Hollow Love by Paul Matts

This happened once before. When we children, I was with Leah when she had her first attack. Of amnesia. At a beautiful beach in Dorset. She couldn’t remember who her Mum and Dad were for an afternoon. It was scary. One minute we were eating ice creams on the promenade wall, the next she was totally numb. Oblivious to everything and everyone around here. She mumbled ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Why are you shouting at me?’ as her Mum and Dad went into panic mode. Her Mum (Cheryl) slapped her face impatiently. Leah’s deep dark eyes showed no emotion.

She was seven years old, and I was invited on holiday with her family. In order ‘to keep her company,’ Cheryl told me at the time.

Over an hour later Leah asked me ‘Shall we go to the arcade Marky?’ As if nothing had happened. Relief all round. She was back.

‘Cancel the ambulance. She’s okay now. We’ll get her checked when we’re back home,’ Cheryl ordered. Her Dad (Vin) obeyed.

They never actually check her themselves. They always got someone else to do it. A nanny, a doctor, a teacher. Someone’s duty. Not a genuine parental desire over Leah’s well-being. No love, no guidance. That I could see, anyway. Basically, I hate Vin and Cheryl. Always have.

Leah moves silently. Her movements match her ghost-like pale appearance. With her long, greasy brown hair and dark eyes she can look sultry. Or threatening.

Her Mum and Dad shower her with everything money can buy. She doesn’t have to earn anything. It’s given to her. They are busy people with their fitness empire. They love her I’m sure, but don’t seem to have the time to love her. It’s always seems low on the list of priorities. They fob her off.

Twelve years passed. She apparently had a second case of amnesia. She left her house wearing jeans and a blue t-shirt. And Convex shoes. I note these details, see. From my window. She just walked. And apparently kept going. She wandered to the Severn Bridge. A passing motorist showed rare compassion to Leah in pulling over to check on her. Another called the police.

‘I was wondering what it might feel like to fly,’ she told the policewoman. Leah was taken to hospital. The police assumed she was about to jump and kill herself. She ignored questions about her identity and home. ‘She’s away with the fairies, and just keeps saying she wants to fly,’ the policewoman told me.

I am Mark Needham. Leah Worthington’s next-door neighbour. I have worshipped her since we were tiny. I was in when the police turned up. They tracked down her address from her purse, which was in her jeans pocket. Lucky. Her parents are away, of course, and her nanny Irene was still out looking for her.

‘Do you know Leah?’

‘Yes. We’ve known each other all our lives.’

‘Next door neighbours all that time?’

‘Yes.’

‘We think a familiar face would be good for her right now. Would you come with us to the hospital?’

I climbed into the back of the police car. The journey was over in a flash. My heart was pounding as we entered the building, then the ward and finally the room occupied by Leah.

‘Marky!’ she screamed when she saw me. She bounced on the bed and beckoned me over for a hug. I obliged.

She seemed so awake. Vibrant, even.

‘Your eyes look so clear, Leah,’

‘That’s nice Mark. No-one has ever said anything like that to me before.’

Her eyes did look clear. Not the bloodshot watery eyes I have been used to seeing over recent times.

‘They do though. Considering what you’ve been through.’

Her expression instantly changed. ‘What have I been through?’

‘You’ve been missing. Irene has been looking for you. We thought it was amnesia again.’

‘Amnesia. That’s when your memory goes, isn’t it?’

‘Like what happened on the beach all those years ago.’

‘I don’t remember,’ she giggled. A joke.

‘I didn’t lose my memory this time Marky. I had to…get out. I am sick of being in a world full of everything I’m supposed to want. Phones, tablets, make-up. I never have to make any food. I’m protected from the outside world. It’s all done for me. I have everything, but I want none of it.’

An uncomfortable silence followed.

‘There is no real point to my existence,’

Maybe she did want to top herself?

I gulp. ‘You made a run for it?’

‘Yes. And I’ll do a better job next time if things don’t change.’ She had determination in her voice. And eyes.

‘I don’t want to be protected from the world any more. I want to be part of it. I want to make mistakes, get a job, whatever. I need a reason to live.’

‘Okay.’

‘I want to fly.’

‘That’s what the policewoman said you told her. She thought you wanted to fly, as in jump. Off the bridge.’

‘Kill myself?’

‘Yes.’

She sat back and took a breath. Of resignation.

‘I know people think I’m weird. Wouldn’t you be if you had no reason to exist. I want to have a purpose. Not just an allowance.’

She had me transfixed, hanging on her every word

‘I want to fly. I really do.’

That was two weeks ago. Following her discharge, Leah didn’t wait about for Vin and Cheryl. She took herself to a homeless charity and offered her services.

She has purpose as far as they are concerned. She will always have purpose in my eyes.

Bio: Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is due to be published in 2019, and he is the author of the short stories ‘Revenge can be Sweet, ‘The Bench’, ‘Family Guy?’ and ‘One More season’. His work has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, WeAreCult and Unlawful Acts. A further novella, ‘Donny Jackal’ has recently been completed. He previously promoted live shows as 101 Productions and owned The Attik night club from 2001-2007. He was also a songwriter and guitarist in The Incurables.

Paul runs a music blog and has recently started a series entitled 101 Significant Figures. This will focus on under-appreciated individuals in the punk and new wave movement. See www.paulmatts.com for more details.

Paul Matts