It all hurts a bit more than it ought to. The show, and bloody Clarence, all of it. She forgets sometimes that there are things that can still get under her skin, than can sit tightly curled in her chest ready to spring up. The show, the stories, the lights, even goddamn Hector and the way he dropped his lines; Bel and her stubbornness and Freddie and his ideals; even Isaac and Sissy and their bumbling, unsure smiles.
She packs up her desk in no time at all. Photos unpinned and shuffled into the bottom of a cardboard box. Loose papers pushed a tad too roughly into folders and envelopes. Maybe she lingers a bit longer than she should, running her hand over her desk and draining the bottle of whisky in her drawer. She’s a photojournalist at heart. It used to be a shutter click and the thing was set to memory forever, preserved in its unyielding black and white. No snapshots now, or anything to keep hold of. Just the brush of her fingers against the light switch and the click of her heels down the hall.
She only keeps the things she needs, and she leaves so much behind.
Bel says she’s taking it in stride, but Lix knows better. Lix doesn’t say much of anything while she puts far too much milk in her tea. Freddie says a lot of things and very few of them mean anything at all. They don’t talk about Clarence but Lix sees him every time Freddie sets down his cup a bit roughly, tea sloshing over the side and onto the worn tabletop.
“Maybe George will take us back.” Bel lights another cigarette and taps her fingers against the table.
Freddie snorts. “‘Take us back,’ as if we’ve nothing better to do. Like we should thank him.”
“We should thank him,” Bel says. “We have to do something.”
“We don’t have to do that. Crawling back on our hands and knees as if we’ve done something wrong. As if we aren’t twice the journalists he is, and you aren’t three times the producer.”
Bel blushes and Freddie looks away and it’s all so very familiar. The feeling that springs up in Lix is far too tired to be called jealousy. She takes a sip of tea and feels, certainly not for the first time, terribly old. Bel blushes and pretends like it’s nothing, fusses with the hair at the back of her neck as Freddie flicks his lighter on and off and very diligently studies his shoes. The silence grows longer and Lix grows impatient.
“You’re both ridiculous,” she says, ashing her cigarette into the tray. “We’ll do what we’ve always done.”
“Drink?” Freddie asks. Bel smiles and laughs and it’s not the newsroom, not the studio, but there are still stories to be told out there beyond the windows. There are stories to be told here too, she thinks as she glances between Bel and Freddie, and none so brave as to tell them. It seems such a terrible waste, their youth, and she’d knock their heads together if she saw any usefulness in it. She knows enough to see the need for a gentler, defter hand than she has ever had and so she keeps herself to herself and takes a drag from her cigarette instead.
“We’ll drink,” she says, “and work, and get our arses handed to us by the likes of Angus McCain. And then we’ll work some more.”
It’s Bel’s turn to be quiet as she stirs circles around her cup of tea. Freddie waits for Bel, a rarity, and Lix watches the cars go by as she smokes to the end of yet another cigarette.
“We’ll go back to the newsroom for now,” Bel says with a pointed look in Freddie’s direction, “and then--” When Lix looks up she’s surprised to see that Bel’s eyes are on her, not Freddie, and her voice shakes a little when she says, “and then someday maybe we’ll try again. On our own.” Bel doesn’t mean it to be a question, but it is, and one that Lix doesn’t have the answer to.
There’s usually something so joyous in Bel, so young and reckless and sure. But not now. Even Freddie looks uncertain. Maybe it’s to do with Clarence again. Maybe it’s to do with something else, something that won’t heal as well with time.
Lix steals the lighter from Freddie’s hand and pulls out another cigarette. They watch her the whole time, her and the flame and the smoke over her shoulder. They’re so bloody young. There’s a beauty in the scatter of corpses, she wants to say, in limbs bent at odds with their nature. The truth isn’t always ugly but the finding of it often is. She doesn’t say it though. She doesn’t think they’d understand. But maybe they would, and maybe that’s what makes her so sad.
“Try again?” she asks. “Of course.” Her cigarette dangles from her lips. Maybe it’s the lie that tastes like ashes.
So it’s back to the newsroom once again. She gets reports from stringers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, stories pouring in from far and away to land on her doorstep waiting to be told. She used to feel like she had a foot on enemy soil, hands stretched across the globe and fingers pressed into the soil. Now it all feels a bit too close to home, the story from just down the hall or right across the table. She’s stood toe-to-toe with rebel forces and enemy soldiers. None of them have ever smiled at her the way that Clarence used to.
The stories they report are often as milquetoast as before “The Hour,” but their moods when they report them are more dour than ever. Freddie’s often found in the stairwell muttering at the messengers and Bel’s smile is tighter than McCain’s most days. Lix buys a new bottle of whisky for her new desk drawer and avoids George as often as possible. But even so. There’s still a war on, still a story to be told, still stringers and telegraphs and phone calls at odd hours. The weekends are still as quiet as they were, and she still loves the feel of an office to herself. She doesn’t quest after an unknowable, all-encompassing truth, the secret to life or anything so trite and useless as all that. That’s what Freddie’s for, she thinks wryly. Instead she pieces together the bits of story she can get her hands on, small truths that turn the world. She makes of it what she can. She’s always been good on her feet. It’s not quite the feel of a camera against her palm, or the rattle in her joints as a shell explodes not half a block away. The weight she carries now is different, spread more evenly against her chest and through her hands as they work atop the typewriter. The copy might be bland at times, but it’s still the job and there’s still a story waiting out there.
The wire buzzes. The phone rings. And Lix works into the night, still bent over her desk as morning slips in through the windows.