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The First Day « Fiction365

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The First Day

Mavis removes yesterday’s tiny sheet from her quotation calendar. She folds the paper neatly and places it into her pedal bin. As always another pathetic cliché is revealed. ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life,’ is the offering for Tuesday April the fifth. Technically that is true she concedes, but it will be a short new beginning. Today she is going to jump.

She’ll get the bus as usual into Gosport. Her ferry ticket will be punched and she will step onboard for the short crossing. Once in Portsmouth she’ll walk down past Gunwharf Quays. The bars and shops will still be closed. The first members of staff might just be unlocking. Cleaners will be dusting and sweeping. There will be security staff too, but no one will even notice her walk by. No one ever does.

She’ll walk on, past the café and tattoo parlour, under the railway bridge but won’t turn left as she usually does. She’ll go right and follow the old harbour wall. Climbing up onto the Round Tower, she’ll take care on passing through the fortifications to hold her breath. No one would want one of their last sensations to be the smell of stale urine. She’ll sit on a wooden bench at the top and have a last drink.

The fall alone is unlikely to kill her, children dive off here for fun on summer days. There will be no children today and no tourists either. Last Tuesday Mavis went to the Tourist Information office to enquire about shipping movements. When a visiting warship or new ferry is expected the tower is full of amateur photographers. They gather together with their uniform anoraks and radio scanners. Strange hobby. Today there are no ships expected other than the regular ferries to the Isle of Wight and the continent. The day is overcast. She expects to be quite alone. The tide is high; she wishes to be washed out to sea, not smashed on the Tower’s foundations. She will drink the Gin and swallow the tablets. There will be no pain. All that will be felt is a cold, empty numbness. Her death will echo her life. After that there will be no more loneliness. There will be no more Mavis Forthwright. The water will cover her, the ripples will cease and it will be as if she had never existed.

She finishes her breakfast, drains the teapot, emptying the leaves into a plastic bag which she knots securely. To many people it would not matter if she had not washed her cereal bowl or wiped the sink. It matters to Mavis. Even in death, she will be tidy. No food must be left to moulder and rot. She takes the bread and biscuits outside and crumbles them onto the bird table. She fills the peanut and seed feeders, scattering the remaining bird-food over the lawn. Inside she looks through the neat kitchen cupboards. She takes out the plastic containers that hold her cornflakes, raisins and rice. The rice is unsuitable if uncooked she remembers, so returns it to its
proper place. The other items are heaped onto the table covering the bread. There is too much and some falls. It’s a mess, but the birds will eat it she knows. She is sorry that she won’t be feeding the birds again. She enjoyed watching them and feeling that they depend on her. They will still be fed, she has made sure of that. Her entire estate is left to the RSPCA. The house can be sold to raise money, provided an arrangement is made to ensure that suitable food and clean water are always supplied in the garden. She wonders if they will receive anything from her life assurance policy. If suicide is proven, as is likely, they might not pay. With that in mind her explanatory note was never more than a rough draft. Just a list really of disappointments, a description of loneliness.

She locks the front door then stands for a moment looking at the key. A copy is held by her solicitor. She considers posting the one she now holds through the letter box. That would be the tidy thing to do. No, not for an accidental death, in that case it would be something out of
place. She slips it into the zipped compartment in her bag, just as usual.

She walks to the bus stop and stands, as is her custom, just behind the shelter. The group of people who catch this bus all have their regular spot to wait. The middle aged couple, married, she supposes, sit together on the bench. The woman’s large navy blue bag bulges between them. The pale girl stands in the far corner, lost in the exclusive world created by her headphones. The fat woman, with her even fatter son arrives breathlessly as the rest are boarding. One less piece of toast in the mornings would be advisable. She has often wished to tell them that this would improve their waistlines and time keeping. She never has of course. She has never spoken to any of them.

Various quantities of school children loiter to the left. They bicker and squabble like a flock of good-natured starlings. They are not dressed in a proper uniform, just sweatshirts embroidered with the school crest in red. These are worn above dark trousers or skirts. The skirt lengths vary with the weeks, either brazenly short or so long they’re stepped on as the girls saunter onto the bus. The skirts are usually straight, but for a time were very full, this style quickly replaced by precise pleats. However much they varied from term to term they varied little from girl to girl. The tall blonde arrives on Monday with a new variation; by the following Monday the others will
be similarly attired. Theirs might not be quite so short or tight or frilled, but there’s no doubting the inspiration behind the change of look.

The boy is there again. He doesn’t catch the bus every day. Mavis has detected no pattern in his choice of days. He will be here for a day or two; then not. Sometimes he catches the same bus home as Mavis. This might be days she has seen him in the morning, but not always. She is aware that he lives close to her. She has seen him walk past her house as she is locking her own front door. One morning she was either a little earlier or he a little later and he still had his arm
raised in farewell to someone inside as she stepped over the threshold into the cruel cold world. He must live only three or four houses up the street. He had lifted his hand again to her as he passed. She had felt the corners of her mouth raise too. A friendly gesture can mean a lot when you’ve spoken to no one since leaving work the day before. He always nods in recognition now as she reaches the stop. Sometimes this is the only voluntary human contact she is aware of all day.
People speak to her, of course. The bus driver tells her new price of the fare when it changes. The man on the ferry tells her to watch the step as she disembarks on windy days. At work they greet her and occasionally ask if she would like a cup of coffee. It is just what they would say to anyone though. They are never actually rude, they don’t let doors slam in her face. She never arrives without someone murmuring ‘morning’ or leaves without someone calling ‘bye, see you tomorrow.’ They just don’t notice her as a person. They don’t know her at all.

“There’s room inside.” It’s the boy speaking. Very polite for a youngster, must have good parents. He beckons Mavis in out of the rain she had not realised was falling. He moves his bag from the entrance and gently nudges another schoolboy off the seat.

“Thank you.”

He smiles. “No problem. Left in a rush this morning I expect.”

Mavis just stares, unused to being spoken to before work.

“You forgot your brolly. You’ve usually got one. I’m always doing that. Rush out at the last minute and forget things.”

“Yeah like your brain.” This is from the boy who had been moved to allow her to sit. They pretend to fight, pulling faces at her as they dodge about, including Mavis in the game. She smiles, another thing that she’s not used to. The couple speak to her too, just general remarks about the weather and lateness of buses. They have never acknowledged her presence before. Now that the boy has spoken to her, she is visible.

She looks out the window as the bus takes her towards Gosport. She tries not to think; it’s too late for that, her decision has been made.

Mavis glimpses the Round Tower as the ferry crosses the harbour and she thinks about the boy. Will it worry him that he was the last person to speak to her before she jumped to her death? He has been kind to Mavis today. She would not like him to wake in the night wondering if he could have said other words and made a difference. She would not like him to be afraid of sleeping. She would not like him to dream of the body falling. That’s a silly thought, why should he mourn her death? It would be a stranger who had died. Mavis is nothing to him, he would quickly forget. Still she thinks of the boy, she doesn’t want to hurt him, even for a short while.

As she strides away from the ferry a gust of wind brings the smell of cooked bacon. She has often seen bus drivers clutching a bacon sandwich and plastic mug of coffee. What a treat that would be, such a change from her usual herbal tea and bowl of bran cereal. Mavis could have bacon now. It would not have time to clog her arteries. The salt would return to the sea without any affect on her blood pressure.

Although she is not hungry now she could wait until lunchtime and taste a sandwich then. She has packed no lunch, she knew it would not be needed. She could choose to have another meal though. Mavis has made her decision, but there is no one but herself to insist that it happen quickly. She will go to work this morning, leave the office for lunch. She’ll carry the sandwich to the top of the tower. When she has eaten, she’ll drink the Gin, take the tablets and jump. If her body stays submerged long enough it may look like an accident. That would be better for the boy and the insurance claim. How long would it take for the sea to wash away the proof of her actions

Her route then does not deviate from the one she has followed every week-day for the last four months. They greet her as they usually do. Would they do anything differently if they knew this was to be the last time? Mavis replies to their cheery calls as she hangs up her coat. A mug is waved enquiringly at her and so she nods acceptance of coffee. Someone offers commiserations for the soaking she has received.

“Well it’s warm in here, I shall soon dry out.”

The computers are switched on and work begins. Mavis types as accurately and as disinterestedly as usual. No one watching her would guess that this was to be her last day. They could not tell that she would be absent from her desk, floating cold and dead this afternoon.

Returning to her desk from a trip to the toilet she hears her colleagues in discussion.

“Old sourpuss seems almost human today.”

“She actually smiled when I made her coffee, wonder what’s got into her?”

Mavis doesn’t mind that they think her miserable, all they’re doing is observing the truth. Only she knows that she has finally found a solution to the misery. Her decision has been reached and she feels content.

“Mavis, you’ve got to switch off now. Had you forgotten?”

“Switch off? But I have work to do.”

“Well save it. It’s only for half an hour they reckon. You remember they’re upgrading the server.”

“Oh, of course. I had forgotten.”

In truth she hadn’t really registered the details of the memo that had been issued on Monday. As she didn’t expect to be alive, the workings of computer technicians were of no interest. She realises the other women have noticed a break to her normal pattern. Mavis does not forget things. She does not work when she should stop any more than she would stop when she should be working. She is more reliable than the machines they work on. She doesn’t shut down without reason. She doesn’t get viruses or run slowly or blow a fuse.

As they cannot work they drink coffee. It’s Mavis’s turn to make it she decides. She prefers to do it whilst the others chat. They don’t exclude her, she does that herself. She doesn’t understand what they talk about. They don’t listen to the same music, read the same magazines or go to the same places that she does.

When she comes in with the tray, they are working on a crossword puzzle. She passes out the mugs. The cat one is Lucy’s, Sheila has a gaudy one emblazoned ‘Worlds Best Mum’. Sandra’s choice implies that she supports Liverpool football club. Mavis doesn’t know if she truly likes the game or if the mug was a gift. Perhaps it was one she found unused when she came to work here and had never troubled to replace as must surely be the case with Janice’s lump of insipid pink china.

Mavis’s mug is decorated with a pattern of brightly coloured tulips. It tapers at the bottom and curves in at the top, the shape representing the flower, beginning to open in the sun. She bought it on the way home from her first day here. It was pure indulgence of course. She could have used one of the corporate ones that are kept for visitors. She could have brought a cup and saucer from Mother’s set. There are eight of them, she did not need them all for her solitary drinks. In this new job, new phase of her life she wanted something that was not Mother’s, but her own. She wanted something not just practical, but bright, pleasant and cheerful. Mavis is not sorry that she has bought something that she does not need. She’s pleased.

She drinks coffee from the new mug. Mother had not allowed coffee in the house and even now, it does not occur to Mavis to buy it and carry it home to the house that was once hers. She drinks coffee at work from the tulip mug.

“Mr Orwell. Creator of the original Big Brother. Six letters.” Sandra always reads the questions, possibly to disguise the fact that she never knows the answers.

“When was the original Big Brother?”

“Dunno, been going for years now,” Janice says.

“1984.”

They all turned to look at Mavis.

“Well, before that really I suppose,” Mavis qualifies her suggestion.

“Really? Didn’t know it was that long. Fancy you knowing that Mavis, I didn’t think you ever watched it,”Janice says.

“I don’t. I read the book.”

“There’s never a book about Big Brother. It’s not that sort of programme. Anyway, it don’t answer the question. What was it again Saz?”

Sandra repeats the question.

“So what’s the answer then, seeings as how you read the book?”

“Don’t be nasty Janice,” Lucy says.

“George,” Mavis answers.

“It fits.”

The crossword is continued without further input from Mavis. Later, Janice apologises for her remark.  “I’ve not read many books. Mum thinks it’s a waste of time and money, so I don’t buy any. Saves on arguments. Is there really a book about Big Brother or were you
having me on?”

“The book is called 1984. It was written by George Orwell. It is about people being watched all the time, by Big Brother,” Mavis explains.

“So is it like the telly programme?”

“I do not know Janice. I have never watched the programme.”

“But you said it was rubbish.”

“Yes. That’s why I do not watch it.”

“How do you know its rubbish then?”

Janice was right; Mavis had simply dismissed the programme without knowing anything about it. She had dismissed Janice too. When she admitted before that she never read books Mavis had thought her shallow and unintelligent. She had never considered Janice might posses an inquiring mind that was thwarted by a difficult parent. She had misjudged Janice. She had thought badly of her, as Janice probably did of Mavis. Perhaps she could change Janice’s opinion, maybe help
her before Mavis finished with her life.

“Janice, I have an idea. You could read the book and compare it with the television programme.”

“Maybe.”

“I have a copy of the book. I could lend it to you. You could read it on the bus whilst travelling to work, and in your lunch break. That would not worry your mother. You would be wasting neither time nor money.”

“You’d lend it to me?”

“I will bring it tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mavis.”

Mavis will now have to delay her plans by a day. She decides due to the unpleasant weather to delay her trip to the café too. It is nice to have something to look forward too, until the came time when she will have no future.

Today had been the first day of the rest of her life. It was to have been the last day too, but that day will come tomorrow.

This thought comforts her as she closes her eyes and waits for sleep.

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Patsy Collins lives on the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. She writes about and photograps the things which interest her. To learn more about her and her writing, please visit patsy-collins.blopgspot.com

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