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…

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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.

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.