David R Ewens


1st July 2010

Michael Ross lay on his compact single bed and stared up at the white ceiling. It wasn’t simply white, the ceiling, it was pristine, like all the rest of hisbed-sit in the anonymousmiddle house of the nondescript road of terraced houses in the small resort on England’s North Sea coast. Getting the room right had been almost his first act since arriving and finding this place to live fifteen months before. He remembered the despair he’d felt just before he came, and how immersing himself in painting and decorating had been so soothing and restorative. Every part of the process had been healing, from the walk to the hardware store and taxi-ride back with paint, brushes and all the other clutter of ‘do-it-yourself’, to the job itself and the furnishing afterwards. He’d wanted everything to be so simple, and his determination had secured the desired effect.

He looked around the space he called his home. The room was square and no more than 14 feet by 14 feet, with a door into the landing of a house converted into four bed-sits. The bed he was lying on was against the outside wall. To the right was a small desk and matching chair of cheap pine, carefully selected and lovingly acquired from ‘Don and Dave’s Second Hand Furniture Emporium’ in what passed as the high street. Desk and chair were arranged under a generous Victorian sash window which looked out into a scraggly garden. Beyond the scraggly back gardenwas a scraggly garden at the back of a virtually identical terraced house.

He’d got all his other furniture from Don and Dave’s, such as it was – the small wardrobe and not-quite-matching chest of drawers that contained his few clothes on the opposite wall. Someone had scratched a little broken heart on the top of the chestthat he was disinclined to remove. He shared the lavatory and bathroom of course with the others in the house, and had access to the kitchen if he wanted, but the small Calor Gas cooker with its two rings was quite enough for him. He was an expert in producing tasty, nutritious meals with two saucepans, a spice rack and other essential kitchen equipment stored in the only cupboard that was there before he arrived. He’d laid the carpet himself, a nice piece of remnant from Don and Dave’s. A comfortable armchair, a reading lamp and a fan heater were the only other significant items in the room. He always ensured he had enough change for the electricity meter, which gobbled coins more avidly than a cuckoo chick gobbling stolen worms.

He knew that he’d got here just in time. Those fifteen months ago he’d been living and working in the City. At the age of 31, he had been one of the rising stars of Wilthrop and Morgan, Solicitors and Commissioners of Oaths, the golden boy specialising in the legal side of business takeovers. For six years he’d been working twelve hours a day, six days a week in a continuum of relentless grind and pressure, driven on by dreams of partnership in the firm. His ambition in those days had had no boundaries. His mind flickered back to Nicole. Her ambition for him had matched and mirrored his. In the early days of their marriage, greeting him with the question ‘So, what have you achieved today?’ had been playful. It was a little joke between them that served to mock his pushy, driven family, the family that had propelled him through the school scholarship, Cambridge and his Articles without respite. The playfulness, and the little kiss that went with it, had long gone, replaced by a sardonic steeliness and a stiff tumbler of gin. By then, everyone saw him as the golden boy, the star in their firmament, the source of honour, status and bragging rights. He had no longer even viewed himself as a real person with real feelings.

He had been slow to recognise the signs of looming disaster – the drinking, the craving for ‘pick-me-ups’ wrapped in small portions of silver foil, the incessant mood swings – up and down and back and forth. In the end though, he’d known what he was doing with the clarity of someone who was going quickly insane. On Wednesday 17th January at 2.13 pm (he remembered it as if was yesterday), he’d shut the door to his office, told Eleanor ‘no calls and no interruptions’ and taken the map of England from the bottom drawer of the heavy mahogany desk in front of the huge plate glass window looking out to St Paul’s Cathedral. Eyes closed, breathing controlled, but hands unmistakably trembling, he’d placed the red marker pin (how clearly he remembered the colour) at random and looked at the location it had selected. He remembered the walk to the lift, seeing with glazed eyes the lofty foyer of the plush offices and knowing that he’d be going through the revolving doors for the last time.

He had tossed his mobile telephone into the river and paid cash for a single ticket to the provincial city hundreds of miles to the north and east of London. Even in his state of nervous collapse he was careful not to leave a trail. Arriving at midnight, he’d spent the bitter January evening in a shop doorway, grateful more than he’d ever been for the cashmere overcoat whose previous attraction had been its styling. For the first time since camp when he was 11, he marvelled as stars encrusted the dark night sky. In the morning, he’d exulted in the warmth of the greasy spoon cafe, its ‘full English’ and the company of builders. You didn’t have to bother about the order you used your cutlery in here. No-one exactly bothered with napkins. There was no fruit with fromage frais on the menu. After that invigorating dose of completely ordinary life, it hadn’t been hard to find the bus station and catch the first bus to the resort he lay in now.

He smiled. What to do later on? Maybe he’d go down to the front, climb over the sea wall and take a stroll into the dunes. He could see in his mind’s eye the wide expanse of the beach and the grey North Sea stretching endlessly into the distance. His overcoat was the only item of clothing from his old life that he’d kept – and not just out of sentimentality – the wind off the coast could be bitter. He’d need that coat if he was going for a stroll. Or maybe he’d go down to the ‘Adam and Eve’ for a pint. Mac and Jim would be in there, playing pool. He hadn’t known them do much else in all the months he’d been there. Pool and pints dictated a steady rhythm to their lives. He listened and learned. In the theory and practice of being workshy they had doctorates, taking idleness into completely new dimensions. Maybe there’d be a match on the big screen. Maybe Jodie would be down there with her friends, that cheerful, pretty little blonde girl he’d chatted with last week. He’d liked her a lot when she’d come in, her and her pert little backside. There was definitely a spark there.

He glanced at his cheap Timex watch. Joe’s ‘Book in Hand’ bookstore would still be open. The pile of novels by his bed was rapidly dwindling. It was time to stock up. Maybe he’d mosey on down there, have a gossip with Joe, see the lie of the land…

One thing was sure. With his little job driving the coach for the local company, and with the ‘no-questions-asked’ attitude of Frank, his landlord, Jack, his employer and his mates down the pub, he’d made his escape. He was never going back.

David R Ewens


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