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Andy Marsh stood at the door with more than a little trepidation. He'd been curious about the spiritualist church for some time, but this time circumstances and desperation had combined to force him over the threshold to discover what lay within.
A once bright youngster he was now a life-weary thirty-something with neither job, family nor hope. A broken marriage, too may failed relationships to count, and the inability to hold a steady job had left his fortunes shipwrecked.
Inside the church he found a congregation of some 20 average looking people. He was welcomed by a smiling elderly gentleman who introduced himself as Eric. Eric explained that the church was part of a serious religion and its members were serious seekers after the truth and not a bunch of air-headed weirdoes conjuring up demons and devils. He proceeded to offer Marsh a strip of raffle tickets. Top prize was apparently a bottle of mediocre wine.
The service was very much along the lines of the Christian affairs he remembered from his distant youth. After a few hymns and prayers a plumpish woman called Brenda was introduced as the evening's medium. She began demonstrating her clairvoyance, the transmission of messages from the dead to the living. As she cheerfully proceeded to reunite one white haired old lady after another with their departed spouses Marsh began to feel somewhat foolish for being there at all.
Suddenly Brenda's mood altered dramatically. Gone was the jovial manner, replaced by an air of extreme seriousness. "Does anyone here know an Angela?" she pleaded, two or three times, each one sounding a little more despairing. To this day he cannot say why, but Marsh sheepishly raised his hand. "Thank you", said the medium, with an expression of sincere relief, "she desperately wants to say she's sorry, and begs you to forgive her. Do you understand?". Again, for reasons he cannot explain Marsh replied, "Yes, I understand". The medium's mood swung just as dramatically back to the jovial again as she gave a few more reassurances to the lost and the lonely before the final hymn and prayer followed by tea and coffee, which Marsh did not feel inclined to remain for.
As Marsh left the building he still did not know why he had accepted the message from the troubled soul. It was like it was meant, but he didn't know where it would lead him. Inexplicably his dark mood lifted a little and that night he slept better than he'd done in a long while. Next day, as if he'd rediscovered his purpose, he went into town and recommenced his search for work with renewed energy.
Marsh managed to identify several possibilities and with a new found sense of optimistic enthusiasm he decided to have a celebratory drink before making his way back to the grubby bedsit that served as his home. Finding an inviting looking pub he pushed open the door to find it crowded with a mixture of tourists and businessmen. He bought a drink and looked for somewhere to sit. "May I join you?" he asked a woman seated at a dimly lit table in the corner.
"Of course", said the woman, "do you happen to have the time?" A conversation began and Marsh found himself instantly at ease with his new friend. He couldn't help but notice the ruby ring she wore on her right hand. Over the next few hours he felt he'd told her his life story. In return he discovered that she too was a divorcee between jobs. They went for a meal together and as they talked and talked the affinity between them grew stronger. As the evening drew to a close they exchanged phone numbers. Marsh excused himself to visit the men's room with a sense that finally his luck had changed for the better.
But when he returned his friend had vanished. Puzzled he looked all around, and proceeded to search the streets around the bar. She had disappeared into the night without trace, and they hadn't even had the chance to say goodnight.
Even though he was no stranger to failed relationships, Marsh was left disillusioned and downcast. They had been getting along so well, and he had been optimistic about the future for the first time in ages. Why had she stayed with him so long? Why hadn't she just made an excuse and left when they'd first met? Why didn't she even say goodnight? Why had she given him her phone number? He remembered the slip of paper in his pocket and felt to check if it was still there. It was. It was probably false. He screwed it up and scanned the dark street for a litter bin. He stopped himself and put it back in his pocket without knowing why.
The journey home seemed particularly long and lonely and was not made any more pleasant by the sea of seemingly hostile faces, tired businessmen and obnoxious youths, making their way across the city. He just wanted to shut his door behind him and distance himself from the wicked world. Indoors he drank some more, until he drifted into unconsciousness.
A deep and dreamless sleep followed before he awoke with a thumping headache and even worse heartache. The job application forms he'd collected the day before lay scattered on the sofa.
A couple of days later Marsh had recovered sufficiently to face the world once more. As he put his jacket on to go to the supermarket he came across a piece of paper. The piece of paper. He took it out, "Angela Kaye 697 1284". As he walked among the baked beans he agonised over what he should do. As soon as he arrived home he picked up the phone. At least this way he would know for sure. Heart thumping he tapped in the number. "Sorry, the number you have dialled has been disconnected". He guessed it.
But one final thought crossed his mind. Perhaps she was in the phone book. Hands trembling he leafed through the pages. There it was. A.J.Kaye 29B Mercator gardens E11. It was the other side of town, but he had to know.
Two hours later he found himself in Mercator Gardens, a neat and tidy street of imposing Victorian properties in a well-kept suburb. Finding number 29 he picked up the intercom. A woman answered "come on up", the door unlocked. Had he found her? But as he ran up the stairs he found a smartly attired businesswoman waiting for him. "Ah, Mr Collier," she greeted him. "No", he replied, "I'm looking for Miss Kaye." The woman's expression changed. "I'm sorry", she said hesitantly, "Miss Kaye passed away a couple of months ago. I'm an estate agent, I thought you'd come about the flat".
Andy almost fainted.
"I'm so sorry", said the woman, "was she a close friend?" "Yes, my closest friend", he replied, "I'm sorry, do you know what happened to her?" The woman hesitated, "I'm afraid it was suicide".
Marsh felt he was riding on a roller coaster of emotion, from despair to elation and back again. There had to be some mistake. They spent the evening together. They shared their hopes, and fears, and dreams. She couldn't have been a ghost! It simply couldn't be.
He couldn't face returning to his dingy room. Instead he had to revisit the pub where they'd first opened their hearts to each other. Perhaps he'd see her again and she'd explain, and everything would be fine. The pub was just as he remembered it, and by chance he got a seat at the same table. But no one came. He drank and drank. More than he should. More than he could afford. And when his pockets were empty he left.
He couldn't remember how he got there. He just collapsed in a drunken stupor. He didn't know what time it was, but when he woke she was there, in his bed. He didn't know how long she stayed, but it seemed an eternity. They declared their undying love for one another. And she whispered "forgive me". "Of course, of course", he assured her. And then she was gone from his arms. He was holding thin air. He returned to full wakefulness with a start. He couldn't have dreamed it. It was too real. But where did she go? And then he noticed on his bedside table, on the piece of paper on which he'd scribbled her address, was a ruby ring.
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