In the Steam Room

by Jeremy Silver

“Yeah, that happened to my Aunt. She left the house one morning, said she was going to the laundrette. Nobody heard from her and she never came back that night. So the next morning, we knew it was serious and I called an old mate of mine in the police. You know…Anyway within an hour he’s called back and they’d found her. Evidently, she’d taken a train down to Victoria, gone to Brighton. They used to live in Hendon, you see. Anyway she hated the water, hated the sea, but she’d got off the train and walked all the way down to the beach on her own, in the evening and then thrown herself off the pier. Must have been very brave or completely not knowing what she was doing. My friend, the policeman, asked me to go down to identify the body and Uncle Harold was too upset and he told me to go. You know the way people say that when people die they have a look of peace about them. Well, she did but she was in a dreadful state all bashed about, must have got all caught up with the pier girders and that when she went under. She couldn’t swim, hated the water.

“Mind you, I nearly packed it all in this morning. I’ll tell you after 45 years of working out, this morning, I could have just turned over gone back to sleep and not bothered. I like the weights you see but,  with this cold weather, my arthritis plays up something rotten, so I went for a swim. Did a few lengths, but it’s not the same. And there was some young lad in their bragging about his fifty lengths. I’ll tell you I could just have got in that water and drowned myself. Course I wouldn’t do that. You’ve got to be very brave or not know what you’re doing anymore to do that, haven’t you?

“Of course there is the individual and there is your crowd in all this. We are either individuals who make ourselves known to the crowd or individuals who hide in the crowd. Like me, you know me, I can’t come down here without talking to everyone, they all know me in here. But like Aunt Jess, none of the people even knew she was there in the laundrette, even though all her laundry was still in the tub. She hadn’t bothered to put it in the drier, you see. Just got up and walked straight out the door. Some people have a kind of showiness that forces them into the limelight – that’d be me, I just can’t help it. Others hate the idea. And you know in the 60s, we had what we called the permissive society. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of a bit of bra burning too. Freedom of speech, that’s what we fought the Nazis for. But you know what, we give people more and more choices or alternatives to be and behave the way they want and they don’t know how to handle it. The rules are so loose that as long as no actual physical or financial harm is done to your neighbour you can pretty much do whatever you like. All for freedom, freedom for all – that’s their revolutionary battle cry isn’t it? But hang on a minute most people don’t feel like they have that kind of freedom at all, do they? Most people feel like hamsters going round on a wheel endlessly repeating the same patterns and doing the same things day in day out, don’t they. Like a bloody work out. Endless circuit training, for what? What’s that all about Charlie, I don’t get it.”

“So when your Aunt, what was her name?”

“Jessica.”

“Jessica, ok, when Jess was on the train, what was she thinking?”

“Well, Jessica was thinking about the laundry she’d left in the tub at the laundrette and the fact that no-one would dry it or collect it to hang it out, I suppose.”

“Was that really it do you think? You don’t think she had anything more on her mind?”

“Nope, she had already decided where she was going and what she was going to do.”

“But how do you know she was going to be dead when they found her.”

“Of course, I don’t really know. I’m making some of this up, to make her memory more decent. That’s what we do isn’t it? Try to find the best in people after they’re gone? Not the worst. No point in getting all angry with her now for leaving my poor Uncle Harold on his own and my two cousins, what were much younger than me, Louise and Malcolm on their own too – little sods.”

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