Friday, April 17, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 5

Emma was still thinking about Jack and Elliott as she organised wooden figure skaters on a glass pond at the Christmas shop the next day. She wondered what Jack’s story was, she’d got the impression he lived alone, well, in terms of human company. She wondered how long they had lived there; perhaps not long? Was it normal to have a dog like that in a flat without a garden? Emma had no idea. She’d never had a dog herself but she liked dogs. As she organised the little blonde boy figure so he was tucked in behind the mum looking one, a veil of melancholy settled over her emotions.

‘I like dogs. Why did it never occur to me to get a dog?’ She thought, sadly.
‘Because you can barely look after yourself.’  Her thoughts answered immediately, and she wondered if this was true. To her, it felt more like it had just never occurred to her to do that sort of thing. She’d never really got round to adding the extra details that took a life from functional to fun. She’d been waiting, and not even particularly aware that she was waiting. What was she waiting for?

‘A husband.’ All of her thought streams answered in harmony and there were no voices left in her head to argue with them. She looked at the little figure she was still holding and placed him onto the lake. Emma took a step back to admire her work in the big plate glass window.

“All finished?” Asked Fiona, from behind the counter.

But Emma didn’t answer, she was staring wide eyed out of the window at what she thought she’d seen. That coat! She knew that coat. She’d looked at that coat every day hanging on the hooks by the lifts. It was his coat wasn’t it? She racked her brain trying to think back to the man in the coat, replaying the brief moments during which he’d been walking past the shop. Her heart was walloping her ribs so hard it hurt. It was definitely him. That walk… oh god that walk. How was a walk that enticing? It was just picking up feet and putting them back down again on the floor, but he did it in such a way it made her want to be a pavement.

Fiona was saying something else but Emma literally couldn’t hear it through the screaming of her thoughts and the blood pulsing heavily through her ears. Suddenly Emma was out on the street, dazed and utterly spellbound by what she thought she’d seen passing by The Christmas Shop. The cold air hit her and she breathed in sharply, there! Just at the end of the breath in she thought she smelled it? No? Yes! A slight citrusy tang hovering over a warm, seasoned middle-eastern scent. It was him. She knew it.

Her feet led her down the high street in the direction he’d been going. She weaved in and out of people on their lunch breaks coming in the other direction. A couple of minutes into the pursuit she realised he could have gone into any shop on the street and her heart began to sink. She might not see him. She reached a crossing and stopped to look around. There! He was up ahead, still walking. He had such a good stride. She hurried to catch up and then was only a few feet behind him when he stopped abruptly on the street and caught arm of a man passing by him coming Emma’s way. As he turned on his heel to face the man Emma felt a body shocking ice hot panic rip through her, she couldn’t be here! What if he saw her? How would she explain her presence, not only here in Bath, but also following him down the street? A smaller, crueller voice whispered, ‘What if he doesn’t even remember you?’

Emma couldn’t bare the thought of trying to meet his eyes, here on the street in her red turtle neck jumper and green apron. She dove to her left and squeezed herself between two cars parked on the street, squatting down so she could just about see the two men from her hiding place. It was Theo! Her heart couldn’t beat any harder or faster but seeing him there, in the flesh, in the street in front of her made her skin feel shiny and tingly.

“Hi,” he said to the other man, who had his back to Emma, “How’s it going buddy?”

Emma couldn’t hear the other half conversation but it didn’t matter, she wasn’t interested anyway. All that mattered right now was that Theo was here, in Bath, where she was, and that he didn’t see her right now. She shifted her weight to her other foot to keep it from going numb. There wasn’t a lot of space between the two cars, she hoped they weren’t going to talk for long or this was going to be quite uncomfortable.

“Yeah, no - gorgeous little place about 15 from here.” Theo was saying to the stranger and Emma peeped up to see if he was indicating a direction that might be useful to her in…

‘In what?’ The saner of her thought patterns asked her, ‘In stalking him again later?’

‘I’m not stalking him.’ She thought back angrily, ‘I was just curious.’

‘You are hiding feet away from him listening in on his conversations and trying to catch a glimpse of where he lives so you can find it later. This is, really, almost the very definition of stalking.’

Just as this voice was getting somewhere in the process of convincing Emma she had gone too far, a blast of hot mucky air hit her in the face from the car exhaust. The engine on the car in front rumbled into life and she spluttered the fumes back out of her mouth looking in horror at the back of the Nissan as its reversing lights came on. Emma froze, quite the proverbial rabbit, only this time the lights were on the other end. She had to move, but the only choices were the main road or her main love interest and neither were particularly appealing. The car was inching closer as the driver carefully manoeuvred itself from the tight spot. Emma flattened herself against the car behind her, holding her breath away from the ever nearing boot.

‘It will stop moving soon,’ she thought to herself, ‘it will have reversing sensors.’
‘Maybe not though? On a car this old?’
‘I don’t know, when did that sort of thing start happening?’
‘JUST MOVE.’ Emma felt a bit sorry for the part of her that seemed to have a grip on how to behave like a functioning, still alive adult. It must be really lonely living in a brain with a load of other ideas that were quite as stupid as hers were.

Finally her body caught up with the sole decent thought in her brain and she began to move herself. She twisted her torso to push herself up but the car in front had come too far back and as she twisted she realised there wasn’t space to pull her hips through the gap and the car was still reversing.

‘Bang on the car!’ Her brain screamed but all the other thoughts quickly held up an image of Theo peering down between the two cars and seeing her squatting there; crumpled, dirty and inexplicable. ‘It can’t reverse for much longer.’ She told herself desperately as the pressure on her ribs became an intense pain. Time stood still as she squatted, pinned down by the car, struggling to breathe as her lungs withstood the pressure of the car. It had stopped moving, thank God, but seemed to be waiting for a gap in the traffic to make its move. Realisation hit Emma, the car was going to move and she would still be here. Out in the open. For Theo to see. She squirmed desperately but the more she moved the more the pain in her rib cage intensified and the more she struggled to refill the precious air in her lungs.

After what felt like an eternity the car lurched forward and Emma toppled forward on the tarmac of the road. The Nissan pulled neatly out of the space and Emma was gasping there on the floor, one hand rubbing her tender ribs. She looked up, fearfully, at the pavement, but Theo had gone. She sighed out heavily and then yelped in pain as the deep breath made her ribs squeal.

A passer by looked as if he was going to come over and offer help, but Emma jumped to her feet sending a shockwave of agony through her torso as she landed.

“Oops!” She said brightly, and began, numbly, to make her way back to the shop.

As she pushed open the door to the Christmas Shop she could already feel the fury emanating off Fiona. She’d planned out her story on the walk back, in case she was given a chance to explain. She eyed Fiona’s face for clues as to how this was going to go. Fiona merely arched an eyebrow, which Emma took to be an invitation to start talking.

She took a deep breath in, winced at the sharp pain in her ribs, and then started to speak.

“Sorry, Fiona, I should have told you where I was going. I just, I saw someone pass that, that I was pretty sure had been shop lifting in here on Monday, and I wanted to see if I couldn’t get a better look. See if I could make sure I’d recognise them if they came in again, and maybe let one of the High Street wardens know to look out for them. Just in case. Sorry - that must have seemed mad, me just rushing out like that.” She waited. That was the smoothest she’d ever lied in her entire life. Even her thoughts weren’t criticising her, they were huddled at the front of her mind waiting to see what Fiona said back.

Fiona let her perfect eyebrow arch drop and nodded silently. She looked down at the till, and then back up at Emma. “Right.” Was all she said, and then turned and continued dusting the high shelves behind the counter.

Emma’s hairline prickled, as the relief sent a bout of sweat beading out of her skin. She wasn’t totally convinced that Fiona believed her but at least she wasn’t firing her on the spot.

The rest of the afternoon was absolute agony, trying to reorganise and dust while managing the furious pain in her chest. It felt like her lungs were being stabbed from several angles as she breathed.

By the time she got back to the flat the pain was making it difficult to think clearly. Not, she reminded herself, that she was always the most coherent thinker at the best of times. She lay down on the bed and then had to immediately roll herself back up to a sitting position as it became clear that lying down dramatically increased the amount of pain she was in. Perhaps there was some ibuprofen in the bathroom, she thought to herself and began making her way there.

As she entered the hall there was a light knock at the door. She turned and opened it to see Jack stood in the hallway.

“Hi,” he said, offering her a smile, “How are you?”

“Fine.” She managed. Even that short word making her jaw tighten as her ribs bullied her. It was dawning on her that perhaps she’d managed some real damage earlier. Who would have thought that being the filling in a car sandwich could be so painful?

“I know this is cheeky, given we’ve only met once and that was pretty disastrous - all on my part. But, you haven’t got any self-raising flour have you? I’m making…” Jack’s words petered out and he stopped and looked concerned. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

She tried to smile but she was suddenly feeling a bit light headed and grim; the walk home must have taken it out of her on top of the bruising. “Yeah, I’m…”

“You’re awfully pale?” His voice had gone from light and friendly to deeper and concerned.

“I hurt myself at work, I uh…” she wobbled on her feet as her vision momentarily leaked out of focus to be replaced with swirling violet and lilac lines.

“I think I should take you to hospital.” Jack said decisively and he reached behind her, grabbed her keys off the little table by the door and pocketed them. He took her hand and led her forward, pulling the door closed behind her and then began immediately to help her down the stairs and out to his car. Emma wouldn’t have had the strength to argue even if she’d thought she should. Which she didn’t. Hospital seemed about right for the week she was having.

Emma was taken straight in for scans when they arrived. A combination of grey skin and difficulty breathing apparently made you a top priority, which made Emma feel positive about the state of healthcare, if not the state of her own health. They sat in the waiting room for results, not speaking much other than for Jack to ask her if she was OK every twenty minutes or so. Small talk was slow, but Emma’s head was foggy and tired, and small talk was difficult at the best of times let alone when your only two meetings had been cleaning up a dog shit and a trip to A&E.

Eventually the doctor called them in and Jack helped Emma to walk into the small office.

Emma sat in the blue chair and signalled to Jack to sit by her. He was comforting to have around. Something about the little grey flecks in his beard and the piercing blue eyes made her feel looked after. Or maybe it wasn’t the beard and the eyes, but more the fact that he was very literally looking after her.

“There is substantial bruising to your rib cage Emma, and a couple of fractured ribs.”

‘Blimey,’ thought Emma, ‘that was a bit serious!’

Jack looked at Emma in alarm and the Doctor looked from him to Emma before speaking again.

“Emma, would you like to have a chat about this with a bit more privacy?”

Emma looked blankly at the Doctor. There were only the three of them in there, why would she need more privacy? She looked across at Jack; did the doctor think Jack was uncomfortable? Maybe she should see if Jack did want to go? As the doctor looked back down at some notes Emma mouthed to Jack to see if he wanted to go?

“I’m fine here.” Said Jack amiably, nodding to reassure Emma. The Doctors head came back up and she looked over at Jack, warily.

“Alright then.” Said the doctor, a faint note of annoyance coming into her voice. “You said you fell over Emma? It’s just, these injuries aren’t really consistent with a simple fall. Did anything else happen to you that you might have forgotten to mention? Either during the fall or, some other way?”

Emma felt panic cut through her lovely, warm protected feeling. Her head whipped round to look at Jack, who was now looking at her questioningly. She couldn’t tell this Doctor what had happened without giving away to her new, seemingly delightful, neighbour that she was a complete and utter headcase. She stared at Jack and then turned her head back to the Doctor.

“It really was just a fall. I’m just really good at falling maybe?” She tried. She attempted a laugh but it hurt so much her hand flew to her rib to console it.

The Doctor cleared her throat, clearly disbelieving. Emma’s eyes flicked to Jack, hoping upon hope that at least he was buying her story even if the doctor wasn’t.

“Actually!” A brain wave hit Emma, “Actually, now that you mention it - yes, I was carrying a box when I fell - and that did sort of land on me, so maybe that was what did it? I work in a shop you see. So, when I fell, I was carrying a box.” She couldn’t stop her eyes from flicking to Jack to see what his face was doing but there was no way to tell what he was thinking.

The Doctor sat silently for a few seconds, sizing Emma up, before coming too having apparently decided on a course of action.

“Ok,” said the Doctor, “Well, I’ll consult with a colleague and then I just need to give you another check over and then we should be able to discharge you with some pain killers.” She left the room and Emma and Jack sat in silence, Emma would have paid thousands to be able to hear his thoughts.

The Doctor came back in with a clipboard and sat back down in her chair.

“I just need to examine Miss Fogg.” She said briskly to Jack, “Would you mind stepping outside for a moment?”

Jack stood up straight away and nodded to Emma, “I’ll be right outside, ok?”

Emma tried to nod but a wave of pain crossed her ribs and she made a small strangled noise and just blinked at him. The Doctor frowned. “Out you go then.” She said to Jack and he exited, looking back fondly at Emma before closing the door.

Emma sat in a daze while the Doctor peeled up her top and ran her cold hands over her ribs, feeling and examining and constantly talking to Emma. Emma tried her best to answer all the questions, and was extremely pleased with how attentive this Doctor seemed. All sorts of questions about how happy she was at home and making sure Emma knew that if she ever needed any support there were all sorts of numbers she could call. Emma wondered if this doctor could sense that she’d recently completely upended her life?

Eventually, with several pamphlets she had no intention of looking at stuffed into her hand she exited the Doctors office and looked around the waiting room for Jack. He was nowhere to be seen.

‘That’s odd.’ Thought Emma. Perhaps he was in the loo? She sat down in one of the chairs to wait, but after ten minutes had passed without him reappearing she stood up again and headed over to the receptionist.

“Excuse me,” she asked, “do you know where the man I was with went?”

The receptionist smiled at her kindly. “He’s just having a little word with Officer Barrett.” The receptionist pointed through the big square window to a large static trailer in the car park with POLICE printed on the side.

“Why?” Asked Emma blankly. And then it hit her. Oh my god. Theo must have seen her earlier and reported her for stalking. Jack was in there right now giving a statement. This was awful. She looked up in horror at the receptionist who was still smiling nicely at her. It wasn’t the sort of smile you’d give someone you thought was a murderous stalker, Emma thought suddenly, the receptionist wasn’t backing away like she would be in the same situation.

“They just, they just wanted to go over a few things with him. That’s all. To check you’re, both, ok. He’s not in any trouble, it’s just a chat, and he’ll be out soon. Do you think it’ll make him angry? If you’re worried we can -“

Emma stared at the receptionist, who seemed to be very calmly off her rocker rather than the other way round. “I don’t think he’d be angry. He doesn’t really seem like the type?” Said Emma, “I’ll just wait over there for him, then, shall I?” The receptionist nodded and then rubbed the back of Emma’s hand. Emma frowned and went back to her chair. She picked up the pamphlets that she’d dropped absently onto the seat next to her and turned it over to read the front.

It said “What Is Domestic Abuse?” In huge black letters and the entire awful scenario fell into alarming clarity in Emma’s mind.

“Oh my god!” She shouted, catching the attention of every single person in the waiting room. She pulled herself to her feet as fast as she could and hobbled out of the building and across the car park as fast as her struggling, aching, pierced lungs would allow. She was about 20 feet from the Police truck when the door opened and Jack came out and down the steps looking ashen faced. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and stood facing her. Emma’s heart sank even further down towards her arse.

‘Now I have to spend next week looking for a new job and a new flat.’

No comments:

Post a Comment