The only thing they had in common was a weekend in Brighton in January 2002.
Now they were getting trains far too often.
“It’s hot out here,” he said so he went back inside and left her on the balcony.
She was reading Steven Erikson. He was reading Men Without Women.
The beast’s growl deepened, but it did not move. You go with him bright boy. The assassin’s warning was enough. I’m going to lie down for a while. Mouth thinned into a straight line. Inside the lit salon compartment the porter had pulled down the three beds.
They got the train into Cheshire and then again that night into Manchester then the next morning back home. In Cheshire his mother told him, pulled him to one side, that he was risking his soul by writing what he wrote. No one wants to read about Zombies, what about your children. They had no children. Not yet. The sun took too long to set. The train stopped for too long at Altrincham. He looked at a girl whose age he couldn’t guess whose skirt was too short whose legs were too tanned whose eyes kept looking back whose lips kept parting whose body he wanted to know. In Manchester they ate pad thai and paid for drinks with her card.
“You should see the girls out there,” Thomas told him.
He meant Helsinki.
There are forest fires even in the cold north. That couldn’t be right. There are forest fires even where there is no fire. There are forest fires in the garden. There are men who burn branches and send black plumes into the suburban air on the hottest day of the year. They make summer choke us. That wasn’t right either.
He got up early before the train home. He wrote four chapters and rang his agent.
“What about a beekeeper?” his agent suggested.
He drew a picture of a beekeeper holding a hose. There was a flock of zombies on fire. He kept calling them that in his book. Flock. Like they were just birds, not people.
On the train home she talked on the phone to the friend she hadn’t spoken too since the wedding. He found the Telegraph on a seat and read about Andy Murray and Egypt.
“They made this,” he said. Not out loud. He was looking at a photograph of the night, of protestors, of flares and tear gas. This is why you don’t have twitter, he told himself.
Revolving doors and revolutions. They were the same thing. One of the quirks of where they lived was the revolving door into the reception. There was never a man on reception. This wasn’t Mad Men.
He read Men Without Women some more and walked down from the docks to Rigby’s. He sat in the dining room there and didn’t order food. He watched a girl who looked like a girl he used to love. Her hair was much longer. If it was her then that was about the only thing that had changed. Her hair. When he’d known her in university she had very short black hair and her name was Bex. He hadn’t met anyone called Bex since.
He drank too many Früh. It was good beer but by the sixth he was sick.
Just as he was about to leave the couple from downstairs came in with what he guessed must have been the girl’s parents. The couple had moved in last week. They took the couple a bottle of wine.
“Why does someone need a bottle of wine just because they’ve moved house?” he asked her but she took it down anyway.
He listened to the girl’s parents giving advice. Where plants should go. How to fit blinds. Online shopping. Good restaurants. Happiness. The wedding. Weekend breaks. A holiday in Anglesey. Don’t get cats. Laughter. He heard the father complain about the drive back to Brighton.
He must have been staring because the girl saw him and said something to her boyfriend. Maybe she only said ‘Isn’t that him from upstairs?’ but it made him feel sicker.
At home she was on the balcony again reading Steven Erikson. The cat was gnawing at the blinds. Its paw prints were all over the window.