Authors: Sarah Michelle Lynch
“You walk a mile in my shoes, Chloe,” she said out of the corner of her mouth.
I sniffed and shot her a look, you know, one of those knowing stares between a mother and daughter. “I wouldn’t ever want to, Mum… and I say that out of love.”
“I know,” she looked down at her feet, her shoulders hunched, her arms folded so tightly her knuckles were white.
“I don’t understand, Mum. You could’ve had a better life than this.”
The fact I was moving further away—to London, which was so far removed from Barnsley—made me fear for them. I was leaving, again. What if something bad happened while I was down in London and I couldn’t get back in time? This was undoubtedly why they hadn’t mentioned Amanda having her stomach pumped.
“You’re clever, you’re better than this,” I tried to argue, agitating her.
She shook her head. “You don’t know what it is that drives him.”
“I don’t care what… it’s not worth wrecking Amanda’s life over. Nor anyone else’s for that matter. He should’ve changed his tune long ago.”
She took the high ground. “Everyone has to face the consequences of their own actions. She was always different, wasn’t she? Always so much more hypersensitive to the world. You were all brought up the same but you and Bel never went off the rails like her.”
I shrugged. Amanda
different and we’d always known it. She needed more than our meagre existence provided. She was artistic and extrovert whereas the rest of us kept our noses clean.
“This life… it’s such bullshit, Mum,” I said wearily.
She raised her brow. “Of course it is… and I’m okay with that. I realised what my role was a long time ago, so don’t think of us a second longer, get yourself to London.” She looked momentarily emotional. “Look at you! You’re cleverer than the
ever realised. You dress like a princess… now go and be one, for me! Please, Chloe. Amanda has to do it for herself… and you can’t start fresh thinking about what’s going on here. We’ll pull together, like we always do.”
“Love you, Mum.”
We embraced and I had to impose a mental bulldozer on my eye sockets to drive the tears away.
“Bring her in here to me, will you? I just want to, you know—”
“It’ll really help,” Mum gushed, squeezing my arm before bustling off.
I gave myself a little pep talk. I was the bigger sister, the responsible one. Maybe not the best sister, that was Anabel. Yet I was the eldest, it was my job. It didn’t matter about the shit that had gone down between us, we were blood. I was the strong one, I could be there for her.
When Amanda shuffled in, Mum quickly shut the door to lock us in together. Our eyes met briefly. Her lip trembled and I had to bite my tongue to stop mine from doing the same.
“Come here.” I held out my arms.
She hurried to me and I held her tight, stroking her brown hair away from her forehead. Anabel and I were both strawberry-blonde, like Mum. Amanda took after Dad. She began crying so hard, she could hardly stand up. I dropped to the floor so she could sit across my lap, crying into my hair. She felt skeletal, frail, empty.
“I can’t stand to watch it… you’re only hurting yourself.”
“You don’t hate me?” she whined, still crying.
“No! Come on.”
What words might inspire her, energise her to finally quit? I didn’t know. This was one of those dramas I’d thought would never be mine.
“I don’t know how to make people happy. I don’t know how to do that anymore,” she spluttered, wiping her nose.
“Hey, hey. What?” I pulled back to look at her face. “You need to stop right there, young lady. Make people happy? Maybe start making yourself happy, yeah? That’s all that matters. Fuck everything else. Concentrate on you.”
“Is that what you do,” she asked, her eyes narrowing, “cos I mean, look at you… you still belong on a magazine cover. Me, I belong on one of those ten years younger programmes.”
I shook my head, desperate to stop myself smirking. She still liked to get a rise out of me, I’d give her that. I’d done a bit of modelling to pay my way through university, until I was left physically scarred and couldn’t do it anymore. Or rather, wouldn’t.
“I deserve my scar, Amanda. I regret what I did, you know? It still haunts me.”
She held my face and told me straight, “I would’ve still done the drugs. I’m an addict, Chloe.”
It hurt to look into her red eyes. “You’re my sister, I was trying to save you.”
“I know,” she smiled a smidgen. “At least you look happy… got a man, ’av ya?”
I shook my head. “No way, I’ve got several. It’s all about me… and it’s staying that way.”
She popped some gum in her mouth and chewed voraciously. “We’ll see… you might get to London and things might change… some dickhead in a supercar probably!”
We laughed and I scrubbed a punishing hand over her hair like I used to when we were kids. She allowed me my thing but the eyes we shared said so much more.
She took a deep breath and stood. “I’ll take your advice and focus on me a bit. It seems to be working for you, whatever you’re doing.”
Little did she know what went on beneath the surface. She walked around the room, inhaling shakily, as though cleared of so many demons.
“Don’t let it bury you. I know that’s easy for me to say… but please, get better for you. It’s the only way it’ll work.”
She nodded, her lips pursed. “I want to do it, this time. Get myself sorted.”
“You can do it.”
We went back through and had a piece of cake, a few nibbles, then I said I had to be going. I had a train to catch later that day, amongst numerous other tasks that still needed completing. Anabel and Mum hugged and kissed me goodbye, Dad just grunted and said, “Good luck.”
Amanda was already back up in her bedroom, hopefully feeling better than she had done before.
I was glad to escape. Being in that house, I remembered another version of myself. One less troubled, more certain of who she was. I once believed in things, believed in myself, but I had taken a knock. Before then, I had hoped for so much—but had changed from a self-respecting individual to one who went on nights out on her own. The person I became was one the old me wouldn’t recognise—someone who often sat at a bar, waiting, until someone came over. I often blamed my solitariness on a tardy friend or some other excuse, depending on how good-looking the guy asking for my number was. Could I ever get
back, the true essence of me? I didn’t honestly know but I knew being in the house I grew up in was only reminding me of that which I’d lost.
AFTER dispensing with my car at a local garage, I caught a bus back the rest of the way and was greeted once more by the sight of that barren shell I’d called home. I had a few minutes spare before the charity people came knocking to take all my gear away. As I stared at all the furniture the landlord had installed, I realised it was all tacky rubbish that now looked ugly without my things giving the place personality.
When they knocked, I almost lost it. What was I doing? Letting strangers take all my belongings? My books? My CDs? My DVDs? I thought about not opening the door, or telling them they had the wrong address. Then I thought about how little room there would be at Kay’s and I decided there was no option. It all had to go. My intent was to start afresh, after all. It was a new era for me. I’d recently turned 30 and it was all going to be brand-spanking-new.
I took a deep breath and opened the door, welcoming a man and woman in with matching red t-shirts and a charity logo brandished across their chests. “Where are we heading, then?” one of them asked.
I pointed at the box mountains propped in two corners and the woman glanced back at me. “All this? Really? You sure?”
“Yes. You’d be doing me a favour. Please, take it all. Some other people will get far more use out of it than me.”
I held back the tears while they carted my life away in those brown, cardboard boxes. At the end of the day, though, it was only stuff I had accumulated while I underwent the fug of my solitariness.
It wasn’t coming with me.
At two p.m., my flat was entirely empty. Two large suitcases stood in the hall while I hung at the open door taking one, last look around.
I shook my head. Quite a few liaisons had taken place within those walls. Some of my best and worst moments had, also. I smiled fondly, but it was bittersweet. I’d tried to make a go of it here, but it hadn’t worked. I had to hope London held the answers.
MONDAY MORNING, I stood outside my new place of work just staring. None of it seemed real, not yet. I hadn’t really asked for this opportunity, it had simply fallen into my lap.
Vauxhall Bridge Road wasn’t glamorous. The building I was going to be working in was fashioned from huge grey blocks and ugly, thick glass. I wondered if this was to hide whatever operations took place within. Yet this bland block housed potential and possibility—and for me, the girl who defied the odds—I couldn’t tell you how much it meant to finally be where I wanted to be.
My friend, Klaus—we’ll get to him—had told me, “Hack it at Media Solutions, hack it anywhere.” The company was the most respected, independent provider of news, entertainment and sports data in the UK—and I was prepared for the challenge.
London air was warmer and smelt less… pure. A sharp intake of South Yorkshire winter air could clean your lungs. In London, a thousand scents invaded my nostrils on every corner, all of them indistinguishable.
A restless throb of noise existed, but from where? I’d been aware of it since I woke at six that morning. Even the main road I lived on in Sheffield had a timetable for noise—whereas this city didn’t. I actually kind of liked it to think I might be the dot amongst the crush. It knew it would work for me.
I stood across the road for half an hour or more—scoping it, making it real. My back against the shutters of another office not yet open, I watched who went in and out of my new premises. I didn’t see many enter or leave and guessed most started at nine a.m. or later. I got there in plenty of time to make sure I found the place, liked it enough to go inside, and as I said to make it real. Anyway, I had just enough time before work to get something to eat and drink. Luckily, London Victoria Station and all its amenities were minutes away. A coffee and a Danish were definitely in order.
Arriving at the austere, yet impressive reception of my new place of work at 8.58a.m. precisely, I found myself filing in with many others dressed in coats, bags over their shoulders, faces trained on the floor. None of them in a rush to get to their desks, neither wanting to be late either.
I was told by a neat receptionist that I’d be met by someone called Ash and taken upstairs. While she arranged a temporary swipe card for me to get through the turnstiles, there was no small talk or even a painted-on smile, just a hand gesture to the seating area nearby.
I took a seat in a blue, squishy, low chair and picked up a company magazine to read. I flicked through and all I saw were the words
I wondered when people forgot how to communicate. I mean, come on? It used to be that we only had conversation to keep us entertained. When did the art of conversation die? Backwards going forwards, much?
After 15 minutes of waiting and thinking the HR woman really had got it all wrong in telling me the job was mine, a red-faced guy pelted down the stairs, across the hall and toward me.
“Chloe? Is it? I’m Ash, your editor,” he greeted me, his eyes flitting over my appearance.
I will cut your words to pieces, shrivel your ego, and send you home numb every day of the week
. If that was the worst he might dish up, at least I had pre-warned myself.
I stood awkwardly.
Speak woman, speak
Or he will think you are a whack-job.
I wore a full skirt suit but he wore smart jeans and an open-necked pink shirt. No tie, not especially smart shoes. His bald head was complemented by three-day-old stubble (at least), though he might just have been one of those guys whose hair reached a certain length and never grew more. Anyway, I realised casual was the order of the day (possibly century) and told myself to remember that for next time.