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. 


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.

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.”

It can’t be him.

Lizzy checks her phone.


Literally twenty minutes late and no message.


She looks across the street.

“If she comes out of a cafe…” Matty’s notorious for popping into coffee shops before arriving when she’s already holding people up.

But there…

Lizzy squints and steps forward, to the edge of the pavement, the traffic on Southampton Row thickening at the red light.

It can’t be.

Chris Stock. Serving coffee.

It can’t be. He looks identical.

How long since they were at uni? twelve years?

She weaves through the stationary cars and up to the window.

Same face. Same movements.

Same watch?

It can’t be. Eighteen year olds all look the same.

She’s getting old.

But still she scrutinises.

And he looks up.

Spots her.