"A Little Bit Of Hope" by Martyn Clayton
Amidst all this traffic noise and concrete people are conspiring to fall in love. Jenny does part time shifts at the little M&S, Tony cleans the gents toilets. It must be written in the stars because their nicotine cravings always coincide and they’re out back by the bins sharing a lighter.
“Do you come here often ?” asks Tony with a grin.
“Not if I can help it.” says Jenny.
They settle down to talk about kids and partners and switching to E-Cigs as if they held all the answers before someone officious is looking for one of them. It’s always the way. Your heart’s set to take flight then some joyless automaton butts in to remind you that this is all you’ll ever be.
Jenny tries hard not to feel trapped as she scans pre-packed sandwiches. At home Colin will be putting out the recycling, reading a bedtime story to Freddie, making hot buttered toast for Alice before both of them huddle up on the sofa to watch a police drama. She knows Tony has knocked off now. He’ll be climbing into his little car, shuffling down the slip road back to his flat where he’ll prepare a microwave lasagne, washing it down with bottled lager. He says he rarely thinks about his ex and he’s coming to accept he’ll never feature much in his daughter’s life.
“That’s just how it is,” he says. “You live and learn”.
He says he’ll wait for Jenny as long as it takes. He says it’s not like he’s fighting off better offers. And Jenny hopes the guilt that blushes her face when she remembers that afternoon last summer isn’t visible to the customers. They pay little notice. They’re tired and fractious and want to get wherever they’re going.
All Tony says he wants is a little bit of hope. All she wants is to feel something again. When you’re young you never imagine you could ever grow this cold.
Except this, whatever it is, promises something. The strip lights give you a headache, the people, the smell of coffee and car oil, pasties and burgers. She sees inconstant hearts come and go. They meet covertly at the edge of the motorway weighed down with guilt and desire miles from the life they’ve chosen to lead. A few hours get spent in the neighbouring motel, before they’re filling up fuel tanks, or fixing make-up, heading back to whatever awaits them wherever they come from.
Is she really any different ? She imagines how she’d feel if Tony’s car swerved and hit the barriers of the central reservation. She’d mourn in secret. At the funeral she’d sit several rows back from the ex as his coffin gets carried in, emotion so restrained she might explode.
When she gets home the house is silent except for gentle snores. In the shower she runs a finger along her Caesarean scar, trying to recall Tony’s lips his voice saying he honestly didn’t mind.