Something Tells Me describes the beginning of Mitchell and Josie's relationship from Mitchell's point of view, but after it was done, I still wondered: what is Josie thinking? After all that happens, what makes her say yes when he asks for help? She seems like such a sensible person...
As always, characters belong to Toby Whithouse & BBC. Thanks for sharing them. We love them so.
There's a party going on upstairs, that's for certain. Music is blasting ("White Rabbit," maybe?), and raucous laughter filters through the floor, men's voices and women's. I'd heard them all banging up the stairs a few hours ago, trailing snippets of loud but unintelligible conversation. When I peek outside the door, the stairwell is filled with bluish haze, and a hint of floral perfume.
The ruckus is upstairs in Jenna's flat. She moved here only six months ago and has already had several roommates. They seem to come and go almost weekly. Though she's been polite enough when I've seen her, we don't have much in common. She's sort of pretty in a lacquered, heavily pancaked way, with a laugh that carries through the floor, and she seems to go for dodgy types: rock musicians with expensive clothes and dirty fingernails, people who leave their sunglasses on indoors. I give them a nod if I pass them on the stairs, but usually try and avoid eye contact. Roger seemed fond of Jenna, but then he'd flirt with anyone.
Here I am, home alone on a Friday night, too embarrassed to go upstairs and ask them to keep it down. It's after one in the morning, for God's sake! If Roger were here, he'd have done it, but rather than getting to sleep at a reasonable hour, he would have got us invited in, where we'd join in the noise making and never sleep at all. It's just as well he's not here. I need to get out early tomorrow for work.
The shouting builds to a crescendo. I wonder if they're having an argument. They're probably just loud drunks. Furniture thumps. Glass breaks. Eventually the noise dies down, and I all I hear is a record playing itself to the end.
Around half-past two, I finally drift off.
"I just don't see it, Josie," he says. "I still love you, but I don't see us together. I'm sorry." Roger brushes his wavy blond hair out of his eyes so it frames his face just so. The vertical lines of his corduroy blazer and pinstriped trousers accentuate the impressive length of his legs, crossed languidly at the knees.
Roger is my teacher, my choreographer, my lover, my employer. I trust him with everything I have. I love him as much as I know how.
His light blue eyes are soft with concern, and he reaches for my hand to cover it with his. I'm not sure what he's trying to say. His mouth is turned down mournfully, his brows furrowed in exaggerated sympathy. Abruptly, his blurry message snaps into focus, and I understand that he's dumping me.
One day last July, a couple of weeks into rehearsals for the latest show, I came down wrong on a jump, stumbled a bit, heard a snapping sound, and felt a sharp, crunching pain in my foot. I limped off the floor, raised the foot and iced it, but it was worse the next day, swollen and purple. It was broken, badly.
I was out of the show. It was to run four weeks in London and then travel around Europe for twelve weeks. Today I've graduated from crutches to a walking cast, but it will be a long time - several months - before I'm able to dance again.
I shift my chair further from Rogers and fold my hands in my lap. He has been seeming more distant lately, more distracted, and I've been seeing much less of him than usual - he's been spending most of his time in rehearsals. Apparently this was not the only thing keeping Roger busy.
"I'm learning so much from Lydia," he says. "She's so intense. When she gets angry I have to read her so deeply to learn what she wants. It's a new language for me. I'm stretching and changing. I think I need this right now. We're breaking boundaries with this show, so it helps that I can break boundaries in my relationships in the same way. I'm sorry you can't take this journey with us now. You're not that old yet, perhaps someday you can re-join us."
Ugh. I feel like I need a wash.
"I don't think she's right for you," I say, trying to be diplomatic. "You know I care for you more than she ever will."
He shakes his head sadly and says again, "I'm sorry, I just can't see it working out." We part without so much as a handshake. It was never about me. It was all about his ambition. Anything or anyone that doesn't serve it is discarded.
Painfully, I stump home on my walking cast. After making the slow and frustrating climb up the flight of stairs to my flat, I slam the door behind me and pour myself a large drink. I'm crippled, unemployed, and I've just been dumped.
I'm filled with waves of disbelief, shock, and finally, a seething bitterness. Why did I let him become my entire life? To hell with Roger and his Merce Cunningham fetish, his pipe smoking and his artfully tied scarves. To hell with dancing, and travelling, and show business in general. To hell with fair-weather friends who forget all about you as soon as you're not spending fifteen hours a day with them. I have a telly, a cupboard full of tinned food, and the bottle of sherry my grandmother gave me for Christmas. I'm fine. Really.
A week later, Roger has crept in and taken his things, mumbling sheepish and apologetic tripe as he and his mate bang furniture against walls and chuck assorted items into cardboard boxes. Now an overstuffed chair is gone, leaving an odd expanse of unoccupied carpet between the sofa and the bookshelf. The wallpaper has pale rectangles where his Matisse prints were, and there is a dark circle in the dust on the shelf where his martini shaker once stood. The tea tray on the counter is missing the set of commemorative shot glasses from New York. His Henry Miller novels have left a gap in the books. The tobacco canister and pipe stand are gone, but the walls still reek of stale smoke.
I haven't been out of my dressing gown since the day Roger broke up with me. While I sit on the lone remaining sofa nursing a drink and gazing at the telly, the newscaster glares at me and says, "What are you even doing here? This isn't supposed to be your story!"
I look back at him in alarm. I haven't been drinking that much.
He leans forward and wags a finger at me. "Yes, I mean you. You're just dragging things out, you know. Now piss off." He waves a hand dismissively, then goes back to reading the football scores. Did that just happen? I'm spending so much time alone that I'm losing touch with reality.
What does it matter? It's true: it's not my story anymore. I'm only a passing mention in someone else's. I should have realized it myself - I was nothing on my own. I was standing in Roger's way. I wonder if he believed any of the things he said to me - about my talent, my intelligence, my looks, my potential - and if any of them were true. He'd given me my new life, and now he's taken it away. It was all him. I am aching and insubstantial, as if my entire body is a phantom limb. There's nothing left of me.
Wait. Stop it.
I close my eyes and try and gather myself. That man on television was just my own insecurity talking. That's all. This is only a phase. In awhile I'll be OK. Once my foot gets better. And I figure out what to do with my life. And I am ready to go back into the world.
For now, I'm going to curl up here and reread my favorite books from when I was a girl. I have The Secret Garden, Winnie the Pooh, Heidi, Pippi Longstocking. If I'm feeling ambitious maybe I'll work my way up to Jane Austen.
My foot is taking a long time to heal. Too long. The world is drab and difficult. I am swimming through thick treacle, or smothered in cotton wool. Getting out of bed is a nearly insurmountable task. When I have to go out, I feel like a subterranean creature with a flashing sign above my head: jobless, friendless, loveless. It's a struggle to complete my sentences; I can't find the words. I retreat as quickly as I can to the stifling safety of my burrow.
I cut off all my hair. I stop brushing my teeth. I don't bathe. I don't eat. I sleep for sixteen hours at a stretch, waking only to have a cursory meal of tea and toast, and then I'm so tired I have to retreat to the easy chair and stare indiscriminately at the television for hours on end: news, science, culture, comedy, all the same to me.
I'm not really here.
At the moment, I am curled up in the armchair wearing my blue dressing gown and reading A Little Princess for probably the fourteenth time. Sara Crewe and poor Becky the scullery maid have just lit the scraps of paper in their hearth for the brief warmth and light, and I am envying Sara's friendship with Becky, and their eventual rescue by the Indian gentleman, when the phone rings. Against my better judgement, I answer it. It's Roger. He and Lydia have mounted a new show, and the previews are next week. He's sure I'll like it. Would I like a house seat? Politely but coldly, I beg off.
After he hangs up, I throw the phone as hard as I can, and it lands, unsatisfyingly, next to the tea table, the receiver dangling from its cord like a suffocated fish. I look down at my foot, still wrapped in a padded walking boot, and want to scream. At least the frustration and anger are a break from the blank grey hopelessness I feel the rest of the time.
I'm no longer walking like Quasimodo. I have a part-time job at a local ballet school, working with the youngest students, teaching them to turn and bend and jump. For those few hours each week, I put on makeup, do my hair, and do my best impersonation of someone who has it together.
Each morning I trudge to the overheated, brightly-lit dance studio, take off my coat, smile at the gaggle of adorable wide-eyed little girls in pink and black leotards, and tell them class is beginning. For the next two and a half hours, I am nobody but Mademoiselle Josephine, their strict but benevolent instructor. Then I leave the studio, go back to my flat, and dissolve into despair and tedium. And this is an improvement.
It is so sodding early. I've had nowhere near enough sleep. I am about to leave for my job at the dance studio. My foot is sore but I've put on my heels anyway. My makeup is done and I'm about to bring in the milk before I lock up and head out.
There are loud footsteps on the stairs. A well-dressed young man is looking out of the window in the hallway. He's holding what's left of my pint of milk. When he sees the door open, he turns, grabs me by the arm, pulls me back into the flat, and slams the door. In an instant, his hand claps over my mouth to prevent me making a sound, and his other hand pins my arms behind my back. I barely have time to register what's happened. My heart nearly stops.
His face is very close to mine. He's no older than I am, maybe younger, with fashionably long unruly dark hair, and hooded, sinister eyes. The hand over my face is cold and pink and rough and smells of washing-up liquid and old cigarette ash.
My mind jangles and the room spins into a blur. His voice is dark and threatening.
"If I take my hand away are you going to scream?"