Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Coming up ...

Stop Press!! Or something!

Due to the (lovely, lovely, naughty) snow, this magnificent event will now take place on Thursday 9th December
Same time, same place.

Perhaps you'd like to come along??

Friday, 19 November 2010

On the top deck of the 36

You swing up the final step as the bus lurches a corner, sprinkling rain from your coat hem, your cuffs, your sorry excuse for an umbrella. Faces turn, from where they’re clustered, in pairs. Gazes grab at you, dismiss you –

Sitting at the very front, there’s an elderly couple on the left, while on the right, a young mum and her son dip and sway with the pattering night.

Hastily, the toddler returns to his earnest driving, his invisible wheel clenched tightly between woollen paws, his gone-bedtime eyes intense. It’s a good job he knows where you’re going, since no one else can see anything. Every single window is cottoned with condensation. You smell wet wool and cigarette ends. The secret leaves and mud patterns gridded to damp boots.

The middle seats are occupied by Girls Going Out. Insect eyelashes and hair straightened to the fluidity of tarmac – brittle blond, brunette and a combination of the two, carefully arranged stripes of oak and gold. Frosted lips all round. But these girls aren’t raucous, or giggling, as you might have expected. They’re not even whispering. Texting …

At the very back, one man, alone.

You take the seat behind the girls, but more because you’re afraid of skidding or stumbling than anything else. You haven’t realised, yet.

It doesn’t take long though, before you hear him. The way he’s drumming his heels against the floor, the thud of it an irregular heartbeat, almost exquisitely out of time with the engine’s wheezing, with the rain’s hiss and spatter. And when he speaks you realise that he’s probably been talking for some time. You’ve interrupted.

"I’m telling myself I’m a fucking idiot," he says.

And you turn, of course you do, along with everyone else. And yes, he’s definitely on his own. And no, he isn’t on a mobile.

He isn’t even old, or grubby-looking. But there’s the hollow volume of his voice. That shuffle-stamping. Thud ... Thud-thud, thud

The girls’ eyes flash back at you. The old woman shakes her head.
But he continues:

"I’m telling myself not to think these things."

And his words seem so deliberate, it’s almost funny; they’re so painstakingly enunciated

You realise that the folds of your umbrella are soaking a patch of darkness into the empty space at your side. And you know you ought to place it on the grey-glistening floor, but you don’t. Not yet. Because at the moment, you’re not moving. You’re listening.

"Just because these people," the man says. "These people –"

And now no one’s looking back there anymore. Everyone’s attention is singularly focused on those wide front windows, on the nothingness there, and a child humming. Driving with blind confidence into an expanse of clouded white.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

On trains. And beauty. And things that happen

A beautiful woman sat beside me on the train, although I didn’t realise it at first – her beauty.

Because she wasn’t young. Because the colour had slipped from her hair, and yet it was her hair that caught me, tugging at the edge of my vision so that, again and again, I found myself glancing up from my novel, my notebook. Shifting in my seat.

Hair that clouded past her pale, lined throat, misting where it touched her shoulders. And when she bowed, brushing her lapels, I saw how thick it lay against her crown.


I thought of down then, and purity.
Plump new pillows in a hushed hotel room. The untouchable place where a swan’s wings meet, tucked against its back.

No wonder I kept looking.

There was the smooth, lifted line of her jaw. Her elegant shoulders and long lean torso, acknowledged but discreet beneath her coat. She was all poise and posture and pleasing angles. I pictured her spine falling with the fluid certainty of a Jacob’s Ladder; she seemed so contained. Complete.

I slumped, a sack. My fingers fumbled with my fraying pages. My pen lid dropped anyway, skittering too loudly towards the aisle.

Her hands had come to a careful rest across her lap. Perhaps, after all, the most beautiful part of her. Those tapered fingers and pearly nails, a single ring. Skin so thin it made me wince. The veins beneath so delicate, frail threads winding towards neat knuckles, a spreading, silken blue …

It took me a moment to dare an "Excuse me". To reach across.

She drew her knees high as I leant past. Her coat whispered. Sharp folds with something softer underneath, and a whiff of rose water, and talcum powder. The scent of baths from long ago.

But beneath her trailing hem, her feet

Without shoes or stockings, without socks. They were small enough, streaked and smudged enough, to have belonged to a young girl. If it wasn’t for their pallor, and the tiny cuts.
Her stripped heels and toes remained almost as elegant as her finely strung hands. One ankle bound with a plastic tag.

And in the moment before I sat back up, abandoning my pen lid where it had dropped, I recalled the commotion back at the station.

The ambulance parked in the damp outside, doors wide. Police and rail staff converging on the platform, radios buzzing. Yellow jackets against the grey …

And when, drawing breath, I straightened, she was staring at me. Eyes lit with mischief. She raised one finger to her lovely mouth.

"Hush," she said.
At least, I thought she said.

Before she looked beyond me to the window. To the black rain, black glass. Another carriage rumbling past.