breathing problems

Amongst all the pictures on the wall there’s one of Angela as a young woman, standing on a bright quayside, squinting into the camera, wearing a heavy rubber two-piece SCUBA diving suit with the corrugated breathing tube draped over her shoulder and temporarily pushed into a gap at the front.
‘I was about thirty,’ she wheezes. ‘Look how the mighty fall.’
‘Did you do a lot of diving?’
‘A fair bit, me and Connor. He had a contract for the port authority, supervising the divers working on the footings. One time he was sick so he got me to pilot the boat, never mind about the certification. Well – we’d have lost the contract. But you should’ve seen me! In my tight white shorts and white top, bouncing up and down, soaked in spray. I only had to fish one body out…’
‘What d’you mean, one body?’
She shakes her head and holds the flat of her hand up, suddenly unable to talk.
Anxiety makes Angela’s breathing worse. When she’s talking about something she feels comfortable with, her chest eases and she perks up. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a topic that doesn’t inevitably stray into darker areas.
‘Have you always lived down here?’ I ask her, sitting back down and finishing my notes.
‘What do you think?’
‘I don’t know. I’m thinking maybe Blackpool?’
‘And you’d be right!’
‘Only ‘cos a friend of mine’s from there and you sound just like him. Only not such a deep voice.’
‘That’s my real home. This? This is just the place I ended up.’
‘Did you work in Blackpool?’
‘’Course I did! I had a good job, in a cigarette factory. I loved that job! I was a scientist – working in the laboratory, quality control, you know? Part of my job was to go down on to the factory floor to fetch the readings every week. Well – the guys there, they were a right old tease. They’d shout out Quick, here she comes! and then they’d all line up, and I’d have to walk past and give ‘em all a kiss.’
‘No!’
‘Aye! They were a rotten lot! Every single one of them wanted a kiss. Hands everywhere. And that’s what I got every single Friday. But I was young and I didn’t know any better.’
‘Blimey! At least you wouldn’t have to put up with that these days.’
‘Oh I don’t know…’
She starts breathing fast again, fiddling with the silver locket round her neck.
‘’Course, being the fool I was I got married and Frank put a stop to all that. He put a stop to a lot of things, did Frank. He didn’t like me going out. Oh, he was an evil man. I had a terrible life. He’d beat me, lock me up, kick me. My friends said I had to runaway or one morning I’d wake up dead, and I knew they were right. For the kids’ sake I had to go. But that weren’t the end of it. He stalked me, for years. I moved house a couple of times but he always managed to find out where I’d gone and a month or two later he’d be there, shouting and screaming in the street, carrying on. Deliberately running his car into mine, making horrible phone calls. Then one night he broke in and started smashing the place up. All my lovely things. The police came and arrested him, and even though they cuffed his hands and his feet he still managed to put one of them in the hospital. The police said I had to go somewhere completely different or I’d never have any peace, which is why I came down here, hard though it was. But they were right. I didn’t hear anything else and I started to build a life for me and the kids. And then a few years later I got a call from the police. Good news they said. Frank’s new wife came downstairs and found him dead. And d’you know what I did? It might sound a bit wrong, but what I did was, I went straight over the corner shop – because by that time I was good friends with Eileen, the woman who runs it – and I said Eileen, Frank’s dead. Right she said. Come here. And she took me out the back, opened a bottle of champagne, poured two glasses, give me one and she said Here’s to Frank, may he rot in hell!’
Angela’s shoulders heave with the memory of it all.
‘Don’t worry about talking anymore,’ I tell her. ‘Just try to slow your breathing. Remember what we said? That’s it. Good. In through the nose, out through the mouth…’
She holds her hand up again. After a while, when she’s more or less back in control again, she says:
‘And that – was the end – of that.’

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