Dried leaves had accumulated over the winter months in heaps on the
pavements, a few puddles lay around sulking and there was a single
blackbird singing to himself in the garden into which I was looking.
The sky had cleared a lot since the early morning, and it did not look
like it would rain again any time soon. It was quite warm for a
February. Maybe this was due to global warming, I had no idea, but my
leather jacket was warm enough, over the grey t-shirt I wore that she
had given me as a present for my birthday. The house appeared empty but
I was sure she hadn't gone to the shops just yet, it being Saturday and
all. I checked the house number once again to make sure it really was
where she lived because last time I had gone up to the wrong house and
spoken to some old bloke for about twenty minutes before I realised
that she lived next door, then walked up the path that had some chip
wrappers left lying on it next to the grass.
The door was blue, I remember this distinctly because I looked for the
buzzer and there wasn't one. So in the end I knocked loudly, perhaps
louder than intended. Then I waited.
The door opened suddenly, and there she was dressed in a pair of Levis
and a white shirt left hanging out, and nothing on her feet. The shirt
had a large wine stain on the front. She saw me staring at the shirt,
and looked down.
"I've lost a lot of weight," she said abruptly. She had a lit cigarette
in her right hand.
"When did you take up smoking, I thought you were set against it?" I
"Christmas," she said. "You had better come in. We cannot keep talking
I followed her into the hall that led to the main room that she shared
with four other students. I guessed her room was still upstairs. Not
that I had seen it of course, last time I had been to see her she had
told me that her room was upstairs but we had gone straight out for a
meal, and that had been a few months ago. The main room stank a bit of
tomato soup and I saw she had just had a bowl of soup and some bread
and butter for her lunch. There was a new TV in the corner and a stack
of videos next to it alongside the VCR. In the corner the plant that
she had lavished so much care and attention on had almost died. I said
nothing. The CD player was quiet. Next to it stood a cheap rack like
you can buy in Woolworth's for fifteen quid, and it was full of
She sat down in one of the two armchairs and I sat on the sofa, which
had ripped arms, like a cat had been sharpening its claws. She put out
her cigarette, and then leaned forward.
"How are you?" She asked me. I saw that her hands were shaking, and she
looked quite upset about something. I said that I was fine and that the
train had been no problem coming up from London. She grinned, but again
I could feel that something was wrong. I could feel the tension in the
air and tried to think of something else to say right then, but I
couldn't for the moment.
"I've lost a lot of weight," she repeated. "I haven't been eating that
well, not since Christmas. And I think I look better. See?" She stood
up and turned around, trying to move gracefully but she seemed jerky in
her movement. I stood up and took off my leather jacket. It was even
warmer in the main room.
"You look nice, girl. I guess you had to get new clothes then?"
She stopped turning around and fumbled for her Silk Cut again, lighting
one and then blowing out smoke. Her hands still shook. I caught myself
looking at her arms. I cannot think why I would do that, because she
had never taken drugs and yet I had to know. We stood, maybe, three
feet apart and now her whole body was shaking.
"Ruth, what's up?" I asked. "Tell me what's wrong?"
Ruth took another puff of her cigarette. She started blinking rapidly,
and at that point I just went to her and held her close, so tight and
she sobbed. She wrapped her arms around me and just cried for a long
time. Then gently we separated slightly, she turned her tear stained
face up to mine and I kissed her, and she almost swamped me in
returning the kiss. We let go of each other.
"Do you still love me?" Ruth asked.
"I still love you. I have never stopped loving you, Ruth. When I got
your letter I came up as soon as I could. But what's up? Your letter
said nothing about this."
"I didn't want to worry you, John," Ruth said. "But I am in a
"What sort of mess?"
"A big mess. I am massively overdrawn, I have cut so many lectures I
think they are going to throw me out, and worst of all, Simon has got
"Oh shit. When did this happen?"
"Christmas, like all the other things, it was a crap Christmas. The
worst present I ever got."
"What about Adam? Aren't you still seeing him?"
"Not any more. He said he couldn't afford to keep coming up here and
seeing me, and he hated the fact that we had no money. You know I never
thought about money. I thought it would be okay, made lots of lists and
things and yet, I'm skint. I cannot afford to pay for food, well, I
have fifty quid left till the end of term and that's got to pay for
everything including my fags, some booze, and things for the
"But what about your housemates, surely they have money? Don't you all
muck in and share?"
"You are kidding? Frank and Jeff never have any money, they spend most
of their time in the pub drinking, and Claire and Susan have dropped
out already. Frank got Claire pregnant and &;#8230;"
"You're not pregnant as well?" I asked.
"No, I was just trying to remember something."
I waited, and while I waited I lit a cigarette from my battered packet
of Rothmans. I used the lighter she had bought me last time I had been
up here, when I found that the one I used was broken and the spare I
kept in my jacket had no gas.
She saw the lighter, and began crying again.
I went to hold her again, but she pushed me away.
"Let me think, John. I need to think."
I moved away. I backed away and she stopped crying.
"Do you want a coffee?" She asked me. "I only have some rubbish brand
from the local supermarket."
"That's fine," I replied, and we went into the communal kitchen, which
smelt of fresh pine disinfectant and looked like it had been cleaned
that morning. Ruth put the kettle on and got two mugs out from the
cupboard above the formica topped counter that was crowded with the
usual debris you find in a kitchen like a little spice rack that nobody
had found time to put up.
Ruth opened the fridge and swore. "Oh that's typical, Frank has drunk
the last of my milk. Blast him."
"Don't worry, Ruth, black coffee is fine."
Ruth stopped putting the sugar in my mug. "Why is everything fine with
"It's just an expression, Ruth. I am not yeah ok-ing you."
She smiled. Her smile was lopsided and I felt that she was still
thinking about something. Something on her mind.
She made the coffee and we took it back into the front room, where the
dead plant was. Ruth sat down, and said: "Put something on, doesn't
matter what, anything."
I went over to the CD Player and stuck the Foo Fighters on. I turned
the volume down so we could still talk. Whoever had used the CD Player
last had whacked the volume up to 10.
I sat on the sofa next to Ruth. She lit another cigarette.
"Have you still got your flat?"
"Yes, I have. You know I have, I told you when I wrote you the other
day, when I said I was coming up this weekend."
"You are not seeing anyone, then?"
"No. I think you know why."
"Do I?" Ruth said abruptly, stubbing out her cigarette.
"Yes, you do."
"I suppose so, and&;#8230;"
I hoped she wasn't going to cry again. I didn't mind being pushed away,
but I didn't like Ruth being so upset. It was beginning to upset me as
"You do love me?" She asked.
"Yes, I do Ruth." I was about to quote a line from an old Who song but
something told me that it wouldn't be too clever to do that.
"If I packed my bags, and you had your credit card, could I go back
with you, to London?"
"But you don't live in London, you live in Surrey," I said.
"I want to live in London," Ruth said loudly. "I want to live with you,
John, I can't stand it anymore. I want to be with you, to hold you, to
kiss you, to sleep with you, to stay with you as long as I can."
"I would be so happy if you would, Ruth," I said, wishing I could think
of something better to say. "But won't you have to sort things out here
"This place can go get stuffed. I have had enough." She turned to me
and kissed me again on the lips. "Come on, I have to get my stuff
packed before the others get back."
"Where have they gone?"
"Football, with luck they won't be back for hours. That will give us
I helped her pack, which involved getting her case off the top of the
wardrobe upstairs in her room, flinging her clothes in it and then
sweeping all the accumulated bric-a-brac she had into a smaller
holdall. We went downstairs again and piled her CDs into the holdall as
well. Then she rushed out into the kitchen and a moment later she
returned with two mugs. She had washed them. She put them in the
holdall, and then she stopped, took a last look at the front room, then
grabbed her leather jacket from the back of the chair she had sat at
while she had had her lunch.
She put her jacket on, I already had mine on, and then we were out the
front door. The last thing she did was to take the keys to the house
off her Joey key ring and post them through the letterbox.
Then we walked down the path and out onto the pavement, where the dried
leaves were. I took her bags and we walked hurriedly to the end of the
road. At the corner was a newsagent and I waited outside while she went
in to get more cigarettes.
She came out with two packets of Rothmans. She gave me a packet, and
stuck the other one in her jacket side pocket.
"Thanks," I said.
"We can get the six to the station," she said. I shook my head.
"We'll get a cab, I can afford it."
And so we did.
I had a return ticket good through Sunday, but Ruth didn't have a
ticket so I bought one for her and we sat with the bags in the station
waiting for the train to come in and we could get aboard.
The train left about two and took three hours to get to London, and
then it was another cab to where my flat was in Dalston Kingsland. It
used to belong to my brother, but he let it to me when he moved into a
bigger property with Sara about four months ago. The flat was at the
top of a purpose built block four storeys high. We went up the stairs
and into the flat. I dropped the bags onto the lino floor of the
kitchen and took off my jacket.
"Wow, this flat is really cool," Ruth said in amazement. "I like it.
And these pictures? They're great."
"Let me show you round," I said.
We went into the lounge where the sofa bed was, and all my books and
CDs and two guitars and an amplifier. "Still got the guitars I see,"
Ruth said. "Oh look, there's a little balcony that looks out on the
She followed me out again.
I showed her the bathroom. She made a joke about the cute little sponge
frog I had at the end of the bath. Then I showed her the bedroom, which
had a double bed. My choice really, I was used to a double bed. Ruth
sat on the bed and took her boots off. She flexed her toes. "It's quite
big and airy," she said, "this room. I like it."
"I'll put the kettle on, now do you want&;#8230;.?"
"Tea, a cup of tea, please John."
"OK. No sugar, right?"
"Yeah, that's right, no sugar. Thanks."
I left Ruth sitting on the bed, went into the kitchen and moved the
bags and then filled the kettle which I then put on to boil. I opened
the holdall, and took out the two mugs, which were none the worse for
their journey down to London. I thought she would like that. Ruth came
into the kitchen. She had her cigarettes out.
"It's ok to smoke in the flat, well apart from the bathroom, unless you
really have to," I joked. Ruth smiled. She pushed a stray hair away
from her face. All she had on by way of makeup was some eyeliner and
she looked lovely.
She lit up a cigarette and then sat down in one of the chairs at the
kitchen table, on which there was some post from the morning I hadn't
had time to open, as well as the sugar. I made the tea and used the
teapot for a change.
I joined Ruth at the table and we sat there smoking for a while,
sipping the tea, before Ruth said to me: "Can we go out tonight, John?
I haven't had a date in weeks. I would like that."
"Sure, I know a great little Turkish restaurant not far from here.
There's no menu, you just ask for what you want."
"Sounds exciting," Ruth said. "What time shall we go out?"
Ruth finished her tea and I showed her where she could put her clothes,
I had a couple of half empty drawers and there was plenty of space in
the wardrobe. I left her to unpack, went in the lounge and put a CD on,
just by chance it was the same CD I had played the previous night, and
I had left it in the CD Player.
Ruth rushed in. "That's my favourite album!" She said. "I love that
Well I supposed it didn't matter that we had two copies of the same CD
now. I expected that we would have a lot of stuff we both had.
I caught her then and held her close. She reeled me in, and kissed me
gently on the cheek. Then we stood, in the middle of the room, together
while the Foo Fighters sang their song.