immortal bodies

The pavements are sodden,

and it stopped raining half an hour ago.

Lightning is exploding above

and not a whisper of thunder.

A celestial thread might have been lowered,

and dangling

five hundred feet above Bloomsbury

a pair of opposing gods are fighting,

tearing

with hands and teeth

the flesh of immortal bodies

ripped

constantly,

fleetingly

open

and in the moment of exposure,

energy is lightening the sky,

and the sodden pavements

and the bricks and windowsills and the tops of heads

are drenched anew

in blistering,

obliterating

blue.

And my head should be pounding.

But it isn’t.

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uppermost leaves

Sitting on the roof on a muggy evening.

Clerkenwell before him.

Smithfield behind.

Bloomsbury distantly implied

by the uppermost leaves of that London plane tree,

imperfectly concealed by that arse-hole

of a seventies office block

in the middle distance.

It’s gently photosynthesising on Gray’s Inn Road.

Making the most of the day’s final photons.

Leaves struck gold

from a sun that’s reddish,

and smeared all over the horizon,

igniting the pollutants in the air

made suddenly beautiful.

And here,

sitting,

he feels the relief

that is

indifference.

Before it fades

Rhoda hasn’t slept for thirty-six hours.

It’s a necessary sacrifice to a piece of new writing:

a slackening of the rational habits of thought that are the enemy of creative impulse.

At least for her.

And it can only be done through the violence of withheld sleep.

And the observation of random human beings.

She’s taken the Tube in, but spurned the seats that Sunday made available to her. She would have dozed off.

She’s going to that new café on Torrington Place.

She’s making her last stand there, a pitched battle for a first, decent page against the lure of slumber.

She crosses the road and can see free tables through the glass.

And behind her, reflected, a group of young women.

Students?

A man seated at the window.

A barista clutching the handle of the coffee machine looks over his shoulder at him.

He’s there every day, thinks the barista, and his name is Tom.

And the coffee machine is singing.

And Tom (or perhaps Tim) is an artist.

And the stranger destined to murder him is on a beach in the Northern Territory, gently counting coins into the hand of a street vendor, with the fingers that will squeeze Tom’s throat.

In five years?

Ten?

And the barista imagines he can find him and stop it from happening.

And it becomes his purpose.

He looks up from the machine and the horizon fractures around him, scattering fistfuls of light against the windows along the street and through the red bricks of the mansion block and the metal of the cars parked opposite.

Rhoda stops.

She sits on the curb scribbling furiously onto a pad.

Before it all fades.

Before fleeing back to Southall.

And the warm greeting of bed.

Briefly Golden

When he has something on his mind, something that can’t be brushed away, lodged like an airborne seed in the soft tissue of his conscience, he stirs the loose leaves in his pot of tea.

And he repeats his worry to himself.

And Salina watches him .

She watches the delicate movement of his callused fingers, the rotation of the silver spoon, carefully polished, glinting in the hot water, which is now deep brown.

Particles are seeping into it from the sodden, whirling leaves, and they carry his worry with them.

She doesn’t see it that way though.

Suddenly, across the courtyard, in one of the flats opposite, a window is pushed open by an unseen hand.

The glass catches the sun and the light is thrown into Kemal’s living room.

Onto the faded easy chair.

Across the crowded wall.

Through the glass of the teapot and into the crowded water.

Making it briefly golden.

And if he were to drink it, it would be bitter.

Salina purrs.

Eventually the water will cool and be still.

And Kemal will ease himself into his chair.

A quarter of an inch

They almost collided.

His eyes are on his phone, head bowed; her face is almost obscured by the huge box of fruit, apples stacked up to her nose.

And suddenly a squall of pigeons descends around them, flapping frantically, for some scraps of would-be food.

She teeters, but rights herself before the apples tumble; he flinches and takes a sudden step back.

The pigeons burst into the air again and are gone.

And to her left, spanning the wide street, is the newly-built market. The paint on the wooden stalls is hardly dry.

It’s her first delivery here.

And the yelling is hoarse that swells above the heads of the crowd.

“Cabbages! Cauliflower!” cries the squat woman to her right

“Come in a bit closer so you can hear me,” calls out the red-haired woman to his left, raising her hand to address the small gathering before her.

He lowers his phone and looks around for a landmark to orientate himself by. He can feel a patch of sweat under each armpit.

She’s scanning the street, searching for the right stall. And her apron is dirty, it hasn’t been laundered for a week.

There!

The spire of St Bride’s church. Just visible.

The green stall with the hook-nosed man.

Still they stand, impossibly close to each other. She can’t smell the aftershave he’s applied too liberally (as he always does before a job interview).

“Get your fresh vegetables here!” cries a ruddy faced man.

“This is where Londoners came to buy fresh vegetables,” says the red-haired woman to her group.

The market stalls are built into the very road itself, such as it is, and the milling masses crowd the spaces between them.

And cars race up and down and pedestrians dare not cross it.

“Fleet Market was built here in 1736,” says the red-haired woman to the tour group, vehicles roaring past. “And demolished in the nineteenth century.”

“Come on then, hurry up with that fruit!” yells one of the traders to woman with the box of apples.

A reminder on his phone, and she’s still lingering in the space next to him.

But now they pass.

On the same street.

Through the same air.

Almost colliding, but for a quarter of an inch and two hundred and eighty one years.

Under Blackfriars Bridge

The bow kissed the taut strings and the violin cried out.

And the glazed bricks on the walls were its lungs. The barrel ceiling’s gentle curve amplified every oscillation.

In the grubby foot tunnel under Blackfriars Bridge the sound thickened the air, obliterating everything else.

The traffic from the road above.

The footsteps of the drunken office workers, filing two-by-two as they passed him.

Their laughter.

Aleksy’s breath.

He moved his fingers across the strings, pulled the bow across them.

The figures criss-crossing his field of vision were noiseless. They were movements without sounds of their own, abstract, like the patterns of the dirty grouting and the frames of the murals.

And the bricks cried louder, the ceiling, the narrow space; and the wall at his back was dissolving.

He closed his eyes.

No one passed him now.

Time did not pass him now, and the baleful strip lighting fell through him and into some other realm.

A lone woman ran through the tunnel of sound, staggering for the last train from Waterloo, an infinity away, and she would momentarily, belatedly, become aware of the violin’s cries only as she stepped back onto the platform at Woking.

Aleksy opened his eyes.

A man, drunk, was dancing slowly in front of him.

He closed them again.

Dissolved again.

And when, an unknown time later, he raised his head and looked around, he was alone.

The lone inhabitant in a fleeting realm of purity.

 

Why are we talking about this?

The woman with the watering can was pouring its contents onto the flower bed.

“A flower bed?” asked Jess with a raised eyebrow. “She took a watering can into the park with her? Who does that?”

“No, this was on the street. Near Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury,” said Carla. “There was a row of trees and she was watering the flowers that were growing underneath.”

“What, through that sort of concrete grating where the trunk goes into the pavement?”

“Yes. Yeah, ok, so it wasn’t not exactly a flower bed, but that’s sweet, right? Sort of civic.”

Jess had almost finished buttering her toast, and was very obviously about the plunge the buttery knife into the jam Carly had bought this morning.

“What sort of flowers were they?” asked Jess, and the top popped as she twisted open the jar.

“I don’t know, those long ones with kind of bell shaped flowers. Quite pretty,” said Carly, looking at the flat, shiny surface of the untouched conserve.

“Hollyhocks? Those are technically weeds,” said Jess.

Then she plunged the defiled knife into the virgin jam, leaving deposits of butter behind.

“Bitch,” thought Carly.

‘Why are we talking about this?” asked Jess.

“No reason.”