The impetus for TRACKS, the first Dylan Kasper outing, came from a real-life incident in which a young man I worked with put himself under a tube train and died. Afterwards, I felt driven to explore suicide as a central plot theme. In particular, I wanted to show how the reasons behind completed suicides are multifarious. For some, they may come from a trauma or in response to a particular life event; but for others, the reasons may be impulsive, a kneejerk thought, or just a plain mystery. Whatever, for those who survive, the ripple effects are messy, grievous and lasting…
Extract from TRACKS:
That short drive to the tube station was one of the longest journeys I don’t care to remember. Saul took us in his rusty white Renault, its roof rack rattling like stones pelting above our heads. His eyes stayed focused, the knuckles of his hands stretched white on the steering wheel.
Meeting us was a scene of flashing blue lights, a huddle of bystanders, London Underground staff, police, an unmarked mortuary van and an ambulance. The sky was blotched with clouds and seemed to be darkening with each passing moment. Opening the car door, I was hit by a sharp wind that dried my eyes.
Saul was the first one out. He started talking frantically to a paramedic, his hands gesticulating. The paramedic shrugged and pointed at the station.
Flapping yellow tape cordoned its entrance; the shutters were down, train staff in clusters nearby, talking covertly, several smoking.
I saw Diane by a police Fiat, a Met badge pinned to her blazer. With her was a thin-shouldered woman, mid-twenties, with a sharp black bob and a matching blazer. Tinted aviators hid her eyes, but I recognised her from the graduation photo. She was Harriet Berkowitz, Tommy’s sister.
Spotting Saul, she called out ‘Dad!’ and cantered past me towards her father. I watched the two talking, and then hug.
Two teenage girls to my right were sharing a box of chips. The tail end of their conversation caught me as I began walking towards Diane. One said, ‘Boy went splat,’ before bringing her hands together with a clap. I swallowed down a sick taste and moved on.
Seeing me, Diane tried a smile. Five years had passed since we’d stood this close together. She’d changed her look, dropping the jeans and jumpers for a neat black suit combo, and straightening out the frizzy afro. This was more formal, but she pulled it off. I rested on the Fiat and tried smiling back.
‘I’m sorry, Kas,’ she said.
‘You think it’s him?’
She shrugged. ‘The sister gave me a description. It sounds like a fit.’
‘Where’s he now?’
‘Down there. Mortuary staff are with him.’
To the right of the station entrance there was a kebab shop. A middle-aged man stood outside, wearing a navy TFL jumper, smoking. His dark skin had tuned ashen, and his eyes stared into the distance.
‘The train driver. He’s pretty shook up.’ She paused. ‘So are you by the looks of it.’
‘Thanks, Diane,’ I said, and began wandering towards the driver.
He spotted me a few feet away and took a step back. ‘Who’re you?’ he said through a cloud of smoke. ‘I already talked to the police.’
‘I’m not police.’ I stopped in front of him.
Up close, his lips were dry; snot had caked around his nostrils.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t stop in time. Believe me.’
‘I do. It’s not your fault.’
‘I can see him…’
‘It don’t make sense. Why’d a young man do something like this?’
‘You a relative?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I was a … friend.’
I breathed out slowly, and offered the train driver my hand. He shook it. Sweat stuck our palms together.
Both of us started at the clang of the station shutters. Two men in charcoal mortuary uniforms appeared. They were pulling a narrow stretcher sealed with shiny black tarpaulin. The police and paramedics stood aside, allowing them to move their cargo towards the van.
Stutters came from Saul, high and staccato, as if his throat was blocked. Harriet was next to him. Her lips were tight, and her head slowly shook.
No one spoke. There was no fanfare, no screams. Just a body getting carried out on a Friday evening.
A third man wearing jeans and a Henley shirt came from the station. He was plain-clothes police, you could tell from his movements. A see-through evidence bag was in his hand. As he passed us, I made out the contents. A bunch of keys. A plastic cardholder. And an iPhone, sheathed with pink bunny ears.
The mortuary men opened the van doors and slid the stretcher in. Behind me, Saul’s stutters became sobs which rose with the turning wind. It told of a pain few men knew.
The van doors closed, the motor started. Then it was pulling away, becoming immersed within the traffic before falling out of sight.