Bitten

His side is burning and he’s running up the street, burning in his side.

Pause.

On the corner,

Some other’s scent but not recent. Not the one who bit him in his side, which burns as he runs through the sudden, open space.

He doesn’t venture this far by habit. But with the biter on his patch he won’t take risks.

He thought he smelt food.

Pause again.

A breeze against his side, his tale and he flicks his ears.

He smells his own blood on the cold, smooth, stone ground. Flecks, strong-smelling, spattered from his side.

He moves off, but not quickly. He moves his legs and his side burns, wider now.

The urge to feed is strong, but something else is stronger now.

He needs to find a space, a space anywhere.

He must curl up.

Not to sleep.

Somehow he must find a quiet space to be still for a while.

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He’s charming.

“When?” asks Kat, very, very surprised.

She switches hands and balances the phone on the other shoulder while she stirs.

“Three days? Three days?? June, who is he?”

She stirs hard without thinking.

“Well what the hell made you invite this ‘Adam’ [vigorous stirring] to come and stay with you?”

“Oh come off it, that isn’t the sort of thing that ‘just happens.’ Not to normal people, anyway.”

“Is he there now?”

She’s over-stirred, and slaps the wet spoon onto the side, irritated.

“Well go somewhere private, then.”

She hears a door click shut on the other end of the line.

“Where are you? OK, good. Listen June, are you sure about this?”

“Yes I know I’m reacting, but letting a stranger stay with you and not even being able to say how long for…”

“No, but… Well where did you meet him then?”

“Found him? What do you mean ‘found him’? Where?

“Russell Square Station? But how did…?”

“You’re joking! He’s homeless?”

“No, calm down, all I’m saying is this is really unlike you.”

“Charming? Well obviously! I tell you what, I’m coming round right now. No right now!”

Perhaps tomorrow

She might be there in the window.

It might be her.

He turns and walks quickly away.

Did she see him? Is that her there in the doorway?

He screws his eyes tight and detaches himself from his fear, which he tells himself is fear alone.

It subsides, but she’s still there. He opens his eyes and there she is.

There in the rivets fixing the drainpipe to the wall, in its old bricks, the frame, the ancient, warped glass and the man standing behind it, looking down onto the street, in his eyes.

Jason looks away; away he walks.

Six days ago he slipped away. He woke in the morning, early.

Very early.

And she was standing over him with a blade.

And she said,

“not today. Perhaps tomorrow.”

He fled that morning, taking his chance.

He’s seen her each morning since, just before waking, suddenly.

Pound against the pavement.

Only a ten minute wait to see the doctor.

Unbelievable.

After the ninth ring she hangs up. June has tried calling Kat twice now, and it’s not like she’ll be riveted by it, but anything domestic and she’s all ears, bless her.

She hunches against the breeze, she puts chilled hands into her pockets, her fingers make contact with a pound coin, she sees him sitting on the ground against the wall of Russell Square Station, her fingers clutch the coin, she drops it in front of him.

It bounces on the pavement.

No hat, no receptacle, just the ting of dropped money on the pavement.

Sudden confusion.

Is he homeless? But nothing to catch coins?

“That’s very kind,” he says.

She’s stopped and looks at him in her confusion.

He smiles and somehow suddenly she’s comforted.

“I hope life gets better for you.”

“Thank you,” she says, feeling strangely reassured.

He smiles still.

One of those mornings.

She knew it was going to be one of those mornings. She could feel it as soon as she opened her eyes.

“Rosy?” Michael had called in the night.

“In here, I’m fine,” she had said. “Don’t get up.”

Muffled objection from the bedroom.

Soft and concerned.

Resigned.

Night passed.

“Is today going to be one of those days?” asks Michael, shuffling into the kitchen. “You really, really need to see the doctor.”

But it’s happening.

She’s drowning again.

The air turns to water in her lungs and she’s gasping.

The room dissolves and a solid brown mass rushes to her, and the crack of her face against the kitchen floor is inaudible to her.

Ambulance men.

Oxygen.

Many hours.

And as Michael holds her hand the doctor says,

“you’re fine.”

Please don’t be sad.

He’s nothing left here.

The light thrown back in thick, glossy white streaks by a front door newly painted black, glinting in windows and dull against their frames, sucked up by the tarmac and the paving stones… it’s not warming.

“But it’s beautiful,” he thinks.

When he returns here years from now that black door will be peeling and wanting attention, like the paint on the window frames, he thinks.

“When I come back I’ll be a stranger,” he thinks.

And he turns into Euston Road and the traffic is noisy.

Seven months’ belongings aren’t much weight on his left shoulder.

Saying goodbye to a lover isn’t much weight to bear either. He’s never there when it happens.

When Jake comes back he’ll find the note.

It’s time. I’m looking out the kitchen window and see a train pulling into King’s Cross and I can see people inside. It makes the kitchen feel small, all at once, and the bedroom too. I told you I’d leave. Thank you for taking me in.

Please don’t be sad.

Adam

Not your wife?

The voice is muffled, but clearly a woman’s. The camera is shaky but they were clearly in a hotel room.

Her and Neil.

He’s in bed, undressed.

She, whoever she is, walks up to him, filming.

The email is curt, the message in the subject line:

Hi Neil. Not your wife?

She had opened the webmail and it had gone straight to his inbox. He’d forgotten to log out.

She’s watched the video five times?

Six?

She rises and walks to the kitchen.

Breathes long.

The feeling is palpable. It’s all she can feel.

Relief.