It was late Sunday afternoon, Tess hated Sunday afternoons, but most people did she would eventually learn. There was this whole threat of the work ahead, and all the stuff you had to do. It was something that began when you were a child and followed people through to adulthood. Whether it was homework, or the idea of the work to be done, Sunday afternoons were self-sabotaging events. Finally a moment of freedom to do anything, absolutely anything you wanted, or nothing at all. Finally a moment in the week just for you and everyone wasted it. Except this time Tess wasn’t going to waste it.
During the first few weeks of her new job Tess didn’t really have much energy for anything. She barely cooked, she didn’t clean, her clothes washing pile just grew. When it was eventually washed it would turn into a pile of ironing that never got done. But this weekend, so quick was she to distract herself from the confusion of thoughts racing around her brain that she did something, she did everything in fact. Her room in the house she shared was now perfect, and she was going out, to draw. She wasn’t exactly sure where she was going when she went out the door just after lunch time that Sunday, but then she thought fast. St. James’s Park. She’d been watching a documentary about VE day, the stories stuck in her head, and now St. James’s seemed the place to go.
She walked towards the tube and felt her heart quicken at the sight of a little blossom on one of the trees that sprung from the pavement. Spring was on its way and the idea of the ensuing warmth, and outside, and people, really thrilled Tess. She wasn’t sure what happened with age that made you so excited at the idea of a new season, but it was something that had happened, and now Tess sounded like a Shakespearean sonnet whenever anyone remarked on the weather. You see, Tess as a person, lingered over the outside world. She touched, and she watched, and she took it all in. But underneath she thought fast.
Thinking fast was Tess’ survival mechanism, for better or worse. She thought fast so she didn’t end up repeating mistakes, or making mistakes. As she walked towards the tube station she was unaware of exactly how much effort she was putting in. The clothes that meant she could she sit cross-legged in the park, the hoodie she’d put on because she knew she would get cold, but maybe she would get warm with the walking, so she wanted something she could cool down in without revealing too much skin. The amount of time to walk to the tube, the Oyster card in the right hand pocket of her jeans, so she could reach for it – she was right-handed – as she approached. The turnstiles which were roughly seven strides from the door. Long strides, heavy-footed, to deal with any tourists that might bump into her and put her off balance.
But Tess didn’t know there were seven strides between the door and the turnstiles. She felt the space and the movement and she understood it precisely, but she couldn’t have told you it was seven strides. Then step, step, step, small hop, elevator. Stay to the right, pull bag up over collar bone to stay closer to the right. Pull in left elbow because someone would knock it when they ran past. Turn left foot in to steady self. Ride to the bottom, long stride on to solid ground. Walk directly for entrance for platform, because this always seemed to put off people who were running in the opposite direction. They would run around her if she did this, it made one less thing to worry about.
But Tess wasn’t unaware because this was all automatic. She knew what she was doing, she just didn’t realise how much work she was putting in. This was all learned, Tess had had to think fast about it all once, but then the repetition, the plan, made it that much easier. Now she had a manual to stick to, she could follow her instructions, then the rest of her brain was free to think fast on other subjects. Her job, her future, her, Sam. Think fast, avoid mistakes. Think fast avoid making the same mistakes again. It was like she was a bit of a computer software, fine tuning herself. To be fair this was how humans worked, they made a mistake, they learnt, they moved on. But for Tess, it was all conscious, a never ending sweeping tide of thoughts beating away at her head every day. Thinking fast, her greatest currency, her greatest downfall. Because thinking fast meant always learning, always moving, never stopping for anything.
When Tess reached St. James’s the sun had got stronger. She found shade under a tree and pulled out her sketch book. The part of her brain that never turned off observed the root under her bum, the slight dampness on this one particular branch of grass. The fact that if it wasn’t for this knot in the trunk she could lean against this tree perfectly. Her brain saw a happy couple, commented on the happiness of this couple, she blocked it out. It observed the family, feeding bread to the ducks, it commented on how much she wanted a family of her own, on her biological clock, it thought about those cute little clothes in Mothercare. It made her feel cold, and alone, and weary that this was all still going on. Her life was still going on and she wasn’t any further along with it. As Tess opened her sketch book, looking every part like a relaxed, creative person, her thoughts over ran her. And over ran, and ran. Ten minutes later she would become focussed on the detail in the tree across from her. Then the thoughts, maybe they were gone? Or maybe, like for everyone else, they had become background noise. The she could just draw, then she could just be Tess.
If you want to read from the beginning go here.