The Girl

We reach further than we think.

I am the girl who stands on the platform, cold and uncertain, playing with the toggles on my jacket, waiting here as I do every morning. In a few minutes, I’ll go to the place I go every day – to a job I dislike that doesn’t pay enough, to spend time with people I don’t respect and who don’t respect me. I look at my train ticket. It’s the beginning of January and the prices have gone up again. It costs almost as much as rent for me to get to work now. It’s ridiculous. I know this, but I’m numb to it by now. Numb to all the things going on that used to make me angry, really. Who has the time and energy to care about all this anymore? The sky is grey and low, like a ceiling closing in. It’s raining, a small and persistent drizzle, more annoying than truly wet. Just a grumpy, irritating spray. I stand there, like always, waiting for the train to take me to the place I hate, the place that pays me the money to live in the flat I hate, in the town for which I feel nothing. I am the girl who is sad and tired. I’ve always felt this way, and I know – because I’m smart and I read – that this isn’t how people are supposed to feel. I haven’t slept properly in as long as I can remember. My stomach churns whenever I eat. I’m thin and pale and I don’t fit anywhere, like a crooked little puzzle piece. I hate being outside. All I want to do is hide somewhere, but I have to be here, because this is what you do and this is how you live. Except each day that passes, I wonder more and more why it has to be this way. I used to think that there could be a pill or some kind of therapy that might magic away the bit of me that makes me feel this way more often than not, but it’s been so long – as long as I can remember, since I was a tiny child – that I don’t know what would be left of me if someone could cut this part away. Who would I be? Does it matter? What’s the point of trying to get better when, as far as I’m concerned, this is a totally rational way to think? The world is falling to pieces. Life is pointless. We are tiny points of flickering light in an endless gulf of darkness. What would it matter if one more of them were to wink out today? A train is coming now. Not my train. The fast train to London that doesn’t stop here, but whooshes through, carrying grey, tired people to a grey, tired city. Each morning if flies past and whips my jacket and my scarf as it goes and I think…just a few feet closer. What would it matter? Who would really care? And I take a tentative step forward, over the yellow line on the platform. Their eyes follow me. Bored men and women, looking over papers. I can hear the train racing towards the station, a low rumble like a thunderstorm. I take another step. I am the girl.

I am the man that drives the train. It’s a decent enough life, but the job has its ups and downs like any other. It doesn’t pay enough, especially not today. They tell you this might happen. I suppose it’s pretty common. It never happened to anyone I knew before, none of the other lads anyway. I don’t know what to think, not just now. My mind’s a whirlwind. A policewoman helps me off and onto the platform. She’s pretty and blonde and she smiles reassuringly. I shouldn’t think of her as a policewoman, should I? My daughter would shout at me. She’s always shouting. Such an angry girl, but I guess that comes from being as bright as she is. Off to Cambridge to study things I’ll never understand. There’s never enough money – I remember when the students kicked up all that fuss a few years ago. I talked to the lads about it down the pub and we all agreed they were a bunch of layabouts who didn’t know how good they had it. Well, now it’s my girl paying for it – or me, rather, wanting to give her the best chance I can in life – and it doesn’t seem so simple. It was a girl just now. That’s why I’m thinking about this stuff as they lead me towards the offices. I can see bits of things. There’s no barriers or tents or anything up yet. I imagine I can still see her face before she jumped, but I didn’t see anything. All I saw was the red splash. I thought it was paint. Vandals or something. It wasn’t paint. Someone puts a cup of coffee in my shaking hand. It could have been my girl. It could have been anyone’s girl. It was someone’s. Fucking hell. I’m just the man that drives the train. I don’t deserve this.

I am one of the men who deals with these things. I never thought I’d find myself in this line of work, but someone has to do it. I pick across the tracks behind the big canvas sheets that hide everything from view. We keep our mind on the job. Sometimes, when it’s not something like this – when it’s not a person – you can laugh and joke together. Not today. People always ask me the same question: does it get easier? It doesn’t. Not really. I mean, in a way, I’m hardened to it now. It gets easier to separate yourself from what you see, to forget it when you go home for the evening. To spend time with your friends and family, to put it out of your head, at least for a little while. But here and now, there’s no putting it anywhere. Blood and bone and all the rest of it. There’s never much left, but often there’s more than you think. A train hits hard, and it throws things around. I stoop to pick something up. A canvas handbag; a sweet little thing stitched with a stylised owl or something. I hold it in my gloved hand, feeling the weight. It’s still full. Keys, a purse, a phone, a diary maybe. A whole little life, thrown to one side by the sudden impact of a hundred tonnes of metal and electricity. For a second I forget myself. My girl would love this bag – I think of taking it home for her, as a gift. I’m instantly disgusted with myself and I drop the bag with a start. It was a moment of distraction. Normally I keep everything separate in my head. I have to. But just then, I could see it happening to one of my daughters. When I go home, I’ll hug them as hard as I can. I’ll let them know they’re loved. I don’t know what made this girl lose so much hope she thought this was a thing to do, but I know, looking at this human wreckage, that I’ll do everything in my power to stop it happening to anyone else. But right now, I’m just one of the men who deals with these things.

I’m the boy who takes the train every morning. We sit in the same carriage and I wonder where she is now. There was a problem with one of the earlier trains – Twitter says an accident or something – and we’re stuck down the line. There’s supposed to be a bus coming to pick us up and take us the rest of the way. It can take its time as far as I’m concerned. But I’m missing her, that’s the only bad thing about it. She gets on at this station. I watch her surreptitiously as I play with my phone and she plays with hers. She’s a thin, pale girl with blonde hair as unruly as a dandelion clock. I’ve known her for months but never spoken a word to her. I don’t think I’ll ever pluck up the courage. She’s too beautiful for me. But I think about her a lot and the life she must have. A boyfriend, I’m sure, and cool friends who write or paint or dance. She must do amazing things. She probably plays an instrument. I envy the lifestyle I imagine for her, even though I know it’s just a fantasy I’ve concocted. It’s silly, and I worry I’m some kind of stalker. What would she think of me if she knew I was obsessed like I am? Except I’m not, not really – it’s just a train crush. I wish her well. I hope she’s happy and her life is filled with laughter. She makes my morning. I forget her every day and then, when she gets on the train, my heart soars. I hope she sits opposite me today. I hope she smiles at me. I hope she accidentally brushes against me and I have to speak to her. But I’m just a boy who takes the train and I’m sure she won’t even care.

I’m a mother. I never liked to define myself that way, but you just find it happens over time and now more than ever that’s who I am. That’s my relationship to this situation. ‘Situation’…how cold that feels. My hands are working relentlessly on a napkin laid out on the table, twisting it back and forth. I don’t feel anything. I haven’t even cried. But I have this dull ache deep inside me. This is just disbelief, isn’t it? It hasn’t hit me yet. The policeman’s voice was so kind over the phone. They asked me to sit down, just like in the films. I thought it would be my husband. Somehow, I knew that would be better. They offered to phone him too, at work, but I said I’d do it. Why did I say that? How am I supposed to tell him? How am I supposed to tell anyone? A million things are rushing through my head, a million stupid things that don’t matter. We have to go down there. We have to drive down to her little flat and try to make sense of whatever she left behind. We have to organise a funeral, or a memorial or whatever. We have to tie up her affairs as best we can. We, old ourselves now, have to tidy up a young life cut short. A whole life. A whole person. Gone. But not just a person. It comes now. A horrible, agonising sob rising up from my chest, escaping in a hideous, embarrassing blurt of noise. I buried my mother. That was hard, but this was different. My girl. My beautiful girl. Why did she do this? How did I fail her so badly? What could I have done to stop this? Why didn’t she tell me? I thought we could talk about anything. I thought she was happy. She always said she was happy. I can’t stand up. I can’t lie down. I can’t be anywhere: I can’t exist. Not like this, not with this hole inside me that will never, ever heal. Is this how she felt all the time? Is this what made her step off that platform? I cry. I cry for hours. What else is there to do? What else is left in the world but grief and pain? I am a mother. No. She was my only child. I’m nothing now.

I’m her aunt. Picking up the pieces. That’s what I’m here to do. Her poor mother, my sister-in-law. I think about my boys and I try to think what she’s going through but I can’t. And I don’t have time to do that right now. Because someone has to be there. My brother’s gone to a bad place. I want to be there for him too. I want to help them all. I want to make it go away and somehow bring her back. But you can’t do that, can you? These things happen, although they shouldn’t. She should have got help, poor thing. It’s a terrible thing, depression, if that’s even what it was. These kids are all lost and scared. You can see it on the streets. No jobs, no hope. It breaks my heart. I’ve got no time though. No time to be heartbroken. I’m left picking up the pieces for my brother again, just like when we were little and he’d leave his toys everywhere. It’s not my place, I know, but who else do they have? Things like this, they leave you hollowed out. They take away your sense of who you are. I loved those people but I don’t know who they are right now and neither do they. All the horrible things they have to do, they’re just not strong enough for it. So I’ll do it. I’ll help. I’ll be there. Work can wait, the boys can wait. She was family. Now, more than ever, we have to pull together. I can do it. I’ve cried too, God knows. We all have. Going back to the cold flat was the worst thing of all. So much left undone. Dirty plates in the sink. Post on the doormat. A book with a bookmark halfway through. I tidied up. I did what I had to do. I held back the tears for a while, let her mother look through her things, staring at the photos, handling the clothes. There’s no etiquette for this. There’s nothing you can say or do. You have to ride it out. I’m just her aunt, but it’s turned everything inside out, for all of us.

I was her ex-girlfriend. I find out about it through Facebook, a friend of a friend. We hadn’t seen each other in years, not since uni. Back then she didn’t know who she was. When you’re that age, you try on a new person every month. Looking back, I pushed her too hard to be what I was looking for. I was kind of a bitch. I’m woman enough to admit that now. I wonder, as I sit there, absorbing this bizarre news, whether it was, in some small way, my fault. How did I contribute to her state of mind at the end? She was always a little…neurotic. Mercurial. That’s the word. But we were teenagers, right? Everyone’s drunk on vodka and hormones. It was a crazy time. We were crazy. I always thought of those days fondly, but now it’s slowly calcifying in my brain into a kind of mythology, like we were two heroines, an ersatz Romeo and Juliet, with an ending just as tragic. At least for her. God. I can’t imagine. I’ve had my share of mental health problems, but I got help. My girlfriend snapped me out of it when it got too bad and sent me to the doctor. I got better, though the scars will always be there. I admit, I’ve been to some dark places, but never so dark as where she must have been. I don’t know though, not really. It’s been years, after all. I’m just her ex-girlfriend.

I am the man who owns the corner shop. I heard a story about a girl who lives around the corner. They say she threw herself in front of a train! What a horrible thing. I didn’t see it in the papers, not at the time, and I’m not going to go looking for it. I think I knew her though. She came in now and then. A pretty one, she was, blonde, white. But sad. I could see that. Sad eyes. It makes me sad to think of what she must have been thinking when she did it. It’s awful, but you hear about it all the time, don’t you? People shoot themselves or cut their wrists or jump off buildings. It makes you think. Makes you want to hold onto life as hard as you can. Me, I’d never do a thing like that, but now I watch the people I love – my wife, my kids – to check they’re okay. I don’t know what to look for really, but I ought to do something. Poor girl. It’s a real shame. I own a corner shop though, and I have a life to be getting on with.

I work in another branch. It’s weird. I’ve never been here before and I was looking forward to it. I mean, it’s just a meeting, but it’s always nice to go to a new place. Well, so much for that. One of the team I was meeting didn’t come into work. No one knew where she was. We found out at lunch she’d killed herself. Isn’t that terrible? Just jumped in front of a train! Everyone looks grey and sad. I feel a bit weird being here as this is going on. I want to leave. I feel bad for her, but mostly I want to go home and forget about it. I work in another branch – this isn’t supposed to be my problem!

I’m waiting for a train. It’s over an hour late and no one seems to know what’s happening. We finally got to speak to someone on the platform and he said someone killed themselves further up the line. How awful. I can’t even think why anyone would do that. I wish they’d have sorted out whatever their problems were so I wouldn’t be late. I know it’s selfish, but I didn’t know her. I feel bad for her family. What a terrible thing to do to them. I look at my watch. Still waiting for the train.

I sell flowers. We do a lot of funerals. I arrange them and write out the cards nicely. You try not to think about it too much, but this one hits hard. There are a lot of flowers for this service, and I’ve found out it’s a girl about my age. Apparently she killed herself. What must her mum and dad be going through right now? I don’t know. I just get on with my job. What else can you do? I only sell flowers.

I’m stuck in traffic. It’s a bloody funeral procession. Shouldn’t get angry, not really. A lot of people in black, all lined up outside the church, crying. God, there’s loads of them. Did someone famous die? Don’t know. I’m going to be late unless these cars get out of the way. I drum the steering wheel, fix my expression on my face. Don’t get angry, this is a funeral for some poor person; I’m just stuck in traffic.

I’m a barman. There was a girl who used to come in here and she doesn’t anymore. I wonder if she moved? Shame, because she always looked so sad, but she used to brighten up when she was here with her friends. I hope she’s happy, wherever she is. Anyway, back to work, I’m a barman, right?

I’m moving into a new flat. It seems nice, but no one’s lived her for a little while and it’s totally empty. What happened to the last tenant? The landlord gets quiet. Nothing happened did it? Oh, she died. How sad. What happened? No one seems to know. I check online – no one got murdered here, at least. It’s creepy, but I don’t care because this is the start of a new life: I’m moving into a new flat! Yay!

I work on the bins. It’s okay. This bin hasn’t been left out for a while, but now it’s full again, so I guess someone moved back in. One more hardly makes a difference, but this one is down a bloody alley behind the flats so it’s always a pain in the arse.  Never mind. Got to get on though. I work on the bins.

I’m the postman. It was piling up at that flat for a while. I wonder why.

I work in a call centre. When I ring that number, no one knows the name I’ve got on the spreadsheet for it. Annoying.

I sell her clothes. She hasn’t been in for months.

I’ve driven her in my taxi once or twice. I liked her smile.

I work with her dad. He’s not the same.

I was going to borrow a book from her for a class. Doesn’t matter now.

I used to cut her hair. Someone told me she died.

I saw her in the supermarket now and then. I wonder what her name was.

I bought some shoes from her on eBay. She stopped selling a while ago. Odd.

I followed her on Twitter. She hasn’t posted anything for ages.

I went to school with her when we were little.

I know her cousin.

I met her at a wedding once.

I was her first kiss.

I met her eyes as we passed each other in the park.

I read a comment she posted online and it made me smile.

I taught her to drive.

I sold her her train ticket.

I don’t know her, never had anything to do with her, but someone said she killed herself and it makes me sad.

I was the girl. I didn’t matter to anybody.

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