F/ The Ticket Collector
By Mark Burrow
16. NO GOODBYE
The bottom line was, I never knew her.
Having run out of money for wine, Cheryl asked to borrow my cash card
to get money from a cashpoint.
I said, okay. Now I'm lying here on the sofa, looking out of habit at
the space where the television once was, and I'm still waiting for her
An hour goes by. Two. I phone the bank. Cancel my card. Check the
balance and wince when the woman tells me how much I have left.
Jane and I used to share the rent. I've been trying to pay it on my
own, but I can't afford it.
Basically, this poxy, one bedroom flat, next to
the railway line, is out of my price range.
The bank closes at three. I find my passport and chequebook, pull on
some clothes, splash water on my face and leave the flat and withdraw
all the money I can.
17. SATURDAY NIGHT
I'm in the Nags Head, Covent Garden, with Paul and his tube driver
'Nah,' one of them says, 'he's taking liberties.'
'Yeah,' says another.
Paul, my mate, is at the bar.
'Can't you see what's making him do it?'
'Don't be a mug.'
'I'm not being a mug.'
'Yeah, yeah, stroll on.'
'What, 'cos I can see his side of it?'
'Spence, he's bang out of order.'
'Yeah, he's out of order, but all I'm saying is I can sort of see why
he's out of order.'
'What are you talking about?'
'Don't be a plum all your life.'
'I'm not being a plum.'
'What the fuck are you talking about? On my life, Spencer, you really
do talk out of your hairy hole.'
'All I'm saying is?I can appreciate where he's coming from.'
'Leave it out. He's a liberty taker. Give him an inch, he'll take
'I know he's a liberty taker.'
'So you like having your arse felt, is that it?'
'You agree with him, though?'
'I never said that. That's not what I said.'
'Talk sense, Spence.'
'Yeah, mate, I think you might need to go back to the drawing board
with that one.'
'Yeah, we'll be, erm, getting back to you.'
'Don't call us.'
I have no idea what they're talking about. I thought it'd be only Paul
and me. I want a chat. A talk.
I shouldn't be here.
Paul hands me a pint. 'There you go mate,' he says.
He asks Spencer about his trip to Thailand.
'Fucking magic,' says Spencer. 'I shagged this whore who could shove a
whole bottle of coke up her fanny, ice cold.'
The group exchange stories about Thai and East European whores. I
finish my pint and go to the bar and ask the Aussie for a pint of
Stella. I pay for the pint and stand with the lads. Paul was saying, 'I
bought this car, a Toyota, and the fucking car won't start.'
'Really?' says Spencer. 'The Japs make good cars. Toyotas are generally
'Yeah,' says a guy I don't know. 'They're reliable motors.'
'Not this one,' says Paul. 'It's unreliable as fuck. I spend more time
under the fucking thing than driving it.'
'Yeah,' says Spencer, 'my Escort won't start in the mornings. It's one
of them, you know, one week it's perfect, the next it keeps conking out
There was a pause. We sip our pints. I light a cigarette. One of them
says, 'I had to phone up a call centre the other day. I got this
Northern girl on the phone. Thick as pig shit, she was. I told her I
was changing my mobile line to a different company if her company
didn't get a wiggle-on with this new offer I'd heard about. So she
says, what's the offer? So I tell her, right, and she goes -cheeky
bitch-: I'm not aware of that deal. I'm like, well, it fucking exists.
I'm not making it up, am I? Like I'm on the make or something. I go to
her: If you don't hurry up I'm going to fuck off elsewhere. She was
like, do what you like mate. Didn't give a fuck. A right sarky,
northern cunt. A Manc. A nasty Manc fucking accent, she had.'
I go to the bar. Ask the Aussie for a gin and tonic.
'Cheers, mate,' I say.
'Cheers,' he says, placing coins into my hand.
Paul comes and stands by me. 'You alright? he says.
'Have you applied for that tube driver test yet?'
'You should. The money you'll be on, you can't compare it to what
you're on now.'
'I know. I will.'
'I think they're recruiting....I don't know how you do your job,' he
'It's so boring. Just standing there. Do you know how I used to pass
the time when I did it?'
'Arrr, I'm sure you do it yourself. We all do it. You know, who would
you and who wouldn't you fuck. The women you see. Especially in the
summer. I used to look at their tits and fine arses, the shape of their
mouths, their shape and that would get me through to the end of the
shift. Guessing who was dirty, who looked the part but would only lie
there, missionary and be a dull, dull fuck. You know what I'm
'Yeah, we all think the same, standing there,' he says, laughing.
'Completely,' I say.
'Have you applied for anything else?'
'Not really. I want to.'
'Don't want, Barry. Do it. Just do it.'
'Lazy,' he says, 'you are a lazy man, that's the truth.'
'There are a couple of things I want to do, definitely.'
'Right,' he says.
I need to alter the subject. Explaining myself isn't easy.
I say, 'How's your mum getting on?'
'Could be better,' he says, downcast.
'The chemo is hard on her. She's going for these injections and I have
to persuade her to go to St Thomas' Hospital to keep the appointments.
She hates going. She's never liked doctors anyway.'
'Must be difficult.'
'It is, Barry. She can't stand the needles and now she's some way into
the treatment the nurses who inject her with chemo are finding it
harder as time goes on to find healthy veins to inject. They go kind of
dead, you see, the veins, once they've been used for injecting. The
nurses have to search, prodding her and the last time the nurse missed
this little vein she was aiming for and my mum spewed up. I mean?You
know, I went ballistic. The nurse was all apologies and I suppose she
was sincere but it's my mother. It's the last thing she needed, it was.
'Terrible,' I say.
'Yeah, it is. She's suffering. You never want to watch your parents'
suffer?but you don't always have a choice, do you? It's one of those
things in life you have to do?My mum, she's in a bad way. She says
chemo has this smell?A metallic, iron-y smell and they chill it first
and you can feel it all cold as it's injected into you. I shivered when
she told me that. Imagine that coldness in your veins. Plus the smell.
The smell alone makes her retch.'
He drinks his lager. 'And that's how she is,' he says.
'I hope she gets better,' I say.
'Me too. Me too. I can't picture her not being around. It's my mum, you
I nod. He drinks the lager.
We edge towards the lads, they're talking about the worst ever England
They mention Andy Cole, Emile Heskey, Steve Bull and Mark
None of the guys notice me leaving as I place my empty pint glass on
the bar and step outside.
The street entertainers in Covent Garden square are gone. An East
European guy is selling hotdogs and burgers. The hot plate he cooks on
is shielded by a large, stripy golf umbrella. The guy flips a burger
with a tong and the meat sizzles. The sliced onions are blackened and
glisten with daubs of grease. I haven't eaten and I'm hungry. 'You want
food?' says the man. I shake my head and turn right, passing the
clothes shop for women and Covent Garden tube station. Turning left, I
pass a restaurant and see the waiters inside dressed in their black and
I'm heading in the direction of Leicester Square.
A beggar in the doorway of a travel bookshop asks for change. A second
beggar asks for change by the Natwest Bank cashpoint. The rain splashes
on the pavement. Standing by his hotplate, shielded by an umbrella, a
man says: 'You wants peanuts, sir?'
I carry on walking.
'Peanuts,' he says.
I'll get a bus from Trafalgar Square. Go and see Dave. That's the plan.
Two beggars, sheltering in the back entrance to a theatre, ask me for
change. I hear the siren of a police car. I stagger. I need a piss.
Badly. I'm at Trafalgar Square and I see the white stone steps of St
Martin's. I watch the steps as I carefully move my feet. I piss against
the stone wall, then shake, zip up and look at the traffic navigating
the square. The lights on the decks of bus'. Taxis. Motor bikes.
Traffic lights shifting colours. Nelson, his pigeons and lions in the
rain. I want a drink. A quick gin will pick me up, straighten my
shoulders, quicken my pace?
The bouncers with their suits, long coats and ear pieces somehow let me
into the nearest pub. The pub is packed with people and the music, a
song by Britney Spears, is playing loud.
I wait to be served. After the second shot I notice a group of girls
who are standing near to me, dressed in their short skirts, tight tops,
fuck-me-leather-boots, all made-up, ready for a long night of
Talking to me, a girl says, 'What are you looking at?'
I'm looking at her firm, high tits. At the piercing on the belly button
of her flat, toned stomach. The shortness of her skirt and the smooth,
tanned skin of her legs.
'What a state,' says her friend. She has long painted finger nails
encrusted with glitter which, I think, are supposed to resemble
'What are you looking at?'
I say she's pretty. That's the word I've used to describe her:
They're cracking up.
'Will you listen to Romeo here?'
'Off his fucking face.'
'Let's,' I say, 'have a shag.'
'A bunk up. Come on, in the toilets.'
'In the bogs. I'll take you from behind. Let's do it.'
'I'd rather shag this,' says the girl, raising her bottle of Smirnoff
'A blow job, then?'
'Yeah, fuck off.'
'Fuck off you sad cunt.'
'All I'm asking?'
'Oi, mate, see that door, if you know what's good for you, use it and
let the girls be.'
It's a bloke butting-in, a hero.
I should stand my ground. I would do as well if not for the Ben Sherman
shirt. Always a sign to watch for. The broadness of the lad's chest
hinted at hours in the gym. Lifting weights. Running. Rowing machines.
All that ridiculous shit, basically. In short, if I answer him back,
I'm going to receive a beating.
I leave the pub. I'd be useless in a war. I don't doubt it for a
The rain is falling in heavy slants. People are running. I lift my face
to the sky and run my fingers through my longish hair, mouth open, and
I yell, scream?holler?long and loud?as loud as I possibly can.
18. MR WILSON
'Can I speak to Jane?' I say.
'She's not here,' says Ted.
'Please let me talk to her Ted, please.'
'You can't. She's in Paris.'
I pause, figuring what he's telling me, the implications.
'Sorry, son,' he says.
He hangs up the phone.
I've borrowed a portable tele from Lawrence at work. The Pepsi Chart
show is on. The DJ, Dr Fox, is giving the countdown to this week's
chart topping number 1 single.
The show ends and the adverts follow. Adverts for a car that drives
across molten lava. Adverts for chats with sexy ladies. Adverts for
Champions League football. Then comes the news. Calmly, professionally
the newsreader reads off an autocue about death, destruction, poverty,
madness and pledges from corrupt and demented politicians.
So she has a boyfriend. I hope he treats her well. I do. Honestly. He
must do, he's taken her to bloody Paris?We never went abroad, not once,
excluding Brighton and Eastbourne.
The weather report comes on. The woman predicts rain for the week
Storm clouds gathering off the south coast.
Hot air currents.
Thunder and lightening.
I recognise her smile. Jane's not in Paris. I'd know that slim, pale,
blue eyed, blonde haired girl with freckles anywhere and any time. The
delicate timbre of her voice. She's on TV. Telling me that she doesn't
feel right. The weather is a metaphor for her doubts of being
I HEAR YOU JANE. I HEAR YOU, BABY.
She wishes me a good week.
I blow her a kiss.
British Telecom. Vodaphone. Fanta. The next programme is the week's
first division football highlights, presented by Bob Wilson. After the
visual intros Bob Wilson introduces himself and welcomes me to the
show. He grins and laughs raucously, trembling. Bob Wilson has no eyes,
only wrinkled flesh where the eyes should be. He stands up, climbs onto
the desk, laughing still, and he flicks a single finger at the
Standing on the desk, wearing a grey fleck two piece suit, the lights
in the studio black out. I hear Bob Wilson. But his voice is not coming
from the television. The screen is blank. A dead channel. Bob Wilson
says, 'You'll never come to much, will you?'
'Where are you?' I say, looking around me.
'You'll never learn.'
He laughs. I'm surrounded by Bob Wilson's booming, baritone
I run to the kitchen. He's saying: 'You waster. You're one almighty
failure, you know that?'
I tell him to keep his nose out of my business.
He says, 'You want to be with Jane?'
'Yes,' I say. 'YES. OF COURSE I WANT TO BE WITH JANE.'
'Right, and you want to phone her?'
'I have phoned her. I spoke to her father.'
'That wasn't her father.'
'Who was it?'
'You know who, Barry.'
'No, I don't.'
'Do you have her number?'
'What is this?'
I can't remember it off the top of my head. I go into the lounge. Look
through the phone book.
'You're a loser,' he says.
'Me?' I say. 'I'm a loser? What about you?'
'I've got medals,' says Bob Wilson. 'Winners medals. What have you
'But?Okay?Fair enough...But what about Des Lynam, eh? Didn't Des Lynam
take your job.'
I think I've got him.
Then he says, 'Forget Lynam. My time had come. I accept that. Whereas
you, you're stupid, selfish, cruel. For once, Barry, for once tell the
truth and confess the error of your chosen path.'
I cover my ears with my hands. His voice becomes louder. He's bawling
at me, saying: 'You're stupid and you need help. You don't deserve help
because you're the creator of all of your own sorrows. But I'm going to
help you and guide you because I know that for the very first time in
your life you want to do the right thing. To make the right choice. So
this is what you'll do, okay?'
'Yes, yes,' I murmur. 'Please Bob, tell me the righteous path to
He says: 'Leave here now and go to Canary Wharf and the flat where
Frank and Rose live. Ask them for Jane's number.'
'Is that it?'
'What more do you want?'
'I already know her number.'
'You said you didn't.'
'It's here somewhere.'
'Well, why didn't you say?'
'Oh, I've changed my mind. I'm not helping you. You're not worth
With that, the television is on and there, behind the desk, presenting
the football show, is Bob Wilson.
That's what I call him. He pretends he can't hear.
He says, 'And here are the highlights of Tuesday's match between
Tranmere Rovers against Preston North End.'