E/ The Ticket Collector
By Mark Burrow
Platform duty with Lawrence.
He's ordering people to let passengers off the train first before
stepping aboard. Common courtesy. Obvious, really, except for
I watch them. It's crowded in the
underground. Stuffy. I've been trained to watch for potential suicides.
The woman teaching the course was professional. She told us what a
magnificent job we do. How essential we are for this fabulous city. The
signs, she said, to be aware of are as follows:
1) Agitated, jerky movement
2) Ruffled clothes i.e. shirt not tucked in at the back
3) Pretending, whilst edging beyond the yellow safety line, to observe
the mice scuttling in the trench containing the raised, electrified
4) A desperate facial expression
She pressed a button on her laptop, by way of an example for the last
point, and a face appeared on the screen. Lawrence, Maria, the whole
bunch of them began cracking up. The manager, Mick, I could see him
laughing too. It was a photo of me, weeping, on the phone to Jane,
begging her to come home. My eyes were red raw from all the crying. I
had four days worth of stubble. Greasy hair. I was a mess.
A sequence of photos followed, all showing me going about my day. A
trip to the Off-License. The Beehive. Taking a crap. Relieving
myself... Really personal stuff, intrusive. I complained to Mick and he
said, I don't know what you're talking about.
So I'm standing here on the platform, supposedly searching for my
There's a train in the tunnel. Lawrence orders the commuters to stand
away from the platform's edge. An advert on the curved wall on the far
side of the tracks shows a pair of sky scrapers. The perspective is
from below so you're looking up at the tall, looming towers of glass.
The caption says: Lie back and think of Hong Kong on the new club world
flat bed&;#8230;.British Airways&;#8230;.
The train comes in. Lawrence is ignored. People fight to get on. People
fight to get off.
Nothing ever changes.
Cheryl's long blonde hair flows over her pale, freckled shoulders.
She's astride me. I lick her nipples. Gripping the cheeks of her arse,
thrusting into her. She moans in my ear. I start fingering her
arsehole, sliding it in. She groans and wiggles. I insert the finger
'Ooo,' she says.
'Can you feel it?' I say, pushing.
'Yes,' she says.
'How's it feel?'
'What, funny strange or funny nice?'
'Funny I'm gunna shit myself.'
'Whoah,' I say, removing the finger.
She sits upright and starts bouncing up and down. I rub her small, firm
breasts. My cock slips out and I watch as she slides me back in. She
starts grinding and her head rolls as she goes faster. Just as she
really begins to enjoy herself I start hollering and moaning and then I
cum. She rolls off and lies next to me. We kiss briefly.
'Sorry that was a bit quick,' I say.
'It was nice,' she says, lighting a cigarette for me and one for
'Could you get me some tissues?' she says. 'It's quite wet down
'You get them,' I say, rolling onto my side.
She sighs. It's an ironic, you're-incredible-sigh that is supposed to
set-off a wave of guilt, or something.
I inhale, exhale. I can't figure why I apologised.
Eventually, when she realises I'm not going to the bathroom for her,
she gets off the bed and goes to the bathroom.
I pour myself a glass of wine.
She runs a bath.
I don't want to go to work tomorrow.
15. CUT BACK
Afternoon tea break in the staffroom. Maria went to Oxford Street
during her lunch break and bought an outfit for her baby grandson.
She's holding up a chequered shirt with one hand and a pair of Chinos
in the other.
Freddy says, 'Nice. He'll be a proper young man in those
'I tell you,' says Maria, 'he thinks he is the man of the house
'Those clothes,' says Lawrence, 'they're worth it. You get real
'You fool,' sys Maria, kissing her teeth. 'He'll grow out of them in a
couple of months. GAP kids are robbers.'
I leave the table. I can feel my stomach squirming, pulling.
My guts are rancid. Wine is to blame. It's brutal on the stomach. I
walk to the Mens, lock the door of a cubicle, and within seconds I'm
squirting sludge into the loo. I gaze at my knee caps. At dried snot on
the cubical walls. I'm in here three, four times a day. I know I should
give drink a miss. Say no. Control the urge. I just can't seem able to
do it. Cheryl doesn't help matters. She likes the stuff worse than I
do. It's endless. In the mornings, I have a glass of wine, followed by
two cups of Nescafe. In my locker, there is a bottle of Sainsbury's own
gin. It's useful when I need to straighten my nerves. Get a level head,
as they say, when things are on top of me. Then there's lunch. Often I
go to the pub and drink pints. When work is over, I'm my own man and
the reward for completing another day of honest labour is getting rat
Today, I don't know what's the matter with me. I haven't touched a
drop. Apart from a pint of Guinness with a gin chaser. That was in a
pub on the Euston Road, The Railway Tavern. After the Guinness and the
gin I returned to the staffroom. All they do is talk about t.v., their
kids, their money troubles. They're self-obsessed, that lot, and it
becomes dreary after a while. It wears you out. It does.
I'm a liar if I say the restraint and self-control I've shown today is
rewarding. I feel awful. Sweaty. On edge. A bag of frayed nerves. To
deny myself a wake-up glass of wine was a major error of
A rash decision that derives from the disgust I feel about my
I've been driven by disgust as opposed to a valid act of volition, of
A moral decision deriving from a false notion of morality.
If I was sober when I woke up, then denying myself the morning shot of
wine would've been an objective, reasoned course of action and
consequently one worthy of respect. But what went on in the kitchen
this morning was done from repulsion, self-loathing, a fear of throwing
Call it pragmatism. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I refused the wine when, obviously, that single, curved glass loaded
with chilled vino was precisely what the doctor ordered. It would've
set me on the straight and narrow. Put purpose and vigour in my stride
as I headed to work. Initially, I would've suffered. Sure, I would've
gagged. Maybe retched and coughed up a little sick. That was
inevitable. It went with the territory.
So what went wrong?
Ideals. High ideals and lofty notions.
I got clever, sanctimonious. All because I was afraid of what I thought
was poison. Afraid of a dose of pain. Upset, perhaps, because there I
was thinking about a glass of wine, one glass, mind, when so many other
people were eating Cornflakes, watching GMTV, telling their children to
get washed and dressed for school. Due to that earlier, disastrous
fusion of pride and pragmatism, I'm suffering now. Sick as a dog. I
really am suffering and that's what you get for taking the moral
If I know anything, it's this: anyone with principles is just on an ego
trip, afraid of seeing themselves for what they are.
People with principles fuck you up. That's a stone cold fact.
I should've drunk the wine.
Downed in one.
Been a man.
I know this now. I knew it then. I'm a coward.
But I should steady the pace. Make a rational, objective decision and
then slow the drinking down. I will do it at some point. Some time
soon. Now isn't the right time. Now is never the right time. Although
I've done it before so I can do it again. I think. Timing in these
delicate, complex issues is everything and that's what we need to
The complex timing of this highly charged situation.
So much to lose. So much to gain.
Don't rock the boat as the timing may not be right just now.
Too much at stake. Be cautious. Not caustic.
I feel a pulling sensation and a warmness passing from my backside. I
like taking a shit when at work. A highlight of the day.
I hear the door to the Men's slam.
The hinges on the door squeak. This isn't usual. The hinges never
squeak. The florescent lights flicker and then go off. I yell for "the
funny bastard to stop playing silly buggers and switch the lights back
on". The door continues to swing and the hinges squeak. What I don't
get is this: the entrance to the toilet does not have a swing
I spend much of my working week here. I know the sounds to expect. I'm
a regular. Part of the furniture. I take a wad of tissues and stand to
wipe my arsehole clean. My arse is wet and doing this in the dark isn't
easy. I keep wiping. As I wipe I shout for "the wanker to switch the
lights on". The lights do come on, powerfully. I blink at the
On the other side of the door, I hear voices.
Soothing, reassuring, peaceful coices.
'Come, come,' they say, 'tell us what ails you so.'
I listen and find myself unlocking the door. There, levitating above
the urinals, are a chorus of angels, dressed in white with golden
wings. They are so bright and radiant I can only look at them in
glimpses. I reeled backwards, onto the toilet seat.
'Come, come,' trilled the angels, 'tell us what ails you so.'
They had such calming voices. Candid and pure like Sue Lawley on Desert
The three Sue Lawleys draw me in, making me trust them.
Candid, pure angels with BBC accents.
Gowns of shimmering white.
I blurt out the story. Denying myself the morning glass of wine. Not
drinking the gin in my locker. Limiting myself to a pint and a gin for
lunch&;#8230;Dave wanting me to blow myself to oblivion outside
Cheryl, drinking me out of house and home.
I say, 'I don't know what to do.'
The angels, with their beautiful, transcendental, ethereal Sue Lawley
voices, say, 'Do you love Cheryl?'
'Absolutely not,' I say.
'When,' they reply, 'did you last wallow in the sins of the
'Who did you wallow with?'
The angels sing, 'Do as Dave requires and atone for your deviancy by
going to the houses of parliament to unleash the fire and the glory
that will bring redemption.'
'Do you think?' I say.
'What if I leave the bomb in a dustbin and then go home?'
'Is that what Dave asked you to do?'
'Then it is not the path you must follow.'
I hear trumpeting among the ever fainter trill of the angels. 'Go to
parliament square,' they sing, 'and you shall live your dream and
return to the one who you love the most.'
The trumpeting fades.
The lights flicker off and then come on as normal. I'm alone, holding a
wad of dirty tissues. I pull the door to the cubicle shut and lock it,
dropping the tissues between my legs and into the loo.
Finally, it's clear to me how I can win back Jane.