The Sad Sentence

Andrew McLinden

When I left school I worked for a week in a newspaper office.  I’m ashamed of this fact.  More ashamed than of the time I first went to a brothel or the time I stole drugs from a friend who had fallen asleep.

The journalists played cricket while they waited on stories.  They used yesterday’s newspaper as a bat and a sheet of tomorrow’s copy for a ball.  For the stumps they used an upturned waste paper basket.

One journalist didn’t play though because she cried a lot.  She would sit at her typewriter working steadily before bursting into tears and running off to the bathroom.

When someone was upset like that people kept their distanceas if the sadness might be contagious. The men trying to catch the ball tried not to catch her eye as she retook her seat.

I was there Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and every day was the same: cricket and crying.  On the Thursday morning I came in and took my seat just in time to see her break down again.

A roar went up from the cricketers, and I saw the ball spin over a desk before burying itself beside the skirting board.  A fat little hack chased it with his tie flung over his shoulder.  His face was red, his eyes determined. After throwing the ball back, he walked over and asked her what was wrong.  When she told him he started crying too.

I walked out to the College Bar for a lunchtime drink and talked to old washed up writers about why they’d never made news, only reported it.  It was a good pub.  There was a jukebox they never put on, a beer tap they never turned off, horse tips that never came in, and a barmaid that never put out.

A journalist sat down beside me.  He told me he’d just reported a story he knew to be false but that it didn’t matter because as soon as it became news it became true.  He wrote the word news down on a napkin and messed around with the letters until he’d made the word sewn, and then said that in the end it was just about stitching people up.  He started crying and moved seats.

When I left I walked back to the newspaper building but couldn’t go in.  All I could see were crying faces pressed against the glass.

By nightfall, police officers wept onto the shoulders of prostitutes on street corners.  Car windows steamed up stationary with condensation.  Yuppies stood bereft as they looked out of the windows of fancy city centre flats.  Bin men, traffic wardens, taxi drivers, road sweepers, all broke their hearts where they stood, while old men on park benches blew their noses into handkerchiefs as their dogs howled at the moon.  On cold train station platforms, crying commuters forced sad leathery luggage into the holds of trains bound for Edinburgh, London, and other places.