The alarm screamed in her ear and she reached out a tired hand to bang the top. Silence. One eye opened. 7:30am. Eye shut. Two minutes of pure warm comfort, then heave back the covers, legs swung out, slippers on, day started.
Jayne didn’t like mornings. Nor did she like people who spoke during them. She wasn’t quite sure how she had managed to be married to someone who woke up cheerful and noisy. Sometimes, she wondered if she wanted to remain married, and how long the prison sentence would be for murder with intent. Steve was already getting dressed, having leaped from the bed with enthusiasm.
“Morning, my sleepy-headed vision of desire. How was your night?”
Jayne did not see the need to discuss the night. Nights were all the same. At least, they were now the children were old enough to realise she was scarier than any monster that might have crawled under their beds. Nights were for sleeping. And they were too short. They did not need discussing first thing every morning. She grunted.
“That good huh?” said Steve, undeterred. “So, what do you have planned for today?”
He always asked this. Much as Jayne hated waking up, she hated planning even more. Every morning, without fail, he asked what she planned to do. She didn’t want to think about what she planned to do. She wanted to drink tea and wake up slowly and then, when her body had adjusted to being awake, then she might let her mind think about what had to be done. She might look in the diary. She might, a little, plan. But not now. Never now. So why did he ask? She scowled at him and locked the bathroom door. On the other side, she could hear him whistling. The radio was turned on, and there were sounds of a child arriving. Happy conversation drifted through the door, until she blocked them out with the shower.
8am. Jayne emerged from the bathroom in time to kiss Steve goodbye. He was warm and smelt of toothpaste and deodorant. She smiled at him. She loved him more when he was leaving. She checked both children were dressing, and went downstairs to let Max into the garden and to pull boxes of cereal onto the table.
8.10am. Christopher arrived in the kitchen.
“You can’t wear red socks to school,” she told him.
“Can I have cocoa pops?” he said.
“Did you hear me?” said Jayne, pouring cereal. “You can’t wear red socks to school.”
Abigail arrived and slid next to Christopher. She reached for the cocoa pops and poured the last dregs into her bowl.
“Did you know the cat’s been sick?” she said.
Jayne didn’t know. Nor did she especially want to know. Now that she did know, she needed to do something about it. She left the table and found a cloth and spray and went to clean up the mess, just as the phone rang. She stood for two seconds, hoping it would stop ringing. It didn’t, so she put the cloth and spray on the floor and went to answer the telephone. It was Steve.
“Hello, Love of my life.”
“I’m late. What’s the matter?”
“Could you do me a huge favour? Sorry to be a pain.”
“If you tell me quickly. The cat’s been sick and we’re going to be late for school.”
“Right, sorry about that. Well, I left the passport application on the hall table, and it needs to be posted today or they might not be back in time for the holiday, what with the Christmas break and everything. Could you post them after you’ve done the school run? I’d like them to catch the first post if possible.”
Jayne glanced at the clock. 8.25 already. She wasn’t sure they would catch the first post anyway, but she agreed to try, and rang off. Christopher had spilt milk all over his jumper. Abigail had disappeared.
“Abigail, five minutes, then in the car,” she shouted towards the doorway. No answer, of course, though that did not mean Abigail hadn’t heard. Twelve year old girls took their power where they could get it.
She grabbed a cloth and began to wipe Christopher’s jumper. He wriggled, knocked her arm, which caught the box of Shreddies and sent them cascading across the floor towards where the abandoned cat sick cleaning equipment was waiting.
“Chris! I do not have time for this,” said Jayne, tension rising.
Christopher wriggled free and made for the stairs while she rummaged under the sink for the dustpan and brush. She was on her hands and knees when Abigail came back into the kitchen.
“I thought you said five minutes?” said Abigail, “And the cat sick is still there.”
“Yes, thanks for that,” said Jayne. “Perhaps you could start to get your brother into the car?”
8.35am. The cat sick had been cleaned up, the Shreddies swept into the bin, the children were belted in the car. Jayne grabbed her handbag, checked for her house keys and – stopped. Her house keys were missing. She glanced at the clock, 8.36. A slow tide of despair started to wash over her. They were never going to make it on time to school. Which meant she would for sure miss the post with the passports. And her whole day would be messed up.
She began to try to remember where her keys could be. They were always in her bag, she never moved them. Her brow creased as she tried to remember. Yesterday, what had she done yesterday? They had come home from school, she had opened the front door, put her keys back in her bag. In the evening, she had popped next door with a wrongly delivered letter for Mrs Cartwright. Had she taken her keys? Perhaps she had. She had worn her blue jacket.
Racing up the stairs, two at a time, she rushed to her room, flung open the wardrobe, rummaged through the clothes. Some fell from their hangers in protest but she left them where they lay, grabbed the blue jacket. One pocket was empty, the second one was heavy. Her keys. She pulled them out, nearly tripped on the clothes that now littered the floor, charged out the room, down the stairs, scooped up her bag and the passport letter, slammed the door shut behind her. It was very cold, and her breath came in smokey puffs as she hurried to the car. Both children were huddled in the back, their cheeks pink in the cold.
She caught a glimpse of red socks in the back as she got into the car. Too late now. Jayne put the key in the ignition, started the engine, then thumped the steering wheel. A van was reversing into the drive, the bright slogan of Parcelforce cheerfully emblazoned on the side. It was reversing very slowly. This happened sometimes, when Steve needed some papers delivered from work. Usually he warned her, but sometimes he forgot. Jayne sighed. They would need signing for. There was no way she could drive past the van in the driveway, and a conversation explaining she was late would probably take longer than just signing.
The driver was sorting through the paperwork as Jayne approached. He looked up and smiled through his window.
“Hello, do you have a delivery for me?” she asked, knowing the answer was obvious.
“Yes. I’m just finding the paperwork….”
“I’m in bit of a hurry, if I could just sign quickly?”
“Sure, no problem.” He oozed his belly passed the steering wheel and slid from his cab at the speed of a sloth. He walked to the back of the cab as if someone had pressed the slow motion button on a film recording. Jayne found she was tapping. Soon she would start to twitch.
“Ooops, need the keys,” he said with a smile.
Jayne didn’t slap him.
The driver sauntered back to the cab, reached inside, removed his keys from the ignition, returned to the back.
Jayne unclenched her teeth.
There was then a thorough sort through the contents of the back of the van. Parcels were moved, over-sized letters carefully placed back in crates, boxes pushed from one side to the other. At last he straightened, white package in hand.
“Here’s the one,” he said with a grin. He picked up his scanner and zapped the barcode. He tapped in some details, then asked Jayne her name. She signed an unrecognisable squiggle on the handheld device, and moved back towards her car.
Throwing the package on the seat next to her, Jayne started the engine once more.
“What was it?” asked Abigail.
“I don’t know, something for your father,” said Jayne. “Is this man going to move now? What’s he doing? Oh, I don’t believe it, he’s sorting out his delivery for the next place. Come on man, hurry up.”
She decided using the horn was too rude, and watched in agony as he closed the rear doors. Checked them. Adjusted his trousers over his belly. Walked, slowly, back to his cab. Used both hands to heave his bulk into the driver’s seat. Closed the door, but not properly. Opened the door, and closed it with a slam. Fiddled with the keys. Started the engine. At last, with a sigh of despair, the van began to inch down the driveway with Jayne close on its tail. She felt close to screaming.
They turned out of the driveway and drove at speed towards the junction. The road was white with frost, so she adjusted her speed, just in case. She didn’t want to skid.
Christopher was telling her about their class assembly. He was a frog and needed to wear a green jumper. Did he own a green jumper? Could they buy one? He began to sing the songs, slightly out of tune and with substituted words when he couldn’t remember the correct ones. Abigail sighed loudly and looked out the window. Jayne avoided the old lady crossing at the junction and drove as fast as she dared towards the roundabout. They were so late. Not that this meant the traffic had eased at all, they were now meeting all the cars leaving the schools.
At 9.20, both children were safely in school and Jayne was driving towards town. The car park nearest the post office filled up quickly in the mornings, but if she was quick, she might be lucky. She wasn’t, of course, it was that sort of day. As she drove along the High Street a lorry reversed from a turning, blocking the road. Its lights flashed and an automatic voice droned a warning while Jayne watched in frustration. There was no room to pass and she sat there, in an ever-growing queue of traffic, while the lorry manoeuvred onto the main street, turned, and chugged up the road.
She arrived at the car park just behind a white Ford Fiesta. Jayne could see curly grey hair behind the wheel, and knew this was going to be slow. She followed the car around the car park. It braked heavily at every corner, before indicating first one way, then the other, when it spotted a vacant space. The driver reversed slightly, turned towards the space, stopped, reversed again, made another approach. Jayne considered offering to help. Eventually it was safely in the space and she could continue to circle the now full car park. By the time she had driven to park in a side road, Jayne knew there was no way she was going to make the first post. She walked to the post office and stood in line, waiting to buy a stamp.
While she was waiting, Jayne pulled out her phone and scrolled through her diary. Tuesday, 9.30am, Me = dentist. She stared. How could she have forgotten? She checked the date on the calendar on the post office wall. Yep, today, half an hour ago. No way she would make that now. She found their number and phoned to apologise. Which meant she was still talking on the phone when she reached the front of the queue. Which meant she was juggling phone and bag and letter and purse as she bought the stamp. Which meant she didn’t notice the £20 that floated from her purse and into a corner of her bag.
As Jayne left the post office, she caught sight of Nicola. She hadn’t seen her for ages. She wasn’t feeling particularly sociable, but Nicola was already raising her arm and hurrying over.
“Hello Jayne, how are you? Haven’t seen you in ages!”
They stood for a moment and smiled, gave brief snippets of news, asked how the other was feeling. They didn’t really exchange any meaningful information, but they were friendly and cheerful and agreed to meet ‘another day’ for coffee. It was unlikely they ever would, which both women were aware of, but that’s what people said to each other. That was what was expected.
As soon as Jayne felt she could look at her watch without being rude, she exclaimed at the time and said she had “better be getting on.” The two women smiled, said their goodbyes and separated. As she hurried towards the supermarket, pulling out her shopping list, Jayne failed to notice the twenty pound note, which drifted from her bag and blew into a corner, underneath the bench next to the bus-stop.
The rest of Jayne’s day was taken up with shopping, cleaning, walking the dog. She collected the children from school and fed them solid fish fingers and baked beans, then bathed Christopher and helped Abigail with her homework.
By the time Steve came home, she was tired. He pushed his dinner around his plate and drank beer and told her about his day. Then they sat, side by side on the sofa. Steve put his arm around her, and she could feel the warmth of him through her sweater. She leant in close, glad her day was over, happy to have someone to tell. She told him her day had been awful, everything had gone wrong. Now she came to tell him about it, actually, only a few things in the morning had not gone to plan. But it had put the whole day off kilter. She felt as if the whole day had been a disaster. And she was tired. She didn’t mention the lost £20. He didn’t need to know about that, and she didn’t need the lecture.
After watching a boring documentary about animals, with Steve saying, “Wow, look at that Jayne,” every few minutes so she didn’t feel she could suggest they could turn to a different channel, Jayne decided she had had enough of the day.
She leant over and kissed his cheek, rough now with new stubble, and said she was having a bath and an early night.
As she poured pink liquid into the running water, watching bubbles foam beneath the tap, Jayne thought some more about her day. It hadn’t been too bad, she decided, peeling off her clothes and balancing them on the stool next to the heater. She slid under the water, her muscles relaxing as the hot water lapped over her. No, after the morning, it hadn’t been too bad. Mainly just boring, with too many jobs.
She rubbed herself with the towel. The morning had been tough though, all those things going wrong, one after the other. It was weird how some days were like that. She pulled on her pyjamas and went to bed. She could, she decided, understand how some people believed in their horoscopes, could understand why it seemed that life was fated, predestined by the position of the planets or something.
Jayne didn’t believe that. She believed in God, and that life was controlled by him, but she could, after a morning like today, definitely see other people’s point of view.
She leant back on the pillows and reached for her Bible. She read her Bible every night, a pre-going-to-sleep ritual left over from her childhood. She wasn’t sure what it achieved really, but it was what she did. She prayed too, and she wasn’t entirely sure, if she was honest, what that achieved either. But she liked to do it. She liked thinking that she was part of something bigger than herself, that perhaps in some way, God might decide to use her, that her life counted for more than just cat sick cleaning and school runs.
She thought about her day as she prayed, about all the things that had gone wrong during the morning.
“I’m not sure what all that was about God,” she said, “perhaps tomorrow could be a bit better please.”
Then she prayed. She told God all about the things she was worried about, asked him to keep her family safe and well, asked him to show her how she should be living, asked for a bit more leisure time with Steve. Then she finished, as she always did, “But not my will, but yours. Amen.” Because that was what she had been taught to pray. And because, if she thought about it (which she never did) she really did want God to be in charge. She really did believe he knew best. Even if this morning had been one disaster after the other…
Jayne turned off the light and snuggled into the pillows. She knew she had about half an hour before Steve came crashing into the room, rattling the change in his pocket, stomping across the carpet and asking if she was awake. Men were noisy. She closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.
Nicola was going to sleep too. She had enjoyed seeing Jayne, it had cheered her up. Nicola was struggling a bit at the moment, her life seemed a bit bleak and pointless. She thought back over their brief conversation, about how nice it had been, being with someone her own age for a moment. She had first met Jayne at church, but Nicola hadn’t attended the Sunday service for months now. The weeks just seemed too busy. Perhaps she should give it another try, she thought. Perhaps it was time to get sorted out, and hearing about God might help with that. It would give her something other than the family to think about anyway. For the first time in weeks, she was smiling when she went to sleep.
A woman called Lisa was not asleep however. She was on a bus, heading home. Lisa lived alone. One day, she would be a care worker and help to ease the last moments for many old people. But she didn’t know that yet. At the moment, she worked in a pub. She had left work late, only to find her purse had been stolen. She had no way to get home, there was no one to phone and ask for a lift, no way to pay for a taxi. She had started to walk home, back to her bedsit on the other side of town.
Another thing that Lisa didn’t know was that approaching her from the other side of town was Tony. Tony was an addict, in dire need of a fix and had no way to pay for it. His eyes were bouncing erratically from shop to road to tree. He was looking for a person who might have some money, someone who might provide a means to stop his discomfort. In his pocket was a knife, and he was feeling desperate enough to use it. As Lisa walked towards the post office from one direction, Tony was approaching from the other. As yet, they were a distance apart, they couldn’t even see each other. But in ten minutes, they would meet. It was unlikely that Lisa would survive the encounter.
However, they didn’t meet. As Lisa passed the post office, she noticed something flapping under the bench next to the post office. It was a twenty pound note. She picked it up and looked around. No one was around, and there were no nearby houses. She decided it was now hers. As she stood there, deciding, the bus swung round the corner. The yellow lights shone through the night, and Lisa thought about how tired she was and how much she wanted to be home. She stuck out her hand, climbed aboard, and used the £20 to pay for her fare. By the time Tony arrived at the post office, Lisa was safely gone.
Someone else who was not asleep was Mike. Mike couldn’t sleep because his face hurt. He had slipped that morning on the ice, and fallen, smack, right on his face. It was a hard fall, and had bruised his nose and blackened one eye and knocked out his front teeth. His tongue was feeling those teeth now, sore in his swollen gums, but replaced. They had been replaced by the local dentist. Mike had been driven there by his Mum, and luckily, there had been a cancellation and Mike had been ushered straight in to see the dentist. The dentist had put his teeth back, told him that they might survive the knock, that Mike was very lucky. He didn’t feel lucky. He felt bruised and sore. But he did hope he could keep his teeth.
One person who was neither asleep nor awake was Judith. Judith had died at 11am that morning. It was very unexpected, she had hardly felt ill, just a trace of indigestion after breakfast, a bit off-colour. In fact, she had even gone out that morning, driving herself into town. She had left home later than she’d planned, which meant she had not managed to reach the town car park before all the mothers arrived after the school drop off. As she had turned her white Fiesta into the car park, she had been sure, in fact, that there would be no spaces left.
But she had been very fortunate, and had taken what might have been the last vacant spot that morning. This meant she only had a very short walk to the shops, and had bought her milk and returned to the car in less than ten minutes. She then drove home again, arriving in her driveway at soon after 10am.
At which point, just as she swivelled around to position her car outside her front door, she had a massive heart attack. The car shot back, crashing into her front door. A neighbour heard the noise and rushed over. They saw what had happened and phoned for an ambulance, which arrived in good time but too late for Judith. It was time for Judith to die.
However, had she not found that parking space, she would have been forced to park in the road and then walk to the shop. This would have tired her. Not enough to start the heart attack while she was shopping, but enough for it to happen while she was driving. With the delay due to street parking and walking, Judith would have been passing the infant school at 10am. Which is exactly the time that Miss Mott was leaving the school, to walk her class to the church to practise for the carol concert. Had Judith been passing at that time, the time when her poor heart caused massive pain and her arm to lock in agony, she would have mounted the path where the children were walking.
Tommy and Clara and Samantha were currently asleep in their beds at home. Had Judith not found that last parking space, they would be lying in the morgue, while six of their friends would be lying injured in the hospital. But they weren’t. They were safe.
Of course, Jayne, as she lay sleeping in her own bed, did not know this. Nor did she know that had her morning gone completely to plan, her own children would also be in hospital.
At 8.55 that morning, Miles Brown had driven down his steep driveway rather too quickly. As he arrived at the junction with the main road, his heavy 4×4 skidded on the ice, causing him to lurch into the road without looking. But no one was there, because Jayne was delayed by the fat delivery man. So no one was hurt, and when Jayne did pass that spot, exactly 7 minutes later, Miles Brown was well on his way to work. So she delivered her children to school and then waited behind the reversing lorry, which delayed the car immediately behind her, which meant that Judith found a vacant parking space.
However, no one knew anything about anyone else. Everyone lived their own lives.
The following morning, when Jayne woke to the alarm and hurried to the bathroom to avoid her cheerful husband, she sorely hoped her day would be better than yesterday. She also remembered her prayer. She didn’t know why she prayed every night really, though she liked to try to include God, just a little bit, in her daily life. And you never knew, did you? Perhaps one day she would be part of his plan, part of something bigger than herself. Even if, she thought, as she stepped into the shower, even if, it had never happened yet.