Exciting New Story (p5)


(Continued from Exciting New Story (p4))

Despite trying to evict him, Mark camped in Sheena’s mind all that summer. To have lost her mum and then for him to have shrugged his own off like that seemed like a … she had no single word.

As a freshly-minted teenager, pleasantly padded and half way down a bag of her favourite toffees, she’d suddenly arrived at the conclusion that she needed to wean herself off these sweet treats. So she made herself, mid-way through a stickily-delightful, sweet-juice-flowing-through-her-mouth experience, spit the toffee into the bin along with that oh-so-lovely sugar taste – just to see if she could.

These thoughts never entered Sheena’s mind; but she felt that Mark was doing that same thing with his mum.

Autumn arrived, much as it always does, with the awareness that brown was the new green and that the trees were rustling dryly. The wind pushed against their top branches releasing a flurry of leaves, presaging their white cousins-from-a-different-mother.

Sheena was shocked by the haggard look of Mark’s face when they walked around the same corner straight into each other. She grabbed at arms that seemed like sticks and held him there, at arms length, as she let her gaze roam over eyes that seemed to cringe back from the dark rings surrounding them. A heavy beard covered the lower half a face that seemed too gaunt to feel comfortable, and the straggle of hair over his forehead was lank and greasy. He seemed not to recognise her and weakly tried to shake off her grasp.

“Oh, Mark, what happened?”

He gave no reply, only shook his head as if trying to dislodge something.

It was just after eight and he was obviously late for work, or some facsimile thereof, so she hesitated, before making a decision. Taking him by the arm, she led him, unprotesting, into the warmth of a nearby coffee-shop.

Installing him at the counter by the window, she ordered drinks for them both, continually looking back over her shoulder in case he tried to make a run for it. But each glance found him slumped over, seemingly intent on reading his fortune in the crumbs on the counter.

Coffee-cups rattled against saucers as she put them down, but he barely acknowledged it, instead turning his head to meet her eyes. She sensed what he was going to say before he said it. She recognised his loss. The same expression – a ship adrift at sea, all hands lost, mast broken – a wreck.

“She’s gone, Shee.”

He took in a juddering breath and ponderously moved his head from side side so that his whole body moved with it whilst blinking furiously, but not enough to stop a storm of tears from raining into his coffee.

She stood and embraced him as she would a child, pulling his face into the warmth of her body and, feeling him shaking against her, she held him until he was quiet again, and for a long time after.

They talked until their untouched coffee went cold, he gradually untwisting like a sheet of screwed-up foolscap; she finding the words to share his pain and express what she had never been able to tell him before. And as they talked, something opened between them like a flower, long denied the light; blossoming in a shower of understanding and emotion.

Eyes shining, hands clenched together were all the waitress saw from across the room, but inside their hearts, deeper links were forged that day and …

“Damn, is that the time – I have to go. Meeting at nine!”

Mark scrambled to his feet, his expression seeking her understand. She nodded mutely.

“Listen you have my number, right? Call me. I think that we can … Sorry, Shee, I really have to go. I … well, you know.” And with that final cryptic message, he was gone.

Sheena sat, bemused by his sudden departure. She turned their conversation over in her heart, then added his final words, then expanded his sentences to match the hopes she had for them. Yes, it seems that they did have …

Someone dragging nails down a blackboard right by her ear. She turned, frowning. Realised her mistake as she both felt and heard the sudden impact of metal on stone. A moment of silence and a single scream – heart-wrenching in its intensity. Sheena stood, grabbed her bag and ran out of the shop. Faint smell of petrol in the air. A sudden car horn confirmed the direction.

Fear grabbed her mind and pushed her legs faster. She rounded the corner and saw the car smashed against the wall and hurried past, desperate to … There, on the ground – Mark’s form. Unconscious? Dead? Someone bent over him – a face to trust – and placed a finger on Mark’s neck and kept it there as time compressed for Sheena. She stood there, waiting. It was taking too long – why wasn’t he …

As the man looked up, he somehow found Sheena’s eyes and, through some unspoken bond, recognised her emotions; her stake in this drama. Slowly, reluctantly, he shook his head.

A strange feeling grabbed Sheena – like hands tight around her neck. The muscles in her neck and jaw grew taut – her chest locked in place and she began to shake with the strain. She felt a pressure mount inside her body, that shouted for her to do something. Something that she had lost the power for. Frantically scanning Mark’s face – desperate for an answer. A fierce craving. But his eyes remained closed, his mouth stilled forever.

Then, just as it seemed that the tension was going to tear her body apart, she heard it. A single word from nowhere. His voice, yet not his voice.