1. The journey
At 10.37 on a chilly December morning, Donna boarded the train at Euston station with nothing but a suitcase and her laptop for company. She found her seat in the quiet coach, propped her bag in the luggage compartment and sat down. She glanced across the aisle to see a young girl in her 20s reading her book and smiled because she was reading Donnas’ book, well one she wrote, her first book; Memoirs of a teenage mother. The reason Donna had ended up in London, she left her little hometown of Shrewsbury 20 years ago after becoming the author of a bestseller, unfortunately after her dad’s death.
She sank back in her seat and started to think about her dad, she missed him, even though she moaned about him when he was here. She’d do anything to have him back in her life; it was so lonely these days and even more so since her daughter Bea had left to live in Australia. Well she was a grown woman herself now, 31, no children and a corporate executive husband. Bea qualified as a vet as soon as she left university, clever girl but still prone to the tantrums Donna had put with as Bea grew up but now Marcus could deal with those, he wouldn’t stand for the whining like she had.
Donna didn’t know she ever coped with Bea as a child, and caring for her and college. She’d written the book in the meantime too, when she had 5 minutes. Actually she stayed up late every night for a month writing her story down, Donna still had time for lovers though. She smiled wryly to herself as she thought about the lovers she’d had since her mum died, sounds awful she thought to herself but that was when she’d last had a serious relationship. Donna thought even more about past relationships, 28 years since her mum died now, and she still hadn’t settled down, still carefree, still kind of a single parent and still ferociously independent; she wasn’t going to let a man tie her down.
Donna glanced over to the girl reading her book and noticed tears rolling down her cheeks, she rummaged in her bag for the packet of tissues. she longed to be able to pull out something belonging to Bea but she didn’t, instead she pulled out a packet of gum her own reading book, keys to her apartment, lipsticks,lip balm and her purse, no tissues though, donna remembered that she used them on the way home from the airport after saying goodbye to Bea, then she checked her jacket pocket and felt them. Reaching over to the girl Donna passed her a tissue.
“Thanks” said the girl
“No worries” replied Donna.
Donna caught a glimpse of herself at the age of 29 on the back of the girls book, thankfully she looked nothing like that anymore, a nip and a tuck, the personal trainer and up to date hair made her look a lot younger than the nearly 50 she was now, back then she was overweight, flabby and hated her body. Surprising what a bit of money can do for a girl.
“Good book?” enquired Donna
“Amazing” said the girl “never before have I read anything so inspiring, so moving, so loving and so passionate”
“I’ve read that, was compelled by it, couldn’t put it down” Donna remarked
No way was she going to tell the girl she was Donna Price, author. She hated being an author of something everyone read, it wasn’t fantasy, it was reality. The few she told asked awkward questions about the adoption and why she didn’t wait around Shrewsbury until her son was 18, she never knew why but she hadn’t even thought about him lately, until now. He’d be 35 now, she wondered if it was ever too late to find your own child.
“You ok?” the girl asked “you look a little lost”
“Yeah, I’m ok” replied Donna
“I’ve just got to the part where she’s just left the hospital after her breakdown, she’s just gone into care” added the girl, mentioning the book.
“Oh gosh, must have been terrible for her, not knowing what was going to happen to her son but I think she’s ok now”
“Wonder what happened to her?” the girl thought out loud “I expect she's ok, though”
“Yeah I expect she is” Donna replied distantly
Well she was alright, Donna had everything everyone she grew up with could have only dreamed of, she had everything but she had no one now. She had friends in London, other authors, other mums she’d met when Bea started school but no one really knew her, not like her friends in Shrewsbury did. Not like Rach did, she missed Rach, missed her more now than she’d ever done before. Rach was cynical and very dubious of Donna going to London, she’d been down once a year ever since Donna left, which Donna paid for. Weekends of VIP parties, theatre, and wine! Rach never quite fitted into London though, said it was full of liars and phonies, she was right. The lifestyle she’d chosen wasn’t one she’d let anyone have, it was full of precocious brats and jumped up nobodies, famous children of rock stars and footballers from the 90s, people who were famous for being famous.
“Are you ok?” the girl asked again
“Oh not really” Donna replied
“Oh?” said the girl
Donna thought back again, the relationships, the people she’d upset, the kiss and tells, karma’s a bitch when you've got a list of ex lovers as long as your arms, she thought back to Richard, ah Richard, she missed Richard in a strange way. The lying cheating scum of the earth, used to make her feel sick when she thought about him but she soon forgot about him once she’d settled into London life and to think he was the one who encouraged her to write. That’s why she had to find him when she got home, wondered if he was still stuck in Shropshire or whether he finally took the opportunity and moved back to Newcastle. She began to think of her relationship with Richard, he dumped her when her brother in law was on his deathbed. Then he started an affair with her 3 months later when he was with someone else, after a mutual friend’s funeral of all things, how she now regretted it all. She thought she’d have to try and find him, just to thank him.
“Sorry” said donna “I’m going back home, haven’t been back since I left 20 years ago”
“Was it hard when you left?” asked the girl
“Not really, I took everything I needed too with me. My daughter's all grown up and left home a while ago, she’s probably older than you” replied Donna
“I’m 25 but you don’t look old enough to have a daughter older than me” said the girl
“I’m 49; I was nearly 18 when I had her”
Donna thanked her lucky stars that the girl hadn’t read the entire book
“Must’ve been hard, raising a daughter at 18?”
“It was, but I got there and have had the best times of my life bringing up my little girl”
The girl buried her head back in the book and Donna stared out the window, both interrupted by an announcement over the tannoy.
“Now arriving at Birmingham New Street, This service will now terminate”
Donna gathered her things and stepped off the train. At least this place was strangely familiar; she remembered the first time she ever set foot in New Street. She was 15 and ran away from home; it was a dark, dull, desolate place and matched her mood completely. Now it looked like a greenhouse, it was bright, airy and welcoming. Then she thought of Steve, was he dead? Did he have a family of his own? Donna knew deep inside she’d never find out. Strange how she’d never forgotten about Steve, it was a purely platonic relationship for 3 days but he saved her from the junkies and pimps, nothing more nothing less and if she could find him, she’d truly thank him.
Feeling desperate for a cigarette, Donna walked through the barriers and flashing her ticket at the staff as she did so. Swiftly walking across to WH smiths, feeling a sense of panic and dread in her stomach, she knew at least one of her books would be in there. Glancing across the shelves there were several of her books in there. One general romance, one slummy mummy type fiction, one ‘mills and boon’ type and part 2 of her memoirs, she’d written when she arrived in London. Thankfully, her other books weren’t WH smith friendly and were hidden away behind the double doors of seedy little sex shops in dark corners of Soho. Donna never regretted writing erotica; in fact she loved every filthy minute of it. It made a change from the memoirs and the romance, the romance was the only true fiction she’d ever written and she wished it wasn’t but now it was probably too late for her to find a soul mate.
Hurriedly purchasing her cigarettes, Donna could feel her temperature rising again and went outside for her cigarette. She looked around and all she could see was young guys, in this world of fresh faced media where everyone slim, pretty and under the age of 30 were almost worshipped, she felt fat and frumpy, the same feeling she used to feel when she was under 30. Although she could have sworn that out of the corner of her eye she caught a boy looking at her. Donna chuckled to herself; he was definitely young enough to be her son but probably only a few years younger than Bea. A rough looking indie boy, Brown hair styled so it was messy, a bit of stubble and a small expander in his ear. He was wearing skinny jeans and baggy hoody with a glimpse of a t shirt with his favourite band on, and on his feet were canvas pumps.
Over 20 years ago, donna would have sold her soul to have been given a second glance by someone like him but this time she was so deep in thought and so focused on going for a cigarette she didn’t give him a second glance. She felt sorry for the poor boy being rejected by a woman older than his mother Donna felt a pang of guilt but it wasn’t her problem, she didn’t have the time for silly boys this minute or any other minute to be precise. She was a grown woman and acting like a stupid teenage girl was quite beneath her now, she’d got money and the lifestyle she used to dream of and she could have a relationship with whoever she wanted but now she didn’t want boys; or men for that matter, getting in the way of trying to find answers to her past.
Donna ripped the cellophane off the cigarette packet, hurriedly flipped the lid and took out a cigarette raising it to her lips as quickly as possible while trying to dig a lighter from her pockets and hold onto her suitcase. She found the lighter and lit the cigarette inhaling deeply, the thought about her mum again, smoking killed her mother and Bea begged her own to give up, Donna did until Bea left home. Well by then you’d think they’d have banned it but the government never did, after all who’d manage the hospitals if it wasn’t for the contributions from the tobacco companies.
Checking the time, Donna took one last deep drag on her cigarette; put it out and walked hurriedly across the concourse. Her connecting train was due in 10 minutes and she didn’t want to look shattered when she finally arrived home, home she thought. Where was home? She never felt like she belonged in Shropshire when she was there and she never truly felt she belonged in London; although she was still a small town girl at heart, she never felt like it when she was there. Donna rushed to the loo and gave herself the quick once over in the mirror, touching up make up and taming stray hairs; she hated being so preened at times, especially when you can’t even fetch a pint of milk wearing a pair of jogging bottoms.
Donna rushed to her platform and got there just as the train was pulling into the station. It was hardly travelling in style but the filthy, tatty old train was almost comforting and she knew it would get her home safely. Donna dragged her suitcase up the step and found her seat for the final time today; she sat down enjoying the relative quiet of the carriage. There was no one around except for a mother talking to her toddler a few seats away. Pulling her book out of her bag, she pretended to read but she didn’t feel like it much. Her head was swimming with thoughts about she’d do when she arrived ‘home’ she was never sure of how people were going to react.
Donna was an hour away from home; she was staying at a hotel in the town centre. She didn’t want to appear on her families doorsteps although she knew her younger sister would welcome her with open arms; she was never quite sure what the others would say. Her older sisters’ families were all grown up now with kids of their own. Her aging aunts had all passed away and there was no one left for her in Shrewsbury. Well she thought there was no one left for her, perhaps there wasn’t, she hadn’t warned anyone she was coming back and began to doubt whether she should’ve or not. She missed everyone, her old friends, family and acquaintances.
The train hurtled through the towns and cities on the way towards Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton, Telford and several places in between. Now it began to slow down and Donna panicked, her mouth went dry and her legs felt weak. The bright winter sunshine glared down on the dirty tracks as if it was reminding her that she wasn’t squeaky clean but there would always be sunshine in her life, something to look forward to and brighten the grey days. The train had stopped at the signal and the announcement was made but donna felt sick as soon as those words were spoken.
“Now arriving at Shrewsbury station, this train will now terminate.”
Donna stood up and brushed the creases from her coat, grabbed her handbag and laptop from the seat beside her before heading to the luggage compartment to retrieve her suitcase. She stood waiting for the doors to open, it was like waiting for fate to hit her and for reality to jump up and smack her in the face. Moments later they opened and Donna gracefully stepped off the train. She wore her highest heels with her smartest designer outfit, especially for this occasion and she was ready to take on her past piece by piece.