I woke up that morning, knowing she had gone. Left in the middle of the night.
She didn’t sleep well, so it never bothered me when she awoke. She would usually just get herself up, grab a book and go into the living room and curl up on the sofa. I never sensed it was anything to do with me. It couldn’t have been.
We lived in the rough part of Islington; yet people would still say ‘ooh, posh.’ We lived in my council flat that I’d managed to get when I was nineteen. Wouldn’t get that now, probably. I was lucky, in some ways.
My flat overlooked a tall clock tower. Sometimes you’d see tiny-looking men up there, fixing and mending the clock. Yet, the time always seemed to stay wrong.
The morning was cold, that morning she’d gone. Maybe she just went out to get some milk. Maybe she needed to walk for a bit, to escape the flat that sometimes seemed like it was shrinking around us.
I was talking to myself out loud. Asking what time it was when she stirred. Should I check the cupboards? Is her drawer of socks still full? Had she left me a note?
I checked the cupboards and saw her coat, hanging there. The one she was wearing when we first met. It was dark green, with black buttons. A man’s coat.
Suddenly I get an image of her, standing there, wearing it. She looks great in that coat. People would always comment on it.
Nothing seemed to be missing. But her.
I turn on the news − I don’t know what I’m expecting to hear. Another day, another disaster. But she doesn’t feature. Doesn’t anybody know that she’s gone? She’s missing.
Do I call someone? I don’t know who. Maybe she’s fine. Maybe she just couldn’t do it anymore. Doesn’t want to be mine for a minute longer.
I have an urge to let out a cry, but I fall silent. Staring at the walls covered in art that I pretend to like.
The phone is on the bedside table and I go to find it. The white light of the sun guiding me to it. I pick it up to dial, but don’t know who I’m calling. What’s her number? Nobody remembers numbers anymore, do they? But she’s not even on speed dial.
Maybe I deserve to lose her.
I call and it goes straight to voicemail. When did she ever turn oﬀ her phone?
I feel cold. A shiver runs down my spine and ends at my toes. I feel like my grave has been walked on. I wonder what it would say, the stone.
Here lies no one. Here lies a woman with no name. Here lies a person who couldn’t hold on to her love. Here lies someone who washed herself of any blame. Forever here, she lays.
The men in the clock tower are there. They look busy. I wish I was up there, working. Doing something, so I wouldn’t feel this. The pain in my stomach that feels like it’s been present for days; I just hadn’t noticed.
Maybe I’m unobservant.
I look at the men working and wonder if they can see me. Staring at their busy hands. Their legs attached to ropes. Their hard hats − those wouldn’t do much if they fell.
My phone vibrates in my hand and it stops me. I break my gaze and stare at the message that isn’t from her.
‘Where are you?’
I press the side button that kills the light. And the message.
Maybe she caught that train she was always talking about. She said she wanted to go on a sleeper. Sleep in a bunkbed that slept a person shaped just like her, perfect. Maybe then she’d sleep. She thought it sounded romantic.
I didn’t see a place for me, in that dream. I wasn’t there.
Where was I?
I go over to the fridge and pull out the orange juice with bits. I like the one with bits in. She doesn’t.
I drink from the carton and pretend that I’m a boy in an American coming-of-age movie. I’m him. All curly hair and awkward features. I want to sing along to the radio but it’s not playing. I’m not wearing socks, so I can’t do that cool sliding-across-the-floor thing.
So I don’t. I just stand there; singing along to nothing. Motionless. My hand still holding the phone that buzzes again.
‘Are you okay?’
How do I know.
Maybe I’ll call her again. This time I’ll leave a message.
Hey… I… hope…
The men are in the clock tower again. I can see them working away. You’re missing it. I… miss you.
It would be nice to know that you’re OK. Let me know, alright? No rush.
I put the phone down and stand there, looking out. Silence.
Did I sound too needy? Maybe I wasn’t needy enough? She is gone, after all.
I didn’t tell her. I didn’t say what she wanted to hear. I didn’t ever tell her enough. It was an issue I always shrugged oﬀ. I should have said it.
I don’t know. I’ll wait for her to call. She will call me back. She always does. I wonder if I should call her again. But I don’t.
Instead, I head for the shower. At least I’ll be fresh when she gets back.
I stand under the hot downpour, wishing it would transport me to some other place. Take me away. Go down the drain.
I wonder what my mum would be doing, if she were home. If I was. Where am I?
I remember the message. Maybe I should text back. Before they start to worry.
I step out of the shower and drip on the bathroom floor. The mat has gone. Where is it?
I look in to the mirror, covered in steam; concealing my expression. Just as well. Just as well, I think.
My bed looks empty when I walk back in to my room, but I still want to get in. I climb in and pull the duvet over my head. Cocooned. The wet of my hair against my cheek feels fitting. Replicating tears I haven’t yet shed. They will arrive any minute, I’m sure of it. I didn’t cry at her funeral. But not everybody cries at funerals. Do they?
The duvet is over my head and I’m back. I’m a child again in my childhood bed. The torch on my face, fending oﬀ monsters. I fight the urge, the need to wail. Wrapped in the towel with the mane that covers my face.
Where am I?
I throw the duvet oﬀ of my face and peer at my phone that sits on the bedside table. Do I dare? Do I check it again? Will she be there, waiting? I’m not really an impatient person. But waiting is becoming a hobby I never really planned for.
I wait some more.
What am I waiting for?
I pick up the phone quickly with my eyes closed and ping them open when the light comes on.
‘I’m really worried now, please call me.’
I can hear the men hammering away. Trying to put it right. Will it ever remain, for more than a day? A week? Or a month?
Is there even a point, in trying to fix it?
My mum once told me about heartbreak. She said the first would be the worst and then they’d just get a bit better, each time. A little easier. She was wrong.
She’d hate to hear me say that. She hated being wrong. But then again, don’t most Mums? She didn’t know my first was going to be when I lost her. She couldn’t have known.
I stare at the phone.
Where am I?
Do they know? The men outside?
Does this hiding spot conceal me? Maybe it doesn’t; maybe it never has.
Maybe they can see it all. See in through my window and into my soul. My sorrow. My longings. I am merely a being, in a flat full of belongings.
Watching men work on a clock. Watching telly until my eye sockets can’t take anymore. Reading the same page of the same book, over and over. Feeling as if I’ve aged a year, each day she remains gone.
I lay here, listening to the footsteps of my neighbours and the laughs of their kids; who don’t know there’s a woman in here.
I wonder what they’d think of my fort. Would it rival their own?
I wonder how long I could stay here, before I turn into a bed of bones.
I wonder what she’d say, if she found me here, like this. She wouldn’t be happy, but I push that thought to the back of my head.
I wonder what she’d do with my wishbone.
I wonder if she’d carry it around. Keeping me safe, in her purse. There’s a woman in here.
There’s a woman.
There’s a woman in here. You know.
For more short stories, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.