Writing has not been so easy for me in a while, (I seem to have lost all sense of purpose and direction), and if it weren’t for the Friday Fictioneers, I probably wouldn’t be doing any at all. Consequently I’ve not submitted any work for publication in what seems like ages, and I’d forgotten about this piece until I received a notification from The Shine Journal this weekend that it was now published.
I last heard from him a week ago.
The phone had rung as I lay in bed reading and my heart leapt as I lunged for the receiver, instantly alert. That’s what mothers do, I guess.
“James! What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“Calm down, for Pete’s sake Mum, nothing’s wrong.”
“Why are you calling at this hour then?” The clock showed midnight.
“Oh sorry… I forgot about that time difference, you’re seven hours behind right?”
“Right.” There was a silence and I waited. If I’d learned nothing else over these past few months, it was not to crowd him, to allow him time to give as much of himself as he’s willing to offer each time we speak.
“What were you doing?” His voice sounded strange.
“Just a bit of bedtime reading… you?”
It’s funny how young people can describe their lives as ‘nothing much’ even when they’ve trekked thousands of miles to the other side of the world, pushing back boundaries, exploring new horizons.
Or just mulling over the past, perhaps.
“How’s Phuket?” I pronounced it correctly – James has never seen the funny side of this.
“Amazing.” One flat word.
We chatted for a few minutes, before he said he had to go.
“Enjoy yourself,” I said.
“I will, I’m having a great time,” he said.
But that wasn’t true; I could hear that little drop in his voice at the end.
You see, Jaz, he only went there to forget you, to surround himself with sights and images that hadn’t formed a backdrop to a love that had gone wrong. Or perhaps he entertained some hope of making you see what you’d let slip through your fingers. Hoping you’d miss him. Sometimes James could slip that easily into fantasy.
Whatever the reason, I’d known it wouldn’t work. Absence doesn’t really make the heart grow fonder; it just makes it easier for one heart to disengage. As far as you were concerned he was history, gone but not forgotten; categorised under the heading of ‘we were good once but time’s moved on.’
I know this, because I was once a young woman like you Jaz, and I know that’s what young women do. My son was just part of your evolution, just as a string of boys with long-forgotten names were part of mine. For most of them my cavalier dismissals were just another set-back, another stitch in the rich tapestry of growing-up, something that hurt briefly before the pain was submerged in the allure of a new conquest.
But perhaps there’d been one or two like James, more fragile souls that didn’t or couldn’t bounce back. I can’t remember now; and I didn’t care then.
I remember him coming home that first time you broke up with him. He was white-faced, and wouldn’t tell me what had happened. I listened to the heavy trudge of his feet up the stairs before he disappeared behind the locked bedroom door.
When I realised that you’d quarrelled, I was sorry in a way. I’d always liked you Jaz, there was something so vital about you, about the way you seemed to seize life and shake it by the scruff of the neck.
I wasn’t too concerned about James at first. I thought he’d mope around a while, and then someone else would come along. I simply hadn’t expected him to take it quite so badly. He wasn’t the intense kind of boy that would go into a decline over a girl, he was so much more resilient than that, normally so grounded. Or so I thought.
And now, a week after his call, I’m sitting by the phone ready to dial your number, to tell you about the second phone call, the one I got yesterday morning… the one that tore my world apart.
There’s so much I’ve wanted to say and I’m ready to do it now.
I want to know why you came back to him after that first break up. He was recovering Jaz, I know he was. He’d started going out again with his friends, was even thinking of getting a motorbike, and there were magazines strewn all over the house showing one model or another. I didn’t like the idea, but it was better than him moping around.
He was getting over you; he could have made it through that time, Jaz.
But you came back. Why? Not because you loved him, because you couldn’t love him and do that twice to him. Could you?
He was so happy you were back together, but I could tell that you weren’t. You knew you’d made a mistake almost immediately, that what you’d thought you were missing really wasn’t there at all.
So you had to go and do it again. Tell him it was over, for good this time, shattering that fragile veneer he’d so painstakingly put together again.
And this time off he went, to the other side of the world, well out of your reach, and though I didn’t want him to go I thought it would get you out of his system, out of his life. So I didn’t try to persuade him to stay.
I never for one moment imagined that he’d end up drifting aimlessly through Thailand; that ultimately he’d end up on a beach, a spent force, his lifeless body shifting slightly with each wave that broke over it.
I’ve dialled your number and it’s ringing now; I steady myself with deep breathing. This will be my only chance to vent my feelings, to make you see what you’ve done, what you casually threw away, and what you’ve taken from me… from this world… I know it’s wrong, but I need to make you suffer. My words are like bullets, primed and ready to wound until you bleed like I’m bleeding now.
“Is that Jaz Palmer?”
“No it’s her mother, I’ll bring Jasmine to the phone shall I?”
I pause for a second, preparing to release my bitter missiles with all the force that I can muster.
“…Actually… no… look… Mrs Palmer, this is Carol Bennett, James’s mother. I need you to pass a message to Jaz; it would be better coming from you I think. It’s… dreadful news I’m afraid… about James… I hope you can break it gently to her…”