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U3A Writing: The Longest Day

Janet Richards' story highlights the need to care.

It was 5 o'clock. As she cleared her desk, her colleagues called out 'goodnight' as they left the building. Her footsteps echoed down the corridor, and without a backward glance, she joined the others, the grey-faced, black-clad crowd who spewed out of the offices onto London Bridge.

The train was crowded, noisy and smelly, but for once did not stop in the tunnel, as though in tune with her desire to be elsewhere. She noticed that her heels were too high, and how strange it was to be so rational at a time like this.

As usual she put the bin out. Inside the house she moved from room to room, straightening, tidying, coldly at a distance with no feeling. As usual she had some fruit. Her stomach didn't seem to need food. She passed the night fretfully, fitfully, hearing each chime of the church clock, just wanting it to be daylight. Birds started to sing, but soon the crash of the refuse van drowned out their song.

She rose and started to collect things for the journey. Not much - water perhaps. But there would be water enough later. 'Almost a joke,' she thought. In a haze yet oddly focused, she unplugged the phone.

The car was cold and took a while to start. Her movements had slowed, becoming calculated, deliberate. Strange how this journey needed to be completed safely. After what seemed like a long time, her body dictated a need to stop, rest and eat a snack. She wondered why she had chosen such a long journey. Sleeping a while in a motorway car park, conflicting images of her life came to mind - light and dark, happy and sad, peaceful and violent. She was not moved.

The last part of the journey was completed almost on automatic pilot, as her instincts drew on her long experience of driving. She had visited this place before in her mind. And here it was at last, high, windswept, grassy, where sea, land and sky met in a surreal welcome.

She walked the gravel path to the seat, and sat for a while before taking a small pad from her pocket. Words like 'sad 'and 'sorry' came to mind, but there was no one to write to.

As she rose from the seat and walked toward the edge, her heart began to pound, and sweat broke out on her forehead. Nearly at the edge she felt her foot crunch on something, and looking down, watched as a snail wriggled and died in its broken shell.

All at once tears welled up and fell like a healing balm down her face. Feelings returned with a rush. She heard herself say, 'I care, I care, I'm sorry.' A huge weight was lifted from her.

Turning, she walked back toward the car, as a distant church clock chimed five o'clock.


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