At the end of the shift, after William John Chatsworth, aka John Doe, had been moved from the emergency area to the morgue, he was more alive than ever in Rosie’s head. He had joined Ryan in a part of her consciousness that she normally kept hidden from everybody. She was confused how this stranger could take up residence in her mind when she didn’t even know him. He made her think of Ryan. She didn’t like to do that either.
Although it was early in the morning and Rosie desperately wanted to sleep, she turned left instead of right when she left the hospital and started walking. The roads were starting to get busy as the early Friday morning traffic began to slow down around her. She was walking faster than many of the cars. She looked inside them all as she passed. She walked evenly, making stories up about the occupant’s lives as she walked hurriedly away from the hospital in the wrong direction for her bed.
There were women sat behind the steering wheels of stationary vehicles who were putting on the last bits of their make-up in the mirrors as the traffic lights delayed their journeys. The horns of the other impatient drivers brought their gaze back from their own reflections to focus on the road ahead as the mascara brush or lipstick was hastily thrown back onto the empty passenger seats. Rosie imagined them out at the cinema the previous evening with a bunch of their girlfriends, having fun laughing at the latest released romantic comedy together, then stopping for a glass of wine before heading home to more TV and maybe a slice of pizza. They were smiling at their recent memories while nursing the faintest hint of a hangover after that third ill-advised glass of wine. The windows were wound down and the music and voices from the cars mixed to make the sound of a battle on her ears. Rosie tried to tune out but then she remembered what she didn’t want to remember yet and so went back to listening and looking at the strangers that were all around her. She tried to be like them, carefree, but she had never achieved it. Her life felt heavy with unwanted memories.
With each step her tiredness lifted a small bit and was replaced with fresh anxiety: she always seemed to get a new dose every day. The further she walked the more the ages of people varied. The lone adults in their cars exiting from the maze of newly built city centre flats were replaced by the families heading out of the suburbs on their trek, like a colony of ants, to the school gates and then spreading out like an unfurled fan as they headed off to their various places of work. Their paths all crossed at some point. Many of these groups of attached humans were children – strapped in the back seats of cars, eating a snatched breakfast surrounded by hastily packed lunchboxes, kitbags, instruments and pets. It was the tall teenagers with their headphones that Rosie had to avoid the most, because they never looked up as they walked. She felt like she was a dodgem car as she navigated through the streets of early morning travellers.
Feeling under attack Rosie adopted the stance of the teenagers and put her head down. For the rest of her walk she decided to ignore them all and burrow through the streets until she could stop; until she was safe again. She walked. And walked. Unscathed she sensed a silence and looked up to see where she was. She already knew where she would end up – it was always the same. It was hardwired into her now. Even after seven years she couldn’t keep away. It was one of the reasons that John used to distance himself from her.
“You’ve got to let go of the past,” he shouted at her almost every week, “you love the dead more than the living.” His face twisted in anger when he talked about Ryan, but he never mentioned his name any more. That was the only thing that pleased Rosie about John.
Rosie remembered the first day she saw Ryan. He had introduced himself as Rye as he sat down beside her on the pavement. She smiled thinking “What a stupid name! Sounds crackers.” Then she laughed at her own joke. Well, a sad sound that could have been described as laughter came from her throat. They were less than a mile from the spot where Rosie would last see Ryan – but she didn’t know that then.
“I’m so lucky,” he said when he saw her there.
“Why’s that?” She responded to him without looking up. The only reason she spoke at all was because no one had said a single word to her for about five hours. She was lonely and desperate for any conversation to block out the ones going on in her head. Normally she just ignored the young voices – they always seemed to be accompanied by trouble. That’s what she wished she did. Treated him just like all the others. But he wasn’t like them.
“Lucky’s my middle name,” he continued as he settled down next to her. Rosie could feel him looking at her. It made her feel uncomfortable. “Anyway,” he said, “I knew you’d smile at me.”
Rosie smiled again.
It felt strange to smile at the strange man next to her but she couldn’t help herself. That’s how it had always been ever since that first day. Ryan would say something, anything, and Rosie would beam at him. He gave her a kind of permission to be happy. She’d forgotten what that was like before he turned up. Her thoughts had been heavy and she’d been so busy moving them around that he had snuck up on her and got through the crack in her mind.
(Go to Chapter 4)
(Go to Chapter 4)