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Just Keep Breathing

‘Just keep breathing,’ he said.

‘You’ll be alright,’ he said.

‘I’ve got you,’ he said.

And with that, the man who’d been my rock and my love for the last fifteen years let go of my hands and waved me goodbye. It sounds cosy enough, but as he unlinked his fingers from mine, I plummeted from Floor 65 (the marketing department of my employer for the past seven years) to the ground. That’s what happens when your lover suspends you from an office block window.

His face was the last one I saw, and that smile as he watched me flail and fall - I think that was the only genuine emotion he’d ever shared. At that moment, when our skin lost contact, I knew, categorically, that I’d been right about him. Not all along, obviously. Only Lissa had known who he really was. And she’d known right from the earliest moment.

You know how they say that events of your human existence flash in front of your eyes as you pass from mortal life to eternal death? Well, I concede the truth of this.

As I fell, a flickering, fast-action film played behind my eyelids, and unsurprisingly, the film of my life omitted my earliest years. The fast-playing cinematic odyssey began only at the moment I met Artie Shaw.

I trusted his name. It was reassuringly working class and Northern – I made an assumption that he was reliable, down to earth and generally nice.

(Of course, I had no idea at the time that he’d changed his name as a tribute to Arthur Shawcross - the American serial killer - but in deference to his psycho hero, only used a shortened version of the man’s name – Artie Shaw.)

It was only four years after meeting him that I became aware his birth name was Adam Smith, but when I met him, just before my twentieth birthday, on a Duck and Partridge-organised trip to Alton Towers, I didn’t know.

‘Call me AS. Or Artie Shaw. Whichever version you like,’ he said, as he lightly and almost imperceptibly pushed away my best friend, Lissa. She scowled at him and continued the scowling all the way to the amusement park. But AS, AKA Artie Shaw, AKA Adam Smith, appeared unbothered by her disapproval. He barely looked in her direction, and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t flattered. After all, he was, and still is, the most amazing looking man. Skin so soft, and virtually hairless, eyes dark violet, and hair reaching his shoulders in curled black coils. Even as I fall I still don’t believe there is another man so surface beautiful in the whole of humanity. Though, behind his eyes there’s an unmistakable ugliness.

On that hour and a half coach trip, we talked mainly of music. Back in those happier days I was into the band James, and he took the mickey. Of course he did. Artie was far cooler than I would ever be, so was, of course, a fan of Nirvana. Later we spoke of badminton too, and I was shocked to discover that he’d watched me playing the previous day at the gym.

‘You looked hot,’ he said. He didn’t concentrate on my game or my power shots – he just thought I was sexy, that my breasts were bouncy, my legs were long and muscled, and my hair was ‘nice and shiny’ and parted in the middle. All surface. Just as he liked it.

I know this now. But back then I’d never met another person like him. He seemed to charm the entire pub or bus or room on every occasion he spoke, and always gathered himself a crowd of enthusiastic hangers-on.

And he was interested in little old me.

Lissa told me right from the first moment that I needed to keep away. She warned me not to get involved, but who listens to their best friend when a gorgeous violet-eyed man who could have had his pick of every girl (and many of the boys) in the pub shows interest?

It didn’t help that my mum and dad were as charmed by him as I was, and so was my flatmate.

Lissa was the only one who saw through the surface charm.

‘He’s lying,’ she’d say. ‘I don’t trust him. You shouldn’t either’.

‘But he’s lovely,’ I’d say, and put her concerns to one side. What best friend could ever compete with Artie Shaw, the most delectable male being ever to be born?

I should have realized what was to come when I tried to organize a date night out.

‘Can’t darling,’ he said. ‘It’s a night out with the lads tonight.’

‘Since when?’

‘Since forever. Cuppa would be nice, darling.’

I filled up the kettle and texted Lissa.

‘Fancy a beer, stranger?’ I wrote. Her response was immediate - ‘Yep, Grey Bull at 8. OK?’ But it was only two hours off, and I had to make dinner and have a shower and dress up a bit. But when Artie saw me preparing myself, he charmed me into staying at home.

‘I’m expecting a delivery, darling. I feel terrible, but…’ Of course, I agreed. But as soon as Artie left the house, my rebellious streak kicked in. It rarely did. But the rebellion continued to increase with every brush of my make-up. I arrived at the pub only a couple of moments later than Lissa.

She directed me into a corner with our drinks. I was dressed nicely but not fancy, in my expensive jeans and a tight but not revealing t-shirt. I wore boots with small heels and my hair was down.

Suddenly, Artie turned up at the other side of the pub.

‘That’s why I suggested coming here,’ confessed Lissa. ‘He’s here a lot and you can hear his voice echoing from the next room. Am sorry to tell you this, but he’s usually with another woman.’

‘Why haven’t you told me before?’ I gasped.

‘I couldn’t find the right time. I’m sorry.’

So, this was why Lissa had deliberately selected a small nook, away from passing customers, the bar and the toilets. Instead of this being our sweet, clandestine night out, it had transformed into a spying session!

His voice did carry. Every sentence he announced as in the style more of a political broadcast or speech. I half expected to hear rapturous applause and whistles and cheers after every one of his proclamations. But I hadn’t seen who he was in the pub with.

Once the shock began to dissolve a little, I asked Lissa if the woman was always the same. She shook her head.

‘Perhaps they are workmates or girlfriends of his mates?’ I suggested.

‘Does it sound like that to you?’ she said, her expression grim.

I listened again. There was plenty of giggling, and even more of that sonorous know-it-all voice. Well, that was a change. I was beginning to think negatively about him. I couldn’t remember ever admitting there may have even been the tiniest trace of anything untoward in any element of his personality.

I couldn’t’ remember precisely what served as my final trigger. And I couldn’t remember another night out with Lissa that had comprised of almost no talking.

But when I heard Artie referring to my beloved dog as the ugliest creature ever, I exploded inside.

‘Don’t do it,’ whispered Lissa as she looked at my face crinkling up with scarlet rage. ‘Don’t confront him here. No good will come of it. Honestly. Please!’

But I couldn’t and wouldn’t listen. Not at that point. I suddenly realized what I’d been hiding from myself. This guy was a no good narcissist, and probably worse.

I had to restrain myself from vaulting over the bar and clubbing the arrogant bastard. Instead, spoiling for a fight, I restrained my fury and marched out of our nook, like an ill-tempered Jack Russell, with Lissa at my heels.


Flash forward eighteen hours. Change location to my office building. And remove the entire cast of observers and Artie-fans.

And here I am, falling. You’d think that panic would warm me, but all I feel is chill factor. My immediate removal from the pub had made local news. And after that, my eighteen hour hostage status had been updated to potential fatality. On the ground, reporters hovered. Cameramen smiled. Observers observed.

I’d been dangling for twenty minutes before that bastard let go. And as I fell, I watched as the hostage team ensured the correct position of the safety inflatable intended to prevent my entire body from breakage. I landed.

I hit. I bounced. I stopped screaming.

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