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Another Year


She kicked, screaming his name as her head broke the surface. A reflex, like a child taking the first breath.

The scream echoed around the stone arch and down the valley. While the rest of the world was drinking and kissing, she was fighting for life.


* * *


At the end of her shift Kitty Lockwood picked up a rhogan josh from the Star of India. She bundled poppadoms and a plain nan into the bag, along with a veggie dopiaza for Molly.

The package rocked on the passenger seat as she drove home.

The plan was that they would all see in the New Year together - Kitty, her mother and daughter Molly. When she had packed off Molly to bed, Kitty would enjoy a glass of red with her mum. She had promised to be home before the bongs. She was three miles from home when the Airwave radio squawked.

“A jumper? I’m chuffing miles away!”

“Some woman rang in. Helen something.” Kitty heard the rustle of papers. “Helen Kelly. She claims there’s a bloke on Weetwood Bridge. Says he wants to end it all. I know just how he feels.”

Kitty could hear the weariness in his voice. New Year’s Eve was always a strange shift. There was something desperate in the air.

It was the weight of all that hope invested in one, meaningless moment. One year or the next - did it really matter?

“I’m on my way home.”

“You’re the only unit within 10 miles, Locky. He’s all yours.”

“I’ve got a carry out.” Even as she said this, Kitty was looking for a place to turn.

“My heart is literally bleeding here, constable. Can you hear it?”

“I promised Molly.”

“I’m in tiny little pieces. Look - drive over. Have a peek. If it’s genuine, I’ll send backup. If it’s a false alarm, Happy New Year!” A crackle and the radio fell silent.

Kitty turned the Intercooler in a farm gateway and bimbled up the valley road towards Weetwood. A fingernail moon hung over the hills. Frost silvered the fields. Here and there she glimpsed a spark of light in a distant farmhouse kitchen. She might have been alone in the world. Kitty had no problem about being rostered on New Year’s Eve. It was over-rated, all that boozy desperation. Nothing ever worked out the way it was planned. She’d copped a free day at Christmas and they’d all had a good time - Molly and Gran, and her. So she had no complaints. Until now. She had promised. The lanes were clear, grey silk ribbons stretched out beneath the stars. She got a shuffle on and reached Weetwood in eleven minutes.


The bridge was a slender arch of chiselled stone, built in the days of dog carts and penny farthings. It spanned the river in one long, graceful sweep.

Kitty pulled in behind a Micra, parked with the motor running. She found her torch in the glove compartment and stepped into the night. The only sound was the river below, the only light the beams of the two cars, nose to nose in the darkness. Kitty’s breath streamed from her nostrils, pluming in the icy air. A middle aged woman climbed from the Micra. She shivered as she picked her way through the gloom, heels click clacking on the gravel at the edge of the road. Her sparkly dress glimmered in the starlight.

“Are you by yourself, officer?”

“For the moment,” said Kitty, her voice a murmur. “You’re Helen?”

The woman nodded.

“What’s the problem?” The woman nodded towards the bridge. “Says he’s going to jump.” Kitty flicked the beam of her torch towards the parapet. A figure was perched on the stone wall, staring at the river below. Hunched against the cold, his face was hidden by the lapel of his coat and a thick scarf, wrapped around his neck. His legs dangled over the edge, toes pointing at the river, thirty feet below.

“Do you know him?”

“No.” Helen shrugged. “I just saw him in the headlights when I came over the bridge.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m on my way to a party…”

Kitty walked towards the bridge, her boots crunching the frozen grass.

The bridge had a shallow pocket on each side, a recess that allowed walkers to shelter from passing traffic. Kitty leaned against the stone parapet and tried to recall her training.

She’d never had a jumper before. The man half turned.

“I thought you buggers came in pairs.”

“Not tonight, sir.”

“You needn’t have bothered.”

“Well, I’ve got nothing else to do,” Kitty lied.

“You won’t talk me out of it.”

“I’m Kitty. Kitty Lockwood.” Kitty shone the torch along the river. Ice had started to form at the edge of the water. The torchlight bounced over the trees along the bank. “Going to tell me your name?” For the first time, he looked at her.

“Jack. I’m Jack.” He looked away.

“I like the name. Jack,” said Kitty. “If I’d had a boy…” It sounded lame, and she fell silent.

The river chuckled beneath the bridge, tumbling over the stones at the head of the pool.

“So. Why are we here, Jack?”

“Is that a philosophical question?” His teeth gleamed, white in the shadows. “Or are you just pleased to see me?” He giggled, his shoulders shaking.

“Have we had a drink, Jack?”

“I have, pet. I can’t speak for you.”

He pulled a bottle of whisky from his coat, waved it towards her, then let it slide through his fingers and tumble into the water. It bobbed in the current then vanished into the darkness under the bridge. In her mind, Kitty saw the bottle of Merlot waiting for her at home. Her end of shift, end of year treat.

“Not a drop. Till I finish work.”

“Yeah? What time do you get off?”

Kitty peered at her watch, tilting the face towards her torch. “About twenty minutes ago…”

“Sorry. I’m holding you up.”

She bit her lip, resisting the temptation to say something to hurt. “I’m here as long as you want, Jack. Just as long as you want.”

He nodded, then looked down at the water. “I won’t keep you,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the moment. The right moment.” “Whatever,” muttered Kitty, too low for him to hear. A wicked thought passed through her mind. The lads at the station had played her a clip of a jumper, somewhere in America. A crowd had gathered beneath a bridge and were peering up at a tiny figure, a dot, high on the arch. The watchers were laughing, pointing their phones, urging the guy to jump. Their glee had sickened her, yet for a moment she understood. Tonight was New Year’s Eve. Her mum and daughter were waiting at home. She had promised to be with them. For a moment the urge to put her hand to the small of Jack’s back was tempting. She shuddered, hating herself for that, driving it from her mind.

Her eyes grew used to the dark. Jack was a big man, in his late thirties, she guessed, his broad shoulders bulked up by his coat and scarf. Yet he shivered, his teeth chattering with every breath. His hair was dark, though a bald patch gleamed on top, pale in the starlight. Kitty heard the clunk of a car door and the sound of music. It seemed Helen had decided to watch events unfold from the comfort of her Micra.

“Did something happen tonight, Jack?”

He stared into the darkness. Kitty was about to repeat her question when he spoke. “It takes two.”

“To tango?”

“To make a baby.”

“Well, yes. Technically.”

She thought about Molly’s father, who had left long before his daughter’s birth. She wondered what he was doing to celebrate the New Year. They had little contact since he had left. His contribution was hardly fifty fifty, Kitty reflected. But this might not be the moment to make that point.

“I suppose it does,” she said.

“You don’t, Kitty. I can tell. I can hear it in your voice.”

“My baby was part of me. Part of my body, I mean. It’s not quite the same for a bloke.”

“And that trumps everything, does it?”

“I don’t know, Jack,” she sighed. “It’s been a long, long day. Why don’t you just get in the car and we’ll talk about it on the way home?”

“We split up. At Christmas.”

Kitty nodded. It was bound to be somebody’s fault.

Some bloody woman.

“It’s a tricky time. Christmas,” she said.

“She says she’s met someone.”

Kitty nodded. “I’m sorry, Jack.” What else could she say? He pushed his finger and thumb into his eyes. His shoulders were shaking, though not with laughter this time. She inched closer and reached out, touching his shoulder. After a while he was still. Side by side, they listened to the river. Something moved in the grass below, close to the water. Kitty watched the dark shape twist through the reeds and slip beneath the surface. An otter. She wondered how they could stand the cold. Molly would be asleep by now, no doubt.

Granny would have put her to bed. Another broken promise. Her mobile chirped. She wandered across the road as she took the call, her voice dropping to a whisper. It was Molly, hungry, and tired.

“I thought you were coming home?”

“I am. Just finishing up, here, petal.” She closed the phone, feeling the guilt.

“Your daughter?”


“I’m sorry. She’ll be waiting for you.”

“It’s OK. She’s well looked after.”

“Your husband?”

“Not my husband, no…”

“See? I think that’s all wrong! A man should do his bit!

That’s all I want. To do my bit. Just to look after my lad.”

“What’s his name?”

“Peter. He’s five. Smashing kid!”

“You love him.”

“She wants to take him, you see? Down south. Seems the ‘new bloke’ works there. High Wycombe way.”

She could find no words to take away the hurt. He looked her in the eye.

“How can that be right?”

Kitty turned away from his pain, her throat a deep, hollow well. She closed her eyes, conjuring the warmth of her own home. Molly, sleeping. The bottle of Merlot, the dark shoulder of glass, gleaming in the light of the woodburner.

She felt hungry. So hungry.

“Jack? Do you like curry? At all?”


They tore the carton lids into strips, fashioning them into spoons. They ate in silence, staring at the sky above Weetwood Bridge. They crunched the pappadoms, tore the nan bread, scooping curry into their mouths. Jack shuffled his legs, drumming his heels on the stone while Kitty leaned against the parapet, cradling the warm tinfoil in her fingers.

“I like a rhogan josh. It’s the cranberries, isn’t it?”

“Must be lovely!” She dopiaza.

He winked, tucking into Molly’s veggie.

“Ah! This one is yours, isn’t it? I’m sorry. You should have said!”

“It’s fine,” said Kitty. “I love coriander. Anything with coriander.”

When they were done he handed her the container. She tucked it inside hers. She had not talked him down, but the tension had gone.

They looked at the stars.

Kitty heard the car door open.

“Do you think we’ll be much longer?” whispered Helen. “Only, it’s nearly twelve.” Kitty ignored her.

“It will all work out, Jack.”

“You think?” he said.

“Whatever we worry about, something else happens.”

He smiled.

“Got a cigarette?”

She patted her pockets, feeling for a packet. An odd thing to do, since she had never smoked a fag in her life. Turning to Helen, she mimed, tapping fingers on her lips. Helen shook her head and lowered the car window.

“Bad for your health, isn’t it!”

As they laughed, Kitty heard the rustle of fabric on stone. She turned to see him fall, slipping into the darkness. There was a splash and his breath streamed to the surface, a string of pearls in the torchlight, rising through the dark water.


Before she knew it, Kitty had kicked off her shoes and clambered onto the parapet.

“No!” Helen screamed, but Kitty was falling through the air. The cold stunned her, a vice around her throat and chest. Her ears filled with the dull, muffled roar of the river. Icy water cut her to the bone. She kicked against stones on the river bed, but the water gripped her. She could see nothing but dim shadows. Her face broke the surface and she screamed. ‘Jack!’ Her cry ringing around the arch. She saw Helen, a silhouette hanging over the parapet, shouting into a phone.

Kitty turned in the current and sank once again.

She found him on the shingle, where the deep water tapered to shallows. She turned him onto his back and pumped her fists on his chest. He lay still.

Her head fell back and she howled at the sky. She pushed again, harder this time. She was aware of a distant siren, flashing blues and twos as it raced up the valley. He coughed. A gush of water, muddied with rhogan josh, slithered down his cheek. Another cough as he gulped air.

Above them, the stars turned in the heavens.

Another year.

Another bloody New Year.

© Tony Glover

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