Tired, wet eyes
Stain the pillow
By my side
And why do I
Insist to hide
Away from you?
As a habit
I sigh, so deep,
And stretch an arm
To where you weep
Because I’m too strewn
To give out more
For anyone at all.
And then you turn
And push away;
I don’t protest,
Just fall away;
I seem to give up
Quicker each day,
Left feeling bruised
from your pain;
I used to fight
For things to say;
But words die cold,
So far away
From how I feel.
Will continue to swell,
That I meant well,
But couldn’t explain
In words, which fit us
– Good enough.
There were sirens and flashing lights and men and women in heat-retardant gear standing and walking and half-running up and down the street. All the town’s fire engines must have been there. Every neighbour huddled and watched the firefighters at work. It was like a movie. So many things were happening at once to really know what was going on.
Arcs of water patterned the sky and the house was a vague shape, barely visible amongst a cloud of smoke. Tom stood like the rest of them, wondering whether this was the most inconvenient thing to ever happen to him.
“Tom,” Mike from No32 rested his hand on Tom’s shoulder before genuinely asking, “why is there a plane on your house?” Something exploded in the grey murk where Tom’s kitchen used to be.
Tom wanted to respond, he wanted to say something witty and shoot Mike down, but he couldn’t think of a single word. In truth, he had no idea why a fucking plane landed onto his home. Furthermore, what he was going to do about it. He shot Mike a look which didn’t really have any emotion linked to it. Mike from No32 grimaced as if he only then realised how much of dick he must have sounded. He muttered something to himself before turning back toward the flames.
There were children from neighbouring houses crying because they didn’t know what else to do. Tom didn’t know if he could even do that. A firefighter approached him. He was a mountain of a man whose face was dominated by a grey moustache.
“Looks like you lucked out,” the moustache said, “no-one inside. No fatalities. You’re fortunate that it was a small aircraft too.” The moustache curled into a grin as a hand slapped Tom on the back. Tom, still, was without words. How fortunate. His eyes stared at the pink-gold pulse and the black rising into the air and the broken wing of aeroplane jutting out like a makeshift balcony to his guestroom. Tom wondered if fire had the power to turn everyone around it into an insensitive tosser.
“And the pilot?” Tom found a question somewhere in his head.
“The pilot is about 8 miles west of here. Managed to ditch out before things got too hairy.” Some of the roof on the right side of the house collapsed out of sight. The house roared as if it was in pain. The firefighter turned away and barked orders at couple of young men using a waterhose.
An arm appeared, outstretched into the sky. Sandra, from No26, always managed to catch his eye in a crowd, even though she was 5foot nothing. Her hair was scrunched into a dirty blonde fist which spilt down into a messy fringe on top of a face which was mixture of relief and shock. She navigated her way through the horde of onlookers with a few swift jabs, pissed-off elbows and fierce looks. Sandra sarcastically thanked every person she coerced into moving before finally breaking through. She turned back to the collective of limbs and heads; and Tom just about made out what she said under her breath: “but when I throw a Christmas party none of you fuckers turn up”.
Sandra turned and strangely looked surprised to see Tom. “Oh, thank god. You’re alive. The Harrisons across the road told me were, you know, dead.” She didn’t know why she told him this. Surely, there were so many other things she could have said. Sandra tried to redeem herself, “but you’re not dead. Which is great.” Jackpot.
“Yeah, ain’t that something.” He appreciated that Sandra was trying to be nice, but he knew that there was no special combination of words which could de-plane his home.
Tom was, for today, a passenger. He went from person to person in his street sharing the same disbelief. He wanted to believe that they were ‘just as shocked’ as he was, but in truth they all still had somewhere to go home to. Thankfully, Sandra offered a place on her living room sofa for the night while Tom waited for his new rattan furniture to finish smoldering.
Maybe this needed to happen, Tom thought to himself. He was spending way too much money on shit he didn’t need. After hours of frenzied thought about all the calls he needed to make the next day, sleep dragged Tom away. That night the moon’s glow was undermined by the flames which ate away at Tom’s furniture. And there he laid, spread all wide and thin, under Sandra’s hanging potted plants, under the billowing smoke which left the stars unseen in the nightsky.
Some of Tom’s possessions arrived the next morning. They were all burnt-bordered, broken and clumsily stuffed into a single cardboard box which a young woman held under one arm. Sandra called for Tom from the front door. She was barely visible against the intense morning light.
“Someone’s here to see you” Sandra smiled and left them to it before disappearing into the kitchen. Tom heard the kettle flick on and water begin to boil.
“Are you Mr Jesper?” The woman asked shyly. She seemed to be very conscious of how she wanted to present herself. She was the bearer of bad news and felt sorry for this homeless stranger. She forced a smile in an attempt to dispell the awkwardness from the situation.
“Sometimes.” Tom needed to be nicer to people. “I mean, yeah. That’s me.” He tried to smile, but he knew it looked weird, so he ended up looking away.
“Here’s a few things we managed to save from the fire.” the firefighter said. Her arms pushed out straight and present the box of ash-black articles.
“This is it?” Be nice, Tom. The box rattled as has pulled it into his chest. He hovered his face over the contents, performing a quick stocktake.
The firefighter blushed, went to apologise before instead saying: “We’re all so lucky that no-one was hurt or killed.” She then declined a cup of tea from Sandra and left.
Sandra asked what Tom was going to do today and whether he needed help with anything. Tom should have been more appreciative, Sandra was the only person around him who seemed to have an inch of empathy for him. He could have been polite and thanked her, but instead he fiddled with the contents of the cardboard box. Old burnt books he had half-read, a lamp he haggled hard for in Marrakech and some heat-warped vinyls. We are all so lucky, Tom thought.
And then… hold the phone. What do we have here? Tom found something unfamiliar hiding amongst his reclaimed bits of crap. Sandra watched as Tom’s face changes and he stopped blindly rumaging. His brow dropped into a fold, eyes flicked to off to the side and he bit his bottom lip.
A ring. More specifically, a silver wedding band. It was quite large and thick with an elegant pattern engraved into it; seemingly celtic in origin.
“I didn’t know you were married, Tom.” Sandra handed over a cup of tea the shade of tan leather. Tom had to hand it to Sandra, she could make a hell of a brew.
“Me neither.” Tom replied, lost in the twists and turns of silver pinched between his finger and thumb.
Tom had been an expert in the art of remaining hopelessly single for the past four years, so he was in no doubt that this ring did not belong. This had to belong to the pilot. Maybe the firefighter would recognise it? Perhaps ring belonged to whoever sorted through the rubble of his home.
“Can you hold this for a moment?” Tom dumped the box of belongings into Sandra’s arms before she could respond. The door opened, the sunlight flashed and then Tom was gone.
Tom was a flapping mess of awkward shapes as he pursued the firefighter down the street. Luckily, she had stopped to talk to Mike from no32 on her way back to her car. Mike falsed a smile as Tom bursting into the conversation panting.
“Tom!” Mike performed pleasantries which were so rehearsed and sweet he could spread diabetes, “I was just asking our friend, Lisa, here what the update is on the fire.” Lisa turned and gave Tom a sad smile to say: Sorry that you have a plane in your house.
“I think the fire’s fine. It’s just my house which is the issue, Mike.” Tom saw Mike’s teeth clench into a weird smile, as if he didn’t know what to do with his mouth. “Lisa,” Tom’s attention moved to the most useful person around him, “can I talk to you about something? It won’t take long.”
“Sure,” Lisa’s smile pushed her cheeks into a plumpness which made her eyes smile too, “how can I help.” Lisa turned from Mike, who got the hint and disappeared back into his house.
“I found this in the box you gave me.” Tom pulled the wedding ring out of his pocket and held it up to the light. “Does this belong to anyone you work with?” Lisa’s face scrunched for a moment.
“Nope,” Lisa said with more certainty than Tom had expected, “maybe it’s the pilot’s ring. Are you trying to return it?”
Tom’s face relaxed into smile. Those who made him happiest were people who could skip all the fluff of a conversation and just ask the right questions.
“The pilot’s details must be somewhere on file,” Lisa seemed a little less guarded now she could be more useful to Tom. The awkward sympathy faded from her face and gave way to a decisive and thoughtful expression. “I’ll check and see what we have back at the office. Then I’ll stop around Sandra’s house later in the day.”
Tom was happy with this. He was happy with Lisa. She was competent and, at least, trying to be helpful. Unlike Mike. Seriously Mike, you can go do one. Hard.
It was around 5pm when Lisa showed up at Sandra’s with a print out of names and numbers. Tom was out in Sandra’s garden, sitting on a deck chair with his phone stuck to his ear. From the kitchen, Lisa could see Tom frantically debating with someone on the other end of the call as he held the ring up to the sun and inspected its shine.
“He’s been out there for hours, poor sod.” Sandra had greeted Lisa with a wonderful smile and led her through to take a seat at a long oak table. The kitchen was wild with exotic house plants; they bordered the windows and sprouted upward from a variety of pots on the table. Sandra continued to talk as she disappeared and reappeared from view, moving behind the greenery and searching through cupboards. “Change isn’t usually something that happens without hardship,” Sandra prepared a jug of water, poured out two glasses and took a measured sip, “however, change is a necessary part of life. It moves us and creates opportunity. And opportunity… Well, opportunity is everything we need to go on.”
Lisa let Sandra’s words settle before excusing herself from the table and joining Tom out in the garden. Sandra watched on as Tom smiled and thanked Lisa for the information she had delivered. The two of them shook hands before Lisa returned to finish her water and left the house. Tom followed a few minutes later and took a seat. His hands clasping a sheet of paper containing half-answers.
“What are you thinking?” Sandra asked, pushing the water jug close to Tom’s hand.
Tom lowered the paper and smiled: “There’s someone out there who is missing something pretty important to them. And I’m not going to keep it from them. I’m going to find them and return it.” Tom had no ties to this town now; no reason to stay. This was a reason to leave and to move away from the stagnent life he had built around him, which kept him safe from opportunities to try something new and different and exciting.
Sandra moved around the table and peered over Tom’s shoulder to see what he was seeing. “I suppose you’ll be gone a while then.” Sandra’s hand gave Tom’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze to let him know she agreed he should go. “I hear Mumbai is wonderful this time of year.”