If only there were words

1977

If Jeanne was honest with herself, which she invariably was, Chloé was the only real friend she’d made after she’d moved down south, to this small, fat town so bloated with history. Jeanne’s family were, for the most part, in Birmingham where she had been brought up in a lovingly strict, church-going household.

She was working there in Accident and Emergency when she first met Mick. He’d travelled up from Crosschester to attend a course on a new design technique or brickwork or window structure and had ended up in A&E with a sprained ankle. While she was treating him, they started to chat. He was shy but asked her about her work and about life in Birmingham, which was as alien to him as Mars. She was at the end of her shift and sick of the abuse or groping or combinations of the two that she’d endured, so one man’s being less like a pig than the other drunks was very appealing. In point of fact, and pigs aside, they liked each other immediately. She was professional and lovely. He was shy and kind. They agreed to meet again a month later when he’d travelled up to see a football match. He, Lunsford and Jeanne had gone to the game, her first ever. Mick had stayed in the city in a cheap hotel so he could go dancing with her all night.

For the next few months he would visit her whenever he could (he’d feel emptier and emptier on each return trip) and write letters to each other. Finally, he proposed to her with wide eyes and the expectation of kind rejection. She’d accepted with relief and love. Then decisions, decisions. The wedding, with Lunsford as his Best Man of course, was in Birmingham with much outrageous joyfulness, music, dancing, hugs, handshakes and love. Then a honeymoon in Scotland because neither of them had ever been. Up and down Ben Nevis, a visit to Loch Ness, and three nights in Edinburgh, and then she agreed to move to Crosschester.

Now Mick was dead, and Jeanne was in their house, reading and oblivious. Midnight came and went. She was cross and concerned because it was so unlike him. She hoped he was in the kitchen of Lunsford’s Oak Cottage home, tipsy and playing dominoes, talking about work and football. She couldn’t call Lunsford at that time of night to test that theory though, that would be rude. At twelve thirty she went to bed with plans for wrath and forgiveness in the morning.

The telephone rang just a few seconds after she fell into shallow sleep. She knew exactly what it meant before she went downstairs in her dressing gown to pick up the receiver.

She knew the bloody junior doctor on the other end of the bloody line, so she asked for the exact details. She breathed deeply and calmly. She hung up. Her professional responses slipped off her like dead skin. She fell to her knees in an agony of sobbing. Unable to breathe or see, she felt her tears impossibly cascading from her eyes, stinging like acid. She allowed this chaos and loss of control for some minutes, then gathered herself, was gentle with herself, held herself, and raised herself up.

She stood and went into the cupboard under the stairs where she found her sewing box. Slowly and deliberately she chose a length of red ribbon which she tied around her wrist.

She left their home, closing the door and laying the flat of her hand on it for a moment, then she rode her bicycle up to the hospital. She thought about going straight to the morgue but decided on seeing the living first. She went to see Lunsford. He lay in a side room unconscious, bruised, hatefully, precariously alive. She examined his notes, kissed his forehead and left.

Only then did she go to the hospital’s small morgue. There, in the low light and cool air, lay her beautiful man’s hideous body. Some residual heat was left calling to her as it dissipated out into the night to join Crosschester’s thousands and thousands of dead down the centuries. She had no tears, they were all gone. There were now nine days of mourning on her own to occupy herself with. Nine days, and after that she had a plan for the future. She left the room and the lights shut off with the closing of the door.

“Don’t worry. He won’t be left alone in the dark, we’ll make sure of that, we’ll look after him for you”, one of the people in the room told her. Someone with a familiar voice and a family and a home to go to. Someone she knew had cups of tea to share and bills to complain about and beds to make at home. Someone who didn’t have to say anything at all to her but, “Time to leave now, love”, but instead had taken the time to care for her. She would always remember that.

There was nothing more to be done that night for Mick. The future like a bareknuckle fighter wouldn’t back away for anyone. Jeanne headed to the staff bicycle rack. She tried to get there without meeting anybody along the way but the further she went, the slower she went as more people approached her with condolences so formal and mannered that they could have been the serving of legal writs.

“Sister Downes, I just heard I don’t know what to say”, she nodded and walked on, not knowing why anybody needed to say anything.

“If there’s anything you can think of anything we can do, Sister Downes…” on she walked unable to think about anything except why she was expected to reach such conclusions. She was only vaguely aware of what she could do, let alone what anybody else could.

“Jeanne, if only there were words…” she walked on.

“We’ve never really talked but I want you to know how terribly shocked and sad I am for you” she walked on and on and on, never fast enough.

“Jeanne! Jeanne! Hold on, wait! Was it your husband? I heard the name from Sam Kenyon, and I couldn’t believe it… Jeanne! Wait!” on and on and on and on, she began to run, she fled. Finally, she reached her bike and rode home in the darkness and freezing cold of her new life.