It was when Luton flashed passed that Juliet first thought of turning back; this was a silly idea. Of course she couldn’t get off until Bedford, the first actual stop. That would be quite soon now though.
Juliet was pinioned in her seat by a large sweaty man whose sausage-like arm wedged her own. The train was full; rush hour, at least until Bedford. She hoped her pungent seating companion would disappear then.
The mobile in the shoebox buzzed again. The box was in a plastic bag held between her feet below the table; at that moment entirely unreachable. It was Ally’s mobile in Ally’s old shoebox. She’d brought the phone because of the photos on it; of the two of them together in the club, in the flat with Harry, mucking about in the park with him, in bed with him and each other on a long lazy Sunday morning.
This whole thing had been a spur of the moment decision; quite unlike her; that was usually Ally’s kind of thing. She’d even left work early to do it; Stuart wasn’t particularly pleased at yet more time off but she’d told him she had a migraine and backed it up with some pretty authentic moaning and head rubbing. Ally would have been proud of her chutzpah.
Chutzpah is all you need to get by, Ally always told her. She was full of it, of course.
Had been full of it.
The phone buzzed again. At the funeral yesterday there had been a crowd of people she didn’t know. They’d kept to themselves but still gave her looks as if to say: “That’s her, that’s the girlfriend”. One of them had come over to her afterwards; after the coffin had slid along its track and the curtains had closed, after Juliet had made that strange little whimper without realising until everyone looked around.
Maybe it was one of them messaging, but why now?
Now that Ally was dead.
The police had rung her at about eleven on the day of the accident. Stuart hadn’t been best pleased. They’d got her number from Ally’s mobile, had already rung her mum and the studios where she worked, but Ally had asked for her so they’d obliged. They’d also asked if she’d be collecting the mangled bike once they’d finished with it. The hospital was in West Acton, miles away. The tube had been stuffed and she’d nearly left her bag behind in blind panic, squeezing open the doors again to grab it off the seat. The taxi seemed to take hours to grind its way around unfamiliar backstreets, then she’d had to wait in reception for ages before being taken to Ally’s bedside. There had been tubes going in and out of her, bruises everywhere, one of her beautiful eyes completely closed. Juliet had thought her asleep but then a finger in a bandaged hand motioned her closer.
“Tell my mum I still love her, Jools.” The saucy sexy voice had been reduced to a whisper.
“You’ll tell her yourself.”
“I don’t think so, love.”
Juliet had just enough time to squeeze her hand before the orderly wheeled in the gurney. Three hours later the surgeon was giving her a consoling pat on the shoulder. He’d even brought a cup of tea.
The large man staggered up as the train lurched to a stop. Juliet let out a deep breath, took the mobile out of the shoebox and read the text. It was from someone called Lizzie. She was at Heathrow, just come back from Ibiza, a wicked scene apparently. The text was quite long; it had to be to describe all the things Lizzie would do to Ally with her tongue when they met up again.
Juliet spent the rest of the journey to Derby in tears. She should have got out at Bedford after all, or Kettering, or Leicester. But it was only when she finally arrived in Derby that the numbness began to wear off. She was here now so she would go ahead with it for Ally’s sake.
For fucking Ally’s fucking sake.
The taxi found the address, a dusty street of tiny terraced houses. Ali’s mum, Sandra, lived at number twenty-three.
The woman who opened the door was smaller than Juliet had imagined. Ally had been quite big but her mum seemed almost shrunken, the same green eyes and auburn hair, the same pale skin, but like a version of Ally with all the air let out. There was drink on her breath.
“You didn’t have to come up ’specially. You’re one of her gay friends, I take it?”
Juliet wanted to tell her she was so much more than that. Up until two hours ago that would have been the easiest thing in the world to say.
“You weren’t at the funeral.” Juliet told her.
“Alison hasn’t spoken to me for three years. Her last words were ‘fuck-off and drop dead’; to her own mum.”
“I’m sorry. She talked about you a lot.”
“I doubt it.” Sandra pulled a face.
“Anyway, I’ve brought you...” Juliet opened the shoebox on the dining room table. Sandra hesitantly picked out the urn then crumpled down heavily onto a chair.
“That’s in the park opposite the flat, we’d take Harry for walkies, throw the Frisbee for him in the summer.” Juliet tapped quickly through the photos. “That’s at the Pride Festival last year, we were up all night making our costumes; that one’s inside the club at Ally’s twenty-fifth, a whole bunch of us pissed out of our brains; oh yeah, Sunday morning breakfast in bed, you can just see Harry’s tail poking out from under the duvet...”
Juliet looked up to find Sandra’s head nodding. It was getting late now; she really should be going if she was to catch the last train.
She got up carefully from the sofa.
The sleepy voice made her stop.
Juliet sat down again. Sandra laid her head on her shoulder and Juliet put a tentative arm around her.
“Don’t leave me again...”
“I won’t, I promise.”
“Love you, Ally.”
Juliet squeezed the woman’s hand as she snuggled closer.
“I love you too.”
Dave Weaver ©