Excerpt From The Survival of Thomas
Thomas Ford was dressed early, sitting upright
in the chair by the bed. He was regretting that hed arranged
with Finlay to be picked up at the hospital. It would have been
better to just get a taxi by himself, back to the house. But then
again he knew he was still unsteady on his feet, safer to fall with
Finlay there. By the time Thomas saw Finlays head coming through
the double doors at the end of the ward he had been ready to just
get up and leave on his own anyway though, fall or not. As Finlay
drove down towards the roundabout, Thomas felt a kind of terror.
It was like a sickly sweet insanity, lapping at the edges of his
soul in waves of suggestion. Obviously, Thomas told himself, this
is what it has to be like, the first time in a car since the Toyota
went into the water. He sat stiffly in Finlays passenger seat,
trying not to look crazy. He felt his eyeballs swivelling here and
there, trying to see too much, too fast. He felt his throat doing
rapid swallowing motions. "Alright there Thomas?" Thomas
blinked and stared straight ahead. He was surprised to find he couldnt
bring himself to turn his neck and look back at Finlay. Something
in him was jammed. He could only sniff and nod as Finlay indicated
right and took the car into the long, smooth turn. Soon they were
passing through streets full of people, faces, crowds it seemed
to Thomas. There had been plenty of people coming and going at the
hospital, but this was different. At the hospital everyone had shared
a unifying context. Here, outside the car windows, was humanity
in the wild. Many of these pairs of eyes would have read about the
crash, seen photographs of Lea and himself. Somehow that thought
made the crash real in a horrible new way. Thomas thought he recognised
a face in the crowd. "Slow down Finlay," said Thomas suddenly.
"Sorry man. I cant go slower here. Were packed
in tight with this traffic." Thomas twisted his neck, trying
to look back. The thick black hair had been the same, even something
birdlike in the face. Thomas had only glimpsed the face for a moment,
in the crowd. Now it was gone, there was no way to tell from the
backs of all those heads there, which one might have been the driver
of the red car that killed Lea. Thomas turned to face the road ahead
again. "I thought I saw someone," he said. "Who?"
"No-one. Just my head playing a trick." "Yeah?"
"No. Wait. I dont know. Finlay, stop the car." "I
cant stop here." Thomas punched the dashboard in front
of Finlay. "Stop the fucking car here or Im jumping out!"
"Alright. Alright." Thomas was shoving at the door handle.
Some part of his brain wouldnt slip into gear, he just kept
fumbling at the handle. He saw his hands doing it and realised the
gesture was like Lea in the car, twitching uselessly with her hands,
neither undoing her seatbelt nor letting Thomas undo it for her.
This was the first moment he felt understanding for the way her
hands had behaved in that sinking car. Thomas sensed rather than
saw, that Finlay had managed to stop in the traffic. He heard horns
beeping from behind. Then, almost as though by accident, Thomas
had the passenger door open. He lurched his weight toward the pavement.
It was full of moving bodies and his legs were shaking with the
unaccustomed effort. The physiotherapists at the hospital had made
him walk up stairs and down, but this was different. There were
so many ways his legs had forgotten to work, to support him, move
him, balance him. "Tom!" Finlay shouted once. But Thomas
Ford didnt hear. He was in the crowd now, moving up Academy
Street, past the bank. The mad thought flashed through his mind,
that he should go in and check his account. Then he remembered why
he had left the car. He looked ahead, as far as the traffic lights.
He would have to cross over, then get to the corner, before he would
be at the place where he had seen that black hair and bird face
in the crowd. He bit his lip, realising that, no, he would have
to get much further than that, to catch up with the head. The head
had been walking, its body had been walking, when he saw it from
the car. Thomas legs just wouldnt move fast enough,
to catch up with the man, not unless the man had stopped for some
reason, just round the corner. There was a bus-stop just round that
corner, and the back entrance to the railway station, and the big
shopping centre. Maybe if the man had been going to the bus-stop,
that was Thomas only chance of catching up with him. Thomas
felt his left leg bend too much as he took a step. It was just before
the traffic lights. The leg buckled and Thomas fell heavily against
a large female thigh, covered in cotton. He made a strange sound,
hitting the pavement with his shoulder. Then pain spread out from
a point deep in Thomas chest. It was as though some wild animal
had bitten him there and was now chewing. The pain was so intense
and relentless that Thomas had to close his eyes and rest his head
fully on the pavement. He was oblivious to the pedestrians, the
traffic noise, who he was, or where. Only the pain existed now.
Jimmy and Lorna had walked well past the corner by the time Thomas
Ford collapsed at the traffic lights behind them. They were not
headed for the bus-stop. They were going to the shopping centre.
Jimmy liked to stalk its floors and escalators. The observation
of the public was both a discipline and a hobby to Jimmy. He enjoyed
the feeling of passing anonymously through crowds. His stomach still
hurt where his dad had stamped on him. He had to stop and sit for
a while on a bench, just inside the shopping centres large
doorway. He leaned forward on the bench, grinning, looking straight
ahead, hugging his belly. "No Jimmy. Thats not right.
You should go up to the hospital and get it checked. You could come
up with me on the bus when I start my shift. OK?" Jimmy grinned
harder and shook his head. He did not look at Lorna. He sighed out
air, then sucked in a breath greedily. He blew out quickly twice.
He laughed. "Come on," he said. "Ill get you
a coffee up in Starbucks." Jimmy chose the high seats by the
window. Lorna was sipping coffee and watching Jimmy watching the
people pass by. It was disconcerting, the attitude he had to the
passing crowd, as though he was watching television and these people
passing were only half-real to him. Sometimes Lorna would see someone
in the crowd notice Jimmy staring. The person would look back at
Jimmy but Jimmy would not react, he would show no awareness that
he was being looked at. He would just continue to grin like an Alsatian
dog on a hot day. Lorna looked away from Jimmy, down into her coffee.
At that exact moment Jimmy turned his black eyes on her. "Did
you talk to that man again at work?" he said. "Who?"
"That man you said youd talked to. The one who had the
accident out near Drumnadrochit, at Loch Ness.
to JohnAALogan main page