Thought I’d come give your headstone a polish, Mum. Leave you some roses. And you’ll never believe who I saw this week.
I’m inside the lift at work – Monday, this is – waiting for the doors to ping shut when I sees him running across the reception area like a mad ‘un.
He’s shouting, wait, wait! Please wait!
My first instinct’s to press that button that shuts the doors and I do – I do – but he’s too quick, see, and then he’s there with his fingers all snake-like between the closing doors and I’m stepping back against the lift wall as the doors open and in he hops, bold as a rat in a sewer.
His shirt’s all stained and wet round the pits and there’s a whiff of Lynx and dried sweat. He’s taming what’s left of his hair back with the palm of his hand in a gesture that looks… familiar.
Really familiar. But I can’t put my finger on it.
Sorry, he says. First day, late already. He asks do I know which floor Cooper and Harris is on. He thinks it’s nine, but can’t remember. Says he’s a bit nervous.
And he laughs. Like air escaping from a balloon. And I points to the buttons because I’ve already pressed nine and I says, it’s nine.
Work there do you? he asks.
I says, well, if that’s what you want to call it.
He does another balloon laugh, says, I’m Blake. Your new IT guy.
He holds out his hand and I stop dead because now I know him, Mum, now I know exactly who he is. It’s like someone’s put me on a rollercoaster, me innards sink so quick. And I tell meself, don’t show it, don’t show it on your face. Take a deep breath and smile.
Like you used to tell me, Mum: Just smile, Kitty. Smile and the world will fit around you in a hug.
Never been able to pull it off.
So, he’s standing there with his hand still out and I shake it because really, what choice do I have? And just the feel of… of that skin. Coulda been a bag of cockroaches I’d stuck me hand in for all me hackles go up. ‘Cos I remember that same hand cutting at my hair behind the art block while the other hand grabbed it in chunks.
How is it twenty years since… all that? Twenty years since we buried you. Twenty years since I’d seen him, or even heard of him. Not that he doesn’t cross my mind often; he’s always hanging out there in the back of it somewhere.
Cat, I says – I use Cat these days instead of Kitty. Sorry.
He doesn’t recognise me, of course, with my blonde bob. Never grew it long again. And he’s gone from wavy blond to wispy bald. Some nice sense of karma in there, I thinks. Looks like he’s put on all the weight I lost. Jeans too small. Flab kamikazeing over the edges. He’s all blotchy round the nose and cheeks. Piggy little holes for eyes. Blue. Never forget those eyes.
He says, nice to meet you, Cat, what do you do up there on the ninth then?
Archives, I says all quiet and sharp.
You wouldn’t recognise little Kitty who’d talk a donkey’s back legs into submission, Mum. They call me Quiet Cat at work when they think I can’t hear. It’s like my voice just froze over, you know, when… when everything happened all those years back. The social workers, they sent me to that doctor. To talk. Well, I’ve already told you all about him.
So anyway, he’s there – actually there in the lift with me – and I have to just take stock… because he’s starting work in my office, and looks like he has no idea who I am. And of course, it all comes flooding back. School. The snip of those scissors. How they laughed. And I feel small. Really tiny, like a speck of dust. And I just want to blow away on the breeze. And I’m starting to panic, just like back then.
Archives, he says, interesting. Been here long?
Few years, I manage. Heart’s pounding and there’s nowhere to go.
Nice, he says and does one of those silent burps. Smells of hangover and cheese and onion crisps, which actually turns out to be a nice distraction from his pits.
He wants to know if they’re a ‘friendly bunch’. He says, you know, new boy, first day… hoping I get on okay.
Looks at me with those piggy blue eyes and it’s all I can do to not look away at first, but I don’t, because that’s when I see it. He’s frightened. Terrified, even, from the look of him. God knows of what – he’s a grown man – but there it is, clear as day. Poor nervous Blake. And I’m just staring at him now, no blinking or nothing, smooth as a new whistle.
New boy, first day, I thinks. Like I was new girl, first day.
And my heart slows a bit.
And I thinks, so this time round it’s tables turned, is it. And I breathe deep and push my shoulders back, chest out, and I think on the bright side – glass half-full and all that, just like you taught me – and I sees it. Crystal. All lit up. Just… there. Sitting in me head like a Christmas tree. The opportunity to get my own back. For both of us, Mum. We know, don’t we. We know you wouldn’t have been driving me to the hairdressers’ that day if it wasn’t for him.
So, the lift’s going up – seventh, eighth floor – I’m watching the numbers light up as we rise and I look at him. I look him dead straight in the eyes and I smile. I smile for real this time and the world does wrap itself around me in a big hug. Just like you always said it could, Mum. And I thinks, yeah. Yeah. Little Kitty’s a big Cat now. And big cats eat little fish like you before breakfast.
Sure, you’ll be just fine, I says to him as the lift pings open and off we go our separate ways.
And now, Mum, now I need a plan. I’m gonna leave you these roses and come back Saturday. See how they’re doing. Sure, I’ll have something figured out by then.
This post is brought to you by
Sprinkles and Stitches
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About The Author
Jo Robson is a writer based in lovely East Yorkshire, England. She writes short fiction and poetry and is currently working towards a BA in Creative Writing.
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