A Day of Nothing

A Day of Nothing

By Caroline England

 

He wakes to black and white again, wrenches his mind into focus. Bank holiday Monday. A day of nothing. Closes his ears to the thrum of traffic and the cheerful bloody birds.

The ring tone confuses him for seconds. He changed it at the same time as deleting her number. He’d like to switch it off for ever, to execute an act of absolute finality to the fucking thing, but he needs it for work and his parents. He knows that it’s her; she never uses his landline. Likes an instant response and he always obliges.

‘I think I’m in love, Jamie,' she says. 'Are you around this morning?'

Closing his eyes, the sparks of colour fly. 

He wonders where the tatter of hope comes from.

 

She slumps opposite him on the sofa, threads her bare legs through his. And though he tries, he can’t block the smell of her lemon shampoo nor the balm of her soft flesh against his. He closes his eyes and lets her talk. 

'Jamie, are you listening?' she says.

Oh yes, he’s listening. He likes the sound of her voice. Lets it wash over him without hearing a word.

'Well, what do you think?' 

She’s peering at him. Her face is bare of make up, she has dark hollows under her eyes and her chin is blemished with spots.

'I think you should get more sleep,' he replies.

 

He watches her lips shape the words from his bedroom. ‘Open a window, Jamie. Let in some fresh air.' She always looks up before she climbs in the car. Smiles and gives a small wave. Her parting gift. Remember me. Think of me. Want me.

The window stays shut. Looking down at his t-shirt, he sees an orange stain. An amoeba of grease surrounds it. Last night’s chicken tikka masala. For now his heart is in spasm. He’s glad he was dirty and smelly; he’s fucking elated he wasn’t a sap. 

Clenching his fist, he punches the air and heads for the shower.

 

The sun’s shining, it’s bloody shining outside! He runs for the 142 but doesn’t give a toss when the smirking driver slows down but doesn't halt. Keeps on walking down Wilmslow Road, stop to stop, his shirt stuck to his back. Then he’s so close to town that the fare’s not worth it. Focuses his eyes: Gemini Café’s changed hands, Townly building’s been demolished, another Tesco Metro, right next to an Aldi, a cycle shop warehouse in Rusholme, an empty Lloyds TSB; all the things he looked at last week but didn’t see. 

He hasn’t looked at his mobile for hours. 

 

‘Can I help you with the size?’ the woman asks. Even takes them to the cubicle and hangs them with a smile. ‘Call if there’s anything you need.’

He pulls on the jeans and stares at the mirror. A man he loathes stares right back. Disgust blocks his throat. He can’t breathe, he can’t swallow. Tight fucking jeans. In Selfridges too. He hates tight fucking jeans but he’s trying them on. Just for her. 

The smack brings him back. A wilful thwack against the mirror. 

‘Everything OK?’ he hears beyond the door.

Lifting his eyes to mirror, he breathes. Apart from a red smear of blood on the glass, life’s back to grey. ‘Couldn’t be better,’ he replies.

 

The bus takes him home. His head thumps and he’s tired. Tired of life being on repeat, tired of being so bloody predictable. Closing his eyes, he watches the torment filmed in monochrome anyway. It always kicks in sooner or later, slide by slide: her legs thrown over his on the sofa. The tiptoe kisses at the door. Her white even teeth. The way she twists her hair. Her occasional tears. 

His hand vibrates with the judder of the bus as he stares at the screen of his mobile. A smug icon of an envelope winks, but he knows it isn’t from her. She’s told him her latest news; his usefulness for now has expired. 

The text is from his mother - her recently acquired skill from months of waiting at Christies. Message after message, mother to son, until the medics gave up: 

Don’t forget dinner. 

Dad’s next in line. 

Can you believe we’re still waiting? 

Sure someone’s jumped the queue. 

Alice is here. 

Wish we’d gone private. 

The Consultant seems nice.  

Are you all right James? 

Haven’t seen you in ages. 

Dad says hello.

 

Sun becomes rain without warning. It flattens his hair and drips off his nose. His shirt is plastered to his chest and his teeth are chattering but he doesn’t feel it. His mind is in overdrive, keeping him warm. Why didn’t he listen this morning? The who, what and when. Especially the who. Who the fuck had she fallen in love with this time? Angus, she said. Who the fuck was Angus? Still what’s the point? There’s nothing he can do. He’s emasculated, powerless. 

The need to puke stops him short. Leaning against a wall, he heaves out the bile on some poor bastard’s door step. Stripes of colour explode at the back of his eyes. Clarity's suddenly there; a way to stop the endless bloody cycle of conflict, the wanting, the need, the lust, bloody lust. 

As simple as that. He can do it; he really can.

 

His mother’s at the sink. She doesn’t turn round. He’s glad. Postpone her painted cheerful face a little while longer. 

'Dinner’s on the table in five minutes,' she says to the soap bubbles. 'Why do you always leave it so late, James? Better say hello to Dad first. Be careful of those stairs. Alice is already up there.'

Dad’s shrunk again. Another tiny pucker into yellowing flesh. He hates his father for dying, for losing his strength. He loathes the wasting stranger left behind. 

'How’s it going, Dad?' he says.

'Better for seeing you, son.' Dad puts out a hand, his skeletal grasp strong. 'James…' 

He closes his eyes, sees nothing but black. Wishes he could pull away from the steady grip, from this stifling room, from this sickly house. He knows it’s coming. He wants to cover his ears and bolt. 

Dad’s wheeze is laboured, worse than before. 'James. Son. Promise me you’ll look after your mother and your sister when I’m gone.'  

There’s breathing behind him, a gentle hand on his back. ‘More like me looking after Jamie, Dad.’

Stripping back his eyes, he turns to his sister. 

'What have you done to your face?’ she says. She gazes at him, her forehead creased. Lifting her hand she explores the cut with soft fingers. ‘What’s going on Jamie? It wasn’t there this morning.’

 

His knuckles are boned as he waits at the top of the stairs. The batter of his heart burns his ears. The resolve is still there. He can do it, he can. He pulls back against the wallpaper to let Alice go first. But she stops on the landing, puts her arms around his waist and leans her head against his chest. Sweating profusely, he struggles to breathe. The moment is on hold. He can smell shampoo lemons. 

'I will look after you, Jamie. I promise,' she whispers, her breath stroking his cheek. 

A rainbow of fantasies shoots through his veins. He had a plan, he knows he had a plan but he’s lost it for now. 

Pulling away, she takes his hand. 'Come on, little brother, dinner’s waiting. Did I tell you this morning that Angus wears these really tight designer jeans?' 

And she smiles her smile with white even teeth.