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. 

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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…

Jury service and sympathetic hair.

Fuck. It’s happened.

She nearly swore aloud as she opened the envelope and saw the imperious words in a big, disarmingly neutral font (and in a strange shade of pink).

Jury Service

The carriage shudders, like it’s laughing. Opening her post on the Tube has become a habit, and she feels it must have somehow tempted fate.

Somehow.

She skims the letter cursorily, but finds no mention of a crime. Maybe they tell you when you arrive at… Oh, they do, right there.

She exhales, blows the same strand of hair from her face that always flops down in sympathy in moments like this.

Fuck.

Time off work. A room full of fuckers. Public sector tea and a plate of stale biscuits. Bored deliberation.

Hopefully it’ll be open and shut. A nice, simple burglary.

But what if it’s fraud?

She sighs again. It’s bound to be. It’ll be financially complex and a billion degrees of obscurity.

The hair strand flops down again and she leaves it there.

Monsters and meat

Miles below the surface.

Darkness,

emerging into sudden light. Its glare.

And a constant roar.

And a belly full of strangely flavoured meat.

Regurgitated.

Consumed again. Its great stomach refilled.

And now it’s rising towards the surface,

towards the natural light.

And almost…

now. It breaches the surface in Farringdon,

the great beast rising nearly to street level in the middle of London.

Regurgitates meat, devours people,

who flock into its belly,

and onward the train flies on the Circle Line, back suddenly into darkness.

Onward to Barbican.

Hums orange

“Look at the light,” says one of them. She can’t see which one because they’re behind her, but she hears his voice clearly, and all the others stop their chatter.

And the orange light of the sunset is cast across people’s faces, their coats and bags and the fabric of the seats is burnished.

Outside the sky ignites, making silhouettes of trees and the lamp posts and shadow puppets of the urban clutter that passes them as the Number 65 approaches Kingston.

In that long moment no one around her on the top deck speaks, and the engine hums orange.

But the sky dims in seconds, chatter returns, there is no more puppet show, and Teresa’s shift starts in fifteen minutes.

Always check

“Bollocks” he yells in his head. There’s a moment of hope, when he thinks he feels it in his inside pocket, but no. Every other pocket has been checked and double-checked, and he pats his trousers yet again, but he knows.

His wallet is gone.

And he knows exactly when it happened. On the Tube he had pulled his phone out to listen to music, and the clump of entangled earphones must have dragged the wallet out with it. His momentary irritation at having to disentangle the wires must have clouded his senses.

He should’ve checked. Always check.

“Always fucking check!”

The wave of anger subsides now, and disappointment rushes to fill its place.

He spent ÂŁ45 on that wallet, specifically because it was slim-line, no compartments, no possibility of accumulating handfuls of useless change, nothing unnecessary to bulk out his skinny jeans.

And now he can’t bear to listen to music. He’d rather have silence.