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It’s a curious fact that in the spring the suicide rate shoots up. Train drivers, lorry drivers, tram drivers brace themselves as they emerge from long tunnels. Commuters kick their heels on Platform 3 (City bound), shielding the sun with the morning paper or their iPhone. A couple in sunglasses, cosy – though, truth be told, a little hot – in their ski underwear. I know them.
“Horatio!” I call out; his real name is Horace (bad enough).
“Jezebel!” I call out; her real name is Belle (and, yes, she is a beauty).
They try to ignore me, but I stride on over. He looks dapper in his pinstripe; she elegant, wearing a dash of terra cotta lipstick, coiffured with a Louise Brooks hairstyle.
“Mark,” they say.
“We made it!” I say.
“Say what?” Belle says.
“The winter, we made it through the damn thing.”
“What are you talking about, old boy?” Horace says.
“Why do you think we are delayed? Another one, of course.”
They consider me a bit obsessed, a bit touched maybe. And, of course, it was a subject to be avoided. Not due to its taboo nature (taboo is all the rage), but ever since Paul’s demise. Horace looks at his Rolex.
“How were the Alps?” I say.
“Wonderful!” they say.
Belle talks of her escapades off-piste, Horace of the ‘downright magnanimous’ selection of real ale on offer at the hotel. They talk fast. When one stops, the other starts.
“Those adventures,” she says.
“Those ales,” he says.
Eventually, they grind to a halt, just as a message comes over the public-address system. A delay. An obstruction on the line.
“There’s no clearer indication of spring,” I say.
And we all see him before us. I know it. I see him reflected in their eyes. After all, it is they who found him swinging in the shower to the rhythm of Chet Baker in Paris. Which they’d had to hear again at the funeral. Horace, the best friend; Belle the fiancé. The affair discovered quite by chance. The thing that surprised me was not the actual affair. Belle was too beautiful for Paul and Paul, well, he never really had a firm grasp on reality. When hints were dropped by Jimmy, Paul refused to investigate (at least at first).
“I seen them going in the arts cinema,” Jimmy’d say.
“I seen them coming out of the opera,” Jimmy’d say.
“I seen them at that African Music Festival,” Jimmy’d say.
“Since when, Jimmy, have you been interested in foreign films/the opera/African music?” Paul’d say with that incredulous look he was so good at affecting (the square jaw helped).
“I was down the Odeon/The Nag’s Head/the footie ground opposite, wasn’t I!” Jimmy’d say.
An announcement comes over the tannoy. The line has been cleared. We’d set up a Facebook page. Every year, we’d go out to his grave. Lay flowers. Go for a pint afterwards. Not that he’d been that popular. Numbers had dropped off. It was the fifth anniversary coming up. The train’d be here in ten minutes. I’d cut him down. They’d called me.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the police?” they’d said.
“What, in case they think you killed him?” I’d said, looking from one to the other.
The inference was, of course, that they had. They’d trembled then. It was before they’d gotten into buying ski underwear.
“So,” I say, “Be there for the reunion, will you?”
“Of course!” they say.
They always say that, they always click ‘coming’ on Facebook, but they never show.
The train appears in the distance. They stare at it. Willing it in. They scramble on, before some of the punters had even gotten off. Shameless! I let them go. There’s no mileage in it. And I don’t know why I bother. I mean, they’ve got love on their side. All I’ve got is a sense of loss, and – looking at Belle through the window as she buries her head in the paper– perhaps a touch of jealousy.