If it was in a TV script

“Well if you love him there’s not much I can do, is there?”

He was twenty five. More or less. And the woman he was speaking to was on the other end of the phone.

“Or man.”

“True. It just occurred to me that way in the moment. It was such an improbable thing to say. Like it couldn’t make sense outside of a soap. And if it was in a TV script it would sound too trashy to be believable.”

“But people must say it, one way or another, all the time right?”

“I guess so. Have you ever said it?”

“No.”

“Ever thought it?”

“I…”

“Well?”

“A couple of times.”

“With different people?”

“No, same person.”

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He staggers.

A man treads lightly down a street in Soho.

The Pillars of Hercules is there. So it must be Greek Street.

It feels like a Sunday.

And he’s holding his hand up to his face. The end of his nose is missing. Blood on his fingers.

When he staggers it’s to avoid the woman passing next to him. Who doesn’t look at him. She doesn’t see embarrassment on the parts of his face not shielded by his hand.

What remains of his nose is protected from scrutiny. What remains of its tip is two streets away, up three creaking flights, behind a door whose keyhole is hard to find because the landing light broke seven weeks ago.

It’s in a sink. Blood along its rim.

And if he shouted at the top of his lungs, someone standing at the sink might hear.

No one who uses that toilet has ever seen their reflection in the tap.

The broken bulb will still be there in a month.

Suddenly he’s gone.

Achilles seems fearless

The train pulls away from the platform and slides into the tunnel.

The doors have hissed shut. Sharp elbows; vacant, hard-edged stares and tessellating bodies in rush hour carriages. And the disembarked flow in eddies through Russell Square Station.

Into the tunnel it slides. Trillions of particles, the mass of the station, the tiles on the walls, the curved walls of the tunnel, quiver. They move, infinitesimally, backwards and forwards like the folds of a concertina.

The sound wave.

It passes through the walls; through the earth; through medieval bones waiting to tantalise archaeologists; through the foundations above, through basements above and the galleries of the British Museum. 

Through the Ancient Greek pots on glass shelves it passes, and they too quiver. Too slightly to see, for here in the august galleries the sound wave exists almost in the realm of abstraction.  

And because every impulse in the city creates its own wave, the Greek pots are shivering constantly. And Achilles seems fearless as he slays Penthesilea, eternally, motionlessly bearing down on his victim on the belly of a vase. 

But really he’s trembling. 

He’s animated by the city. He’s moving in the false silence. 

Deaf Ears and Sudden Assumption 

The wall is flooded with orange light. So hard that it forces the bricks back a millimetre or two; and it renders passing figures from the plunging shadows fleetingly two dimensional; and it dazzles them. 

Or it would have done, had they paused.

Drunken and hurrying in zigzags. 

Except one. And in the obliterating light her hair might be any colour.

Except red. If the orange light were to strike anything red (or, god forbid, actually orange), the object in question would ignite, dazzling the zigzaggers in the streets around Seven Dials into prone submission. 

And one of them suddenly bumps into her, and they spin together.

Hands on the other’s arms to steady themselves. 

“Watch out darling,” she says to ears still ringing with trance beats.

And had he refused the last four drinks he would have dwelt on that word: “darling.” It would have confirmed to him her position in the throws of kindly middle age.
Something about the tone. 

And he would have looked at her face and figure as hard as was politely possible. And the evidence of his eyes, her smooth skin, glossy hair and athletic figure, would have failed the test of sudden assumption. 

And she’d be middle aged and young at the same time. 

The window seat

Sade, the sweetest taboo playing in Starbucks on Wardour Street

A man sits down next to another man and they’ll leave separately.

The people passing the window look the inhabitants square in the face. They can afford to be brazen, secure in their anonymity.

The denizens of the cafe experience the world through the periphery of their vision. They look at phones, laptops, iPads, plausible objects of their attention, giving the lie to side glances and edgeward stares.

Yellow and red light against the roof of the black cab.

Indicator lights flash suddenly in the glasses of an old man in the road, who jumps back from an onslaught of rickshaws.

He looks out of place, though he comes to Soho alone every other evening and wanders in thwarted hope.

Acrylic hair tumbles from shoulders as a woman inspects a broken heel on favourite shoes, and swears.

Silently.

It’s all a silent film from the window seat. Only the traffic can be heard alongside the blaring music.

Alison Moyet.

The milling thousands, the shouting, spitting, laughing, drunken thousands outside are silent.

Shoulders are knocking against shoulders in the crush, eyes are touching each other across streets and from doorways polluted with exhaled smoke.

Only Whitney Houston can be heard in the window seat. Bodies are examined at the edges of vision by eyes attached to screens.

Outside, the swagger.

Inside, the forced languor.

Attention solicited.

Eyes fixed on screens

Peripheral vision finely honed.

Madonna.

“Is this a parody playlist?” Says one man to another.

Almost.

Nothing could be said here that wouldn’t sound like an opening line, in this refuge for people who lack the swagger of the world outside the window. Hopefuls who can only speak in reply.

And the man leaves and passes the window seat.

A silent film.

Mint tea.

Michael Jackson.

Book shop cafe 

She might be retired or she might not be. It’s impossible to tell from the bobbed hair, which is of no distinct colour.

Or from the clothes, which fit very well and are not cheap.

But she’s not young.

And she’s in a bookshop cafe, reading a paperback, with a cup of tea. Or coffee. And it’s Monday morning. On Charing Cross Road the commuter torrent has ebbed.

But now she rises, and since she said a polite good morning to the woman sitting opposite her at the communal table, she parenthesises their shared forty-five minute silence with a smiling goodbye.

And the young man two tables away swiftly revises her character profile. He decides, finally, that she’s seventy two, and that she reminded the woman opposite of her favourite lecturer from university.

Warwick.

English.

Her laptop screen is facing him, and she (or rather the back of her head) seems ponderous. He can almost read the open document, but would have to lean forward conspicuously. It would be obvious to everyone around him.

The bookish-looking, floral-patterned young mother to his left.

The five people tapping at keyboards who’ve bagged the individual tables and have probably been in situ for days.

The server manning the coffee machine, who probably carries out a version of his character-profiling endeavour every single shift.

So he resists.

He can’t defy his programming.

Much to his frustration.

The Queen’s living room

Jamie: Can’t you speak to Susie about it?

Carla: Mmmmm… I want to but I don’t really see her that much.

Jamie: Really? But you’re in the same town??

Carla: Yeah, but London’s pretty huge! 🙄

Jamie: Hasn’t she shown you round?

Carla: She’s shown me places. She’s actually been really nice but I don’t want to seem clingy. I just wish I knew people. I thought it’d be easy but when I landed at hetare, it just felt weird.

Jamie: Hetare?

Carla: *Heathrow*

Jamie: Oh, sorry. What happened? Why weird?

Carla: Well Susie met me and she was hung over (huge dark glasses, downing water – that look). Hardly any convo between us. Then the journey to the flat it took ages and we just sort of… didn’t go anywhere near London.

Jamie: What do you mean? Uxbridge is part of London, no?

Carla: Yeah I mean technically, but that’s just it. I wasn’t expecting the train to circle Big Ben and cruise through the Queen’s living room or anything but it just felt like… I don’t know. Like ‘London’ was somewhere very far away.

Jamie: And it still feels that way?

Carla: Yes! More so now. When I do visit Susie I get on the train and it takes the best part of an hour to get there. And as it gets further and further into the city the energy changes. The buildings get denser and you know that the streets all around are busier, and when you step off there’s this sense of arrival. Like it’s been waiting for you. But when you get back on the train to go home you realise you’ve just been a prisoner on day release.

Jamie: Shit. But is it really so different to Wellington?

Carla: Oh my god yes! The suburbs here are so different. They have this deadening haze over them. You can’t see it but you can feel it. They’re just a massive carpet of dwelling chambers that spreads for miles in every direction. People just exist there. It’s just streets and streets of old brick boxes filled with little rooms. Stuff happens in the rooms but not between them. It’s like – there are none of those accidental collisions between charged particles that make real life feel real.

Jamie: So will you stay?

Carla is typing…