C/ The Ticket Collector
By Mark Burrow
People are marching towards me. They wear suits and carry suitcases,
It's an ever lengthening queue. I'm roped to a metal frame. My head in
a vice. Wires pierce my top and bottom lips and are attached to fly
wheels on the frame.
I can't move. Each person waits to slot a ticket into my mouth.
Impatient. If I refuse to swallow, the fly wheels begin revolve,
tightening the wires, tearing my lips apart.
'Come on, come on, hurry up,' they say.
The cardboard tickets cut my tongue. The second I swallow, another
ticket is inserted.
'Will you please get a move on.'
I can only see straight ahead. The queue is getting longer.
I don't know how I continue breathing.
8. HOODS AND HANDCUFFS
I sit upright, sweating. Gasping.
I touch Jane. She's wearing a jacket. I switch on the lamp, yank back
the duvet and see Dave, wearing his Guy Fawkes costume, curled up,
fully awake, grinning.
He launches into a spiel. 'You can't underestimate us,' says Dave. 'The
day of reckoning is near.'
'I don't want to hear it.'
'Open the wardrobe door.'
I do what he says and there inside, hunched up, reading a book, is the
BBC1 sports presenter, Ray Stubbs.
He ignores me.
I snatch the book. "A Treatise On How To Destroy Parliament."
I chuck the book at Dave.
Ray Stubbs screeches and then scampers onto the bed, retrieving the
handbook. I notice he has a furry tail.
Dave steps off the bed and puts on his shoddily repaired hat.
Stubbs inspects the handbook, page after page, for damage.
I follow Dave into the lounge.
'We have to bring democracy to this country,' says Dave. 'We're tired
of observing the intricacies and protocol of their ways. It's time to
show them we're not messing about. We have an agenda. Now we're going
to show them what it is.'
'Dave, I'm chuffed for you but I have other things to deal with at the
moment. Bills to pay. A job to hold down. You know?'
He yawns, stretching his arms. It's an exaggerated, childish
Stubbs bounds into the lounge. I attempt to stroke his head but he
snarls, attempting to bite me.
'Give me the book,' says Dave.
Reluctantly, Stubbs relinquishes the manual.
'Don't you want to see the pages?' says Dave.
'I'm not interested. I've a two thousand pound credit card bill to pay
off. If you can help me with that, I'm all ears.'
He pats a cushion on the sofa.
I fetch take my pack of Royals from the table. Light one.
He opens the book. There's a picture of a girl asleep in bed. It's my
Jane. Masked men drag her from the bed, gag her, place a hood over her
head, cuff her hands behind her back and then throw her into the boot
of a car. All the while, her boyfriend is still sleeping. It's me. One
of the masked kidnappers leaves a letter with a package by the bed. In
the morning, the man reads that his girlfriend will disappear forever
unless he uses what's inside the package to blow up the houses of
He unwraps the parcel and sees a bomb. It resembles a bowling ball with
a piece of string sticking out the top. But no, it's a bomb.
'What do you think?' says Dave.
'Who did the drawings?'
'Stubbsy. I can't draw, whereas he has a real talent for
'The colours work well.'
'Yeah, they do.'
Stubbs hops about. Excited by the compliments.
'So, are you with us?' says Dave.
'Yeah,' I say, 'I'm with you.'
I accompany the pair of them to the door. I'd say whatever they wanted
to hear so as to get rid of them.
Nags Head. Covent Garden. A showdown with Jane's mother and
step-father, Laura and Ted.
They're from the West Country.
I'm surrounded, hemmed in by tourists, West End shoppers and a song by
Victoria Beckham playing on the pub stereo.
We talk about pets. Their dog, Jesse, our cat, Minnie.
Jane is sullen, sombre. I've asked her 'what's the matter?' but she
won't tell me.
Laura says, 'I'm off to the Ladies.'
'Oh, me too,' says Jane.
Immediately, I realise it's a tactical piss. When they're safely out of
range, Ted says, 'She's a bright girl, Jane.'
'Generally, she's bubbly too. But at the moment, what do you think? Is
'We're going through a rough patch, that's all.'
He raises his Foster's lager-top and looks at me across the rim of the
glass. I know what the look signals. I get what he means. But I can't
feel guilty?don't, even.
'You'll never meet another like her,' he says, replacing the glass on a
'Why do you think she's unhappy?'
'She doesn't like London.'
'One of the reasons. Any others?'
'You seem to know the answers already.'
'Oh, I do. I've kept it in, let her get on with things for a while. I
know what the trouble is.'
I wasn't going to smoke in-front of her family. Now, I can't be
bothered with nicities. 'Alright,' I say, 'the reasons are she misses
her mum, you, her family. She misses the West Country. And I'm not
exactly a rock for her at present. I probably can't give her what she
wants. Not ready for it, probably never will be.'
'You make responsibilities,' he says, 'seem like a chore.'
He pushes the ashtray nearer to me.
I drink from my glass of Guinness.
'Often,' he says, 'I feel closer to Jane than I do to my own two sons.
You know, I love my boys, of course. I suppose it's because I know how
difficult it was for her when her mum and dad divorced. I'm very
protective towards her.'
'That's natural.' I say.
'Laura,' he says, 'has worried herself silly about Jane. Some of Jane's
phonecalls, you know, leave Laura very upset. Jane's not a drinker and
yet she's nearly always had a couple, you know... Jane's a bubbly
person, confident, and that's died, especially during the last twelve
months. I think she's so upset she can't get an angle on what's best
for her. Laura and me, because we have the distance, and we're that bit
older, can see what's best. My boys, I know they can take care of
themselves but with Jane I do feel very protective towards her because
of all that went on before. I love her as if she's my own. I consider
her my own too, and that isn't to say her dad didn't do a great job. He
did and he's there for her still, I know that. What I'm saying is this:
there's nothing, absolutely nothing I wouldn't do to keep her out of
The door to the ladies opens and the girls appear.
I drain my pint of Guinness. I go to the bar, order myself a pint of
Stella Artois, a G&;T chaser, and pettily - as I'm doing it, I know
it's ridiculous - I don't buy any of them a drink.
Ted smiles when I' seated and asks the girls what they're drinking.