All stories

Seen, Not Heard

by Russ

“We were identical, but that’s where the similarities ended.

I came first and everybody panicked because I didn’t make a sound. I was shaken and prodded and checked from belly to bonce but they couldn’t find anything wrong. Fact of the matter is, I was just enjoying the quiet. It was a good thing too, it would be years ‘til I experienced any again. Seven years, to be exact.

She followed a few minutes later. Mother had barely caught her breath. She was screaming before her lips cleared the canal and everyone seemed overjoyed. I still hadn’t let out a pip but people seemed to be getting less concerned, rather than more. I reluctantly signalled my consciousness with a sigh.

I couldn’t decide, at first, if she had a lot to say or if she just wanted attention. It’s hard to tell when everything comes out as noise. I soon learned it was both. She immediately became the constant soundtrack to my life. By constant, incidentally, I’m not taking in approximations, I mean the dictionary definition of constant. I mean incessant, unrelenting, ceaseless, interminable.

While she was every parent’s nightmare from the start, I was a dream. No noise, no fuss, no trouble. I was kept fed, warm, and clean. I didn’t have enough experience to have opinions worth sharing. I didn’t see any reason to add to the cacophony, You’d think that might have made me the favourite but it just meant I was ignored. Not that I minded.

You’ve heard about twins having a special bond, an ability to communicate between themselves on a more intuitive level? Maybe you do, but it wasn’t my experience. Walkie-talkies don’t work if one person never takes their finger off the button. I learned to understand what she was saying in the same way you learn to swim if the other option is drowning. If she had any idea what I was thinking she never let on and, considering I was usually thinking about murdering her, you’d think she might.

Mother and Father liked to dress us the same, Perhaps because they thought it was adorable. Perhaps because it halved the number of decisions they needed to make. Or, maybe, because it saved them from having to fully acknowledge I existed. Whatever the reason, all it achieved was to emphasise our differences. Somehow, and I didn’t understand how until much later, I came off as sullen, brooding, even aloof. She, on the other hand, was outgoing, exuberant, exciting. I can’t blame our parents too much, neither of them slept in anything but snatches from the day before we were born. Still, it would have been nice to have even one acknowledgement that I was the good one.

It was frustrating enough from the start but once she learned to talk with words it became exasperating. She knew nothing but that didn’t stop her from giving opinions. She experienced nothing more than I did but that didn’t stop her from offering observations. She’d earned nothing but she still issued demands. She needed nothing but she still made requests. The cheek of it was flabbergasting. Still, that wasn’t the worst of it. Around the age of two, she became contrary too.

To this day I still can’t explain why Mother and Father didn’t drown her in the bath.

As soon as I could move, I started looking for spaces away from her. No matter how often I tried, I was always denied by a door, a gate, a stair, or an adult chasing after me and returning me to her side.

I started learning to read early. It was something to focus on and it seemed to earn me at least a few feet of separation from her if I looked as though I was focusing enough. Annoyingly, it also seemed to make them think she should be reading too. Twin logic, I suppose. Every so often I’d be minding my own business with my nose in The Little Engine That Could or Llama Llama Red Pajama and they’d drag me into the air and drop me virtually on her lap as though it might encourage her to join in. It didn’t.

Nursery offered a moment of hope. I waddled in and saw the carpet full of kids and thought ‘one of these has got to be able to put her in her place.’ I thought she might get shouted down, shown up as an idiot, pushed over, anything. I’m not saying I wanted my sister to be bullied, just that she was a pretty one-dimensional personality so a little peer-induced character building might have been good.

That’s not right. I shouldn’t lie. I was already beyond the point of hoping for her redemption. I wanted her to be tormented, tortured, taken apart, traumatised. I wanted her to feel some part of the endless horror I’d suffered for our entire existence.

They loved her. I think for some it might be the same sort of love an oppressed nation feels for a charismatic dictator but, however you see it, she was top dog within half a day.

Nap time wasn’t a thing. Storytime wasn’t a thing. She barely broke voice long enough to pull milk down her throat. Occasionally, I saw one of the minders looking longingly at a pair of scissors or a pillow and I knew exactly what they were thinking. Murdering an infant isn’t great for a career though, so they’d usually just disappear for a few minutes and come back smelling of smoke, or gin. You’d have thought at least one of the parents might have made a fuss about the fact their child was regularly coming home tired and unstoried, but it turned out we lived in the sort of area where they just took their kids to another nursery instead. By the end of the year, most days were just me, her, and the kid who ate crayons.

School was the same.

I learned some lessons about making friends, though. I learned that most people don’t really care if you’re annoying or overbearing. They mostly just like to have somebody who fills the space and takes the pressure off. If she was nearby, nothing was ever expected of you because there was never a big enough gap for you to contribute.

I also learned people were not particularly interested in aligning themselves with somebody whose prime goal is the achievement and preservation of silence. It turns out that isn’t entertaining, interesting, or a recipe for a lifelong friendship. I was older than you are now before I could bring myself to sacrifice silence long enough to build real relationships. You’ve probably already realised this is the longest I’ve spoken to you in one sitting.”

The two boys looked at each other, then at their mother, unsure if it was polite to agree or not. They chose to keep their faces neutral and wait.

“I haven’t answered your question, have I?” Grandma continued. “Well, it happened the first time we went to London. It was our seventh birthday.

Mother and Father, your great-gran and great-grandad, wanted to take us to the Natural History Museum in Kensington, which was exciting for us both because we’d get to see dinosaurs. I knew it was exciting for her because she told us, repeatedly.

We got the early train into Euston. I ran from the platform so I could get a window seat and spend the trip looking out. I wanted to see the big plume of smoke rising from the city as we approached. As it turns out, the only ‘big smoke’ still in London by then was the one which choked your lungs as you stepped into the main hall of Euston station. You could still smoke cigarettes indoors back then, you see.

It meant I was already disappointed, in addition to my continual state of irritation, by the time we stood on the Tube platform below Euston.

Now. The Tube is something special. Have you been on it yet?”

Grandma looked at her twin grandsons but they remained blank, so she turned to her daughter, their mum.

“Not yet,” Mum shook her head. “We’re taking them next month for their birthday, as it happens.”

“Oh, that will be a treat!” Grandma smiled, but there was something dark behind it.

“Well, a Tube station is the busiest place in the world, but it’s also tiny. Everyone has to squash together and it feels quite intense. As you can imagine, this made her incessant noise even worse. And it made my feeling of anonymity even more complete.

We got on the first train that arrived, which is normal for the Tube. I looked for solace from her ceaseless jibber-jabber by focussing on the unfamiliar melody of a man from far away speaking in a language I’d never heard. His tones were so rounded and flowing. I found it intoxicating if I tell you the truth. I guess that explains the colour of your grandad. It’s a shame more of it hasn’t ended up in you.”

Mum’s eyes widened and she opened her mouth as if to speak before thinking better of it.

“Anyway,” Grandma pushed on. “You wanted to know what happened to the little girl in the picture with me. She was my twin sister, just like you two are twins, and that was the last day I saw her.”

A slightly puzzled expression had formed on Mum’s face but she continued to hold her tongue.

“We had to change at Leicester Square, from the Northern line to the Piccadilly line. We shuffled off our first train near the end of the platform and stood just by the yellow line that you’re supposed to stay behind. You’ll see what I mean when you go.

It was quiet on the platform at first, much quieter than when we’d arrived in Euston. It meant my sister's noise echoed off the curved wall and somehow managed to pierce even deeper into my consciousness than usual. It felt as though the stagnant air was crushing my skull. As the platform filled up, she seemed to notice her sound was being muted and began talking louder to compensate. By the time the electronic sign told us the train was one minute away, I felt like my head was in a jet engine that sacks of Jack Russells were being poured through.”

“Mum!” Mum protested as the boys winced. Grandma ignored it.

“Suddenly, a clarity came over me and I felt a calm I never had before. I was three feet tall and silent in a room filled from wall to wall with adults and noise. Not a single eye was turned in my direction. The station filled with wind as the noise of the approaching train grew louder, finally drowning her out. As I saw the nose of the train appear at the far end of the platform I poked my sister in the eyes with my index and middle fingers. She let go of Mother and Father’s hands to cover them. She’d been hogging both our parents, as usual. I pulled back my arms then thrust them forward as hard as I could against her chest.

As she tumbled backwards onto the track, for the first time since her first breath, she was silent. Then, a second later, she was gone.”

Grandma looked delighted as three open-mouthed faces looked back at her.

It took a second or two, but Mum managed to gather herself.

“Grandma’s joking,” she said hurriedly to her two young sons. “She has a very funny sense of humour,” she paused, “I think I can hear your dad shouting from the garden. Why don’t you go see what he wants?

The boys looked from their grandma to their mum and then at each other. Unsure what else they could do, they did as they’d been asked.

As soon as they had left the room, Mum turned back to Grandma, white as a sheet.

a more mysterious life

by Dan

On either side of the flyover there were billboards, the kind that changed a few seconds, from elite model cars to mascara on one side and from the latest Marvel film to a picture of Beyonce on the other. Beyond these were parks, mosques, tower blocks and yellow bricked Fuller’s pubs and residential side roads where strolling Saturday morning people breathed in the clear blue February air.

Kevin thought he would never lose the sense of excitement he felt when approaching London from the West on public transport. Train was good but coach better, perhaps because the longer journey time allowed his sense of wonder to build, or perhaps just because there was more life to view.

As a married man, a father of two, working everyday in a location defined by boundaries, he simply never had the chance to be regarded as anything strange or unfathomable. He never got to be one of the swarm that filled the streets around Victoria Coach Station or physically express the possibility, from a distance at least, of a more mysterious life being lived.

He was neitherbrave nor a man who flourished in changing circumstances but in London nobody knew that for certain. Not even him. Ever since he had first visited the city as a teenager he had believed that given the circumstance he could find a different version of himself here. He couldn’t help but feel that if he dreamed hard enough, one day he would wake up in a new alternative, universe.

And if the hordes of people he encountered didn’t really give him a second glance or thought. Well, It wasn’t them he needed to impress but himself.

At home he was constantly being greeted by former pupils in Tesco’s or being happened upon by neighbours whilst running. There was no opportunity to whistle menacingly or step into a high street tanning centre like a private detective, without someone he knew seeing him and asking why. Once he had spent a single afternoon wandering vaguely around a part of Swindon called Gorse Hill but he failed to feel anything like the excitement he did when visiting London. On this occasion he had been seen “loitering” by one of his wife Claire’s works colleagues who decided he was having an affair and told her about it. Claire remained suspicious of him for months.

Here and now, he had all weekend to unleash his imagination and all he needed was his little suitcase containing several hats and pairs of glasses, an antiquated but cool looking camera that didn’t work and a well-thumbed 1980s A to Z.

At 11am he could sit outside the South bank nursing a shockingly expensive cup of coffee and waiting for a clandestine meeting with Manuela Di Santiago at the Tate gallery, she was an artist, occasional sex worker and situationist who travelled the world having affairs with coke barons and foiling revolutions. Or would have been had she existed.

At 12.30 he was going to pretend to trail a man from Fleet Street to Clerkenwell. He hadn’t yet decided whether this would happen in late Victorian times or the second world war, it might depend on whether a moustache or a pair of shades came to hand.

People looking on would merely conclude that he was just a bloke getting on and off tube trains in very mild disguises, walking about aimlessly and drinking too much coffee.

But this was London and Kevin was free.

By 2 PM He would be sitting in the café at Natural History wearing horn-rimmed glasses, holding a pipe which he never smoked and pretending to read a copy of The Origin of Species. Occasionally he would snort with derision.

He would then visit an overpriced City Centre Trattoria and pretend to be a food critic, making copious fake notes on sheets of paper.

By around 4 he’d be on Hampstead Heath where he’d pretend to be a spy or perhaps a gay actor before the legalisation of homosexuality.

Sometime after 5 he’d then be handily placed to travel further up the Northern Line to Colindale for the ostensible reason for his trip. Visiting his old university friend Martin and going for a pint and a curry with him and staying over. Martin, a geologist, was more boring than Kevin. He didn’t even have daydreams. Unless they involved Roche Moutonnee and terminal moraine. It was a relationship Kevin maintained solely to facilitate his trips to London and so that he could answer Claire with proof to the contrary when she said he should make friends with people because he hadn’t any.

It was the price he paid for his freedom.

Martin was writing a never ending thesis on plate techtonics. He could talk about them for 8 hours at a time without ever hesitating or deviating. The rest of his conversation was somewhat lacking.

“Do you remember Jane Frankel?” Martin would say, immediately after an important point about lateral variations of the mantle, Kevin who had been drifting off into a fantasy about escaping from Corsairs on the Barbary Coast in a laundry basket would at this point return to the room only for Martin to conclude. “Well she was supposed to be at the NGS conference but I didn’t see her there.”

Anyway Kevin didn’t have to worry about Martin yet for his coach was pulling into Ecclestone Place and the wondrous gateway to a different life that was Victoria coach station.


After what seemed like days but may have only been a few minutes, the bad cop returned, he was a balding beast of a man in his late thirties who weighed over 17 stone and had a pink face and newly installed white teeth.

Did he (Kevin), or had he ever known Omed Bin Haddine?

Did he, or had he ever known Robbie Anderson?

Did he, or had he ever known Mykhail Medvedev?

Kevin stuttered and stumbled to collect his thoughts. For some reason it was bothering him that Martin would be in the Royal Bengal in Colindale right now ordering onion bhajees and he couldn’t phone because his phone had been confiscated.

The bad cop switched off the tape and hurled a white china cup past his head.

“This story of yours, It’s a pack of fucking lies and you know it!!!” He roared.

“11.12 am . Bomb on the South bank, Cameras show that you are sitting nearby wearing a fucking beret!!!! You say you are meeting an imaginary girlfriend.

12.41pm-12.57!!! Just before the one o clock explosion outside Clerkenwell Tube Station which had killed two people. You are seen on 7 cameras, you are clearly trying to follow this man,” he waved a photo at Kevin. You say you don’t know who he is?”


“I don’t be fucking lieve you!!! This is Sir Graham Moggridge, who works for the ministry of defence and is on the news every day.

“And Here you on are fleet street wearing a fake beard at 12.43, in Chancery Lane at 12.48 smoking a fake cigar in a doorway and on Bowling Green Lane carrying a copy of the Times Newspaper. Do you deny that the person we saw was you?”

“No.” Said Kevin weakly. He was beginning to think that perhaps he needed legal representation after all.

The Good cop, was a blonde woman in her forties who had been quiet up to this point.

“We do not feel you are the ringleader” she said “Look it will go much better for you if you co-operate with us and tell us who you were working for. We already know you were at the natural history museum just before the stabbing incident that took place just outside there this afternoon.”

“You’ve been a very busy boy.” Interjected the bad cop.

“By this time we had a trail on you ourselves.” The good cop continued, “You spent most of the afternoon in a restaurant writing notes, in some sort of code!”

“We’ve got some of our best people trying to decipher it right now.”

“Finally we followed you to Hampstead Heath. Why did you go there?”

“Wearing a pink scarf and hiding behind trees?”

The cops were staring at him more intently now.

He continued to try the truth.

“I was pretending to be a gay spy!” he stuttered.

There was a pause

“And there we have it!” shouted the bad cop triumphantly. “Do you think we are idiots?”

Kevin’s humiliating arrest on Hampstead Heath by six armed policemen, had resulted in his arm being heavily bruised and his ankle being twisted. He had wet himself during the incident. Two diet cokes and four coffees was the actual reason he’d ducked behind the tree. Now they were telling him he was lucky not to have been shot.

His little suitcase was brought to the table.

“For the purposes of the tape we are now examining the contents of exhibit one.”

When it turned out that Kevin had in fact known Robbie Anderson, a far-right extremist who had once been a nondescript member of his geography class, Kevin began to realise he was in serious trouble.


On either side of the flyover there were billboards, the kind that changed a few seconds, from elite model cars to mascara on one side and from the latest Marvel film to a picture of Beyonce on the other. Beyond these were parks, mosques, tower blocks and yellow bricked Fuller’s pubs and residential side roads where strolling Saturday morning people breathed in the clear blue February air.

Kevin had now lost the sense of excitement he had once felt when approaching London from the west on public transport. In fact he now associated London with disaster, humiliation and danger. It had taken nearly a year for him to clear his name and even now it, his name that was, didn’t seem very clear.

Almost nobody, not Claire, his kids, his school head, his MP, or the police could quite accept his story that he, a 42 year old geography teacher, who as the prosecution had pointed out had hitherto shown no signs of possessing an imagination, roamed round London pretending to be people with exciting lives just for the hell of it. Or that he had done so at the exact moments at which a series of orchestrated terrorist incidents in London had taken place.

His eventual innocence had been proved by Sir Arthur Baxendale-Finch QC but only at the expense of any reputation he had left as a sensible human being. The Daily Mail’s tone of voice had changed from calling him a monster to painting him as some sort of sad, lost Walter Mitty figure who had somehow wasted the nation’s time by walking about with a false moustache.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury” Sir Arthur had said “Let us examine the mental capacity of this man, a man no less, who pretends to be an intellectual by changing his glasses and as, CCTV has proved, reading the Origin Of Species UPSIDE DOWN!!!! Barely evolved wouldn’t you agree? Then let us consider the question, Is this man capable of organising a terrorist plot? Is he capable of the logistical detail the prosecution alleges??I put it to you that he is, most certainly, not!”

Divorce and the termination by mutual agreement of his work contract had followed.

Now Kevin was headed back to the same coach station where his troubles had begun exactly a year ago.

He was then getting the tube to Colindale to stay at Martin’s. Martin was the only person who had properly stood by him though Kevin felt that the pay off was that he might have to listen to Martin’s entire PHD thesis that night, with additional powerpoint slideshow.

The next day though, he was departing for a new life, in Europe. Headed Paris on the Eurostar, there he would start again.

As his coach pulled into Victoria coach station he stopped his google search into Parisian fancy dress shops and reached to the shelf overhead to grab the rucksack which now contained his few worldly possessions.


by Jenny

Bleary-eyed we stare ahead, the brush and slither of plastic, gore tex and canvas audible above the belch and thrum of the engine. The floor is lurching and untrustworthy. Hands grasp, knees lock, eyes fix determinedly on middle distances only we can see.

Today the seats are filled. They are the lucky ones whose heads rest against carpet-coated fibreglass, installed on their daises, unjostled, unmolested by the knee high carrier bags, head high rucksacks and face high armpits of strangers.

The rest of us brace against sudden stops and the unexpected pain of hard shoe on tender instep. ‘Sorry’ we mutter, unfailingly polite, ‘sorry, my fault’.

He is here again today. He sits in the same seat and his head rests against the window, eyes staring at the grey city rain stumbling past in pitch and toss of our journey. How far has he come? I wonder. Far enough away to be able to choose his seat before the rush and press of the crowd.

How many stops does he travel before I join his journey? Another faceless girl stepping into a sea of humanity, surging and swelling at his feet.

I feel the thought begin to dissolve when the man turns and looks directly at me, right into my eyes as if he knows I watch him.

He sees me.

A braver person would stare back, maybe smile, but I do not. I shift my gaze to my feet as the bus jerks to another halt. Distracted, I stumble humiliatingly into the fleshy man in front of me, the man in the greying shirt and purple plastic mac. My hand sinks into the soft meat of his shoulder and I can smell the stale onion sweat of him;

‘sorry, my fault.’

He smiles down at me and I wrench my gaze away, back to the floor. When I look up again he is gone and so is the man from the seat. He must have passed me as he left, maybe brushing the fabric of my winter coat. I hadn’t noticed.

I step out into the damp February air and hurry along the dog-beshitten streets of the city to my office. Strip lights flicker on magnolia walls and the place smells of cheap coffee and the stale tobacco that clings to clothes after fag breaks.

Sophie smiles at me when I take off my coat, but no-one else even looks up.

Drew leans back, slumped low in his chair, an overstuffed shirt spilling over too-tight trousers. His legs are spread wide and he flexes them open and closed, open and closed. Mugs cluster like flies on his desk and he taps sluggishly at his mouse.

At eleven I make myself and Sophie a cup of tea in the kitchen and at twelve thirty I eat my cheese sandwiches. Drew microwaves something pungent in a mug that soon joins the collection on his desk, congealing and viscous. By half past four it is dark outside.

Sophie invites me to the pub the following night. It is a casual mention - she doesn’t really care if I go or not, but I tell her maybe I’ll come for one. I hear her tell Michelle in the kitchen that she has a new boyfriend. She whispers it excitedly, a secret she wants us all to hear. Michelle dutifully asks and giggles and clutches, a little conspiracy of two.

I take my drink back to my desk. The room is overheated and dry. The glare from the computer stings my eyes.

At five o’clock I stand up to leave. Drew stretches in his chair, shirt lifting up to expose pale, soft, hairless flesh. His bored eyes land on me and he appraises me, finds me unworthy of comment, and returns to his attention to his screen, gaze sliding off my as they might a chair or a coat stand.

I have forgotten my umbrella.

At the bus top the half hearted rain coats the skin of my face and neck. I run my fingers discreetly under my eyes to check my mascara isn’t running. It isn’t. The cold slips its damp fingers inside my coat, down inside the collar.

The bus arrives to take me home to another evening of television on the sofa. A tin of soup for tea and bed by ten-thirty, ready for the whole routine to begin again tomorrow.

I manage to slip into a seat this time in front of some teenagers staging a loud conversation designed to shock. Nobody reacts. A child howls inconsolably and someone is listening to something violent without headphones on a phone.

He gets on at the museum stop, two after mine.

I wonder if he will sit beside me; the space is free, the last empty seat and I twist my legs away to emphasise its availability. This time, if he looks towards me again I promise myself I will smile at him. Sophie once told me I look nice when I smile.

I let myself imagine what I might say to him if he sits beside me. Something about the crowded journey that morning, maybe. Something to let him know that I saw him, even though I looked away. Somehow he feels like an ally.

But he ushers an older lady towards me instead. She lands heavily beside me in a cloud of old cigarette smoke and unwashed hair and I am surprised by how disappointed I am. The woman settles belligerently beside me, all elbows and gold jewellery.

He stands in the aisle, so close I could reach out and touch him. He stares fixedly ahead, his body swaying, his mind elsewhere. He wears a lanyard, a black jacket, brown trousers and plain lace-up shoes. Water droplets cling to the fine blonde hair of his beard. He isn’t handsome, but not repellant either, not like Drew, or Jeremy from accounts who leaves his trousers unzipped on purpose after visiting the bathroom. He is, for want of a better word, bland. Like tomato soup, or chips, or Catchphrase on the sofa on a Wednesday night.

Like me.

I look at my own reflection in the dark window. It is an unremarkable one, but I gave up caring about that long ago. I am, essentially, inoffensive. When I turn back to see if he is still there I catch the turn of his head. He is still staring straight ahead, but for a second it seemed almost as if he had been looking in my direction.


I barely notice when the bus reaches my stop. By the time I realised I’ve missed it we have already sped past it. That means a long, wet walk home for me. I make up my mind almost without realising it. When he steps off the bus three stops later I quietly slip after him. I fiddle with the strap on my bag for a while as he strides away then silently I follow after.

It is a nice area, his. The gardens along the street are neat and well-kept. Lights glow warmly in front windows, framing scenes of couples pouring glasses of wine or pyjamaed children drinking milky drinks in front of the television. I wonder which scene he will walk into. Perhaps a slim wife in an oversized jumper will be waiting for him, or a teenage daughter will be practising a piano in his front room.

But his window is a dark one. There is no car in the drive and no welcoming picture window for him to step into. His garden is tidy, but not decorative; a neat lawn, a discreet wheelie bin, a stone path to an unremarkable front door, which he unlocks then shuts behind himself.

I stand to one side in the rain-soaked streets and wait. The light in the living room flares to life and for a brief moment I see a neat, bland little room. Television in the corner, a worn brown sofa, cheap curtains. No pictures on the walls, no shelves for books, just a space to exist in until it is time to go out again.

He steps to the window and for a brief dazzling second I imagine he sees me. That he is angry; that he is pleased; that he’ll invite me in out of the rain and make me a cup of something hot.

But he closes the curtains and brings the scene to a close.

As I walk back the way I have come I let myself think about those blank walls, that featureless room. My own flat is filled with knick knacks and throws and colourful cushions, a cramped space as lonely in its own way as his plain little box.

I wonder if he notices the plainness, wishes he could change it but isn’t sure how. I think about my red knitted blanket and how it could add a splash of colour, of character to the space. I picture two mugs on a coffee table, a parcel of shared chips and puzzling out Catchphrase together on a Wednesday night.

By the time I am home I am soaked through. After the long trek up the stairs to my flat I switch on my little gas fire and trade my wet things for soft pyjamas.

The overstuffed room is busy and tonight feels overpowering, filled with nonsense to mask its emptiness. I throw ornaments and magazines and fussy little pillows into a bin bag for the charity shop on Saturday. The purge leaves me feeling brighter. Tomorrow when he looks at me I will smile back. Maybe I’ll catch his eye and raise an eyebrow when fat Mr Onion Sweat ‘accidentally’ falls into a pretty young thing standing near him again, all hands and leering apologies.

He will laugh behind his hand across the crowded bus and we will be conspirators, like Sophie and Michelle in the kitchen.

I barely notice the rain on the commute and I even manage a smile at the driver when I get on. It’s the cheerful bearded man this time and I like him better than the woman with the dyed red hair who sometimes drives on a Friday. He smiles back, perfunctorily.

When he is not in his usual seat on the bus I try not to let myself feel too disappointed. I cast a cursory glance around but I know immediately that he isn’t there. There is fat Mr Onion Sweat leaning heavily against an orange pole, though he doesn’t look up as I push past him.

I tell myself that it’s silly to feel let down. It’s not like we had ever even exchanged smiles or like he even knew I existed outside of those few seconds we caught each other's gaze yesterday, but still I feel the bitter sting of it in my chest and feel the hot rush of shame at my cheeks. How stupid to let myself get carried away with such a pointless fantasy.

At the office I manage a smile for Sophie and agree to join her at the pub for one drink after work. Drew is non-commital but we know he’ll turn up, because what else do any of us have to do on a Friday night? I notice that he has wiped some of the muck from his trainers and there are no stains on his trousers today.

The others leave before me and I almost don’t follow them. It would be so easy to slip away back to the flat, to spare myself the ordeal. But the explanations on Monday, the thought of yet more long dreary hours on the sofa nudge me towards the Wig and Pen where Drew and Michelle and Jeremy and Sophie will be drinking pinot grigio and trying to pretend that they like each other.

I see them immediately clustered around a table. Sophie stands with her arm proudly through that of a tall dark man with white teeth and an extraordinarily hairy chest escaping through an undone top button. There are some other people there too that I don’t know. Friends of Sophie’s I assume.

And then one face among them turns and as I slip my arms from my coatsleeves our eyes snag and I almost start physically with the surprise of it. And I see the spark of recognition flare back at me, the same surprise and the corners of his mouth, covered by the fine blond hair of his beard, begin to turn up and we smile across the group.


Copy of Tom's new start

by Jenny

Tom sat on the bottom step of the new house as mum, dad and Jess scurried in and out carrying boxes and an air of excitement that Tom refused to share. He stared at the floor and didn’t look up, even when mum’s shadow loomed over him.

“Tom, it’s not that bad. Have you seen your room?’

He didn’t answer. Mum shifted the weight of the box onto her other hip and sighed.

“Well if you’re not going to be useful you can take that face somewhere else.”

Tom got up without looking at her and stalked away through the kitchen and out the back door. The garden was immense and overgrown. A small, dark garage squatted a way back with a door that opened onto the garden. Tom pushed it open and went inside.

It was filthy. Unsteady towers of old boxes teetered like the remains of buildings in a ruined city, and brutal metallic tools hung rusting on the walls. Tom wove his way carefully between them, stirring clouds of dust as he went. The old owners had not been in this place for a long time. The corners were thick with cobwebs and scurrying, many-legged things and lower down was too dark to see.

With a stab of pain Tom thought for the millionth time of the band. This place would have been perfect for rehearsing.They could have made as much noise as they wanted without worrying about Jess’ bedtime or his mum interrupting with glasses of squash. But it would have been hard to make band practice every week from 300 miles away.

Tom sat on an upturned crate and tried not to breathe too deeply. It really was quiet in here. He couldn’t even hear his dad’s stupid radio, just the sound of his feet scuffing the concrete floor.

And then a different noise. Something almost impossibly quiet, but in the stillness Tom picked it out. It was coming from the back, low down, behind a stack of mouldering cardboard. He strained his eyes, but couldn’t see anything. He stared into the darkness and listened hard. It was like a low whining sound and a frantic scrabbling. Tom stood up; could a puppy have sneaked inside here and gotten stuck?

Tom edged past the box towers, still peering into the darkness. The sound was louder here.

“Hey, I won’t hurt you. Come here boy.” His words fell thickly, dampened, as if he were talking inside a padded cell.

The noise stopped for a second and then began again, louder now, more desperate as Tom neared the corner. He leaned down to peer between the piles of junk.

And there in the darkness Tom saw the red glint of two red eyes leering at him and knew in that second why the garage had been abandoned. He tried to back up, to get himself out, but it was too late; he toppled back, box towers crashing down, clouds of dust and filth billowing into the air and then he couldn’t see the door anymore.

When Tom didn’t appear for dinner that night his mum finally decided to look for him, but even when she peered into the old garage there was no sign of him. She never noticed the spot where the dust had been kicked up from the floor or the long, dragging finger marks in it leading all the way back into the darkest corner of the room...