My feet are just over the yellow line at Willesden Junction Station. I ignore the order to get behind it. Why get behind the line? There’s a foot of ribbed pavement and half-a-foot-wide white stripe between me and the platform’s edge. The red face of the train charges towards the station. I wonder how painful it would be if the train clipped someone’s head? Would it kill them? Or turn them into a vegetable?
The blur of blue, off-white, and flashes of red pass. The cars are mostly empty. Thank fuck. The air is humid and my back is drenched from lugging this godforsaken backpack with the Mac, 200page notebook, and a Carl Jung psychoanalysis tome.
My phone vibrates in my pocket and I pull it out.
Jo: We need to talk ASAP. The text says.
My stomach twists, not this again.
I reply: Don’t want to talk. Stop texting or I’m going to block you.
The phone vibrates again.
Jo: Please. I know you don’t want to talk, but I have to talk to you. Meet me, please? It’s about the other night.
My left foot taps like I’m Thumper.
It was just bad night, can’t we forget it? I flash to Jo walking me up—wondering what happened that night. Each time Jo gets blackout drunk it always follows with a goddamned panic attack. I have too much to focus on right now—
I reply: I have to finish my dissertation. I need space. Leave me alone.
The tube stops. There’s a beep, a hiss and then the chipped red door starts to open. Trepidation squeezes my insides as the morning after bubbles to the front of my mind. Jo swore the BBQ stain on my top was blood, the drugs and booze doesn’t do Jo’s ridiculous hyper-active imagination a lick of good. The half-eaten BBQ chicken pizza on the kitchen counter didn’t ease anything. Jo swore something happened… Sian did recall yelling at one point… but that’s it… yelling. Why can’t Jo just leave it alone? It was a bad end to a night out… no one was hurt. Well, except me—I’m the one who woke up missing my Oyster card and one of my favourite fucking Barbarosa shoes from Irregular Choice. I don’t want to deal with this shit. I drop the phone to my side—I’m not going to reply.
I grab the backpack off of the ground and step aside from the open doors. A man with dark brown skin and muscular arms, wearing a grey tank top and blue track pants rushes out first. He bolts towards the stairs. Two pale preteen girls, with ponytails and too much makeup, exit, and then an extraordinarily thin, short woman, with a blocky nose and sharp cheekbones, reverses out with a stroller. She power-walks away.
I sit on an end seat. Should I text Sian? Say that Jo’s losing it?
Jo: You can’t avoid me!
I look away from the text and shake my head. Three seats down is a man with a potbelly. His tight shirt is soaked through. A woman, in a yellow linen dress, sits opposite me. Her fake-mocha-coloured legs are crossed and she bounces her foot as she waves a bamboo fan in her face. Her red lips are fat with filler, her eyelashes are a mile long, and her Louis Vuitton bag takes up the entire seat beside her. The bag is a good idea. I dump my frumpy backpack in the seat next to me.
Jo: I know you’re on your way to the British Library. I’ll be in the courtyard by the King’s Library Café.
“Shit,” I whisper under my breath.
I wipe my brow with the back of my hand. It’s as hot as an oven in here. The doors beep, hiss, and then shut. There’s a sticker on the inside of the door that catches my attention. It’s of a stick-figure humping the word “it.”
At Queen’s Park the doors open. A stampede of crotches pile into the near-empty car. It’s too hot for public transport, I wish I could afford Übers. The woman in yellow intensely scrolls on her phone. Her red lips are pressed firmly together and her fake eyelashes bat like a hummingbird’s wings.
I stare at Jo’s text — pressure builds in my head. Just leave it alone. Leave me alone. I have so much work I have to do…I’m behind on my dissertation… I worry I’ll fail. I can’t deal with this drama. Sian thinks Jo tried to kiss me— it’s possible, it happened before on drunken nights. I just ignore it—Jo can’t.
A crotch is in my face. If I don’t look up, if I don’t make eye-contact.
“Excuse me…” a man says.
I look up.
He wears a faded Doctor Who T-shirt and tan-cargo shorts and points at my backpack to say: “Move it.” I force a smile and place the backpack into my lap. Hell, this is heavy. The Doctor Who fan sits and spreads his legs wide, like he’s got something to prove. Big dicks watch Doctor Who? His hairy, clammy leg clings to mine. I inch away and press my body into the plexiglass. I guess the woman in yellow was too intimidating to ask her to move that giant-ass Louis Vuitton bag. Most of the seats are taken up, but no one’s asked her to move that bag. She just scrolls on the phone, like the rest of the world doesn’t exist around her. She’s a pro. I need to get better at natural intimidation. I glance at the Doctor Who fan. So cliché: his line of vision goes right to the woman’s bare legs. They’re nice legs, sure, even with the fake tan. But he doesn’t have a snowballs chance in hell with her. Fucking men.
Jo: Know this isn’t easy for me.
I flip my phone over and shut my eyes. In my mind, I scream: FUCK!
I walk through the courtyard of the British Library. My backpack is slung over my right shoulder and a pain twists above my shoulder blade. Next time I’m ditching the Jung book.
Jo is sat at outside the King’s Library Café, there are two takeaway coffee cups on the table. Transfixed on the phone that lays flat on the silver table, Jo taps the screen, and then looks around nervously, before tapping at the phone again. More of that morning after surfaces. “That’s blood on you!” Jo said. “That’s not BBQ sauce! I need you to tell me what happened! Tell me. I need to know if I did something…” It was too much… it was too fucking much. It’s always too much; like the time Jo thought we stole a rickshaw on Regents Street. We paid for it. This paranoia is out of control.
My phone vibrates.
Jo: If you’re inside I’ll just come find you…
My entire body sags. I can’t have Jo make a scene inside.
I pick my feet up and slug my way to the café. Jo looks up.
“What the hell is this?” I say, standing over Jo.
“Remy, hi.” Jo shoots up out of the chair. It scrapes over the brick. “I got you a coffee…” Jo picks up one of the two cups and moves it closer to the empty chair. “Will you sit?”
“I’d rather not,” I say.
“What, Jo?” I snap and step closer. Jo leans back, like I might take a swing. This fucking paranoia. I’ve never hit anyone, but Jo cowers like I’m about too? “We agreed, Jo. We fucking agreed. I need space.” My back is sweating heavily from the heat and anger. My moist hand on the shoulder-strap starts to slide.
“I know, Remy, I know. P-please just s-sit the hell down and let me talk to you.”
My puffed chest recedes and I slide the backpack off my shoulder. I scan the courtyard. Two Japanese girl sit on the steps and talk, their long black hair shines in the sun. An old man in a tweed suit and fedora walks towards the British Library entrance where a flock of school kids in red hats and yellow high-vis jackets are being counted by two teachers.
I yank the empty chair away from the table and drop myself down. The metal chair is hot on my legs and arms from the direct sunlight. Perfect, the hot seat.
Jo takes a drink of coffee. I take the cup in front of me – it’s lukewarm in my hand. Condensation is visible under the thin, plastic lid. I sip. There’s a cinnamony hint. Jo taps a passcode into the mobile phone which is then spun around and slide in front of me.
“Look at this, Remy.”
A BBC news article is up on the screen and a video.
“Watch it,” Jo says.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Just watch.” Jo hits play.
Is that… My skin turns hot, I want to be sick. My left knee bounces.
The CCTV footage shows Jo, me, and Sian in Camden Town sometime after midnight last Saturday. The footage is blurry and jumpy, but it’s us. The night flashes in my mind. We drank at Lockside… ate at Shaka Zulu… I had the Cajun Salmon. We drank more, popped pills, and danced at the Electric Ball Room… and then… then… I woke up missing my Oyster and the right Barbarosa shoe, the left was still on my foot, and BBQ on my top.
The footage on the screens plays out the lost memories.
Sian slaps a guy outside The Underworld. He rushes her, but Jo stands in the way. Furious, the guy grabs and shoves Jo aside. The man points a finger at Sian. They argue—what about? I can’t remember. His arms wave frantically at Sian, who cowers. I throw my right Barbarosa at his head and he twists and turns and flips me off. Sian goes to push him for flipping me off, and he shoves back. I come up and crack the bottle of wine that’s in my hand over the guy’s head. He sways and falls into the road. I drop the bottle and we start to run. The CCTV footage freezes on our blurred faces, before a black cab runs over the guy’s head as he lies unconscious in the street.
I tremble. Blood roars in my ears. Fuck, fuck, fuck. My heart has never pounded so fast.
“I… I…” My head spins and my mouths dries out. “Is he?”
“Dead.” Jo nods.
“I k-killed him… I killed that man…”
I want to stand up, but I can’t feel my body. I want to run, but my legs are jelly. My vision narrows and all I see is the phone – the paused scene of the black cab and the body in the street and me running with my hands over my mouth. It was defence, right? I was protecting Sian? Why did Sian yell at him? I can’t remember… I don’t want to remember. Why did I hit him? I want to go back in time, I want to stop myself, I want to stop Sian, I want to re-do the night. This can’t be real, this didn’t happen. This has to be a dream! How did I get here? How do I get away? I want a Time Machine. I want Mummy and Daddy and my old room, my toys, be ten years old again, and careless far-far-far away from this.
“What do I do?” I ask the Universe.
I turn. A brown woman in blue trousers, a white blouse and a blue blazer approaches. The sunlight is in her eyes, she squints. Her brow glistens. Her black hair is frizzy from the humidity. I catch a glimpse of the badge hooked to her belt. A pale man, a bit taller than the woman, in a grey suit, follows behind. A pair of Ray-bans shield his eyes. I turn to Jo who slides the phone away and looks down. This is why Jo wanted to see me. My head spins and the world goes black.
Copyright 2020 Luke Deckard