D/ The Ticket Collector
By Mark Burrow
The television has gone. The stereo. My CDs and DVDs and video
cassettes remain on the shelves.
I have the cat, Minnie.
I lay in the hallway, looking at the bare light hanging from the
ceiling. The cat on my chest, purring.
'Just you and me,' I say to the cat.
Jane says she wants to remain friends. That won't happen. She'll meet
someone and lose interest in me, or the new fella will demand she stops
I stand up, go to the kitchen, find a cloth and detergent in the
cupboard under the sink.
I scrub the bathroom clean. Then I polish the table in the lounge, the
shelves, the tops of the doorframes. I plug in the vacuum cleaner. The
cat scurries into the bedroom to hide.
Minnie's afraid of the vacuum cleaner.
I'm in the Beehive pub. I don't like sitting at the bar. I'm at a table
in the corner, reading the book Dave loaned me, A Treatise On How To
Via colourful diagrams, section 45 explains that I had to pretend I was
a tourist. The bomb would be in a rucksack that had an "I Love London"
badge pinned to it. Once outside the gates, I would unzip the rucksack,
under the ruse of reaching for an A-Z, and then light the bomb.
Standing there, I'd watch the fuse burn until the bomb explodes.
I sip my pint of bitter.
There's a flaw in Dave's plan.
'What are you reading?'
A woman is sitting by the table next to mine.
'Nothing,' I say, closing the book.
'Yeah, you are, what is it?'
I show her the book.
'I've read that,' she says, moving to my table, taking one of my
cigarettes. She lights it, then says, 'You read anything else by
'No,' I say.
'Where did you get your bruises?'
'Don't know. I woke up one morning and they were there.'
She stretches out her hand. I let her touch my face.
'My name's Cheryl,' she said.
'Pleased to meet you,' she says.
We shake hands.
'You don't talk much, do you?'
'Don't you like me?'
'I'm the only woman in here by herself.'
'Didn't you notice me sitting next to you?'
'But you didn't speak?'
'I was reading.'
'I think you're shy. Are you shy Barry?What's your surname?'
She stands up, bangs a table and yells: 'BARRY SMITH IS SHY.'
The landlord, Nick, says: 'Shut it or you're out.'
'Bah,' she says, shooing him away.
'I'm serious Cheryl,' says Nick.
She pokes her tongue out.
I light a cigarette.
'Did I embarrass you?' she says.
'Not at all.'
'Buy me a drink, Barry.'
'What do you want?'
'Rum and coke. A double rum and coke.'
I finish my pint....Buy her a rum and coke... Put it on the table and
then walk out of the pub. It's spitting rain. Wind blows a polystyrene
burger carton from a bin into the road. The book is in my hand. I hear
a woman shout, 'BARRY. BARRY, WAIT FOR ME.'
It's Cheryl. She's super pissed. I'm walking by Vauxhall Farm. I start
running. I hear her screaming my name. I can feel my chest tightening.
Swinging my arms, my lungs burning, desperate for air. I run through an
estate. By the Queen Ann pub where the strippers perform. Over Black
Prince Road. The Lambeth Walk used to be round here. It's where I went
to school. Lambeth Walk doesn't exist now. Demolished. The school does.
Beaufoy. I see the back gates. I run, coughing phlegm, heaving, I climb
over the fence and stop. Hands on my knees.
Often I come here and walk around the school at night, seeing the
classrooms where I used to sit and learn.
The PE block where I exercised.
The playground where I was bullied.
A security guard patrols the grounds. He's never caught me yet.
At work again. In the staffroom.
'Coffee or tea?' says Freddy.
'Oh, tea please,' says Maria.
Billy says he wants tea. Lawrence wants tea. I want tea.
'Well,' says Freddy, 'one of you get off your backsides and give me a
We're in the staffroom. Having our morning, post rush hour break.
Lawrence gets up to join Freddy in making a round of tea.
I tell Billy he looks tired.
He's rubbing his eyes. 'It's my baby girl,' he says, 'she doesn't
'Still?' I say.
'Yep, still. We put her to sleep at ten. We let her watch Chicken Run
before she goes to bed. Man, she loves that film. I must've seen
Chicken Run a hundred times.' He pauses to let himself laugh. He goes
on, 'Me and Caroline know that film off by heart. Word for word. My
little girl never gets bored of it. Never tires of it. Carol will say,
What about Lion King? Let's watch The Lion King, you like that. But she
doesn't fall for it, oh no. She's nobody's fool, I tell you. Nobody's
fool. It must be Chicken Run, or Chick 'un. That's what she calls it. I
want Chick 'un. God give me strength, I've come so close to throwing it
in the bin you wouldn't believe it. That girl. She watches the film and
she gets tired because it's near bedtime and we think, this time, this
time she'll sleep. Gently, we carry her to bed and then me and Carol go
back to the living room and after about ten minutes it starts. The
noise, oh man. The longer we leave her the louder she gets, you think
she's about to split in two with the noise.'
I ask him how much sleep he's getting.
'A couple of hours,' he says. 'It's always broken sleep, so you never
feel really rested, you know?'
Maria says, 'Whiskey. A drop of whiskey and she'll be sleeping.'
'Whiskey? You're mad woman. Carol would kill me if I gave our child
'You like staying awake?'
'What, Allah will punish you if you have peace and quiet?'
'Whiskey,' says Billy. 'That's not the answer but something must work.
We're taking her to the doctor's, though. She's too hyper, it's not
'I have to go the doctor's,' says Maria.
Freddy and Lawrence bring the mugs of tea to the table.
'You're always going to the doctor's,' says Lawrence.
'Hey, be quiet,' says Maria. 'I get these nasty headaches. I think it's
stress. Stress of working here with you fools.'
'Tell me about it,' says Lawrence.
'What about biscuits?' says Billy.
'You don't need biscuits,' says Lawrence.
Billy pats his stomach. 'This is a father's stomach,' he says.
'Right,' says Lawrence.
We drink the tea. Eat biscuits. I pick up a copy of The Daily Mail and
check the TV guide, then remember I don't own a television anymore.