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…


The last of her clothes

A few taps on his screen and the sound of trumpets fill the little flat.

“It’s my favourite,” he smiles.

For a few moments she struggles to make sense of the cacophony.

Had she been walking past a bandstand in a provincial park, or pressed to the edge of pavement as the tourists at her back thronged to snap the marching band on its way from Buckingham Palace, her brain wouldn’t have demanded a moment’s thought.

But in the cramped studio three floors above a pub, the trumpets and the trombones and the tubas

(Where they actually tubas? What is a tuba anyway?)

didn’t occur to her as music.

And his hair was curly and immense and vaguely red, and as he had bent to retrieve the contents of her split bag from the pavement she’d caught the scent of it.

Two hundred and fourteen pavements away, if she were to count.

A moment’s high embarrassment as the withered hand of fate snipped the fibres at the bottom of her over-sized, over-loaded brown paper bag, filled with the last of her clothes from Georgio’s flat.

Her toothbrush.

Her underwear.

All on the pavement in an instant.

And he, a perfect stranger, simply scooped it all up.

And two minutes later he returned from a nearby shop with a large plastic bag and everything was neatly, deftly taken care of.



More coffee.

And after the third hour slipped delightfully by she allowed herself to wonder

“Are we on a date?”

And now, in his flat, he’s just put on a brass band compendium.

So no, then.

Chewed at the edges

Molten turmoil deep beneath.

Collisions are occurring 

by the hundreds 

of thousands 

of trillions 

of hydrogen atoms. 

They’re forced upwards in turbulent, somersaulting convection currents to the surface of the sun, and the better part of them, their collective soul, is thrown out into the great vacuum, which on Earth we call the heavens, seeming far more densely peopled with celestial bodies than is proper.

Like Villiers Street viewed from the Strand on a Saturday evening at 10.45.

The squeezed perspective, the diminishing visual field crushing bodies together.

And they form currents, oozing into Heaven, circling the dance floors, colliding at the bar, staggering along the platform of Charing Cross, eddying two steps from the homeless woman and her proffered, almost-empty cup next to the shut-up flower stall. 

And the soul of the hydrogen, the sunlight, strikes the moon, bleaching it a skeletal white, and it’s stunned by the impact, falls helplessly towards her, tumbling downwards from above.

And it’s slowed by the thickening air.

The noise, rising above the artificially dense crowd. 

And it falls lightly, like a whisper in the roar of Villiers Street, on the once-white rim of her paper cup, dyed orange by the street light. 
Chewed at the edges. 

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,


with hands and teeth

the flesh of immortal bodies





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,



And my head should be pounding.

But it isn’t.

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,


he feels the relief

that is


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.


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?


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.