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Where You Stand

21 May, 2012

Here is day 21 (21? how did that happen?) of the May Fiction Challenge. The ending to this was going to be the precise opposite until I reached the last sentence and changed my mind. Did I do the right thing? Leave me a comment and let me know…

 

It had been an unremarkable day until Mum called.

I had woken at the normal time, had my normal muesli breakfast, and shared the shower with Jake. He kept me company as I waited for the bus at the front wall of our flats, me dressed in a smart skirt suit and him in football shorts and a t-shirt he had picked up from the floor. I felt the usual jealousy for his working from home as the bus arrived, and I kissed him goodbye. I left him standing by the wall to enjoy his first cigarette of the day, casually calling back over my shoulder that smoking would kill him.

The same faces took the bus, Brian from marketing among them, four stops after me. He smiled, stood near the front, and kept his earphones in his ears and his eyes on his book. Nothing out of the ordinary. Thank the driver, greet Tom in security, take the lift, switch on the computer, open the post, accept the offer of a coffee. Normal day. And then Mum called.

“Hi,” I said, my attention on the screen as I quickly scanned the BBC news page before starting any work. “Are you alright Claire?” came the concerned reply. I sat up, her worry catching my attention. “I’m fine, why?” I asked. “Have you not heard the news?” she said frantically, the words tumbling over each other as her panic rose, “the crash, the lorry, the flat…” I stood up, her worry becoming contagious. “Slow down Mum,” I said, “tell me again, what news?” She took a deep breath. “They said on the news that a lorry had crashed into some flats in your road,” she explained, her speech slower now, “drove through the front wall, straight into the ground floor.” Our flat was on the first floor, but the wall… Jake… standing there… “I’ll call home,” I said, my panic beginning to rise now.

I hung up the call, jabbed my finger at Jake’s face on my screen, and listened to the sound of his phone ringing, ringing. His voice asked me to leave a message. I hung up again, tried the home phone, the number we never answer. Again, ringing out and an answerphone. I left a message, asked Jake, begged Jake to call me and tell me he was safe. I tried his mobile again, and again only reached his voicemail. Another message.

Ten minutes went by, and Jake had not called back. Mum called me twice, but I didn’t dare take the call. I tried and tried his phone, called the landline. Images of a ringtone sounding, unheard, at the bottom of a pile of rubble filled my thoughts. Or a paramedic, or maybe a policeman, holding the phone, staring at my name on the display, unsure whether to answer, unsure what they could tell me…

I asked my boss to allow me to rush home, I begged her PA to give me a lift. During the ten minute journey, I stared at my phone, willing it to ring, I tried Jake again four more times, my imagination offering a more horrific image with every missed call. I made countless prayers for him to be safe, even Faustian pacts – I didn’t care which side saved him as long as he was saved.

We drew up as close as we could behind the blue police tape, and I jumped from the car before it even stopped. The lorry’s cab was still buried in the front of the flats, in the window of Toby’s flat. Toby was standing outside, a cup of tea in a worried and shaking hand, a police woman standing by him, taking notes and reassuring him. But Jake was nowhere.

I was allowed past the tape, and I ignored the police’s instructions to stay back as I dashed up the stairs, my desperate hand barely able to turn the key, my shaking voice calling Jake’s name. Again, no answer. The answerphone flashed my messages to me.

Outside, I approached the police, asked them had anyone been hurt, had they seen Jake. The officer asked me to wait while she spoke to her Sergeant. I stood next to what remained of the wall, where I had left Jake standing, and began to cry, slowly at first, quietly, but as the Sergeant placed his hand on my arm, asked me to join him in the car, to sit down while we talked, I felt my legs give way and the deep sobs overtake me.

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