Fiction Serial Leave Means Leave Episode 7

A week went by; two weeks and still nothing. It was unnerving: was he planning something worse? But as the weeks passed she began to relax. Perhaps he’d given up; perhaps it wasn’t even him. She didn’t believe either of these stories but they were something to calm you at night, like telling a child a fairy story. A child! It still caught her like an old wound when she thought of the lost baby. But there was still time, she wasn’t thirty yet. Soon the years that he’d stolen would be compressed into a tiny compartment; eventually they’d hardly show at all…

As the time drew near for the summer course, she went out and spent most of her salary on new outfits, had her hair chopped and dyed, bought new shoes. In leather jacket and jeans even her mother wouldn’t recognise her now.

She’d called home just once, to say she’d left him. Her mother sounded older; her voice softened slightly at the news but there was too much space between them now – and in any case she wouldn’t approve of Durham. Jean was old-school, thought women should stick to the traditional occupations. She herself had been a school secretary; one of a fierce breed. It’d have been different if Anna’s father had been alive, but it was too late to tell the story of her marriage now. Jean would most likely have tutted and said, well, why didn’t ye leave him afore?

She caught the train up to Durham. From the station a bus went to the campus; getting off she felt a vast space opening up like coming out into the open. She stood in the courtyard drinking it all in. At reception there was no-one on duty so she waited. Then her phone pinged with a text.


She whipped around. The lobby was empty. Outside students and lecturers were strolling around; no-one was loitering.


The voice came from the desk. Trembling, she gave her name, was ticked off a list and given a key. Second floor. She could take the lift? A confined space? – no thanks. Other students, perhaps on her course, were coming down the stairs; she smiled but didn’t speak. This was a clean slate. Best foot forward. What would her mother say? Wheesht, ye great bawby, awa’ wi ye an’ git on! Words to that effect. Taking a deep breath, she turned the key in the lock just as her phone double-beeped with another text. She ignored it, locked the door behind her and put down her suitcase.

Having unpacked she saw a cafe across the quad. Maybe there’d be others down there from her course. She ordered tea and sat at a table, noticing that the others all had name tags; she’d probably have one too somewhere.

‘Anyone sitting here?’ Anna looked up and saw a woman in her forties, a name tag proclaiming ‘Summer School.’ She shook her head and said, ‘I’m on the summer school too – Physics.’

The woman reached a hand across the table. ‘Phyl. I’m a Chemist.’

The name on the tag read Phyllis Norwood.

‘Horrid name, isn’t it? I’ve been Phyl since I was twelve.’

Anna introduced herself, said she’d forgotten her tag.

Pretty soon she and Phyl were chatting like old friends. Phyl didn’t say, but Anna wondered if she’d had some of the same experiences. She seemed confident but you could always tell: something like a bruise behind the eyes. When the tea was gone they arranged to meet for dinner, then Anna went to her room for a lie down. Something rustled under the door; a piece of paper. She picked it up: it said in large red capitals: DID YOU SEE ME? She picked up the phone and pressed speed dial.