She leaned against the wall, panting. The blossom was coming out but the cold still bit. Cath could see her breath. In the moonlight the Longford was like a beached whale, its curved blue bulk looming over this tangle of streets carved up by tram lines, canals, busy roads.
The Longford meant she was almost home. Trafford Gardens was a leftover place, a few ranks of the garden-fronted terraces remained, the others bare but affordable now for people like her and Tom. The derelict cinema was a leftover too, from her Gran’s time, when going to the pictures was an event. Not 8 quid nachos and Orange Wednesdays. But she’d not seen a film for ages. Between work and Liam it was hard to find the energy, even when Tom’s mum would babysit.
She stretched one leg against the wall and admired her running shoes, still fiercely box-white. Running was a new thing and she was still shy about it so she did her stretching here, round the back of the cinema. She raised her arms above her head, clasped her two hands and pulled, feeling the tension in her muscles give. And so it was he saw her that way, arms stretched up to the sky.
He stepped out of the shadow at the edge of the car park and all the breath left her at once. Not him. Not here. Her arms fell, curling around her.
Nick hadn’t aged a day. No justice in the world. “Catherine,” he said, like they’d had an appointment she was late for. “You’re looking well.” He eyed up her lycra hips, and her cheeks burned.
“The fuck are you doing here. Did you follow me?”
“Easy. Got business here.” He jerked his head back to where a white van was edging round the corner. “A happy coincidence.”
“Are you not still in Liverpool?”
“No.” He left it at that. “Is this where you fucked off to? Not even a word,” he chided.
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t want him to know they were standing a few hundred yards from her home, full of nice things she’d picked out herself and her boy in his toddler bed. But Nick was a small man, really. So much smaller than she remembered.
He shrugged. “Ancient history, I know. No worries. It’s good to see you again, pet. I was worried about you is all. Glad you’re all right.” A hand slipped into his jacket. “Actually, you might be interested in what I’ve got hold of. Real quality, just your kind of thing. Try before you buy?”
The £20 note in the pocket of her running trousers was for topping up her mobile on the way home. The £20 note said it’s been seven years. I want to see if it’s like I remember. I’m a different person now. I’m not scared of you. I can do this because I choose to.
And there was another voice, insistent. I’ve worked so hard. I’ve earned some fun. I’m still young.
She looked down at her trainers, and then up at the moon. He waited. He would wait all night. Her heart beat faster. “Go on then,” she said.
Tom was on a rush job for Metrolink, that second city crossing, and came home knackered every night. It was surprising how easy it was, almost like she’d planned it. She invented a race to train for. Her runs got longer, more frequent. She always went at night, after Liam was asleep, so Tom was dead to the world by the time she crawled into bed, eyes wide and bones ringing with the song of it.
He poked at her hip jutting out sharp one morning, and made a soft noise of surprise. Stroked his hand up over her ribs. Don’t be daft, she said. It’s all the running.
Nick waited round the back of the Longford, always the same spot, their exchanges quick and quiet. Because he’d got her hooked again, hadn’t he? And it was only a matter of time before she lost it all, her good job, her good man, oh God her baby. He would wait.
The moon was off full, fat as milk. She’d crawled into the crevice round the back of the Longford, a kind of brokendown courtyard where no one would want to come looking. There was a yellow skip marked ‘clinical waste only’, piles of bricks, Lucozade bottles and chip forks, bindweed furled against the night. She’d had more tonight, just barely not too much, and the air was blurred with magic.
She felt the bulk of the building around her. She was inside it and not inside it. But a tingle at the back of her head made her shake off her heaviness and try the door. The door to the cinema, which was always locked. Except tonight it wasn’t. It gave with a damp click and she was in.
The dark didn’t scare her; she was the dark. She was the dark and the thick smell of the rotting velvet seats, the mildew creeping up the walls. A flock of words blew in from Trafford Grove
… you’ve not returned our calls
…we’re just a bit concerned about Liam
…he’s bee unsettled. Aggressive with the other children. Disruptive
…is anything wrong at home?
…we’d like to set up a meeting with our key support worker
She closed the door behind her and the words stopped. Her phone chirped in her pocket and she held it out before her, navigating by the blue screen. She’d come in the fire exit, near the front. She walked up the slope and picked a seat near the back.
A little more. Why not. It was a big night, getting in here. Something to celebrate.
A little more and she could see better now. The other people were taking their seats, the Longford was filling up. Someone sat down next to her, she felt the squeak and strain of the wood, the rustle of crepe de chine. Muffled laughter from another aisle.
A little more. She ought to stop now. Go home. Maybe, get help. But her hands moved mechanically. She had gone too far into the building. And she didn’t want to leave the music.
A little more and the woman sitting next to her removed her hat and placed carefully on her lap. Dark hair cropped in artful curls, lips painted an unnatural shape, swishy dress. She turned to Cath, laid a gloved hand on her skin. The excitement was all over her pretty face, she was giddy with it.
“Look, it’s starting,” she whispered. And then the red curtains swept open. The projector began to click and whirr, the music started up and the light bled through Cath’s vision like overexposed film, and she was burning.
This story was commissioned by the Re/Place project and performed at an event in Manchester in May 2015.
© Copyright Kate Feld, 2018. All rights reserved.