Yesterday you chose a year in Kate's life for a big event to have happened...
Kate slammed her purse, flask and Tupperware into her satchel in a rage. How dare he treat her like that? She’d seen Professor Redford be perfectly civil to other members of the faculty; the other lecturers. That was the problem. She was beneath them - or so they thought. She didn’t have the degrees they had, or the lives they had.
She could hear Polly’s voice in her head “There’s nothing making you work there.”. Polly was right, in some respects. There was nothing stopping Kate leaving and working somewhere that didn’t make her feel like a teeny tiny failure. Only fear.
Kate ran her hand down the banisters as she made her way to the car park and her beloved car. She looked at the walls of the university.
“I could have got a degree.” She said out loud to the echoing silence, and then glanced about furtively to check no one had heard her talking to herself. She was right. There had been a point in her life when she was looking likely to get a degree. She was enrolled at University and studying for a degree in French. That’s really very on track for getting a degree however you want to look at it. Kate had really enjoyed her year in Newcastle studying - she’d settled in swiftly, met lots of friends and the course was fun, difficult and easy to fit in around the drinking. She’d not questioned any of it - her family went to university and then became professors and so, so did Kate.
Then, in November of her second year her phone flashed up with a call from Polly.
“Alright Poll?” Kate said between sips of coffee and furious frowns at her text book.
“Kate, you alright? Listen, are you with anyone?”
“Christ, no Poll! I call you one time when I’m not even doing much more than snogging a guy and now you…”
“No, Kate - not like that. I just mean. Oh god, I don’t know how to do this. I’m going to book you a flight, Katey.” This is where Kate caught her breath, Polly didn’t call her Katey.
“Why do I need a flight Poll? What’s happened?” She carefully put her pen down under the line she was working on, not knowing yet that she wasn’t ever going back to that essay.
“Mum and Dad have had an accident Kate.” Polly didn’t stumble with her words, or hesitate - she was far too sensible for that. She spoke clearly, and slowly and sadly and Kate felt a chill running through her chest and down her arms. “Their car hit black ice on the way in to the university this morning.”
“The Volvo?” Kate would look back on asking that question for years to come. Volvo adverts were always set in Scandinavia - they weren’t supposed to skid, that was the whole point. If they’d skidded on black ice then they couldn’t have been in the Volvo could they?
“Yes, in their Volvo. It’s a pretty bad crash and we need you to come home Kate.”
“Are they ok?” It was a stupid question, but the English language seems to compress at times of crisis leaving you only with inadequate questions that don’t have good answers.
“No, they’re not. They’re not ok at all. There’s a flight at 7pm, have you got your passport and can you pack a bag? I’ll book you on it right now and pick you up from Bristol when you land. Can you do that?”
“Yes, yes - I can do that. Ok.” Kate gave Polly all the information she needed; her voice feeling tinnier and further away with every detail. “Poll,” she said, as they said their goodbyes, “Don’t let them go without saying goodbye?”
Polly quietly promised she wouldn’t there and then on the phone, it wasn’t until Kate landed in Bristol and hugged Polly across a handbrake in the express pick up and drop off that she gently told her that the Professors Wilcox had already gone before Polly made the call.
And that was it. That was the end of Kate’s attempts to follow in the family footsteps. It was the end of her really following any path at all. She’d never gone back to Newcastle - not even to collect her things. After 3 months of badgering from Polly to go and get them, in which Kate had calmly tried to explain that if she could live without parents she could live without a few clothes, Polly had got in the car and gone and got them herself. She’d slammed into the living room and looked at the puddle of Kate on the sofa and then burst in to tears. Polly and Kate had lain together on the sofa watching Frasier and crying and laughing about everything.
It was the last time Kate really remembered relating to Polly, properly. Something had snapped in Polly. “Life is short.” Had become her mantra and she’d gone into overdrive to grow up and get on and be very, very sensible. Kate felt the opposite. Some people’s lives were short but hers was feeling increasingly stretched out and long with nothing that felt remotely satisfying in it to make her feel absorbed. TV shows came and went and she watched the bright screen, felt nothing and then went to bed. She tried to read but the words whizzed past her eyes read by her bored in-house narrator and the story didn’t mean anything except spellings.
“You should get therapy.” Polly insisted, worried about her lacklustre sister. But Kate shied away from it. It felt a bit Disney fix-it. She’d sit on a sofa and say “What’s the point in getting invested in anything if stuff can just vanish in an instant?” And a therapist would say “Well, what else are you going to do, just while away the hours?” And Kate would say, “Yeah - overall, what difference is a life doing that on flatline compared to a life doing ups and downs? It comes out even.” And the therapist would get a blank look in her eye and say “yeah, you’re right.”
At Polly’s insistence Kate had got a job and Kate had happily curled up in the University where her Mum and Dad had worked. It felt like she was near them a bit when she was there. As the years went on, her listless bubble had weakened and the drive to live more fully had started to wake up again. Unfortunately in manifested itself in buying things she didn’t need and attaching herself to men that didn’t interest her so that she wouldn’t have to be alone, but, it was better than nothing wasn’t it? Her friends dwindled down to just Polly, and she just existed day by day - fixing printers and smoking in stairwells. But her life wasn’t going to stay like that forever.
As she made her way down the staircase and through the empty hallways of the University, a flyer on a noticeboard caught her eye. It was such an unusual shade of purple paper - really very pretty. She stopped to read it.
Before our next chapter on Thursday, you need to decide...
What is the flyer publicising?
- A play
- A book group
- Sea swimming
- Night classes
- A bring and buy sale