“Apologies for the delay...passengers should be advised that due to an incident at Dagenham Heathway station British Transport Police have advised us it will be another 15 minutes before the train can proceed”
I stifled a small groan of annoyance and settled deeper into my threadbare seat. I suppose I should be grateful I at least have a seat...some of the other passengers are shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, faces anxious and weary already even though its only just after 7 am on a bitter December morning.
Quite why I thought it was a good idea to accept an invitation to that party last night all the way out in the boondocks escapes me right now... in the cold bleak light of a British weekday morning. I have the small, if solitary pleasure of knowing that unlike the rest of the packed carriage, I’m not needed at work until noon today. The benefits of a late shift. But my eyes are red and blurry with fatigue and I’m all too conscious of the curious looks I’m getting from time to time from the odd passenger who isn’t already feverishly texting work to explain their lateness. I look what I am...someone coming home from a wild night out...all creased party clothes, hastily combed hair and smeared eye makeup. Sort of the walk of shame, but via London Underground?
The party had been pretty shit anyway, but if I was honest (not something I’ve done much of lately) that was irrelevant to me. There were lots of people...people who didn’t know me... plenty of alcohol and a smattering of mind numbing drugs. Guaranteed to join together to block out that annoying and incessant voice in my head which keeps on telling me I have to deal with this eventually.
‘This’ being the death of my beloved girlfriend.
I hunched a little deeper into the winter coat...the one I at least managed to hang on to after last nights excesses. The mini sob that was trying hard to force its way up my throat was thankfully muffled by the thick collar I had turned up over my lower face. Every fucking time that sentence about losing Naomi goes through my brain...which is about every hour on the hour...I feel my self control slipping a bit more. It feels like there is a cliff somewhere ahead and I’m being dragged slowly towards it.
I should be dealing with it now...shouldn’t I? At least thats what I’m told by my sister, my mother and even Naomi’s mum, when I make the trip to Bristol. Bless her, she’s been the one that I’ve turned to more than anyone else lately. Who else could possibly share or understand the almost suicidal grief I’ve been suffering for the past year?
Yeah, you heard that right...a whole year. It was late last winter that I lost my baby...in that white walled, antiseptic smelling concrete block of a hospital. A winter full of snow and icy winds according to the papers. But I hardly remember anything about it other than that sterile side ward with the quiet machines counting out her last hours...that and the sound of Naomi’s shallow breathing and the warmth of her suddenly frail body pressed against mine. A whole week I laid with her like that...only getting off the bed under sufferance when a doctor or nurse appeared to change a drip or administer ever more powerful analgesics, or to swallow hot, sweet tea that Gina forced on me. A week that felt like a year and yet passed as quickly as a gentle summer shower. A week in which hope died inside me and my darling Naomi died beside me. A quiet, undramatic death in the end...so unlike her in life really. My battling, noble Naomi, reduced to a husk, barely breathing as I wept uncontrollably next to her...
I forced myself to stop that train of thought before one sob turned into another helpless crying jag. If bad memories could be worn thin by constant repetition, this one should be threadbare... virtually transparent by now. How many fucking times can a person go over painful events before going totally mad?
I suppose if you ask my parents or sister, you might be told thats exactly what’s happened to me anyway.
Madness that is.
Because there’s very little now to show where the ‘old’ Emily Fitch once belonged in this world. I can hardly remember the happy, carefree person I once was. Even as recently as our last summer as a couple, when the only contact I had with my lover was via Skype and I could see she was self medicating with weed to compensate for my absence. Even that time I would now count as blissfully happy compared to this icy numbness. The months we were apart while I was doing my internship were agony for both of us. But we always had the nightly internet calls and the understanding that this was all temporary after all. OK, the two times I managed to save up enough cash for a trip home were bittersweet, but we certainly made the individual moments count. Poor Effy (although I should stop calling her that seeing as how she somehow avoided jail and is now in Manchester being suitably mysterious towards other people now) must have needed her Beats headphones a whole lot in those all too brief vacations. Sexy time was top of the list for both of us the minute my plane landed at Heathrow. God, sometimes we didn’t even make it past the arrivals hall before I was dragged somewhere semi private to be comprehensively kissed and groped by my beloved.
Not that I complained….
And there’s even less left of the Emily Fitch of Roundview days. All that hope, all that resilience….that endless optimism. Gone forever.
I found out that life could be more than cruel. It could be pitiless too. Being knocked down and getting up to fight some more was my speciality. But then I always had Naomi to yearn for.
Now I ghost walk through my work days and drink my way through the long evenings. Always at a different place. A bar, a pub or a club. Somewhere I can lose myself in pure sensation and with luck, find a random to supply me with what I need. Drugs and booze mostly...but sometimes...like last night...the temporary oblivion loveless, fumbling sex can give you.
Oh yeah...almost forgot that little gem. Quite the slut nowadays, I think I can safely describe myself as.
Making me feel good? Not a fucking chance.
Take last night as a perfect example of an Emily Fitch escapist episode….
It was a pretty red headed girl from the long queue at the sandwich shop who invited me. I’d clocked the occasional interested glance from her when I collected my lunch. But sober and in work mode, I made it hard for her to break down my brittle exterior armour. But she caught me at a weak moment yesterday. One of my colleagues had invited us all to a lunch time leaving drink and she was there too. One drink led to several...which is par for the course now. Several drinks led to me being less than scrupulous about keeping work and play separate. This girl...Laura wasn’t it?… made the most of my temporary happy state to hit on me. She was...no is...pretty, fit and available it seemed.
So stupidly, I agreed to go to the party with her. The promise of drugs and alcohol held more interest for me than getting friendly with her, but like I said...a moment of weakness.
She was nice enough I suppose...and as unlike Naomi for me to agree. My preference for tall blondes with startling blue eyes is a given, or was...but nowadays I steer well clear of any Campbell lookalikes, however unlikely. Tried that once too often and woke up screaming when the random, who I’d happily shagged most of the night, leaned over me while I was sleeping and tried to go for round 4...or was it 5? For a fraction of a second when my eyes opened, I thought I was in bed with Naomi. The shock of stark reality nearly finished me off. She must have thought I was a madwoman, shrieking for her to get off me and running from her place half dressed. Strangely enough, she never called me.
Never actually saw her again either, but then I never do. Its kind of a rule?
Anyway, last night followed a familiar pattern. A few glasses of neat voddie at home to top up the lunchtime skinful. Then dress to impress. Not that I cared much if I impressed, but it was a party right...and I am my twins sister? Then the long Tube journey out to Essex girl land with the hopeful Laura hanging on my every word and trying not to get caught perving on my tits too often.
Sadly for Laura she wasn’t the one who ended up being pinned to a bed and ‘rewarded’ for the invite.
I meant to be chivalrous and stick to the plan of making Laura a happy girl, even if it was for one night...honest. Two hours into party time, I was well gone. Someone had palmed me a tab of MDMA to accelerate my mood and I was flying. Dancing in the cramped living room with twenty others to Stormzy or some such shit. But Laura made the mistake of leaving me alone for a few minutes while she went down the street to the Tesco 24 with the host to top up the spirits supply.
Time enough for me to be accosted in the upstairs hallway by a tall brunette with spectacular tits. Tits I had previously drunkenly pressed up against in the tangle of arms and legs downstairs. My arm held the memory of one of those delicious boobs. Way too tempting when she kissed me hungrily out of the blue, then steered me in the direction of some privacy.
There was no music upstairs, but what there was, was an empty bedroom and a vacant double bed. Nowadays I take my pleasure whenever I find it. The booze and pills were OK, but sometimes a girl has other needs, yeah? Once the first two analgesics have been consumed, its easier to give in to the third.
It was enjoyable enough, I suppose. Unlike some of my less successful one night stands, she had the grace to get me off first, but once I’d arched up on the bed and come on her artful tongue, it was more a duty than anything else to return the compliment with my fingers. (never my own tongue...I’ve decided that is the one thing I will always keep sacred to my love)...I had time to remember that Naomi always appreciated my manual skills, anyway...right from the very first night in that wood by the lake. Time enough to remember too that I often got as much pleasure out of just holding my sleepy girlfriend afterwards. But there was never a chance of any of that fuckery last night. In fact, just as I started to get dressed again, hunting for my boots on the floor and prepared to give my ‘thanks for the pleasant fuck, but no, I don’t want your mobile number, hun’ speech, the bedroom door burst open and a tearful Laura stood framed in the bright light, mouthing something reproachful and obscene at me.
I don’t supposed it helped when I just shrugged and tried to push past her. She caught me with an open palm right across my cheek. One other reason I’ve got my coat buttoned right up tight this morning…
I’d better go somewhere else for my sandwiches from now on?
“Passengers are advised that the incident ahead has been dealt with and we will be arriving….blah blah blah...”
I zoned out the announcement and huddled deeper still in my coat. It smelled of cigarettes and cheap perfume and maybe something less pleasant...a legacy of last nights excesses on that double bed, no doubt...but it was at least keeping the chill out of my bones. My frigid heart however was quite another matter.
Ten minutes later, we were slowing as the train arrived at Mile End. I have a small studio flat in the basement of a 1920’s block. Ruinously expensive to rent, but with my part time job at the homeless shelter and the regular top ups from my photo’s I get by. I know I should be getting back to full time work by now, but every time I even think about it, my throat constricts and my heart thumps like I’ve run the London Marathon. My career is the reason I missed so many days with Naomi after she was diagnosed. The guilt of that haunts me. Effy should have told me...hell, Naomi should have told me. But irrational as it is to blame myself, I still do. By the time I got to her hospital bed, she was a shrunken shell of the vibrant and opinionated woman that I fell in love with all that time ago.
So I keep putting it off...promising the agency that I’ll come back to full time work...eventually. But in truth its as distant a prospect now as it was a year ago.
I got up as the train clanked slowly into Mile End. Not many people got off here. Most of them were City bound. A fat man with a florid face which advertised his imminent heart attack flopped into my seat almost before I’d got up, earning a glare from the obviously pregnant teenager standing next to him. He flipped open last nights Metro and avoided her stare. Ahhh, London...never change.
I know I shouldn’t...its stupid and pointless…not to mention exquisitely painful. But as the doors hissed open and a young woman with peroxide hair walked away from the train from the next set of doors, I couldn’t stop my head spinning round to stare after her, or my heart beginning to thump in anticipation.
Same height...same build.
But apart from the obvious fact...you know that Naomi is actually dead, her ashes scattered in that cold lake in Bristol where we sealed our love...there is no logical point in hoping any more, is there?
Except I can’t seem to stop doing it.
I wrapped the collar of the warm coat higher on my face and fumbled in my pocket for my Oyster card. Time to get home, shower and eat something hot. Then apply my game face.
Life goes on...isn’t that what they say?