Colin sat down near the window and Serkin put his feet up on the seat beside him. The train was just leaving the station. They had to wait a few extra minutes whilst the conductors separated a long cross-country service into two. They were told to board the mucky half with intense yellow lighting and torn posters overhead. Colin found this typical but didn't say anything.
'I'm gagging for a fag.' Serkin chuckled.
'No smoking here, isn't it?' Colin said.
'Didn't see any signs but probably yeah.' Serkin shuffled in his seat, pulling the hem of his reflector jacket out from underneath him. 'Thanks for the lend and all, but this jacket's way too fucking big for me. Keeps getting wedged up my bony arse.'
'You still got them tinnies?' Serkin said.
'Nah. Drank the last one while you were mixing the cement.'
'You weren't even done then! Maverick!'
'Nah.' Colin pulled a packet of smoky bacon crisps out of his pocket. An electronic throbbing sound strained across the back of his head. He turned around to see the woman sat behind him pick up her phone.
'Hey.' she spoke into it.
'You like them?' Serkin said, pointing to the large crisp approaching Colin's mouth. 'I prefer pork scratchings. Saltier.'
'They're all right.'
'I just think pig goes better with a lot of salt.'
'Must make you thirsty.'
'Well, I only ever buy a packet when I'm down the pub.'
Colin handed Serkin a few individual crisps and started digging around in his pocket. He fished out his phone and checked the missed calls section.
The woman behind him sighed. 'Slow down. I got the first part but I need you to repeat the rest slowly.'
Colin looked up at Serkin. 'Just checking messages. She'll get back to me soon enough.'
'Crawling back, eh? That confident, eh?' Serkin nudged Colin.
‘Kaitlin calms down pretty quickly. There’s usually some shouting but she lets it go.’
‘What was it about this time?’
‘Well we can’t fucking help being on the site till half seven!’
‘That’s what I said.’
‘She should talk to Hammond. I’d like to see that.’
‘You reckon she might get somewhere?’
‘Yeah. She seems loud enough.’ Serkin laughed. Colin scratched the back of his neck. The compartment was filled with passengers but most of them had their heads down. As far as he could tell, only the woman on the phone had glanced up to see what the hell was so funny. She frowned at Colin. He turned back.
‘I realise that,’ the woman said, ‘all you need to do right now though is wash your hands. We’ll get to the knives later.’
Serkin flashed his eyes at Colin and mouthed ‘knives, eh?’. Colin shrugged his shoulders and looked out the window. The contract was coming to an end soon enough so he might not see Serkin again. He considered a pub outing: a few rounds and a packet of pork scratchings before they both moved on. Colin didn't see himself working this far north again.
He checked his phone. Not even a text.
‘Great. Now you need to stick it back in, get it out of the way,’ the woman’s voice was just as clear as ever. Colin checked to see Serkin’s reaction. They both sniggered and waited for more. ‘It’s going to be wet, there’s nothing you can do about it. You need to make a big enough opening though.’
Serkin let out a snort. No one even batted an eyelid over the big dirty cackle he let out not two minutes earlier but this tiny slip up seemed to set everyone on edge. He took his feet off of the chair. ‘You’re getting off at-?’
‘Right. Well, looks like my stop’s coming up.’
‘Which one’s that?’
‘Sounds about right.’
The train squealed and shuddered to a halt.
‘Yeah,’ Serkin said, ‘So I’ll see you on Friday.’
‘Have a goodnight.’
The doors gasped open and Serkin jumped down onto the platform. Colin watched him as far as the mobility ramp before the train pushed forward. He checked his phone again. Grunting he stuffed it back inside his pocket.
‘You ready? Now this is the tricky part,’ the woman said, ‘you’ve got to find the biggest knife and start with the...the top bits. Trust me: you don’t want it all there to remind you.’
Colin massaged his neck. He leaned back against the headrest just as the conductor entered the compartment.
‘Running late?’ Colin said.
‘Just a bit of trouble with the ticket machine, sir,’ the conductor punched his ticket.
‘So you’ve managed to remove it? Right.’ the woman paused. ‘Okay, I understand that but it’ll help get things done smoother, trust me. Good thinking on the bucket, by the way. I can’t believe I forgot to mention it.’
Colin blinked a few times and considered a nap. It was all quite soothing: the double clacking on the tracks, the occasional clap of the compartment door, the woman's voice. Even her slow, hoarse voice.
‘Now you need to start on the limbs. I usually do it left then right but it’s entirely up to you. I always start with the arms though.’
He opened his eyes.
‘Ideally you want five pieces at the end. You can bag the limbs together but the...um, middle part will need a bag all on its own.’ the woman paused. ‘Oh the hea- the top, yes. Well you can keep that for the dog. I’m joking of course. Christ’s sake.’
Colin turned around. The woman was looking out of the window now. She seemed to be quite calm. Come to think of it, it did seem like she was talking about cooking. It was probably some sort of weird recipe involving a tropical animal, maybe a monkey.
He massaged his neck again. Kaitlin usually liked to make damn well sure that he knew there was a problem and she was rarely away from her phone. He must have really pissed her off this time. He reached inside his pocket and ran his fingers across the phone screen. It was starting to get a bit greasy.
‘Out of bin bags?’ the woman behind him clicked her tongue. ‘It’s all right, it’s all right. Just means you might have to double bag, that’s all. Did you keep those big carriers from the last time we went to Bright and Earl? Good. Use them and quickly, I imagine the smell’s getting pretty rank right about now.’
‘Chelsea’s,’ Colin muttered to himself, ‘Probably at Chelsea's.’
He glanced around. Most of the surrounding passengers had left with Serkin. There were still a few at the other end of the compartment but right now there were only two voices he could definitely hear, his own and the woman’s.
‘Rolling back the sleeves is good, yes,’ she said, ‘you don’t want to get covered. So are his parents coming to visit tomorrow? I thought you said you were clear for another week...Well, you could always use one of my stock excuses: "he’s gone off on a lad's weekend, you know what's he's like". He is like that, isn't he? Well, was.’
Colin straightened up. It was almost as if she was making a game out of people eavesdropping on her conversations. It had to be a joke.
‘Yeah, it’s pretty weak but passable. As for the future, you'll just have to wing it...’
Colin sat forward and thought: Chelsea’s, Chelsea’s, Chelsea’s, probably at Chelsea’s, Chelsea’s, Chelsea’s...
The woman sighed. ‘It’ll come to you, hit you at first, but then you’ll come to terms with it and then it’ll be like, I dunno, like a breath of fresh air. Forget about that smell now, think about fresh mountain air. Trust me, when you get rid of the smaller bits, when you’re finally in a place where you’re allowed to grieve, he’ll be gone. Good and proper.’
Colin pulled out his phone. This woman. This woman on the phone. She had no...
‘Tell you what. I’ll come visit early tomorrow and we'll take my car to drop it all off at the tip. I’ll bring some of my own black bin liners and we can double bag before we leave. I’ll bring a few extra ones too, fill them up so it’ll be harder for them to tell that yours are special.’
This woman. She must be...
‘Remember, the shed’s the best place for now. You’ll need to wash it good and proper but I’ll bring my power nozzle too.’
‘Power nozzle?’ Colin mouthed. His thumb was hovering over the emergency service number on the phone screen.
‘And as for his clothes, your clothes...’
The train entered a tunnel.
‘Oh,’ the woman said. Her connection must have gone.
Colin read the three digit number, eyes straining through the amber light. The screen looked disgusting, his thumb no better.
They burst out of the tunnel. The woman didn’t seem to be ringing her friend back. He tried to turn his head but just couldn’t manage it inconspicuously enough. His phone started to buzz in his palm. He brought it to his ear.
‘Kaitlin,’ he said.
‘Colin!’ she replied with mock enthusiasm.
‘I’m sorry but-‘
‘You’re sorry.’ she paused. ‘Oh, babes, you said it! I’m sorry too. Can we forgive each other?’
Colin listened out for the woman’s voice again. He couldn’t hear anything. As far as he could tell, he hadn’t heard anywhere near enough.
‘I’m on the train,’ he said.
‘Well if we get cut off, we get cut off. I’ll forgive you.’ Kaitlin laughed. It was a sweet little laugh but Colin just wanted to get past it.
‘So,’ he said, ‘you at Chelsea’s?’