Fragment from an Abandoned Story



Your ear is still pressed against the wall that divides the two rooms.

On the other side the sliding door of a wardrobe makes the same low swish as the wardrobe door in here.

A pause.

It slides back.

A shuffling sound.

A click.

What could be clicking in there?

Something plugged in?

Something unplugged?

No TV so far this morning.

Last night he watched news programmes for hours: not just the BBC but also the French, German and the local, incomprehensible station.

You have never been able to understand more than a few words of the language here.

You never will.

No one does.

You synchronised your viewing with his last night, followed what he was watching, checked what he was checking, if he was checking.

Later you heard them talking, laughing. The sounds of the bed, their togetherness kept you awake.

No talking today.

You have not heard her voice.

He may be looking down at her now, at her curled up in the sheets, still asleep, blonde straggles of hair hiding half her face, her eyes.

You don’t know if she’s blonde.

Only that he isn’t.

He has a ponytail – you’ve seen it waggle and twitch – but he isn’t European.

Nor does he work in television.

When you worked in television, anyone who didn’t have to appear in front of camera had a ponytail.

You remember it that way.

Years ago.

It’s probably not allowed in TV now, the ponytail.

And if it is him next door, he doesn’t work in television.

You do know this.

He may have just said something.

You can’t hear what they say distinctly.

Only whisper, burble.

You wouldn’t want to hear what he says to her, but it would help if you could.

Footsteps now.


No purpose to them.

He’s put his shoes on. Must have.

He is going to leave her on her own.

Must trust her then.

Trust her not to run off.

You are ready to follow him.

You must be sure.


You have skirted along the wall.

Only now do you realize that you have done this.


His door opens.

His door shuts.

You are scrambling on your coat and your scarf and your woolly hat

Stuffing your mobile and your iPad in your handbag.

You are out in the corridor.

Empty stretch of brown, beige.

Spotlights glimmer.

In the glass lift now.

Down below, you catch sight of him.

Crossing the atrium, strolling past the unmanned cocktail bar and the cream leather sofas and the piano that plays itself.

Upright, shoulders back, ponytail sidling, he looks like a man without a care.

Nice to have a little romance, eh mister?

Nice to have some fun?

We’ve all had it here.

It happens.

It’s strange that way.

This city.

In the atrium yourself now, you are aware that if you lose him here, you’ll never find him outside, not in this weather, this smog.

You have been told not to go out for more than five minutes at a time.

You are going to have to ignore that warning.

You have been lying awake for most of the night worrying about what to ignore and where instead to concentrate.