B/ The Ticket Collector
By Mark Burrow
'Oh my god,' says Jane.
My face hurts.
She gets a bowl of warm water and cotton wool. She cleans the cuts and
scratches then wets a flannel and tells me to lay it across my
'It'll bring out the bruising,' she says, nursing me.
I tell her about going for a walk when she was sleeping.
'So you got into a fight?'
'Just some blokes.'
'Is this our new start, Barry? Watching a film. Ordering a Chinese.
Drinking a box of wine. Having a blazing row. Then off you go for a
stroll in the dead of night and get into a fight.'
I flinch as she pushes onto a graze. 'Look at you,' she says. 'Look at
the state of you.'
Carefully, I remove the flannel and sit upright and see my reflection
in the wardrobe mirror. I whistle and say, 'What a handsome
'This isn't a joke,' she says, sitting next to me on the bed.
The cat, Minnie, jumps up and joins us. We stroke her and she
It's not affectionate purring. She wants food and her litter
I stroke the cat.
Jane finishes readying herself for work.
5. DINING OUT
We head for Vauxhall Bridge Road. Jane hails a taxi and instructs the
driver to take us to an Italian restaurant in Kensington.
As usual, she pays the fare.
Rose and Frank are already at Oriel's. I kiss Rose on both cheeks and
Frank does likewise with Jane. I think Jane and Frank are secretly
fucking, but that's just a hunch.
I think everyone is secretly fucking, except for me.
I notice Rose has put on weight since I last saw her. I tell her she
looks well instead of nice.
She says I look well. 'You're too kind,' I say, and we both politely
Jane surveys Rose and says, 'You're looking very trim.'
'Oh no, not me, but you&;#8230;I can't believe how trim you
'Rose, honestly, you've lost weight. I'm sure you have.'
'Me. No. But you. Definitely. Have you been going to the gym?'
'Not half,' I say.
'So you have. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I wish I had the will
power to go.'
'There's a gym at work,' says Jane.
A waiter leads us to our table. Immediately, I clap my hands, pick up
the wine list and say, 'Right, let's get down to business.'
'Yes,' says Jane, 'what are we having?'
Frank taps his half glass of mineral water. 'I'm happy with this,' he
'Me too,' says Rose, smiling.
'You're serious?' I say.
Jane's lips are stained red from the wine we drank before we left the
'We've quit,' says Rose.
'About six weeks ago,' adds Frank.
'Do you feel the difference?' says Jane, genuinely interested.
Rose nods. 'Oh, yes. It's great to always have a clear had in the
mornings for work. To not deal with the drowsiness, that muggy feeling
in your head.'
Frank agrees. He says, 'It's not as if it was difficult to give it up.
I mean, we were never what you could call big drinkers, were we
'No,' says Rose.
I realise nobody is smoking in the restaurant.
'That must be lovely,' says Jane, 'to not experience that tiredness
when you wake up.'
'It is,' says Rose.
I call the waitress over. I order two bottles of house red and a JD and
coke to steady myself for this night with Jane's friends.
Rose and Jane talk about their university days. Frank tells me about
Radio 3. He's a researcher and does a lot of night shifts. The food
arrives. He keeps talking, explaining how exhausted he is and how he
has to find a day job. He twists spaghetti onto his fork and
I swig a mouthful of wine.
'Guess what happened to me,' says Frank.
'I don't know,' says Jane.
'I had my mountain bike stolen.'
'Oh, a while ago.'
'Not the one,' says Jane, 'that Rose bought for your birthday?'
'That's the one.'
'How do you remember that?' says Rose.
'Of course I remember it. How could I forget? You bought it before you
were married, didn't you?'
'That's right,' says Rose, 'and I had to hide it&;#8230;.'
'You hid that massive bike,' says Jane, 'in your wardrobe and it just
fitted in and you were terrified that Frank would find it whenever he
They both giggle.
Frank refills his glass with mineral water and says, 'Where was
'Oh, Frank, sorry,' says Jane.
'We got carried away there,' says Rose.
'Don't be silly,' says Frank and he laughs, then says: 'I chained
'The mountain bike.'
'I chained the mountain bike to a set of black iron railings at the
side of Charing Cross Police Station. I was gone for quarter-of-an-hour
and in that time someone had stolen my bicycle.'
He pauses, twists his fork to reel on spaghetti, saying: 'I went into
the station and the policeman on the front desk was furious that the
thief, or thieves had the audacity to steal my bike&;#8230;'
'That's so cheeky,' says Jane.
'Terrible, isn't it?' says Rose.
'Three squad cars,' says Frank. 'Three cars and all of them searching
to try and locate my bike.'
'Did they find it?' says Jane.
'Nope. They were very apologetic&;#8230;.I have to say, I know
people complain about the police but I've always found them brilliantly
'They're very expensive, aren't they, those bikes?' says Jane. 'You
must've been annoyed.'
'Annoyed,' says Frank, 'that it was stolen and it was a gift from my
'Was it insured?'
'Was it insured?' says Frank, grinning. 'Indeed it was. I'd insured it
using this new policy which people in general aren't aware of because
companies don't want too many of their customers to know about it. So I
received money for the bike, at its original value, of course, and a
considerable sum extra and, on top of that, I wrote an article about
insurance for The Daily Mail. No,' he says, thoroughly pleased with
himself, 'I didn't lose money from the theft. In fact, I made money out
'That was good then,' says Jane, cutting into her pizza.
Rose cuts into a sprig of broccoli and eats it with a piece of
I excuse myself from the table. Outside, I go for a walk, smoking
several cigarettes. I've left half of my meal. I'm not hungry.
It's tempting get on a bus and make the journey home.
Flicking a cigarette into the road, I re-enter Oterio's.
'Where have you been?' says Jane.
'For a stroll.'
'What about the food?'
'My stomach hurt. I needed fresh air.'
'But you can drink?'
I'm pouring myself a glass of wine. 'I can always drink, sweetness, you
They're talking about 1980s children's television. Why Don't You? Jamie
and the Magic Torch. Dangermouse.
go to the Mens. The only consolation in the restaurant is the good
looking French waitress. I piss, then go up the stairs to the
Frank is saying, 'There has to be.'
Jane says, 'What's the happiest moment of your life so far?'
She's talking to me. I shrug.
'Oh, there must be,' says Frank.
'Okay, meeting you,' I say, looking at Jane.
'Don't be sarcastic.'
'I'm not. You're the light of my life. The cream in my coffee.'
I drink more wine.
'You're so bitter.'
'I mean it. Meeting you.'
'Okay,' says Jane. 'Dick head here won't give an answer. What about you
Rose? What was your happiest moment up until now?'
'The day I married Frank.'
He kisses her.
'Arrr, that's sweet,' says Jane. 'That was such a beautiful day.'
'And you?' she says, turning to Frank.
He considers his list of happy memories. He must have so many. Or none
at all. It's difficult to be sure. Eventually, he says, 'Labour winning
the '97 general election.'
Rose stares at Frank. We expect him to say he's only joking and that it
was marrying Rose. But he's not backtracking. He says: 'Suddenly
England had purpose after, what was it, seventeen, eighteen years of
Tory rule? The Conservatives modernised England. It was necessary to
dismantle the trade unions and make us competitive in the global
economy but the party went too far. When Labour won in '97 you felt
there would be improvements in the health service&;#8230;.'
Rose has to cut-in. She says, 'You vote Liberal Democrats.'
'Liberal fucking Democrats.'
'Don't swear, darling.'
'I'll fucking say what I like, darling.'
'Let's not get silly about this.'
'Don't patronise me.'
'Shall we leave?'
'Labour!' she says. 'Labour! Why are you doing this to me?'
'I'm not doing anything, Rose. It's in your mind.'
I drain my glass of wine and ask Jane what her happiest moment has
been. She pretends not to hear me. I shift closer to her and say, 'Hey,
I'm talking you.'
Rose is in tears. 'You are,' she says. 'You are being nasty to
Jane stays silent.
I ask Rose if she knows about Jane's happiest moment.
She doesn't answer.
I ask Frank.
None of them answer me. I take my jacket off the back of the chair but
can't seem to fit my arms into the sleeves. I take out the wallet, the
matches and throw the jacket at Jane. I bump into chairs, tables,
steadying myself by falling onto people as they sit eating at their
Leaning against a wall in a side alley, I light a cigarette.
Breathing deep breaths between drags.
The best part of the day has gone. There's no denying it: I'm
Trying to recall last night. I went to Soho and sat in a basement Goth
bar and watched vampires drinking shots of blood.
Dancing on my own.
I need a distraction. I switch on the radio and hear the prime
minister's earnest voice. He is talking about an ethical foreign
They're all liars and murderers, that's a fact.
I turn the dial and get Robbie Williams. I switch it off and stroke the
cat beside me in bed.
A train passes across the railway arches of Vauxhall bridge.
I'm readying myself to stand up, go to the kitchen, drink some milk,
then pour a glass of wine, switch on BBC 1's Final Score and see the
football results, presented by Ray Stubbs.
A key is in the lock of the front door. It's Jane. She's back and
partially I'm relieved because I wondered where she stayed last night
once I left the restaurant.
I'm sick and tired of the arguments.
She drops the keys onto the dining room table. The extractor fan starts
whirring as she switches on the bathroom light. She speaks. It sounds
like a complaint. A moan, already. Walking into the bedroom, seeing my
clothes on the floor, the curtains drawn, an ashtray and empty bottle
of wine on the bedside cabinet, she says: 'That's the last
'I was worried about you.'
'Go and look in the bathroom.'
'A phone call, Jane. Is that too much to ask?'
'There's a poo in the bath.'
'You heard me.'
She leaves the room and when I force myself out of bed and into the
bathroom I see a brown turd in the white tub.
'IT WASN'T ME,' I shout.
'Who was it, then?'
I point to the toilet next to the tub. 'Why would I sit on the bath and
face the toilet when I had a dump?'
'Shall I tell you why?'
'It's a statement. I've asked you time and again to clean the bathroom
and in your drunken stupor I bet you thought you were your protesting
against me by pooing in the bath.'
'Leave it out.'
She's in the lounge. She says, 'I can't live like this, Barry. I'm
twenty-nine. I can't stand this mess. I'm not putting up with this any
'Yeah, fuck off.'
I hear the signature tune to Brookside. One of her favourite
Using a handful of tissues, I pick up the turd and drop it into the
toilet and flush. After that, I grab the shower head, turn the nozzle
to hot and use more tissues to scrub the stains off the bath.
I know my turds like a mother knows her baby's cry. This isn't mine.
It's a physical impossibility. The wine I buy makes my turds a sludge.
Whereas this was a large, strong, solid, healthy stool. I hadn't a clue
who it once belonged to.
Jane blames me for everything. Picking faults. Moaning. Never giving me
the benefit of the doubt.
I squeeze toothpaste onto the bristles of my
My gums bleed.
It's twelve years since I've been to the dentist.