Chapter no 5 – Doors

The Midnight Library

Eight hours before she decided to die, Nora entered the newsagent’s. ‘Sheltering from the rain?’ the woman behind the counter asked.

‘Yes.’ Nora kept her head down. Her despair growing like a weight she couldn’t carry.

National Geographic was on display.

As she stared now at the magazine cover – an image of a black hole – she realised that’s what she was. A black hole. A dying star, collapsing in on itself.

Her dad used to subscribe. She remembered being enthralled by an article about Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. She’d never seen a place that looked so far away. She’d read about scientists doing research among glaciers and frozen ords and puns. en, prompted by Mrs Elm, she’d decided she wanted to be a glaciologist.

She saw the scruy, hunched form of her brother’s friend – and their own former bandmate – Ravi by the music mags, engrossed in an article. She stood there for a fraction too long, because when she walked away she heard him say, ‘Nora?’

‘Ravi, hi. I hear Joe was in Bedford the other day?’ A small nod. ‘Yeah.’

‘Did he, um, did you see him?’ ‘I did actually.’

A silence Nora felt as pain. ‘He didn’t tell me he was coming.’ ‘Was just a fly-by.’

‘Is he okay?’

Ravi paused. Nora had once liked him, and he’d been a loyal friend to her brother. But, as with Joe, there was a barrier between them. ey hadn’t parted on the best of terms. (He’d thrown his drumsticks on the floor of a rehearsal room and stropped out when Nora told him she was out of the band.) ‘I think he’s depressed.’

Nora’s mind grew heavier at the idea her brother might feel like she did. ‘He’s not himself,’ Ravi went on, anger in his voice. ‘He’s going to have to

move out of his shoebox in Shepherd’s Bush. What with him not being able to play lead guitar in a successful rock band. Mind you, I’ve got no money either. Pub gigs don’t pay these days. Even when you agree to clean the toilets. Ever cleaned pub toilets, Nora?’

‘I’m having a pretty shit time too, if we’re doing the Misery Olympics.’

Ravi cough-laughed. A hardness momentarily shadowed his face. ‘e world’s smallest violin is playing.’

She wasn’t in the mood. ‘Is this about e Labyrinths? Still?’

‘It meant a lot to me. And to your brother. To all of us. We had a deal with Universal. Right. ere. Album, singles, tour, promo. We could be Coldplay now.’

‘You hate Coldplay.’

‘Not the point. We could be in Malibu. Instead: Bedford. And so, no, your brother’s not ready to see you.’

‘I was having panic attacks. I’d have let everyone down in the end. I told the label to take you on without me. I agreed to write the songs. It wasn’t my fault I was engaged. I was with Dan. It was kind of a deal-breaker.’

‘Well, yeah. How did that work out?’ ‘Ravi, that isn’t fair.’

‘Fair. Great word.’

e woman behind the counter gawped with interest.

‘Bands don’t last. We’d have been a meteor shower. Over before we started.’

‘Meteor showers are fucking beautiful.’ ‘Come on. You’re still with Ella, aren’t you?’

‘And I could be with Ella and in a successful band, with money. We had that chance. Right there.’ He pointed to the palm of his hand. ‘Our songs were re.’

Nora hated herself for silently correcting the ‘our’ to ‘my’.

‘I don’t think your problem was stage fright. Or wedding fright. I think your problem was life fright.’

is hurt. e words took the air out of her.

‘And I think your problem,’ she retaliated, voice trembling, ‘is blaming others for your shitty life.’

He nodded, as if slapped. Put his magazine back. ‘See you around, Nora.’

‘Tell Joe I said hi,’ she said, as he walked out of the shop and into the rain. ‘Please.’

She caught sight of the cover of Your Cat magazine. A ginger tabby. Her mind felt loud, like a Sturm und Drang symphony, as if the ghost of a German composer was trapped inside her mind, conjuring chaos and intensity.

e woman behind the counter said something to her she missed. ‘Sorry?’

‘Nora Seed?’

e woman – blonde bob, bottle tan – was happy and casual and relaxed in a way Nora no longer knew how to be. Leaning over the counter, on her forearms, as if Nora was a lemur at the zoo.


‘I’m Kerry-Anne. Remember you from school. e swimmer. Super-brain. Didn’t whatshisface, Mr Blandford, do an assembly on you once? Said you were going to end up at the Olympics?’

Nora nodded. ‘So, did you?’

‘I, um, gave it up. Was more into music . . . at the time. en life happened.’

‘So what do you do now?’ ‘I’m . . . between things.’

‘Got anyone, then? Bloke? Kids?’

Nora shook her head. Wishing it would fall o. Her own head. Onto the floor. So she never had to have a conversation with a stranger ever again.

‘Well, don’t hang about. Tick-tock tick-tock.’

‘I’m thirty-ve.’ She wished Izzy was here. Izzy never put up with any of this kind of shit. ‘And I’m not sure I want—’

‘Me and Jake were like rabbits but we got there. Two little terrors. But worth it, y’know? I just feel complete. I could show you some pictures.’

‘I get headaches, with . . . phones.’

Dan had wanted kids. Nora didn’t know. She’d been petrified of motherhood. e fear of a deeper depression. She couldn’t look aer herself, let alone anyone else.

‘Still in Bedford, then?’ ‘Mm-hm.’

ought you’d be one who got away.’ ‘I came back. My mum was ill.’

‘Aw, sorry to hear that. Hope she’s okay now?’ ‘I better go.’

‘But it’s still raining.’

As Nora escaped the shop, she wished there were nothing but doors ahead of her, which she could walk through one by one, leaving everything behind.

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