A/ The Ticket Collector
By Mark Burrow
The station manager, Mick, walks into the staffroom. Freddy and Maria
are making a round of tea. 'Mincemeat,' says Freddy. 'The wheels of the
undercarriage grind the body to mincemeat.'
Mick asks me to come and join him in his office. Freddy stops talking
and Maria looks at me quickly.
'I need to speak to you now,' says Mick.
I follow him across the station to his office at the back of the
control room. He closes the door, tells me to take a seat and then sits
at his desk.
He clears his throat and says, 'You've been going through a rough patch
'Not particularly,' I say.
'Yeah, we can all see you are.'
'All of us here can see it, Barry. What I'm saying is, take a couple of
weeks off, sort yourself out and then have a fresh head on those
shoulders when you get back to work.'
'Who's been talking?'
'You Barry, you've been talking. At the staff party.'
'I left early.'
'In one sense, yeah, you left early. But you was still there, in body
if not in mind, if you get my meaning.'
I take out a pack of mints from a shirt pocket. I offer one to
'Nah, I'm fine,' he says. 'Here, let me show you something.'
There is a table next to his desk with a monitor. He presses play on a
remote control button, then pushes the monitor so I can see the screen
properly. The picture is black and white. I see myself from earlier in
the morning. I suck on the mint. I can see the woman who didn't have
the valid ticket. That's what I told her and she took offence.
Mick says, 'This lady wanted to lodge a complaint. I persuaded her not
to. She called you abusive.'
'Yeah, right. Switch that the other way round,' I say. 'She was the
abusive one, not me.'
'Keep watching,' says Mick.
On the screen, I'm shouting, pointing a forefinger close to the tip of
her nose. I snatch her ticket and stuff it into my mouth.
'That's not what happened,' I say to Mick.
'Course it isn't.'
'Spot on, it isn't.'
He presses stop. Switches off the monitor. 'Take a fortnight off,' he
says, walking round the desk, patting me on the shoulder, ushering me
from his cramped office that smells of sweaty feet. 'Go home, take a
bath, relax. Be with your girlfriend and in two weeks time I fully
expect to see the chirpy, chatty Barry we know and love in tip-top
I thank him. Agree to take the break. Like I've done the things he's
accused me of doing.
I mean, as if?
It's all a lie.
I'm home early from work. Jane hasn't mentioned taking a day off
herself and it's a surprise to find her in the flat. Doubly surprising
to step over two sportsbags and a suitcase in the hallway.
She's in the lounge. 'Where are you off to?' I say.
She shakes her head.
On the sixth time of asking, she says, 'I'm going home.'
Her books on the shelves are missing, as are her CDs.
She says, 'We've not been right for a while?' She breaks up, her voice
Without question, the relationship is a disaster. We are in a rut.
After three years with her she bores me senseless. I'm sure I bore her
'This flat,' says Jane, 'I can't stand it. It's small. Horrible.'
'We've lived in worse.'
'I know. That's the point. We've always lived in horrible areas, in
horrible flats. I can't do it anymore.'
'We're lucky,' I say, 'to live so central to the West End.'
'I can't stand the West End,' she says.
'You always wanted to live in London. That's why we left
'Well, I made a mistake.'
'And the shops, you told me you love it here because of the
'No. Not anymore. We're not going anywhere, are we? Round in circles.
What's keeping us together?'
'Of course we should be together,' I say.
'But why, Barry? You go to work and come home and moan about your job
and make no effort whatsoever to leave it. None. You don't have to
collect tickets all day. You're capable of so much more, I know you
'We shouldn't,' I say, 'split up. I love you, I do. We're going to grow
old together, the two of us, looking out for each other.'
I move next to her on the settee. She's shaking her head, crying.
'I don't believe you,' she says.
'You have to believe me, Jane. I want to stay with you. I'll never meet
someone else like you, I know that. I will get a good job. A career
even.' I kiss the top of her head, and pull her into me, cuddling her.
Her tears are stopping but now I'm starting myself. I know I'm making
false promises. But I can't stop the charade. I try and imagine the guy
she wants to marry. 'And,' I say, 'I'll learn to drive. I'll get a loan
and buy a car and I can drive you around when we go away for weekends.
I'll buy a nice aftershave and wear contact lenses instead of these
glasses. I'll pay for all of the bill when we go for meals and when
we've saved enough?No?When I've saved enough from my career we'll get a
'I want,' she says, 'to have babies.'
'We'll have them,' I say. 'We'll have our own tribe by the time we're
'I don't know,' she says. 'I told myself that this is it, that I'm
I kiss her.
She kisses me and I know that, for the meantime, she's staying.
That night with Jane, we watched Martin Scorsese's Casino, got drunk,
shagged on the settee and then had an argument about her point-blank
refusal to let me fuck her in the arse.
She's asleep in the bedroom. I can't unwind. I put on a pair of jeans
and a shirt and go for a walk along the Albert Embankment.
I walk up to St Thomas' Hospital, leaning against the thick, grey stone
wall of the embankment, looking across the river at the Houses of
Parliament. This is where us insomniacs gather. We smoke cigarettes.
Drink wine. Stare at parliament, at the bridges and the sluggish, murky
All sorts come here. Mayors. Politicans. Sports presenters. Quite
often, Dave is here, dressed up as Guy Fawkes, with his fake beard and
plastic pointy hat, plotting the destruction of parliament.
'Penny for the Guy,' he says.
We shake hands.
'How's tricks?' I say.
'So, so,' he replies.
I tell him about Jane and that she thinks I'm a waste of space.
'You are a waste of space,' he says. 'But don't fret about it. Join us,
blow up parliament. Fight for freedom.'
'Dave, she's going to leave me.'
'I thought you didn't like her.'
'I said it gets tedious living together after a while. She's right, we
'Over there is the only goal you need to think of, Barry.'
'She's weary of supporting me. She earns three times what I take
'Materialism,' says Dave, 'won't bring happiness. What people like
yourself need today are ideals.'
I look at Big Ben and picture an explosion?flames climbing ladders of
air up into the sky.
'Boom,' he says, as if he knows what I'm thinking. He expands his hands
to mimic a cloud of smoke. 'Now there's something to strive for.'
'She deserves a better man than me,' I say.
'Listen to you,' he says, 'it's pathetic.'
'Don't you start, that's what she says.'
'Grow up. Join us.'
'I don't want to destroy parliament.'
'Yes you do. I can tell. We can do it, I know we can.'
'I'm scared of losing her.'
'She's already gone, Barry. You know that as well as I do. She knows
you too well.'
'No, I won't shut-up. You can't take the truth, is that it?'
I push him. He pushes me. I grab the brim of his hat and yank it
downwards. The plastic cracks and he punches me on the chin. I stagger
backwards and he charges into me, lifts me up and then throws me onto
the pavement. I crack my head and feel a kick in my stomach.
Vomiting, I hear the insomniacs stand round us, chanting, 'Fight,
fight, fight, fight?.'