CHARLOTTE JOSEPHS – YORKSHIRE
SCARS LIKE TRAIN TRACKS
If one thing annoyed Toby, it was not being able to hold eye-contact during a conversation. I kept him talking as I pushed his wheelchair into Leeds train station because as his best friend, it was my honourable duty to annoy the fuck out of him.
“Holy fucking shit. Would it kill them to build a ramp?”
What seemed like a thousand families with prams, suitcases, and trolley bags queued ahead of us for the station’s only lift.
“Well complain,” Toby said.
I nodded. “I will.”
I didn’t; there wasn’t enough time. There was never enough time.
“I suppose Julian hates me now,” I said, clicking the wheelchair brake down on platform 10b.
He nodded, then shrugged. “Jules hates everyone right now.”
I stepped away to inspect the dint on the wheelchair frame and the grazes on Toby’s palms and forehead, realising that Julian would hate me even more, because Toby and I had never been patient enough to wait for a descending lift when concrete steps sat only a metre away. Who cared about wheelchair vulnerability?
Toby rubbed the blood from his graze, winced, then smirked up at me. “At least it wasn’t a mountain this time.”
“At least it wasn’t too much Welly Vodka.”
“At least it doesn’t really matter if —”
“No.” I exhaled and turned away from him. “No more jokes about it.”
Now it was too close. Way too close, because in the dim May dusk, Toby was all pointy knees and jutting elbows, wasted muscles, and scars like train tracks sliced into skin. He was powder-white flesh stretched over a brittle bone canvas. Diseased, and weak. And dying…
But we’d agreed: No tears. No tantrums. No time consuming tale-telling to avoid getting on the damn train that was already five minutes delayed. We’d rehearsed a smile, a wink, a “fuck off ya bastard.” A hop onto the train, a trundle into the distance.
Nothing could be easier… except nothing could be harder.
“You goin’ home after this?” he asked.
I turned to him, and when his smile faltered I realised my eyes had cracked and a tear had slipped out. I caught it with my sleeve and tried a smile. It felt strange that he would mention my home, when our home had been a dirty house on a weather beaten street in Hull, or sometimes a virtual corner of our Dropbox account.
I shook my head. I’d never be home again. “Stupid wind. I have sensitive eyes.” I glanced up at the departures board and wiped my cheek a second time.
He sniffed and nodded, then lifted the brake on his wheelchair and rolled towards me. “Chaz, remember what I said, plea—”
“Toby, it’s not like—”
“We’ll never see each other again.”
I took a deep breath, a sob jammed in my throat. “Right.”
He dipped his head, and I glanced down the tracks at the yellow face of the train as it came around the bend. I turned back to him, our eyes met. I don’t know how long we stared at each other, just long enough to scar the image onto the back of my eyelids so that every time I blink I get a flash of his pale skin or green eyes. Or the brightness of the beanie contrasting against his frail blond hair, or the way he tilted to the left because of his missing hip bone.
“It’s cold,” he said, meaning I should board the train. I wasn’t cold. Every one of my internal organs burned, every drop of blood rose to the skin in protest. But I nodded anyway and turned my back on him, the word goodbye jammed in my throat. “Wait, Chaz.”
It’s all a mistake. It’s not true. It was all just a cruel joke; I’m in remission.
“Chaz,” he said. “Thanks for coming to help clear out the closet.”