing to melt away, still buzzing from the excitement of new feet. It let itself slip back into the between time dreaming of more new soles tomorrow.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapter 20

 Chapter 20


By the time their plane touched down again in the UK, both Kate and Polly were feeling serene and relaxed in each other’s company. Kate truly felt like the trip had blown the cobwebs out for her and she felt rejuvenated. A twinging feeling of guilt was making her keep asking if Polly was ok because she was so aware that the trip was meant to be for Polly’s sake, but Polly assured her she was the happiest she’d been in a long time.


Polly drove Kate home and they sat for a moment in silence in the car outside Kate’s house.


“So,” Polly began, “What are you going to do this afternoon?”


Kate drummed her hands expectantly on her thighs, “I’m going to look online for restaurant jobs in the area.”


“Good.” Polly nodded.


“And you?” Kate asked.


“I’m going to tell Ryan that I love him and the kids and that to me this our whole family but if he still feels the same way in 6 months time I am happy to think it over again. Then I’ll tell him I love him again. Oh and I must order new school trousers for the big two. Oh and…”


“It’s ok,” Kate interrupted, “I don’t need your entire itinerary - just the Ryan bit was enough. Good luck!”


She climbed out of the car and went into the house. Ewan was sitting at the kitchen table with a red headed woman next to him.


“You’re back!” He called out through a mouthful of sandwich.


“Hiya!” Kate called.


“Kate this is Fran!” Ewan said amiably and then looked at his watch before jerking backwards out of his chair, “Oh Franny we’re late.”


“Where are you off to?” Kate asked, smiling at Fran who was flickering a wave at her shyly.


“We’re going to meet Zoe,” Fran said shyly, “We have a date.” Kate felt like she would never get her head round the idea of polyamoury but they didn’t half make it look companionable and fun. Maybe she’d put that next on her list of things to do after get a job she liked and find one man she wanted to date.


“Have fun!” She called to them as they grabbed coats and keys and headed out the door. She brewed a cup of tea and opened her laptop to look at job websites. There were several agencies looking for staff but she felt like changing kitchens constantly would be too much - she needed to start small and find somewhere where she could slot in with people who knew what they were doing and work up.


There was an Indian restaurant that she’d been to before down the road, they were looking for waitressing staff. That seemed like a good start - she scrawled down the information. She’d be able to get there after work at the university. She kept scrolling through the lists to see if there was anything that was a starter job or didn’t require several different training courses that she didn’t have. A French restaurant in the centre of town was looking for an assistant chef but the language they used to describe the jobs made Kate feel immediately out of her depth. She kept scrolling. Eventually, an opportunity jumped out at her: it was written in such simple terms that she felt no nerves in picking up her phone to dial immediately.


“Hello, The Golden Hare?” Said a woman’s voice on the other end of the line.


“Hi, my name is Kate Wilcox… I’m, calling about the ad you placed online for the kitchen help?”


There was a pause before the woman said anything else, “Yep, ok - I should warn you, it really is just kitchen help we need: some washing up, some prepping, mostly cleaning and assistance… it’s not a chef job, is that the sort of thing you’re looking for?”


“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. There’s no front of house is there?”


The woman laughed kindly, “Not a customer relations person? Nah, don’t blame you. Alright, well, can you do…” There was the sound of paper rustling on the other end of the line and Kate paused with pen and notepad at the ready to make a note of when her interview would be, “Can you do tomorrow?”


“Yes, absolutely,” said Kate without hesitation, “I should warn you - I don’t have experience or anything, so I don’t want to waste your time…”


The woman cut her off, “Don’t be silly - we’ll soon find out if you’re wasting our time when you get here. 6pm sharp ok?”


“Yes,” said Kate, relieved she wouldn’t have to skip out of her job any earlier than allowed. One of her post holiday resolutions was to make sure she stopped flaking on her job. She needed to get used to working hard if she was going to have a career instead of just a job.


“Great - see you then.”



The next day Kate was a ball of nerves all day. She rehearsed over and over again all the answers to questions she thought she might get. She listed her favourite recipes to herself and any and all examples she could think of of times she had been under pressure and succeeded. She muttered to herself all the reasons she thought sounded good for why she was looking for this change in career. Finally, the clock dragged its reluctant hands round to the time to leave and she jumped in her car and headed out to The Golden Hare.


It was a large, country pub on a single narrow lane a bit out in the sticks. It had an enormous car park and was bigger than Kate remembered and she gulped at the thought of how many covers that meant the restaurant had. Never mind, Kate thought to herself, I’ll just do the interview and if it comes off then I can chop onions and wash dishes and all will be fine.


The familiar, comforting pub smell of fryers and a wood fire hit her as soon as she answered the door. A woman behind the bar looked up at her and smiled, “Kate?”


“Yes, hi… I’m Kate.”


“I’m Anya, nice to meet you. Let me show you where you can get changed.”


“Er, changed?” Kate stuttered.


“Oh, were you going to wear that?”


Kate looked down at what she was wearing - it was the same formal black trousers and simple blouse she had worn to work at the university that day. What was wrong with it?


“Er, I was… did you? Did you want something more formal?”


“More formal? God no, I thought you’d be in something you didn’t mind getting grease on. You are here for the trial shift?”


“Trial shift?!” Kate panicked, “Oh my god I thought it was an interview!”



QUESTION:


Choose an ingredient that Kate ends up working with:


  1. Potatoes
  2. Rhubarb
  3. Toffee
  4. Eggs

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapters 18 & 19

 Chapter 18


Polly’s face was thunderous as Kate approached her at the plastic table. Polly had been killing time nursing an overpriced coffee at one of the outlets in the arrivals lounge. Kate looked down at her feet as she approached and slid into an empty seat.


“I’m sorry Poll…” she started, trying to let it come out naturally so that Polly wouldn’t be able to hear too clearly all the rehearsing she had been doing on the plane.


“Save it Kate,” said Polly, tiredly, “I don’t want to hear it.”


Kate stopped talking and sat in silence, listening to the bustle of the airport over the ringing in her ears. She hated upsetting anybody, let alone Polly who had always been so good to her and scraped her out of so many jams.


“I forgot to put my phone on charge and -“


Polly waved her hand with an irritable tiredness to get Kate to stop talking again, “I mean it Kate… I don’t think there’s an excuse you could give me that I haven’t heard from you before. We were supposed to be coming away here so I could get some time to think and have some fun. This was supposed to be about me, and somehow - it’s about you. Like everything always is. I needed a sister not a fifth child this week. No wonder I’m too exhausted to have a straight conversation with my husband.”


Kate was stunned, “What do you mean everything is always about me?” Kate thought she blended into the background most of the time; she felt like she just scurried along in the wake of everyone else’s lives. She didn’t organise things or command people, what was Polly talking about?


“You always manage to have a drama. Something goes wrong and you need help. All the time. It’s exhausting.” Kate noticed with a sickening astonishment that Polly was crying. Kate felt the world scooping and crumbling around her: these truths felt like they were flying out of pitch blackness and hitting her hard in the face.


“I didn’t know.” She said, feeling tiny.


“No, well… of course you didn’t know. You’re too sweet to want to hurt by telling you, aren’t you? You’re fragile and delicate and I’m supposed to look after you but I’ve let you bumble along for so long now that I’m worried I’ve broken you.”


“I’m not your responsibility.” Kate said, not sure if she was trying to defend herself or Polly.


“I know, but also… you are though, aren’t you? You’re not but you are. I’ve watched you boil your life down to pretty much nothing except a job that you hate and a shopping habit and I’ve just let you do it. I started because I didn’t know what else to do after mum and dad died and then it just got harder and harder to call you out on it. Now you’re this: you can’t get on a plane, you forget to come to a book club that you organised us going to, you skip work most of the time, you owe so much money I don’t even know how we’d ever pay it all back… and if I call you out on it I’m an arsehole because you don’t have anyone else in your life.” Polly ran out of steam and slumped into her chair with tears streaming down her face. “And now, here we are on a trip that was supposed to be about me getting my head together in thinking about me and Ryan and our children, and we’re going to be reeling from everything I’ve said now and piecing you back together. I love you Kate, I love you so much… but you accidentally make everything about you by never trying to make it about anyone else.”


Kate didn’t cry. She was surprised she didn’t cry, but she felt numb. Her muscles felt like play dough and she wasn’t sure she could move without creaking. Her senses were alert and someone had turned the volume up on the airport. Polly sat in front of her, sniffing and weeping and sipping coffee trying to pull herself together. Kate’s mouth was dry. Polly had laid it all out: all the worst, most rotten parts of Kate’s life just lay on the table between them and Kate stared at the entrails. She expected to feel gutted and broken and naked at the thought of Polly articulating all the worst aspects of her life in the way she had but instead… she felt oddly lightened by it. It felt somehow freeing to have all these shameful, complicated, difficult parts of herself seen by someone else. She didn’t have to reveal it, or admit it or try and explain why she wasn’t very happy in spite of things seeming normal on the surface. Things didn’t apparently seem normal on the surface. Kate smiled.


“Polly, I am so sorry I missed that flight. I didn’t know I was such a weight on you.”


“You’re not a weight… Oh god, Katie you’re my sister…” tears poured anew down Polly’s face.


“No, Polly, I have been. I didn’t think I was because I didn’t… I didn’t know you were seeing all that. I thought I was just bumbling along but I didn’t realise you were so worried about all the things I was worried about. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and I just thought if I carried on living it then things would fall into place. I try every now and again but not very hard. I went on a date a few weeks ago.”


Polly’s head snapped up, “You what? With who? Ewan?”


Kate laughed, “No, not Ewan. A guy I met on an app. Graeme.”


“Why didn’t you tell me?”


“Because… because it was rubbish and it’s not going anywhere and you and Ryan are so perfect and have it all and…”


“We’re not that perfect. I’m sitting in an Arrivals lounge crying because he wants to have another baby.”


“Well, I can fix part of that. Come on.” Kate stood up briskly.


“Where are we going?” Polly looked surprised.


“We’re going to a bar.” Said Kate, aware that this might be the first time in either of their lives that she had been the one to take control.





Chapter 19


The air was cold as they got out of the taxi in the city centre. Somehow, Amsterdam looked exactly as Kate had hoped it would and she was so excited to be seeing different architecture, a different place. She tried to think about the last time she had been away - been anywhere that wasn’t home, work or the familiar town centre of home. Did going out in the boat with Graeme count? Kate shivered. Probably not. That was terrible and the view was just water. Why didn’t she travel more? Why didn’t she do anything more?


Kate dumped her bag on the twin bed Polly had assigned to her. She noticed with in a moment that made her heart inflate that Polly had let her have the bed by the radiator because she knew how cold Kate got at night. How did her sister’s brain have the capacity to think about so many people all at once? No wonder she could be a bit blunt or snappy sometimes: she had so much stuff floating about in there. Kate’s brain was all a bit vaguer and looser. But had it always been or had she just stopped using it? God, this trip was more reflective than she had hoped.


“Come on, let’s get a bit dolled up.” She said suddenly to Polly, trying to divert her thoughts from wandering down maudlin lanes.


“Dolled up? Us?” Polly said in astonishment, and then looked down at her open case on the bed, “I don’t know if I have anything particularly…”


“Just do the best you can!” Said Kate, “I’m going to shower.” She stood under the steaming water and washed her hair through. Then she dried it with a hairdryer - something she hadn’t bothered to do in about a decade. It would dry on its own, she usually figured - so why waste twenty minutes doing it? But looking at it in the mirror as it bounced and shone, she realised with a little glow of pride that her hair could be quite pretty when styled.


“They looks lovely.” Said Polly, “Will you do mine?”


“I wouldn’t know how.” Kate muttered, immediately feeling embarassed.


“You always used to do mine.”


“Did I…?” Kate stopped talking as the memory of sitting with Polly and styling her hair came back to her, “Oh yeah… oh go on then. Give it a wash and I’ll blow dry it. I’m not promising anything mind.”


Kate selected her black jeans and a simple black jumper. With a nice red lipstick that would look very European chic, she thought.


It was lovely sitting in the warm heat of the hair dryer styling Polly’s hair. It was a simple job but one that Kate found she could focus on and it kept her brain occupied but resting. A bit like when she was chopping and cooking… she was busy, but not so busy she felt frazzled. Good busy.



They hit the streets of Amsterdam both feeling fizzy and excited. It was a long time since they’d been out together. Possibly since Polly’s hen party. They walked past restaurants and pubs and clubs, several places that they weren’t sure what they were and all the while Kate felt like she could see herself from a Birdseye view. “I’m a tourist in Amsterdam” she thought to herself, excitedly, people looking at me must think I do this all the time.


Eventually, they chose a small, cosy looking pub on a quiet street slightly outside of the main canalways. They were drawn to it for the lack of shamrocks drawn on chalkboards outside, no mention of a fry up for 4 euros in the morning, and not a flickering red light promising dancing anywhere in the building.


The tables were scrubbed bare wood and it was lit with soft wall lights and flickering candles in bottles. Kate immediately felt at home - this place was perfect. She felt like she could sink into a chair and relax. She ordered two foamy pints for herself and Polly and they settled themselves at a little round table. Kate fought with the urge to pick the wax off the table.


Polly wiped bubbles off her upper lip and looked at Kate, “So, who was this date with then?”


Kate groaned, “Oh, a guy called Graeme… he’s really lovely and everything but definitely not for me.”


“Why not? What’s wrong with him if he’s lovely?”


“He… well, we’re just not into the same stuff I suppose. He’s really quiet and he likes fishing. I don’t think we’d really have much in common. There was no spark.”


“I can’t believe you went on a date without telling me!” There was a grin in Polly’s eye, “Do you date a lot?”


“No!” Kate’s eyes flashed wide, “No! This was the first date I’ve been on in forever.”


“How did you meet him?”


“On an app.” Kate admitted, shyly. “I sometimes chat to people on there but I never normally go on dates.”


“So, what was different about Graeme?”


“Honestly?” Polly nodded eagerly, taking another sip of beer, “He had a boat. And I thought he meant like a yacht type boat and I got all carried away thinking about boating etc but then when I got there it wasn’t that kind of boat at all - it was this little wooden dingy thing. Oh my god it was awful.”


Polly was giggling away at Kate’s retelling, and Kate found herself laughing too. Poor Graeme, she hoped he wouldn’t mind them laughing. They weren’t laughing at him, anyway, they were laughing at her misunderstanding of it all.


“To be honest I’m just relieved you went on a date. I was starting to think you might be turning into a hermit like, I thought maybe you just weren’t ever going to show an interest in meeting someone or having a family.”


“Not at all! Oh my god I’d give anything to have a family and be surrounded by people all the time.” Said Kate, enjoying how free she felt to admit all this to her sister.


“Really? Well how come you haven’t really dated anyone yet? I didn’t think you were bothered.”


“I don’t know…” And Kate truly didn’t… “I think that might be partly what made me go out with Graeme, when we were talking I had this fleeting moment of feeling like it’d be ok to get out of my rut for a bit. He was talking about having a boat and all the things he liked to do at weekends and it all sounded so great and I was thinking “Oh I wish I could do that” and I thought… oh I can. I could just go out with him and then I would be that person. But then when I didn’t like it, I thought… Oh, yeah - I don’t really get things right, that’s why I don’t try.”


“But just because you didn’t like fishing doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like anything? Go on… what’s your dream Saturday?” Polly leant in across the table. Kate felt uncomfortable under so much scrutiny. She cleared her head.


“I dunno… cooking I spose.”


“You are a good cook. Oh my god that salmon lasagne… I think Ryan loves it more than he loves me.”


Kate laughed, “I’d love to work in a restaurant.”


Polly grabbed a napkin and fished a pen out of her bag. “Ok that’s the first thing on the list then. We’re going to get you a job in a restaurant. How do we start?”


“I can’t work in a restaurant…” Kate started but Polly shushed her.


“Oh stop it, of course you can… we just need to work out what starting job you need or what qualifications to get you going and then we can go from there. Why couldn’t you do it? You can’t carry on doing your job forever or your brain is going to turn to complete mush.”


Kate looked at the napkin which now had RESTAURANT JOB written on the top in Polly’s neat capital letters. She liked the thought of that. Not owning her own restaurant: she didn’t want to do all the complicated business running bit, but the thought of going in and then just being so busy chopping and cooking and focusing on textures and smells that she could only concentrate on that until her shift was over… that sounded like perfection. Maybe she’d get paired up with another more flamboyant chef and they’d be the one to go out and get all the handshakes and she could stay in the kitchen but every now and again there’d be a secret article about how she was the fire beneath it all tucked away in the kitchen. She shook the day dream away and looked back at the words on the napkin. It was a day dream - but a genuine job in a restaurant didn’t have to be.


“So, when I get back I could apply for some starter jobs in kitchens and see what they say?” She said, nervously, “And maybe have a look at what classes I could take to get some basic qualifications. That would help I think.”


Polly beamed at her. “Kate, I think it’d do you the world of good. You’re amazing when you put your mind to things… I think you’ve just forgotten how to put yourself out there.”


“Yeah… ok then.” Kate grabbed another napkin, “What about you then? What are we saying to Ryan?” 


Polly swallowed, “I just… don’t want another baby.”


Kate wrote “Happy as we are” at the top of the napkin. Polly smiled, “Exactly,” she said, “That’s it… I’ve got to tell him I’m happy as we are: not that I’m not happy and that’s why.”


“And he will understand that. Honestly Poll, if it hadn’t been for my stupid meddling he would never have told you because I really think he knew that you felt like this. He knows deep down he probably doesn’t want to do it either: you were never supposed to know. So, what’s all the things that you and he can do with the kids if you’re not glued to a push chair with your nipple in a kids mouth?”


Polly laughed, “I’ll have a think at the bar… same again?” Kate nodded and Polly made her way to order them more drinks. When she got back and sat down they filled each of their napkins’ with plans and ideas and things they wanted to do but just hadn’t.


Several beers in, with a fuzzy head, Kate looked up at Polly, “I’m sorry.” She said.


“What for?” Polly said, smiling kindly at her sister.


Kate indicated the napkin full of Polly’s dreams and intentions, “I never realised how much you needed a parent too.”


QUESTION:


What restaurant does Kate get a job in:


  1. A fish and chip shop
  2. A posh restaurant
  3. A country pub
  4. An Indian restaurant

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapter 17

 


Kate wandered through the rows of knitwear and sparkly party items trying desperately to think of something she needed so that she wouldn’t feel too guilty when she bought it. Obviously she was going to buy something anyway, so it would be better if she could vaguely drum up something that was a necessity. Or, necessity adjacent if not totally necessary.


She already had warm boots that she liked. She’d only bought them a month ago, and there was no point bringing two pairs with her because they were only taking hand luggage and boots were big.


She had a coat; and it matched the boots. She’d ordered a cute pull along suitcase online… she was waiting for Polly to get into town for them to go to Waterstones together and choose some books just like old times. She felt such a chilly nostalgia at the thought of going on a holiday with her sister. Looking at books first but without Mum. After their parents had died the sisters had become undeniably close; but in a sort of low affection way. They were practical and intertwined but they weren’t soppy. They both felt, and then pushed the feeling away, that perhaps if they let their guards down too much there would be things to cope with that neither of them really wanted to deal with.


A lovely mustard yellow bobble hat with gold thread in stripes on it, and a huge feathery fluffy pom pom caught her eye. It looked ridiculous… but also, incredibly fun. She looked down at her matching chocolate brown boots and coat, would that hat go? Or would she look like hot dog? She pulled it off the mannequin and settled it over her head; looking about her for a mirror.


She stood and looked at her reflection. She looked great. The hat made her long, dirty blonde hair look stylised instead of shabby as it felt in loose twirls down to her shoulders. Kate stared at her reflection… that was the nice thing about buying new things and always having them around - it gave the impression that things were going much better for you than they actually were. It made people look at the new shiny things rather than you. You could hide behind them.


The woman in the mirror looked like she would fit in well walking by the canals of Amsterdam. She looked stylish and together in an understated way. Kate decided she needed the hat to pull off the outfit and attitude she wanted for this trip. She marched off to the till and then realised it was about time she scarpered to Waterstones to meet Polly. It would drive Polly nuts if she was late, and she sort of already was late.



They dawdled in the lovely muted conversation of the book shop; smelling the pages and the carpet and enjoying the deadening of the sound caused by that many books in one place. Kate felt awake and excited. There were so many stories trapped between all these covers; and in a way, there wasn’t - there was just ink on paper, but in a way there literally were worlds kept in place on a few inches. All it took was you to pull it out. She loved books and bookshops. If only books were easier to start.


The other two books she had bought when she bought Interview with the Vampire were still steadfastly un started on her shelf. But she had now read Ann Rice’s tome a further three times. It was so much easier to just delve back into a world you were already sure of instead of trying something new and risking being disappointed.


Sasha had text them to say that they would be reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. A compromise for Clara who wanted and Atwood, and Polly who had cried at the mere mention of The Handmaid’s Tale. Kate stared at the cover and tried to drum up some enthusiasm for it. There was nothing there, but she clutched it hard in her hand and told herself that before she’d met Le Stat she hadn’t known how much she would want to escape into that book either. Conveniently, this book was also in a 3 for 2 deal so Kate mooched about looking for some other books that might lend her a bit of light relief from reality.


As they left the shop, each with a new weight of worlds to read, Kate felt very serene and ready for this holiday. She hadn’t left the country in years.

“Ok,” said Polly, turning to her on the high street, “So what time do you need to be at the airport tomorrow morning?”


“The flight is at 9am” Kate nodded. Polly’s face fell.


“No, Kate, that’s not what I asked. The flight is at 9am but what time do you need to be at the airport?”


“Oh! Like, quarter to nine?” Kate grinned, but not before actual steam started to pour out of Polly’s ears and over the pavement, “I’m joking… I will meet you by the main door to departures at 7am sharp. Promise.”


“Are you sure you don’t want me to pick you up?” Polly hopped from foot to foot nervously.


“No, that would be stupid - you already live on the right side of town. Ewan is happy to drop me off.” Kate smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way.


“He is nice, isn’t he? Is he single?” Polly asked, trying and failing to look casual.


“No, not at all.” Kate said emphatically. She hadn’t found the right moment to explain Ewan’s love life to Polly yet because so far Polly was very keen on him and Kate wanted to make sure she really liked him before she threw an unconventional spanner in the works.


“Shame. But, ok - as long as he’s happy to drive you. I’ll see you at the airport. Exciting!” Polly did look excited and Kate was so glad they were going.



She went to bed and set everything she could find with an alarm on it.


“Are you sure you don’t want me to book a taxi?” She checked with Ewan, for the fiftieth time.


“No, no - I am a taxi. I can’t have you funnelling money to the competition now can I? I’ll just do an earlier shift tomorrow and there’s always fares coming back from the airport now aren’t there?”


Kate nodded, “Ok then - thank you so much. See you in the morning.”


“Yep, yep! Just wake me up 15 minutes before you want to leave.” Ewan turned back to his Xbox and Kate closed the door to the living room and went up to bed. It felt like an odd Christmas Eve or something… she was excited.


She was so excited to get to sleep, in fact, that she was finding it virtually an impossible place to get. Her mind ticked over and over the little packed suitcase at the foot of her bed. She checked and double checked the four alarms that she had set on her phone for 5 minute intervals so there was no way she could snooze them and go back to sleep. Then she set her phone on the other side of the room so that she would have to get out of bed to switch it off. Perfect. Then she lay in the dark staring at the ceiling and repeatedly wondering if she were asleep and realising that she wasn’t. It was agony. She listened to podcast after podcast: barely taking in a word of them but also too terrified to switch them off and have space for more thoughts rattling around in her head.


Eventually she slipped off into unconsciousness, dimly aware that there were only hours left before her phone alarm would rouse her but reassured that any sleep was better than none.



She awoke to find Ewan’s face alarmingly close to hers.


“Woah! What’s going on?” She asked, sitting up quickly. Ewan retracted the arm he had shaken her awake with.


“Sorry - didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, “I just wondered… well, what time do you need to be at the airport?”


“Seven.” Said Kate, rubbing her gritty feeling eyes, “It’s ok - my alarm hasn’t even gone off yet. It’s not even 7 yet.”


“It’s nine thirty.” Said Ewan, looking worried.


“What?” Said Kate, barely understanding what he’d said.


“It’s nine thirty. What time is your flight?”


“It’s at 9.” Kate felt sick, “It was at 9. What the fuck?” She dashed over to her treacherous phone and found the screen dead - the battery drained. “Oh god damn it!” How did she always forget that this bastard thing needed plugging in. She crammed the charging jack into the hole at the bottom and stood waiting for it to come back to life. She didn’t really know if she wanted it to - it must be so full of furious messages from Polly.


“I’ll look up the next flight,” Ewan said helpfully, Kate began to scroll through the copious messages flooding her inbox from Polly.


“Polly got on the flight!” She said, reaching the part of the text message narrative where Polly announces she’s going anyway and this is the last straw.


“There’s another flight at 11. Shall I book it?” Ewan asked, glancing up from his phone.


“How much is it?” Kate chewed her thumb nail nervously.


“£137?” Kate gulped, wondering if any of her credit cards could do that. But what choice did she have? She couldn’t leave Polly in Amsterdam alone, it would be a waste of a hat.


“Yeah, better book it. Send me your details and I’ll pay you back. We’d better get in the car!”