Chapter no 33

Then She Was Gone

I’d had crushes on girls before. There were girls at the posh magazine where I used to work. Posh, posh, posh girls. I hated them all, really. But at the same time I yearned for them, particularly the fun ones, the friendly ones. The ones with sticks up their arses I could take or leave; they were just me, with better genes. But the fun girls, the lovely girls, the ones who thanked me if I held a door for them or made goofy faces if there was a problem with their expenses, God, I wanted them. Not in a sexual way, of course. But I wanted to know what it felt like to be them, to walk down the street with everything in exactly the right place, the sun shining down on their honey-colored heads, doors opening as they passed, men turning, parties starting at the precise moment that they arrived.

I was protective of my antisocial persona in many ways. It felt safe to be invisible. No one had any expectations of me, and after eighteen years living in my parents’ house it was liberating not to be expected to do anything or be anything. So it was ambiguous, this feeling. On the one hand I wanted to be like these golden girls. On the other I felt far superior to them.



And Ellie Mack was possibly the most golden girl I had ever encountered.

It turned out that she was in love. She had this boy, Theo. I met him once. He was pretty golden, too. The sweetest, sweetest thing, he was, and handsome right off the handsome scale. He shook my hand and he made proper eye contact and he was clever, clever, clever and I found myself thinking, Just imagine the babies that these two lovebirds could make, would they not be just spectacular.

That might well have been the root of it, thinking about it now.

But it was your fault as well: you with the dropped hand and the sigh of annoyance. You and your I can’t ask you to live with me, you know that? You with your small girl sitting on your lap, an arm hooked around your neck, staring at

me with her pale horror-film eyes as though she was a ghost and I was the one who’d murdered her.

And there was Ellie Mack, the highlight of my thankless weeks. I brought her gifts. I told her she was marvelous. I shared little snippets from my life and she shared little snippets from hers. The mother was a pleasant woman. I thought she liked me. I got my tea in the same mug every week. I came to think of it as my mug. The biscuits were always, always good.

It was a sort of cocoon at Ellie’s house: dark outside, cozy inside; me, Ellie, the cat, the sounds of her family all around, the tea, the biscuits, the reassuring solidity of the numbers on the pages between us. I liked our Tuesday afternoons. For those few weeks they were all that stood between me and myself. And I think I already knew even then that myself was not a place where I should be spending too much time.

I’d seen Ellie and me as riding a train together toward her GCSEs, toward triumph. I’d pictured myself on her doorstep in August with a small bottle of champagne and possibly a shiny balloon, her arms thrown around my neck, her pleasant mother standing behind smiling beneficently, waiting her turn to hug me too, words of thanks and gratitude, Oh, Noelle, we could not have done this without youCome in, come in, let’s drink a toast together.

And then came that phone call. The pleasant mother being not quite so pleasant. Christ, you know, I can barely remember what she said now. I wasn’t really listening. All I could think was no, no, no. Not my Tuesdays. Not my Tuesdays. So I was curt, verging on rude, most likely. I told her that it was a great inconvenience. When it was nothing of the sort. It was a fucking travesty, that’s what it was. A fucking travesty.

I dropped the phone afterward and I screamed out loud.

I fixated on all the nice things I’d done for Ellie. The gifts I’d bought her. The special papers I’d found for her, printed off for her. The extra ten minutes I’d sometimes tag on to the end of our lesson if we were in the zone as I called it. I bubbled and fermented with resentment.

That phase went on for a week or two and then I entered the nostalgia phase. Everything had been better then, I told myself, when I’d spent Tuesday afternoons with Ellie Mack. My relationship with you had been better, my

teaching had been better, my life had been better. And I thought, Well, maybe if I could just see her, just see her face, maybe I’d feel a bit like I’d felt then.



There’s a word to describe what I did next. And that word is stalking. I knew where Ellie was at school, of course I did; not too far from my home, as it happened, so it was easy to pass by at 9 a.m., at 3:30, to watch her coming and going, the boy with his arm slung around her shoulders, the glow coming off the two of them so fucking bright and golden it’s a wonder they could see where they were going. They were the culmination of every teen romance movie ever filmed, right there, in real life.

Then came the half-term and I no longer knew where she was going to be. So I had to become a little sneaky. It was tricky because obviously I was working all the hours with my other students, and seeing you too, servicing your sexual requirements like a good girl. But I worked out that she was at the library a lot, and that she passed my road on her way there and that if I put myself in the window of the café on my street corner I’d be able to see her when she passed by. So whenever I wasn’t teaching I’d be there, in the café on the corner, looking for a glimpse of that waterfall of gold hair. And you know, Floyd, I swear that was all I wanted. I just wanted to see her.

But for some reason that day, I found myself rising from my chair. There she was standing between two parked cars, waiting to cross the road. Her blonde hair was tied back and hidden somehow inside her hood or the back of her jacket and I wanted . . . I swear, I just wanted her to see me, to acknowledge me in some way. And I approached her and there it was, like a punch to the gut: Jesus Christ, she doesn’t know me. Not for the first second or two. I watched the memory slot into place like a slide in one of those carousels from the olden days and then of course she was all smiles and kindness. But it was too late. She had completely failed to verify my existence.

If only she had known, Floyd, if only she had known how much I’d needed her to do that, then maybe none of it would have happened. Maybe Ellie Mack would have gone to the library, got to sit all her GCSEs, got to marry Theo, got to live her life.

But, unfortunately, that’s not the way it worked out.

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