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Come Morning, Come Night
ziggy stardust
by Raven

PG-13, Life On Mars, gen. Sam Tyler commits suicide every night.

When Sam Tyler gets back from work, he closes the door, locks it behind him – he’s a copper, he knows all about Safety In The Home (government initiative, courtesy of Labour, 1997) – kicks his shoes off, listens to the satisfying clumps they make, throws off the leather jacket that he’s getting too fond of, and ambles barefoot to the stove.

The jacket looks like an oily puddle in the dim light, shining rainbow tar, and he picks it up, hangs it off the back of the door and thinks, suddenly, about where it came from. It’s been well-worn, well-loved, his tears, sweat, blood are ground into it, softening the shine, but he didn’t buy it, doesn’t know who did. The tag’ll tell him, he can ask around if he doesn’t recognise the name of the brand, find out where it’s available, but that’s only a kind of knowing; he won’t know, for example, if it was bought, given, stolen, fell off the back of a lorry, what, and that’s the point of it right there, you’re not supposed to do detective work on your own life, you’re supposed to know.

But he doesn’t. So he hangs it up, and reaches for his kitchen cabinets. He’s not been a fan of chicken and mango since that latest humiliating incident, and he hasn’t got anything so fancy lurking on his shelves this time anyway. He grabs a bottle of olive oil – Nelson, bless him, got it for him somewhere when he hadn’t the time to be chasing ingredients – some peppers, anything he can dice up, he’s got a good hand with a knife, shoves them in a pan, swishes them about with some sort of wooden spatula. It’s not much, but it’ll do, and at least he won’t be dead of a coronary before he’s forty. He remembers Gene telling him something about soss and chips most nights, courtesy of his wife, and Sam believes it. He feels sorry for Gene’s wife, sometimes, but then think she must give as good as she gets. Lord knows Gene doesn’t dare shove her up against a wall.

He aims the pan at the sink, once he’s done with it, and tosses the food on a plate. At least, that’s the plan; somehow he makes a hash of it and has to make a leap with the plate held in one loose hand. The peppers with their slight sheen of polyunsaturate cascade nicely onto the china, but he lands heavily, jarring his ankle. Something’s changed about the way he moves, something shifted in his centre of balance. Food momentarily forgotten, he runs his hands through his hair, over his closed eyes and cheeks, over his chest and belly, and takes a deep breath. Probably something about weeks of running criminals to the ground the old-fashioned way, but he’s lost weight. He gives a small, twisted half-smile that only the mirror sees – of course he’s lost weight, he’s been on a feeding tube in a hospital bed for five months.

Annie, and Maya, would say he needed feeding up. He sits on the chair the wrong way round, picks listlessly at his food. He’s not as hungry as he thought he was, and he gets up, closes his eyes, stubs his toe, walks into the table, gets it all the wrong way round, ends up sitting on the bed with his hands over his eyes. There is, he thinks, more than a slight possibility that he went nutty as one of Annie’s fruitcakes a few months ago, and he’s got a garden variety of delusion that he’s bypassed thirty years of history single-handedly. Maybe he was born here, in Manchester, as he knows he was, thirty-seven years ago, which would be – and he has to pause to work it out – 1936, and Christ, that’s before the war. But lying there, leaning back on his bed that he can’t remember buying with his hands over his eyes, he knows, he knows in his heart and body and mind, and yeah, in his fucking soul, that that’s not right. He can remember buying his first record, in 1979, on the shop on the corner, clear as day; he can remember being eighteen and getting knocked on the head by a Reds fan; he can remember the year 2000, Manchester’s sky exploding in fireworks and radiant flame, he can remember 1996, Manchester’s sky exploding.

He doesn’t, actually, remember that very well. He remembers being up at five am and not getting to bed until two days afterwards, he remembers there were people crying, himself included, he remembers a lot of glass shards, in his hair and in his shoes and his skin, and he remembers doing his job. He remembers his girlfriend at the time made him take a day off after that, a weekday, spent sitting in bed and resting and recovering and watching Eastenders repeats. He remembers that the city wouldn’t stand for it, that everything they’d rebuilt was better than what the Irish Republican scumbag bastards took away from them.

How can he remember that, he thinks through closed eyelids and curling fingers. How can he remember carnage that won’t happen for twenty-three years? And how, at the same time, can he remember turfing tapioca pudding on his beef yet again the day before yesterday and getting laughed at by Annie Cartwright?

Maybe – and his eyes squeeze tighter shut – he’s in a modern loony bin after all, and his mum and Maya take vigil over his broken body through shatterproof glass. He can’t say it’s not true. He can’t say that about anything.

He doesn’t remember the accident. He thinks it was a hit-and-run driver, which seems ironically appropriate, that the death of a police officer happened in the pursuit of a crime, although in his case it probably wasn’t a hit-and-run so much as a hit-and-run-and-run-and-run-but-you-can’t-hide-because-you’ll-be-tracked-down-inside-
a-month-and-have-your-head-politely-kicked-in-by-Sam’s-mum. Then he remembers all at once that there was no death, he isn’t dead yet, and he laughs a bit at that, a strangled sort of laugh that makes him sit up, ruefully wipe his eyes and decide that even crazy people have to pull themselves together sometimes.

He stands up, sits back at the table, has another go at his stir-fried peppers. It isn’t always like this. Usually he’s too tired for this, too bone-deep-exhausted by a long day of reading people the wrong set of rights, and then he dreams and cats and clowns and little girls come out of the television. The first few nights he used single malt, stashed in bottles below the bed, to get him somewhere amber-tinted and fuzzy-edged, where the chintz decade didn’t matter because nothing did. But it does matter, sober; in this nick it matters when old ladies lose their handbags and young men lose their lives and Labour loses the election and Sam Tyler’s lost himself.

Sam told Annie that once. That the unions will push the government to breaking point, that Callaghan loses control, that they’ll be working three days a week and dead bodies will pile up in the streets. She only laughed, told him he was bonkers. He thinks she’s probably right.

He remembers her being upset, almost crying, when she finally got him down off the roof. She left him after a while, trying to pour himself into the bottle, and he woke up hungover and alone, but – and it’s a hard thing for a straight copper to admit – he can’t really remember whether there was drunken sex, or not. He thinks not, on the balance of it – for one thing she’s still talking to him, and for another, there wasn’t any of the relevant debris. He doesn’t know, didn’t ever know where to get condoms in 1973 – little Sammy Tyler used to find them, unwitting, in the gutter, at least before his mum told him to stop playing down there – and besides, he’s probably not going to need them now. They’ve gone somewhere beyond the place where that would make sense, because Annie’s a bright girl; she knows that’s not the way to save him. She got him off the roof, and that’s the problem; she’s seen him up there at the edge, which is probably worse than naked and handcuffed to the bed, although he remembers that with painful clarity, too.

He’s getting used to the edge, the spreading cityscape falling down below him; he’s learned to live there, sending postcards forwards through time. Cast against a greying sky, Sam Tyler commits suicide every night.

Most nights since the first, since the definitive moment, he hasn’t made it all the way up there. But he can’t shake the temptation, that a hundred feet of nothing and then concrete might leave a bloody mess on the pavement but it wouldn’t matter; it would leave his body destroyed but his soul free. Somewhere out there in another place, another time, his body is already reeling from its own destruction. It wouldn’t matter, and it would be enough.

Out there in the real world he is getting closer and closer to death. When the dark and chintz get too oppressive, he stamps outside and doesn’t lock the door behind him. It doesn’t matter if anything gets stolen; there’s no one going to fence imaginary goods. He leaves the peppers to get cold and sits out on the roof, thinking about it.

In the spread of early morning light over a skyline he barely recognises, over a Manchester he was too young to love, he looks down at the hundred feet of nothing, and shivers a bit, only from cold. The peppers are congealing in his flat, and the night’s gone, sleepless. If he stays out here long enough – and he does – he’ll hear it, sad and bleak through the noises of urban morning: the slow, mournful bleep-bleep-bleep of a heart monitor a long, long way away.

“Sam, sweetheart?” says a fragile, distant voice. “Darling, I know you can’t hear me.”

“I can hear you,” he murmurs.

“I know you can’t hear me, but I want you to know we’re here.”

She will, he knows; she will and they will, all of them. He remembers Life On Mars; he remembers it as a song in the background of his childhood, a shifting jukebox record, he remembers buying it like a fragile jewel for 79p late at night, he remembers the pinging sound as the data transferred. He remembers it, and he’ll remember it, as there’s life up there in the sky, all the people he’s ever loved, who have ever loved him, his angels of the silences, his Ziggy Stardust.

But there’s washing-up to do, and criminals to catch, and this, after all, is not the night Sam Tyler falls to earth.

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