It wasnít very often Emily Davies's mum was right about something, but when she was it stuck in Emily's throat like acrid smoke.
"Bad things always come in threes Emily", she would say whilst watching a plane crash or the footage of a foreign earthquake on the tea time news, the smoke form her Superkings making loops around her wrinkled hands. She also said it when there was a death in the family. Usually, an elderly family member would die, followed by the news of a celebrity death and Emily would be frightened for her life until the death of a neighbours pet got her off the hook.
Bad things come in threes alright, and it squeezed the blood out her heart like a mighty fist squeezing water out of a sponge.
The first bad thing should have been a good thing. Thatís how it was anticipated and it came as a hurtful surprise when it wasn't. Her best friend, Amy, had gone travelling around Australia and Asia. She was a likable, confident girl, and Emily's most trusted friend. It was Amy who had told Emily about sex while they were at school had always listened to her problems. In reply, Emily has always been there when she broke up with her boyfriends.
Travelling was all she talked about for months, in the laundrette, the pubs and nightclubs, on the bus. Because Amy was saving up her travel money, the pair would only go out once a week. A year ago, they only stayed in once a week, on a Sunday night to eat proper food, get proper sleep and visit their respective mums. These nights out where the highlight of Emily's week.
Her favourite part was getting ready. The pair would open a bottle of wine and play a C.D. so loudly they would have to shout at each other to communicate. With huge smiles they would try on each other clothes and tell each other how great they looked, even though both women knew they where quite plain really. Not bad looking, but nothing to excite the lads at the nightclub. The time would fly by in Amy's bedroom, and it was always a rush to finish dressing and the last of the second bottle of wine before they missed the nine o'clock bus. More often than not, Emily would fall over trying to put her tights on, the wine filling up her empty stomach and thinning her blood. Amy would laugh so hard she choked on her cigarette, and Emily would look up and laugh too, offering a shaky hand for Amy to pull up.
The bus ride Emily enjoyed almost as much. They would talk about everything on that twenty minute trip. Love, Hate all those feeling we keep inside ourselves were quietly unbottled on the backseat. It was only time Emily felt understood.
As usual, the night started with a quick couple of drinks in The Fox, an old fashioned old mans pub that Amy found boring but Emily liked. She felt safe there, amongst the old brass plates and big phallic beer pumps. She liked listening to local gossip and liked the way the old men where always polite and the fact they always left dead on eleven o'clock with a packet of crisps for there wives.
Stars nightclub was a different matter. A boorish, static mess of chrome and neon, she hated the way men looked at her in there. Like she was meat, like her brain didn't matter. She also hated the way Amy responded to these looks. Emily studied her. All her moves, the way she would stand on tip toe and push her breasts forward whilst never losing eye contact with her quarry. The way she laughed at their rubbish jokes. Emily was always being told to cheer up by these men, and sometimes by Amy too. But she preferred to politely accept a free drink off the men and watch people dancing. She loved the look on their faces, real enjoyment and release. She wondered why no one ever sees these faces at work.
Sometimes she would get lonely and drag Amy outside to share a cigarette. She didn't smoke really, but was the only way she could be alone with her. She would ask about all the countries she would visit, and Amy would glow and talk about the adventures she was going to have. In moments of weakness Emily would let herself be sucked into the warm bubble of her excitement, despite the fact she knew she could not go with her.
The reasons for this where two fold, firstly the wages of her waitressing job would never support it. It was a game Emily played sometimes, when the day was going badly, trying to choose which party she hated more, the staff at the Tea Spoon cafe or the customers. As much as she tried not too, she would always make one mistake a day. Silly mistakes usually, the wrong bill to the wrong table say, but it would be enough to make Mr.Whelan the chef or Joanne the head waitress furious.
Mr.Whelan was a short, red-faced man who had a habit of wiping his dirty hands down the belly of his stiff white jacket that made Emily wince. He was always trying to do five different things at once, and Emily could understand why he got so stressed, but his temper was something of a legend in the town. His explosive rages where personal and as cutting as a knife. More often than not Emily would burst into tears and have Mrs.Whelan, a plump kind faced woman, come racing from behind the till to counsel her. Then there would be a quick discussion in the kitchen, Emily would catch snatches of dialogue over the din of the diners and the dish washer. She only heard the end of the sentences. Something something stupid bloody girl Mr.Whelan would spit, something something moment of weakness Mrs.Whelan would calmly reply. Then Mrs.Whelan would come out through the swing door, smile at Emily and sort out the mistake. Then it was all over until tomorrowís mistake. She hated the job, but needed the money for the rent of her flat. The tiny flat was the only thing in the world she was proud of. It was tiny and always too cold, but it was hers. Her refuge, her palace.
The second reason was Ian. Ian was Emily's boyfriend, though she never called him that, ever. He was a nice boy (her mum adored him "Good boy that Ian") who had a habit of rocking on heels with his hands thrust deep into his trouser pockets whilst nervous and frowning deeply when he saw or heard something sad. He was known amongst his friends, with good reason, as Shy Ian.
He never questioned or criticised Emily. He never judged her crying fits or silent moods and never made her do what she didn't want to. He loved Emily more than she loved him, and he knew it, but he never made a fuss about it. This was important to Emily and made her feel safe. It was almost more of an arrangement than a relationship. Ian would love Emily, and Emily would never hurt Ian's feelings. As long as this was always the case, then they would be fine.
Then the first bad thing happened.
After three months away, Amy was due back. Emily had looked forward to it like a child looking forward to Christmas. Days were counted down and conversation rehearsed in her head. Ian had gone to the cinema, and it was arranged the two women would meet in The Fox.
It started off almost normal. Amy looked the same, a little browner and thinner maybe, but almost exactly the same as the picture inside Emilyís head. But when she sat down and talked it wasn't the same Amy. There were no funny stories or breathless descriptions of her travels, just a list of places she had been to. That was it. "Then we went to...Then we went to..." for almost an hour. It was all Emily could do not to burst into tears right there.
She had listened politely as Amy and Colin behind the bar, a fellow traveller, talked about their respective journeys but it was just the same. No anecdotes, just a list of locations. Emily stared at her drink in silence. It wasnít her Amy that had come back.
When Amy went to the toilet, Emily picked up her coat and walked out of the door. It meant she could never talk to Amy again. She would be livid. But who cared? It wasn't the same Amy anyway. Maybe she would be too embarrassed to go back to The Fox. Nevermind, she still had Ian.
A week later the second bad thing happened.
She had left the busy, hot stress of work to go on her lunch break, and in a bid to avoid the bullets of rain, had entered the serene hush of the book shop. It was such a contrast from the Tea Spoon Cafe. She drank the silence deeply and wrapped the calm around her like a blanket. She slowly wondered around in a daze, her finger tips idly stroking the spines of the books, drops of rain falling from her hair onto the carpet. She silently mouthed the titles of the books to herself, like a mantra. She had never felt so peaceful.
It happened on the second floor.
She had no idea who the man was but knew instantly the she loved him. He was around the same age as Emily but dressed much older. He wore a starched white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to just under the elbow and black braces like her granddad used to wear. His hair was slicked back into a fussy quiff. He stood in front of a book shelf holding a clipboard and a look of intense concentration. There was something about the way he chewed his bottom lip that made Emily fight for her breath. Her heart raced and beat like a drum.
She reached for something solid to hold on to, and in doing so knocked over a shelf full of books that gracelessly crashed into the book shop floor.
The man looked up. It was a look that would haunt and torture her. It was the face of someone who had been awoken from a lovely dream. Not angry exactly, more irritated.
Before she knew what happened, she found herself outside panting heavily against a wet brick wall. She felt nothing but shame. Shame for loving a man who wasn't Ian. Shame for making such a fool herself. Shame for being alive.
That night she slept next to Ian. He lay as he always did, with his right hand spread fan like over her stomach, but it wasn't the same. She felt like a stranger in her own bed. The light from the lamppost outside cast strange shadows over the room and lit the flowers on her curtains and made them look like grotesque, angry faces. She listened to Ianís slow, deep breaths and waited for sleep that was never to come.
It was the next day, whilst scurrying to work red eyed and dry mouthed that the third bad thing happened. It was the silliest and most childish of the three, but it was the one that finally broke her.
As she walked the journey from her house to the cafe, a journey that always took exactly twenty two minutes, she heard the birds sing. At first she thought she imagined it. But there it was again. The birds were singing the tune that mobile phones bleep when they receive a text message. First they had got to Amy and took all her wonderful stories and imagination, then they got to her and made her fall for a man she could never have, and now they had got to the birds. Those poor beautiful innocent little birds. She knew what she had to do.
She knew she couldn't cut her wrists, or slit her throat. There was no way she would have the nerve, sat there with knife in hand. Anyway, she didn't want to leave a mess. She knew she couldn't do it with pills. Even if she could take them all without throwing them back up, it would be Ian who found her and she never wanted that. She knew Ian had a gun, a small rusted service pistol left to him by his by his granddad, a gift that he was afraid to even touch. But she had no idea if it was even loaded. She needed a clean get away. Thatís when she came up with the plan.
It was so simple and so spotless. She could scarcely believe she hadn't come up with it before. What she would do, is steal the tip jar from work. She knew there was plenty of money in it as they were saving up for a Christmas staff party. Then, she would buy a one way ticket to Torquay. She would leave all her identification, keys, phone, money and jewellery at home. She would carry nothing but her train ticket and a box of matches. When she got to the top of one of the cliffs that look over the sea, she would strip naked and set fire to her clothes and simply jump off the edge. With a little luck, her body would be washed away never to be found, no trace of her left to exist. She would never be dead, simply missing. And if she was never dead, she could never be mourned.
Emily thought she would sleep on the train, but she was wrong. The adrenaline caused by the plan going so well coursed through her veins and made her head throb in the most delightful way. She was puzzled to why the old man in the opposite seat kept smiling at her, only to find then when she looked at herself in the window, her reflection wore a huge grin. She had done it. She was so nearly free. Free from the stress and the worry, from the loneliness and empty, empty hope, from the rain and work. It was almost funny. She didn't feel sad at all, Just worn out. Exhausted from the daily fight, exhausted to the point where she stopped kicking and simply let herself float. She felt bad when she thought of how Mrs.Whelan would feel when she saw the tip jar missing. But she knew she would understand. She also felt bad about Ian. But he was free now! Free to live his life and fall in love with whoever who chose to. He would gain more than he lost, that she was almost sure of.
The view from the window changed from houses, to the countryside and slowly into the seaside. Emily wasn't hungry, but her belly rumbled. She had brought a couple of slices of bread, just in case, but couldn't face eating them. It was the last of the food in the flat. She had spent every last penny on the train ticket. She was lucky there was a box of matches in the kitchen, as she couldn't even afford them. She pressed her fanned hand over her stomach, like Ian would do, to try and drown out the rumble of her belly. She felt wonderful. A bit like she felt when she watched a film, despite all the bad things that happened, everything would work out alright in the end. She felt like she was IN a film. She was the good guy that comes out on top in the end.
Everyone, Ian, Amy, Mum, the Whelans, the man the book shop, the people on this train. They are just characters filling their roles and saying their lines. She wanted to run down the train aisle and grab everyone by the collar.
"Donít you see?" she wanted to cry "We donít have to be characters anymore! We can do what we like!Ē But she knew the people would think her mad. They just wouldn't understand.
The sense of freedom, the severing of ties, and the realisation of the truth ripped through Emily's body. She could not sit still and her hands shook. She felt her jaw begin to ache from all the smiling and she began to feel her back teeth grind together.
All of a sudden there was a ding-dong from the tannoy announcing the trainís arrival into Torquay. She flapped around, looking for her bag of bread, before realising that she didn't have one. The bag was bag at home, in her little flat, with her Ian.
"Have you lost something Miss?" asked the old man in the opposite seat.
"No, no Iím fine" she replied, smiling weakly.
She stared out of the window as the outside world went past slower and slower as the train dragged to a halt.
The church bell started to ring. Eight times. It was eight o'clock. She had been sat on the bench, over looking the sea, for nearly four hours. She was hungry and cold. The excitement of the plan had faded away with cruel speed. Everything was silent except the screech of the sea gulls and the gentle splash of the waves below.
An old couple sat down on the bench beside Emily, eating fish and chips. The smell of vinegar made her guts bubble. She was so hungry.
"Lovely view isn't it love?" offered the man. He sounded northern. Wisps of cloud like white hair framed his friendly face.
"Would you like a chip sweetheart? They are very good." asked the woman. She had friendly grandmotherly face and a soothing voice.
Emily looked at both them in turn and burst in tears. Her whole body shook as she broke down in front of the couple, her face crinkling with tears.
"Darling whateverís the matter?" asked the woman, putting an arm around Emily's shoulder. She smelled of vinegar and talc.
"I havenít got any...bread...to give to them" she replied between spasms of sobbing.
"To who love?"
"To the birds"
With that, she was suddenly silent. She looked at the couple in a way the man didn't care for at all, and then ran off.
She knew what she had to do.