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Transit of Mars

by Judith Field


Table of Contents

Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

Charlie went out to buy some gin in the middle of the following afternoon. I was working on my computer when the doorbell rang and kept on ringing. I opened the door. Charlie was leaning on the bell, blood running, bright red, down his face from an open head wound. The skin around his closed eye was swollen and black. I grabbed him.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t find my key,” he mumbled.

“What have you done?” My voice rose in pitch as I pulled him inside the house. I slammed the door.

“Mugged. Coming back from the off-licence. Took the booze. My wallet. Everyone just walked past.”

I grabbed my car key, bundled him into the car and drove to A&E. There was a four-hour delay. The triage nurse said she’d never seen so many fights on a midweek afternoon. I remembered Russell Grant. Perhaps it wasn’t all rubbish.

“You don’t need to wait with me,” Charlie said.

“Of course I do, you’re my husband. I don’t think I should let you out of my sight.”

Charlie squeezed my hand. “If I hadn’t been buying booze, this wouldn’t have happened.”

I dabbed at his head with a tissue. I’d read that scalp wounds bled a lot, that it made them look worse than they were. I hoped that was all it was.

“Ow, leave it,” he said. “I can’t go on like this. For the last two years, I might as well have been dead, and I very nearly was today. No, don’t cry, I’m still here. Help me fight it.”

I sniffed and nodded.

“Give me another chance. Can we make a go of it?”

I hugged him.

As a policeman came towards us, dodging the splashes of red dotted about the floor, I remembered why I’d fancied Charlie in the first place, how we’d been on the same wavelength. I remembered all our shared jokes, the looks that would pass between us that hadn’t needed words.

For the next week, we talked, and talked, and went to bed at the same time in the same place, but very carefully so as not to dislodge his stitches. A fragile, unstable peace had broken out.

* * *

My phone rang and a voice with a lilting Scottish accent recited my address. The phone slipped in my damp hand. “This had better be about work, Jimmy,” I said.

“You don’t get it, do you? I know where you are. I’m in London. I want to meet you. You’d better show up, or I’ll be telling your husband exactly what you’ve been doing. Maybe I’ll write to him anyway, print out some e-mails for him. ‘It was a turn on’.”

“I’ll report you to HR for sexual harassment.”

“How? I didn’t do any flirting from work. But if I go down, I’ll take you with me. ‘Spoken for, but not very loudly,’ wasn’t it? Inappropriate use of IT resources. Dismissal.”

“I”ll meet you. But I can’t do it today, you’ve got to understand, I can’t just run out. I’ll have to think of some excuse.”

“That’s more like it, you minx. I’ll see you tomorrow, outside Oxford Circus Station at two. I’ve got another project plan to discuss with you.”

“Yes,” I whispered, my heart sinking till it felt like it had melted into the carpet.

“Don’t sound so miserable. All I want to do is lie with you and kiss the top of your head.”

* * *

I’m standing outside the station. I see a man loping towards me, through the crowds. He is tall and thin, wearing scuffed red trainers, worn corduroy flared trousers and a drooping long-sleeved T-shirt. He peers through curtains of long, mid-brown hair parted in the centre. He grabs my upper arm. I’ll have bruises to explain away, if I get home again.

He pecks at my cheek. I stand immobile.

“Where’s my kiss?” he says. “Saving it till later? You teasing cougar, you.”

My mouth is dry. I try to swallow. He hasn’t let go of my arm.

“Now, I’ve got a game for us to play. We’ll go down the Underground but act like we don’t know each other. We’ll get on a train and I’ll start talking to you. Then... cougar heaven.”

A lump in my throat stops me speaking. He pulls me into the station, and we buy tickets. We go through the barriers and down onto the central line, the one coloured red on the map. I will never be free.

A train is due in one minute. I move closer to the edge of the platform, in front of Jimmy. I see the third rail that carries the high voltage. I once read that most people who jump are actually crushed to death by the train. Both would work.

“Here’s a better idea,” Jimmy says, moving in front of me. “I’ll get in first. Then you come and talk to me. Undoing your buttons, one by one. Slowly.”

The indicator changes from “1 Minute” to “Approaching.” I look into the tunnel. I see a red signal light, glowing brighter until dazzling beams spiral into my eyes. Blow after blow, rings of light fall onto me from a circular golden blaze with a red centre. In my head, I hear a voice: Fight back.

The light turns green and the train bursts out. I move closer to Jimmy. I press my palms into his back. Turning my face away from the CCTV camera, I push.

Copyright © 2014 by Judith Field

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