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I had the idea to write the following after spending the last three days stuck to tvtropes.com. Every single thing here has really happened, and happened to me. They’ve been fictionalised in various ways but the basic point really happened.
Let me know what you think, please?
Coincidence, Fate, Probability
Sat at the dining table with crayons and coloured paper, the six year old girl had been drawing diligently for minutes. She occasionally looked out of the wide window to see if it was dark out yet. It was getting there and the streetlamps had been on for awhile. She looked up and saw the red-tinted light in the streetlamp on the other side of the garden turn orange without warning. Startled, she sat and stared, waiting for it to change back. Fidgety after a few minutes, she did not move. The light did not change. For the next twenty years, the bulb in the lamp remained orange, but she had seen the moment it changed.
The low electrical hum was not drowned out by the chatter of the other guests. The ride moved smoothly around inside the giant golf ball at EPCOT. Inside the first car, ten-year-old Laura shifted around, cold now that she was out of the Floridian sun. She paid the scientific ride scant attention, wondering when she would get to go on Big Thunder Mountain again. Towards the end of the ride, the car moved backwards down a steep slope so that Laura found herself almost staring at the black ceiling.
Wouldn’t it be funny if the ride broke down right now?
The ride shuddered to a sudden halt and the low hum was replaced by airy silence. Laura’s mother, who hated small, dark spaces especially when a metal bar was keeping her in her place, let out a sigh. They did not move for several minutes and remained in the comically steep backwards position, staring back at the part of the ride they’d been through. The emergency lights came on but before they needed to be walked to the exit by Disney employees the ride sprang back to life and the car slid down to the exit accompanied by the low electrical hum.
“So, what universities did you apply to other than this one?”
“Reading, Essex, Exeter, Hull and Nottingham.”
“Why do you look like I just slapped you?”
“Because I also applied to Reading, Essex, Exeter, Hull and Nottingham.”
“All for the same course?”
“Well… looks like we were meant to meet.”
“Yes, I think so. Another hot choc for you?”
“Since we’re here.”
I thought I saw Sylvia in the doorway of the Royal Oak. Really I did, for a moment. It took a second for my brain to catch up to my heart and remind it that Sylvia was dead and the Royal Oak was boarded up. I told Mam, as a joke.
Two days later I got a phone call:
“You know you thought you saw your gran the other day?”
“By the Oak, was it?” Mam sounded agitated and I began to worry where the conversation was leading.
“Do you remember when Uncle Ken had his car crash? When we all thought he’d die?”
“No, I was four.”
“Yes, well anyway… it was right outside the Royal Oak. A lorry, you know.”
“And I got a phone call today. About the time you were walking past the Royal Oak when you saw – thought you saw – Sylvia… he was being told by a doctor that he’s got cancer and won’t see the year out.”
“Oh.” Sadness flooded my brain for a moment and made it difficult to think.
“So it seems to me that Sylvia wants us to know that she’s watching out for him.”
Mam was normally so cynical about those things. I wasn’t sure, but I cried anyway.
“Sylvia!” The woman’s face was pale.
“Sorry?” Laura was confused. Why was a total stranger calling her grandmother’s name to her in the middle of the Rushmead primary school Christmas Bazaar?
“You must – I’m sorry – are you related to Sylvia Carter?”
“Oh!” The woman’s hands went to her mouth, pleasantly shocked apparently. “I knew her! You look just like her!”
This had only ever been said to Laura once: by her grandfather. She had always assumed he was being kind. Laura was five when Sylvia died and she had only one fragment of a memory of the old lady, from a long-ago Christmas.
“I haven’t seen her since we were young! Is she…”
“She died eighteen years ago, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear that. We were great friends once.”
“When did you know her?”
“Oh, at school.” Sylvia had gone to school at least one hundred miles away from Rushmead. Laura’s parents hadn’t even considered moving to Rushmead before Sylvia died. The old lady chattered away, never looking away from Laura’s face as she did.
Laura moved to London on a Sunday, started work on Monday and was shattered by Friday. Still, she felt she’d be doing the city a disservice to go straight home from work on Friday night. Not knowing her colleagues well enough to join them at the pub, and all her friends being in Rushmead, Laura went to the movies.
Two and a half hours of costume drama later, she was on a tube train speeding towards Kings Cross for the change to the Circle Line. The station was full of semi- and fully-drunk partiers and clubbers struggling to find their way but eventually she was on the platform for the right train. A trick her dad taught her that the end carriages were always quieter led her to stand at the far end of the platform. A train slowly arrived and the doors opened. Glancing up so she didn’t trip getting onto the train, Laura looked straight up into the warm eyes of her own best friend, sat in a seat on the carriage.
“Louise!” Laura leapt into the train. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m on my way to a place near Bank with some work friends.” Louise nodded towards a pair of heavily made-up young ladies who were more than ready for a night on the town.
“You came all the way to London for that?”
“Yes. What are you doing here?”
“I moved here last week!”
“Yes dear, I know that. What are you doing here?”
“Oh! I went to the cinema.”
They spent the rest of the journey talking rapidly. At Bank, Louise and her workmates got off the train. Laura went the rest of the way home wearing a dopey grin.
Seven o’clock in the morning felt ungodly. The street was deserted-quiet as if she was in a scene from 28 Days Later. A solitary white van went passed along the other end of the street but otherwise Laura was on her own as she pulled her coat close to guard against the bitter cold. Eyes down to watch for refuse and pet excrement on the pavement, iPod playing soothing classical music for the early hour.
Why anyone had to be at work early today, she wasn’t sure, but she’d been asked and she’d said yes. It didn’t do to say no to the boss.
She barely glanced up at the sound. It couldn’t be for her. Her name was too common and she didn’t know anyone in the area.
It was her sister. Her sister who lived forty miles away, who was never seen before midday even during the week, and who had no reason to be in London at all. For a moment Laura assumed it was an early morning hallucination but there was Sarah, clattering towards her on high heeled shoes.
“What are you doing here?”
“Job interview. Do you know where Eldon Street is?”
“Yes, but you should’ve got off at Liverpool Street. Why are you coming this way?”
“It’s the only way I know.”
“Google Maps, Sarah.”
“Come on, I’ll walk with you part of the way.”
It was only as she sat at work later that Laura pondered the chance of running into her sister on the street in the middle of London at a time when on any other day, neither would even be awake.
Cups, saucers, plates, forks, knives and other eating equipment clattered, clanked and generally made the cafe a noisy place to be at the height of the lunch hour. Laura was sat at a corner table listening to the immortal Enrico Caruso on her iPod and trying – failing – to read Ulysses.
She huddled into herself, paying other customers of the cafe no attention at all. She only had ten more minutes of her lunchtime left and she wasn’t going to waste it on total strangers and their stupid habits. She sipped her peppermint tea and tried Ulysses again. She was on page thirty-four and it had taken her two days to get there.
“I’d really like a coffee please. Maybe with caramel.”
Her heart boomed. Blood thudded heavily in her ears. Her eyes almost rolled back into her head. Ulysses fell from her hands as they forgot to hold on and started to shake instead. Time slowed, then stopped. It took all her effort to glance sideways, just to see…
There was Tim Finnegan, probably the only man with parents named Finnegan foolish enough to name their son Tim since another Joyce book. She hadn’t needed to look around for confirmation: she would recognise his voice underwater with her fingers in her ears. The soft, low voice was her old friend. It could not be called humble, exactly, because he was too confident of his guitar playing skill for that, but it was not arrogant or conceited either.
She had longed for and dreamed of such a moment for days, weeks, months and years. For time unknown she had carried a deep crush-like love for him around with her, until it was finally suffocated with the heavy pillow of cold reality.
Ulysses was completely forgotten as Laura made a vain attempt to collect herself back into a calm figure. She wished she’d worn something else. She looked like any old office worker today, in a black wool jumper and grey woollen trousers. On almost any other day she would’ve worn something more unusual, outlandish, even wacky. On almost any other day she would’ve stood out like a lighthouse but today she looked like everybody else. She wished she hadn’t rescheduled her haircut from yesterday to tomorrow. She wished she’d got more sleep last night.
What was she to do? Walking away without doing or saying anything didn’t even occur to her. Was she to interrupt Tim, the greatest of her heroes, while he talked to his companion? Was she to wait for a lull in the conversation? She couldn’t wait long – work wouldn’t much like her being late just because a bloke walked into a cafe and sat himself down at the table next to her.
It was not just a bloke. It was that one. She had dreamed of him, had taken his music into herself so that it settled amongst her personality alongside her memories, pet peeves, likes and dislikes. She knew his music like she knew her own name. In her darkest moments, when the fog of horror descended, it was Tim’s music which kept her going and which shone a light into the deep hole of her despair.
Clearly, she could not quite say that. She tried to calculate the probability of her own great hero coming into her usual lunch spot during her lunchtime, but failed. It was too brilliant, even if improbable, to question. Time ticked away and robbed her of options.
The man he was with got up and went over to the counter. Tim Finnegan was on his own. She had two and a half minutes before she needed to leave. Hands still shaking, blood still thumping, Laura rose – unsteadily – to her feet. Caruso was switched off.
“Excuse me, Tim?”
Blue eyes looked up at her. Lips smiled politely, waiting.
“I’m awfully sorry to bother you, but I couldn’t walk away without telling you that you’re one of my favourite musicians.”
It was an understatement to rate alongside calling the Titanic a ‘boat’. She paused, terrified, and waited for his response. Tim Finnegan rose to his feet and kissed her once on the right cheek, then once on the left. Her face felt cold, unable to even be merely ‘hot’.
“That’s very kind. What’s your name?”
“It’s nice to meet you, Laura.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt-”
“It’s not a problem.”
“I saw you a couple of years ago, at the Palais before they tore it down. It was magical. Transcendental.”
That was closer to the truth. Tim took her hand and squeezed it.
“Thank you. That means a lot to me.”
His friend returned carrying two plates. Laura wanted to talk more, wanted to open her soul to Tim. She wanted his respect more, so stepped away.
“Have a nice day Tim.” She smiled at his friend for polite good measure. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
Tim sat back down but raised a hand in farewell. As soon as she was out of his sight, she ran all the way back to work and collapsed in her seat. Those around her didn’t understand, did not understand who Tim Finnegan was. Her friend Simon, who had lived through the 70s and remembered Tim as the guitar wunderkind he’d once been, did understand and helped talk her down from her cloud.