THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR

By Marta Abromaityte

The reverberation from the storm shook the windows of Lucy’s flat whilst she sat in darkness, silhouetted by her battery powered lava lamp. The light from the lamp illuminated Lucy’s tear filled eyes and for the fifth time that night, the fierce storm cut out the electricity in her 16-storey building. Leaving Lucy petrified, clinging to the one source of life and light that had been left for her in the tenacity of this unexpected thunderstorm.

 

The constant low rumble of the thunder grew louder and louder with each passing crack of lightning and Lucy sat, as still as a dormouse clutching at her most treasured copy of The Snow Child. Praying silently and fervently that the assault of the skies would cease.

 

Finally, the patter of the rain and the incessant grumble of the thunder slowly subsided and Lucy looked up, noticing that the light bulb in her bedroom was beginning to throb with life. It was not long before it illuminated her bedroom entirely, flooding her with a bright light.

 

Lucy let out a long awaited sigh of relief, stood up and threw her copy of The Snow Child onto her unmade bed, ruffling it’s already worn pages. She then proceeded to make her way to the kitchen, along her elongated, barely lit hallway. Lucy hated the stillness of the night; she hated the silence and the deadness of it. Living alone frightened her.

 

On nights like this, she would often invite a few of her friends round to alleviate the drag of empty hours and the unsettling hush of the flat. But she was new to London, and that night what few friends she had in the city had neglected to come to her rescue, perhaps repelled by the pleading and desperate tone that dogged her voice when she called.

 

Their rejection made her feel much worse, it made her feel all the more alone. And yet, she was not alone, not quite. A fact that always made her skin crawl a little. Strangers, on either side, above and below, surrounded her. The only thing that separated her from the unfamiliarity of these people were a few walls, walls that may as well have been paper thin with the amount of noise that managed to trickle through. She heard the murmuring of their TVs and the thump of their steps. More often than not, she heard the taps being turned on, beds creaking and the onset of the occasional argument.

 

The emptiness of Lucy’s life was daunting and at times too much to bear. She learned to live vicariously through the lives of the many strangers surrounding her, despite, at times, hating them with every fibre of her being. She hated the obliviousness with which they lived their lives and despised herself for not being able to live as frivolously as they did. She sat in her kitchen with a cheap off-brand beer bottle in her hand, pondering and overthinking, which was her favourite pastime. She often thought of her mother and her baby sister and what she could have done to prevent how things ended. She thought of John and of how much she despised him and his inability to comprehend her feelings, which resulted in them falling apart and her having to then move to this hell. And most of all, she thought of how meaningless her life was, she thought of how she would never get the job that she wanted and how strenuous it was for her to enjoy or even tolerate going through the motions of everyday existence. Lucy raised the bottle to her lips for the umpteenth time but when nothing touched her parched tongue, she had realised that she had finished her beer without noticing. The lights flickered again but the storm seemed to have abated momentarily so losing light failed to cross her somewhat intoxicated mind.

 

Lucy got up and retrieved another bottle of her beer from the fridge. Walking into the living room, she prepared to collapse on the couch, eager to drown the silence of the flat with a bleating TV, but something made her stop in her tracks. A sound.

 

Drip, drip, drip. She paused, listening intently. It was coming from the direction of the hall, though it was so startlingly loud that it felt as if the tap dripped inside her own head. In the deadness and the soundlessness of her abode, the noise was deafening.

 

Lucy suddenly became aware of her heavy breathing, the smart watch that John got her for her 28th birthday a few years ago indicating an accelerated heartbeat. I just left the damn tap on, she scolded herself, marvelling at the tightness with which her nerves were wound, that a drip could disrupt her so thoroughly and so abruptly.

 

With a shaky sigh she made her way down the dark hallway towards the bathroom, and with a deft flick of a switch flooded the small, grimy room with light. It was still and quiet, the taps dry.

 

Drip, drip, drip. Her eyes shot to the bathroom wall, the white tiles edged with an angry black mould. It was coming from the flat next door. She wondered why it disturbed her so, and perched on the edge of the bath, next to bottles of bubble bath, shampoo and a pale pink ladies razor that she began arranging in a neat line. A small, sudden sob from the adjoining wall made her hand close around the razor, and her veins fill with ice. She sat very still, her ears straining. The dripping resumed.

 

After a few minutes, the noise of the tap was accompanied by a shuffling of feet. At first the steps were slow and calculated, but after a while they hastened, becoming a loud, confused stumble. Lucy frowned, slowly released the razor and edged in closer, her ear brushing the cold marble. The sound of the tapping grew even louder, the shuffling quickly turning into stomping and Lucy thought she heard limbs swiftly striking water. The sound of glass smashing against the wall was sudden and Lucy felt the wall shudder from the impact, making her jump to her feet in disbelief. What the hell? She thought to herself, slowly backing away from the bathtub.

 

The noise of the tapping continued and she heard glass smash again and again, it was overbearing and it made her eyes water, she sunk to the floor, clutching at her ears and just as quickly as it started, the sound ceased and complete silence filled her ears once more. A soft whimper escaped her lips and Lucy swiftly crawled back into her living room, took an eager swig of her beer and covered her face with her hands.

 

The rumbling of the thunder slowly brought Lucy back from unconsciousness, groggy and stiff and deeming that last beer a mistake. She stood up slowly, wiped the dried drool from the corners of her mouth and rubbed her cumbersome eyes. Her mouth was as dry as a dessert and she needed a glass of water. She swiftly headed to the kitchen, consciously avoiding the bathroom, and standing at the sink splashed icy water on her face, gulping water from the palm of her hand.

 

It was then that she heard that faint dripping noise again, coming from within her bathroom and this time, it was much clearer. Her face damp and dripping, she turned around slowly. The hallway was shrouded in complete darkness, the only source of light blaring from the open door of the bathroom. I must have forgotten to turn it off, she thought. She walked quickly toward the bathroom, feeling ridiculous for allowing such ordinary and abstract sounds to disrupt and unnerve her so much. She stepped inside before she had a chance to think.

 

Once again the noise sounded like it was coming from beyond the wall, alongside the bathtub. It was the same dripping that she had heard several hours before, faintly audible and yet somehow impossible to ignore. Then it suddenly ceased and was replaced with a ferocious streaming of water.

 

With clarity returning to her sleep and beer addled mind, she found a new resolve to ignore the sounds. She sighed deeply, and turning on her heel, reached for the light switch, her finger poised to flick it, when the sound of a woman’s heavy sobbing filled the small room.

 

The cries were harrowing and slowly began to grow in volume and suddenly Lucy’s ears were overwhelmed by a disturbing and blood-curdling scream. She rushed to her phone and began to dial 999 but instead of hearing a dialling tone, Lucy heard static, a disjointed crackling. She could feel the panic bubbling up inside her once more, but forced it back down, attributing the failed connection to the storm. She replaced the handset and tried again, this time however, amidst the static, she heard a familiar voice calling her name. It was John.

 

’Lucy, are you okay?’

 

‘Lucy?’

 

Before Lucy could answer, John’s voice faded and was replaced with a deafening crackling tone that forced Lucy to slam the phone down. The sobbing and crying continued to drift from the bathroom and Lucy, gripped by fear and uselessness, walked to her kitchen and fumbled through a drawer, her shaking hand closing around a knife. Frozen at the front door, she listened to the incessant cries increase in volume and desperation, fighting the overwhelming compulsion to intervene. She hesitated, stood, knife in hand and was about to turn around when she heard a piercing scream, a scream that continued for what seemed like an eternity. Lucy opened her front door and the screaming suddenly ceased.

 

She began to walk towards the neighbouring flat but noticed immediately that the door was ajar, revealing a dark interior. She approached tentatively, pressing a hand to the wall to steady her shaking body. The light from the corridor brightened the dim hallway inside and Lucy recognised the layout to be identical to hers, almost to the detail.

 

She hesitated to enter but the remnants of the woman’s screams lingered in her mind and compelled her to continue. Feeling her way along the wall, she slowly made her way toward the source of the disturbing sounds, which she knew to be the bathroom. Amidst the darkness and the eerie silence, Lucy began to feel uncertain about anyone actually living here. The flat was empty and completely devoid of any life or sound, to Lucy, it oozed with hollowness and death. Scared, she stopped and took several steps back, wanting to leave. Then, she heard a whimper, a quiet sobbing emanating from the bathroom ahead of her prompting her to once again continue on.

 

Lucy passed several rooms, they were all barren and she was intensely frightened but felt determined to find the bathroom, to seek out the answers she knew resided in there. She walked on, the darkness following her, until she reached the bathroom. She fumbled on the wall with trembling hands until she found a switch, and with her heart in her mouth, flicked it on. When the light flooded the small white room, a gasp escaped her mouth. It was empty. The smooth, white tiled floor chilled the soles of her feet as she realised that she was barefoot, the bathtub, glistened and stood untouched. The tap remained unturned.

 

She walked in and stood in the middle of the room, unable to comprehend the current mayhem plaguing her mind. As she stood there, she heard a sound, a sound that struck a terror deep within her heart. It was coming from beyond the wall, next to the bathtub. Lucy identified the noise as dripping, the sound of a tap that someone had failed to turn all the way off. Then amidst the noise of the droplets, Lucy heard a faint and familiar sobbing. She realised instantly that the sounds were coming from the bathroom in her own home.

 

It was at that moment that a deep fatigue flooded her body, and she felt all her muscles weaken and go slack. The knife fell to the floor with a loud clatter and Lucy swayed on her feet. She glanced at it on the white tiled floor and a tremor passed through her as she saw it glistened with blood.

 

Her eyes moved to the sleeves of her sweatshirt, noticing that they were caked with blood, the colour a menacing deep red. Darkness begun to creep at the corners of her vision, the light danced in her eyes. With what strength she had left she began to scream, a deep guttural sound, like that of a perishing coyote. And the sound pierced the walls and floors of the building, reaching the people who sat in front of televisions with their families, who wished to intervene but held themselves back, wanting to protect themselves and their loved ones from the horrors of the night.

 

AFTER DARK

By Safiyah

These silhouettes of the night time dwellers hide much of our cities daytime mundane. The cover of night gives illusions of romantic fantasies. They are both distorted and elaborated. The characters of the day and the night come and go but they leave their dent, constantly reshaping our London an ever progressive physical manifestation of narrative. Never static, ever evolving, a breathing entity, it, tied to us, us, tied to it.
Its capitalistic seductiveness speaks to the business man, young and ambitious, as he is pulled into working life at Canary Wharf. Commercial romance is ubiquitous on Oxford Street as couples once in love with each other stare with a new found love for an object embodying a transient trend. He traded her affection for a three piece suit as he entered the working world. Whilst he gazes at the digital stocks with lust he glares at her with apathy. There is misplaced love here; we are impersonal to each other, insular to ourselves, anonymity -the maxim of our busy and crowded streets.
From a great height somewhere in central, a man stands gazing down at ‘his kingdom’. In that moment he owns all he sees. The bright lights of the skyscrapers are but clusters of stars in the dark. He smokes his cigarette because he feels sophisticated like James Dean, in control like a super hero. He’ll throw it away when he’s done letting it land on the dirty ground with all the other trash that will drift between the high and low ends of this city. The ashes still lit fly through the air. This is his narrative. He loves the fantasy, cares not for the reality and anyway, the unpleasant and unwanted aspects of daytime realism will once again disappear at sunset causing the return of his pitch black fantasy world once again.
The commuters make a pilgrimage, committed to their routines, comfortable within them because of the illusion that they will not end. They interrupt the fantasy of the night time here in our city. Their world is mundane, their thoughts are robotic. The Victoria line transports them throughout the day light hours. He is among them, an anomaly still fantasizing about how the illuminated ashes of his cigarette fly through the sky in the dark, he endures. He makes a change at Victoria to a further dwelling at a station further down the line. He clocks in, he clocks out, he returns to his lofty position again to smoke his cigarette, to watch this strange capitalist surrounding dissolve into darkness, to once again watch the emergence of the night sky covered by electric stars in place of the cold concrete buildings that tower over him imposing upon him during the day.
After dark is what we wait for. It covers our city’s imperfections and gives each of us a blank canvas to project our hopes straight onto it. For those of us who are committed we will see our idealized self actualization staring back at us through the dark above the city lights which illuminate it.

THE DARKNESS WILL LIFT

By Alex Quang

Every 24 hours, we experience darkness. Every morning sunshine fills the day once more and the world keeps turning. We accept darkness as a part of everyday life and it is. We party in it, we watch films in it and we dine in it (at least we do in Shoreditch where any establishment that serves food is unnecessarily dimly lit).

But what if that darkness never lifts? What if, even during the day with the sun blazing, all we see is darkness? I was born and raised in Croydon, and yes, it is technically a part of London. I have worked across London for a decent chunk of that and I’ve been socialising in the capital for decades now. But I also suffer from anxiety and depression. Admittedly today it’s significantly easier to manage but there was a time when anxiety and depression took over me and darkness became the only thing I saw.

Now I know that sounds like a line out of an emo song from the mid 2000’s but trying to experience such an exciting, vibrant city when you’re at rock bottom with your mental health is near impossible. For me at my worst, London became a sprawling beast out to consume my body and my mind. During the day, it was a constant stream of commuters, rushing to get to and from work. At night, it was parties, pissed people in the street, fights, arguments, loud music and even louder smells. In my head was the perpetual thought that strangers were angry at me for walking too slowly, that I was in the way. The thought that I perhaps wasn’t a true Londoner. The thought that I was not even a worthy human being. That my family and friends hated me. That I should just let the darkness consume me. Why don’t I enjoy partying like a normal person? Why do I not fit in with the rest? Why am I weird?

Physically, the city became tough to bear. The red on the buses went from iconic to far, far too vivid, sickeningly bright. The sound of the tube hurtling through tunnels became more than just a little irritating, it became deafeningly painful. Every step became painful. Breathing became erratic, smells became repulsive, food became tasteless and energy was drained faster than my phone when I leave data, Bluetooth and GPS on at the same time.

Dark thoughts filled my head leaving little room for light. Love, excitement and passion dwindled. No matter what the time of day was, all I could see was a huge, grey, steel and glass void. This was a new kind of darkness and one that made the city an absolute ball-ache to handle. To a normal person, the city after dark is an exciting place. For a person with mental ill-health, the city after a dark time is hell on earth.

But with patience, hard work, professional help and supportive people around you, those of us with mental illness can learn to enjoy the kind of darkness that comes once every day and learn to banish the type of darkness that haunts us constantly. We can learn to love the city again. Even the piss drenched streets on a Saturday night, the angry rush hour commuters, the passive-aggressive baristas, the overpriced beer will be enjoyable again.

The city after dark can be a scary place when the darkness never seems to end, but it always does, eventually.

IGNORED NO MORE

By Keith Fuchs

The apocalypse is upon us!

Thankfully it was a nightmare

Awake next morning to know the world is still right there.

That problem you faced, well that was yesterday

There is no promise of tomorrow,

So be another gift, to overthrow the sorrow

To capture ecstasy in the narrowest window.

For now you will never know,

If on the morrow, the earth will still revolve and rotate.

Abate! Take flight like a sparrow before it’s too late.

NIGHT FLIGHTS

By Tom Pears

It’s 4am. Another house. Another part of London. Another girl. Another hollow fuck. You close the door gently behind you; you hate those awkward morning conversations. The cold air greets you like a slap in the face. Karma, perhaps. You’re in Angel. You’ve got work in a few hours. It’s fine, you’ve done this before, many times. You strangely enjoy wandering London in the early hours of the morning. You notice the smell on your breath, the grim concoction of overpriced lagers and IPAs; face it, you love a pretentious craft beer pub. The streetlights glow white, blinding you briefly, it takes your eyes a second to adjust and you begin to start walking.

Down the road, you can hear the shuffles and excited chatter from the street cleaners. Your ears are sensitive to the abrasive swishing of their brooms. The rustling and crashing of the bin bags. You can’t make out what they’re saying, but there’s laughter. They seem happy.

You look up to the sky; you do this all the time, especially on walks like these. You track the night flights in the sky with your eyes. The sky is clear tonight; that’s rare for London. The red, white and yellow lights dot the sky like a string of beads or bioluminescent deep-sea creatures. They twinkle unrelenting against the cold black sky. You wonder where they’re going, who might be on them, if anyone famous. The usual. As you take in this aerial ballet, she flashes in your mind. Not the first time, flickering in your subconscious. She was there, as if in front of you, for a nanosecond. You remember the last time you travelled on a plane; she was next to you. She squeezed your hand with all of her force because she was scared of flying. Then the cold air intervenes, snapping rudely at your ears. You rub them, shake your head furiously and move on.

Your feet take you down another street; you don’t know where you are, you don’t care. In the distance, you hear the faint whirring noise of police sirens. As you stroll down the street, you notice the Georgian townhouses that line either side. They look austere, their solemn faces leering at you as you’re illuminated by the light. It feels like they are judging you, and there’s nowhere for you to hide. You pop your collar as if to help avoid their gaze. You start to feel vulnerable, exposed.

Tonight followed that all familiar pattern. Lots of alcohol, then empty sex. Alcohol is poison, you know this. It doesn’t matter though, it’s your life. Your own patent of self-destruction. The delayed hangover now starts to kick in. You find the nearest bench and slowly lower yourself onto it. She flashes into your head again. Her eyes, big and blue, the smell of her hair. Her voice reverberates around your eardrums. You knock the side of your head with the inside of your clenched fist to halt it.

You have always ran from your problems; you’re very good at it. But tonight, everything and everyone seems to be mocking you. The cleaners, like braying hyenas. The townhouses you could never ever afford. Her. You’re completely isolated from the world, in a city of millions. You are alone, but it’s peaceful; you’re content with it. The thought of being alone used to reduce you to tears. On nights like these, you embrace it. You’ve sobered up by now. That girl from earlier, you can’t even remember her name. Drinking, fighting, fucking. You let that define you.

As you walk, you are angry, resentful at the man you’ve become. She flashes in once again, but she lingers longer this time. You look upwards to the sky, once your sanctuary, your escape, but she’s still there. You wonder if any flights are bound for Edinburgh, Florence or Barcelona, the places that you travelled to when you were happy. Your mind drifts further. You think of the nights filled with laughter, all the zoos you explored together and that first time you professed your love for her on the top deck of a night bus in front of a bunch of Korean tourists.

It’s satisfying, the wandering. It’s like London is naked for you for these precious few hours. Open to explore in your own time at your own pace. No crowded tubes, noisy buses, rude suits. Just you, alone, drifting, as if on a current. You walk past what must be a bar, recycling bags full to the brim of beer bottles and cans stacked precariously next to a bin. Vomit and chips then punctuate the path for the next 50 metres or so. You wonder about the drunken mistakes that were made earlier in the night, of your drunken mistake. Another girl; this time, short, blonde, black denim jacket. You used to kid yourself that these one night stands were part of the healing process, stories to tell. But, really all you want to do is talk to her, because you miss her, miss making her laugh. No amount of fucking will bring that back. Sex doesn’t replace anything, it doesn’t fill in any gaps. You knew it, but your ego outweighed your rationality after four pints of lager.

You stop outside a bookshop and look in vacantly; she’s a writer. You lean your head on the cold glass; she’s back again, in your head. You turn and lean back against the shop front, blowing out and seeing your breath rise and evaporate into the air. You briefly consider phoning her. You dismiss this idea quickly and say ‘twat’ out loudly; it’s not like anyone can hear you. The wry smile on your face betrays your pain. So you continue, content in your solace, but confused, detached. As you turn the corner, the pack of street cleaners reappear. They are subdued this time. One’s on his phone, another smoking; there’s no laughter. You feel disappointed, and you don’t know why.

You stop walking and lean against some railings, the iron pressing into your back through your jacket. A fox trots past you across the road as if you’re not there. You smile and look upwards. They’re still there, the night flights. You question whether anything is actually moving. Things in the sky have always fascinated you; you have always had a soft spot for planes. When you were younger, your bookshelf was full of books on fighter jets and wartime aces. She took you to RAF Hendon for your birthday and you took a photo of her next to a fighter jet. She looked incredible in high-waisted trousers and terracotta polo neck. This time, you don’t fight her or the memories.

Losing her damaged you. It still hurts, despite how you act or what you tell your friends. You loved her. No, you still love her. A darkness consumed you, overwhelmed you. She was a casualty of the war that raged in your head. Your world collapsed when she left you. You ground her down in the end, eroded all the love she had for you. You’ve always been impulsive and reactionary, and recently, you have fallen back down. You can never say no to those bad habits that masquerade as old acquaintances. Stop hiding it, you miss her. It’s natural, it’s raw. You’re a flawed human being, one of billions, you often yourself this in the blackest times.

You still don’t know where you’re going and you don’t mind. The city is serene at this time of night. You should be drained, you slept only a couple of hours, but you’re not. If anything, you feel fresh. The cool air is invigorating. Your thoughts usually defeat you, suffocate you, consume you. The scars on your arms and knuckles are a testament to the dark places and holes you found yourself in, sometimes willingly. The dark times. The longing to disappear. The suicide note you wrote, that time you watched blood trickle down your arms, thick, red, constant. But you are not ashamed. Those times have passed now.

The sun starts to rise, creeping slowly over the rooftops. You come across your own reflection in a window and for the first time you study yourself. The nearby streetlight drowns you in light as you move closer towards the glass. You look older now; you’ve grown up. The beard you’ve grown, it suits you. You nod at yourself, the first real acknowledgement you’ve made, of how far you’ve come. A tear rolls down your cheek, burning a path, then another follows. There are no more night flights in the sky. You are not healthy, your body is poisoned. You can’t sustain this, and deep down, you know. You decide this will be your last walk for a while. Tonight it stops. It’s taken a while, but finally you realise, this isn’t what you want anymore. Three years, she’s still in there; and she’ll flicker in and out, she probably always will. You lost her and for the first time, you accept it. There is no redemption, no fairy tale, no winning her back. You accept this; you will heal over time. After all, you’ve overcome worse. You are smiling now, the river your tears forged have dried. But you will always remember tonight. The stillness of the city, the melancholy glow of the streetlights, the night flights.

 

THE CITY IS OURS

By Ilyas Bhayat

Malcolm looked at the smoldering tip of a cigarette as if it was a glimmering beacon to a lost ship. Islington at 1:33am in November was full of mist and loneliness. Malcolm was holding a cigarette as the wisps of the silver grey smoke it emitted attempted to rise through the humid air of the night. As he held the letter, he wanted to feel her presence; every time he was smoking he felt closer to Leilah. It was their first secret, Leilah nicked a cigarette from her Dad’s coat pocket, and they savored it with a mixed sense of fear and excitement. They carefully, passed it to one another, as though it was a valuable item. To conceal the smell of tobacco from her hair and skin, Leilah tucked all her hair under her scarf, pulled on her hood and put on the thick gloves. They laughed amid the sporadic coughs they each produced and walked while smoking together. In their minds, they were not a couple of teens fooling around with their parent’s cigarettes but seasoned spies, like the ones starring in a movie they both adored.

In appearance, much of London had changed. The city had witnessed a phenomenal development of new buildings and roads. As the new buildings appeared, the old structures that Malcolm had grown up around, including his old flat and the coffee shops he visited, were demolished and the Shard now dominated the skyline. The city was growing and becoming more and more like a rising monster of steel and glass. But for Malcolm, its smell, its mist, its exciting thick darkness of the nights remained the same. He was walking along Regents canal, and the power of memories defeated Malcolm’s mind in a few minutes. The letter made him feel the intensity of the London night again.

Malcolm always wanted to manage time, own it in some way. He wanted to play with it like a child to draw on the surface of time with the colored pencils creating the traceries and patterns in according to his taste. Malcolm wanted to return the time, put it on pause and change everything. London at night provided him with the sense that he returned to a different time when Leilah existed in his life. While here, he became the careless teen again whose mind was full of fantasies and there was no free space for the regret. Westminster was full of magic at night. However, he was aware that his return to the different time was deficient as Leilah was not walking next to him.

That first cigarette at the age of fourteen encouraged the sense of conspiracy between Malcolm and Leilah. Often, when the night approached the city and the dying sun spread its dusky red alongside the streets, Malcolm and Leilah were both at their homes. They took their supper and prepared for bed as was expected of them and then pretended to go to sleep. In cases, when Leilah’s father had a night shift in Bart’s hospital, she left the house openly not even trying to hide her intentions. If her father was at home, Leilah waited until he would fall asleep, which was usually 20 minutes into an episode of Family Guy. Her bedroom was upstairs and she would have to climb out her window and scale her way down. Malcolm would be there, waiting for her behind the bush. They would smoke several cigarettes, some coffee in a thermos and on the rare occasion even with a spoon of rum added to it, cheese sandwiches, and, most importantly, Leilah’s Walkman to enjoy on that 20 minute trip from Cally Road to Central with the sounds of old school music of an era before they were both born but that perfectly fitted the night.

During such escapades, the city belonged to them. Anyone met in the streets turned into their new great friend, greeting even the homeless and the drunks who were walking along the streets. The night walks were not without risk. Muggings were known to occur in the side streets just off Caledonian Road. Malcolm and Leilah even happened to come across a drunk man being robbed. However, nothing and nobody scared them during their nightly excursions. Part of their bravery was because of the extra efforts Leilah had taken to disguise her look. She wore a heavy grey jacket and her elder brother’s jeans. To the casual observer, the two of them therefore appeared to be a couple of men walking at night together. They were listening to their collection of Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, and Lauryn Hill. They were the best of friends, who could share and talk about anything with each other. Leilah talked of her dreams of being a scientists and Malcolm talked of becoming a professional painter. He was a gifted artist and Leilah often commended the paintings he made for her. These talks of the future were often transient.

“I’m going to be a biology researcher in future. I’m already working on my acceptance speech for a Nobel prize,” Leilah would state with great conviction.

“And I will be the English Picasso! You’d better save those paintings I give you they might be your retirement plan when I’m famous,” Malcolm would reply with unbridled passion.

Malcolm and Leilah were looking for sites that provided them with a glimpse at what they considered to be genuinely London. One of the loveliest places for them was their spot right at the bottom of the steps at Regents canal. You could still hear the sounds of the busy city, which reminded you that you were still in London, but just on the quieter side of it. To get right close to the river bank was a tricky task, but they were mainly able to remain unseen. They liked to sit on the edge of the steps looking at the shining surface of the water It was cold, and Leilah was leaning on Malcolm’s shoulder.

“Have I ever told you that you’re genuinely the best idiot in my life?” she whispered

“What was that? No I don’t think you have, but please, don’t stop I’d love to hear this new info.” Malcolm looked down as they both smiled and Leilah wrapped her arm around him tighter

“You know Malcolm, no matter what happens in our futures, best believe that I will always remember that you were the first and only person who always knew how to make every shitty day just that little bit better, by just a few simple words. Whenever I lost faith and just wanted to fuck it all, you were the voice of reason and you just knew how to pick me up. Nights like these being spent with you are just perfect, you have always been a brilliant person in my life”

Malcolm smiled as he stared into the night sky listening, “You do realize you’re going to be stuck with me right Leilah? Ever since Mr.Leyton sat the class boy girl in year 3. He put me next to this shy nerd who would let me copy her answers whilst I would spend the hour drawing in the back of my textbook. Little did I know hey, she would end up being the closest friend I have 10 years later. I appreciate you so much, you asshole.”

Leilah was attempting on putting on her hat and thick gloves one handed as she was holding a cigarette with with the other, this proved to be a difficult task but she was keen to accomplish this to impress Malcolm. However, her attempts failed as she was unable to hold the cigarette and her gestures were increasingly becoming clumsy rather than elegant. Malcolm delighted in teasing her in these cases.

“Wow you really don’t want to share that do you? You don’t even trust me to hold it for you whilst you put that on? And then she calls me her best friend!”

Leilah was getting annoyed and started chasing Malcolm, stamping on the ground with her heavy boots. She caught up to him and gave him a dig on the shoulder.

“Why do you think you’re so funny?!,” she cried out with a full-throated laugh.

Once Leilah slipped into the water.

It was freezing cold at the beginning of December; the air was full of fog more than usual. They were not even sitting; it was too cold for it, they preferred to stand on the edge looking at the water.

“Have you noticed how people this days only eat their meals after taking a picture of it?” Leilah asked.

“And don’t forget the picture has to be perfect with the best angle and the perfect instagram filter,” Malcom sniggered in response.

They both laughed heartily at their critique of society. Malcolm did not realise how close Leilah was to the brink as he held her from behind when he playfully pushed her, applying the gentlest force on her. In a moment, she fell over with a massive splash.

Malcolm was not able to move for several seconds and just stood froze staring at the water. Leilah had a heavy grey jacket, strapped black sneakers, and the jeans of her elder brother on. Malcolm sat on the wooden planks worrying that Leilah’s well-meant attire would make it harder for her to float, he turned around to scream for help but suddenly her head appeared on the surface of the water. He quickly pulled her feeling overwhelming relief because she was alive, but she was shaking so heavily that they had no other choice than to run back home as fast as possible to avoid Leilah getting ill. While running, they were laughing and looking at each other with a feeling that they had just had a real adventure. Malcolm had one single thought in his head: “This city was trying to steal you, but I will never allow it.”

Leilah had no fever after her fall, but they did not walk again for about a month.

When they returned to their urban realm, London greeted them with snow and lights of Christmas. They were walking the small narrow streets near Kings Cross, feeling the energy of the city in their veins. The night was unusually clear, Malcolm and Leilah shared the sense that London was looking at them with an iridescent eye. They did not want to return to the canal. Looking for a place to sit and warm up a bit, Leilah suddenly remembered about a site that turned out to be perfect. The site was an old derelict house with a bland appearance that made the building inconspicuous to most people. They made their way into the apparently deserted house and got inside through a pane-less window that had had its glass broken. The ground floor was empty and they made their way up the creaky stairs. While Malcolm and Leilah were moving around upstairs exploring the rooms, it seemed to them that they house was grumbling being awakened by the unexpected visitor. Malcolm noticed an attic ladder and signaled for Leilah to follow him up. The attic-floor room was empty and full of dust, but the window in it allowed them to see the city at its finest. Malcolm stood next to it, made the inviting gesture and proclaimed:

– London is ours, Leilah!

It was their triumph.

It had been 15 years later now and Malcolm was able to restore these emotions only at night, walking alone and smoking the cigarettes of the same sort that Leilah used to steal from her father. London was whispering to him with the voices of people, splashes of water in the river, rustle of the tires. When Malcolm was feeling overcome with nervous energy because of the letter that remained unopened, he left his small apartment full of trepidation and returned to his lovely night.

They drifted slightly about a few months after high school, Leilah was accepted into 6th form and Malcolm attended a different college. The London that both of them knew in the light of day was different. The streets were full of people rushing by to their various appointments and endless streams of cars snaked their way down the roads. There was no place for the fatuous stories Malcolm and Leilah whispered to each other on their way to the canal basin. No room for the coffee with rum and cigarettes, or the Leilah dressed as a man. In the day, they attended class and were engaged in their studies like the other students with hopes of passing their exams and making a life for themselves. They spent time talking with their new found friends. When Malcolm would return home, he would quarrel with his parents who always seemed intent on doing everything possible to make his life miserable. He argued about getting more freedom to spend time with his friends and come home later. It was the other life full of events that seemed to be meaningful for people around. Malcolm and Leilah have never argued with them; they just had their own private view about what was meaningful. For them, the hidden parts of London that they explored in the dead of night was what was meaningful and they felt that this secret London that came alive at night fully belonged to them.

About ten years ago, Leilah had come to Malcolm looking unusually severe and full of inner tensions. He was able to feel it even without looking at her or asking her, and it made him feel cold somewhere in the chest. Leilah wanted to say something to him, but deep down he had a bad gut feeling so didn’t really want to hear it. She had only recently received her degree in biology; Malcolm knew that the dreams of Leilah have already outgrown the borders of London, their London, and the conversation she was going to start was his worst nightmare.

“I haven’t really told you about this before but I’ve been planning this for a while now. I really want to go to study and live in California. This work is my dream. I will have a chance to do everything I love …” As she said this, Leilah’s voice was full of admiration and sorrow. Malcolm had no idea that such combination was even possible.

“Will you really leave London? All these bright lights, all these streets, Our London! Is that even possible for you?”

“Well when you say it like that, and if you would really want me to, there is a possibility I could stay in London,” she looked at him in hope.

How could he ask? How could he do anything to stop her from going to California and from devoting her life to the science exactly as she has always wanted? It was so cruel of her to tell it to him; Malcolm felt that it was the moment of his choice.

How could he do it?

He was renting a small apartment a short distance from where their old flats had been. The Flats had since been replaced with a new building that had a view of the canal, their Thames. He was trying to receive the recognition as a young but promising painter. He was painting with such a strong inner passion that sometimes people could not drag their gaze away from his paintings. He caught a break when a buzzfeed editor walked past him working on his paintings outside Pimlico station and within the space of 6 months He had his personal exhibition, and all his pictures were sold. At this point, Malcolm was regarded as one of the greatest young artists in the sphere of bohemian life of London. However only less than 8 months later due to bad management and poor business advice, his dream of being an artist did not generate enough money to consider making it a permanent profession and he had to go back and concentrate on getting a qualification for a decent job. But he recently failed his English GCSE again for the 4th time, the only thing that he wanted to draw was London at night and during the dawn, and it was opposite to what was expected from him. This failure made him feel miserable; he knew the opportunities open to Leilah were numerous since she excelled in her studies. How could he ask her to stay?

After she had left, he approached the tiny dusty window in the kitchen and recreated in his mind the life they could have had together. This could have been their kitchen and even now she would have been fixing a meal for them as he washed the dishes. He jolted himself out of this heartbreaking fantasy. Malcolm knew that it was right, he had no doubts that Leilah would have a great life in America, but, at the same time, he felt like a tiny worm settled in his head eating his brain inch by inch to produce one single idea: “What if…”. Malcolm was trying to block this part of his mind, but every time he was holding a brush he was full of images that have never been real, words that have never been told, and dreams that have never been possible.

The years passed, but London remained the same. Two years after Leilah left, Malcolm had met Tina and they had started dating. At first Malcolm had difficulty since he kept trying to find qualities of Leilah in her. However, he eventually learnt to appreciate her unique personality and within a short while, they decided to marry. When they had their first child Peter, Malcolm realized that he needed a stable means of supporting his family. He therefore found a job as a plasterer and even as he concentrated on his wife Tina and their son, the worm inside his head gradually became less and less powerful. The brushes, paints and drawing easel remained in his apartment; even Malcolm’s wife was not allowed to clean the dust from these items. At the same time, the coat of dust was becoming thicker from month to month. The main picture remained unfinished. Once Malcolm’s son Peter asked him about the picture covered with a white cloth, and Malcolm decided to look at it for the first time in five years. He wanted to show Peter the picture that had never been finished. He remembered how he once had his own exhibition and was regarded as a great young artist in London. He was secretly proud of it and kept the brochure with the information about the exhibition as a demonstration of his success.

The only picture that remained unfinished was placed on the drawing easel in the corner of the study. There was the Thames on it, the night of London full of mist, and the figure of the girl falling in the water. Malcolm was not able to finish the picture. There still was no girl on it. His son was looking at the picture for some time and suddenly asked if his father was scared to walk so much at night. This question made Malcolm feel a kind of personal pride, as he has never been afraid of anything if there was Leilah. And he knew that Leilah was walking together with him even in case if she was far away. Once, he drew it, and the picture of the man walking at night along with a ghost figure of a girl dressed as a man was sold the first during the exhibition. Malcolm did not expect that the ghost figure would ever turn into the one of flesh and blood. He did not think about it until he received the letter from Leilah.

He did not read it immediately after receiving. When she was leaving, they did not say anything to each other, but both decided that there was no need to keep in touch. Not a single word was written.

Only “what if” remained as a motif of their separation. This letter was a violation of their silent treaty that lasted for years; it was against the rules.

“Dear Malcolm,

I’m not really sure if you really even want to hear from me, but I am coming back to London on the second week of March. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about coming home.

All of my best memories were with you, it would mean so much to see you! I will have a couple of free days, is there any chance that you will make some time to see me? It would be nice to visit our old places.

Always yours, Leilah”

It was like a slap in the face. Malcolm was feeling that the eddy of time was drawing him into the past. To open the letter and read it, he had to go outside and smoke. He was standing with a cigarette in his lips and whispering to the dark streets of his city: “I am back.”

He recognized the slender figure of a woman in a coat immediately in the darkness. She was standing at the edge of the river with a navy scarf and bright red lipstick, smoking a cigarette slowly, and looking up at the yellow moon shinning in the London sky staring at them with a clear blame. Malcolm approached her and stood next to Leilah breathing heavily as if he needed more air than ever before.

“You are not wearing your jacket and big black boots, you’re not afraid of the bad men in the night anymore?” Malcolm said in greeting.

This nonchalant comment was meant to conceal what he really felt. Here he was a few meters from the girl he had shared so many memories with as a teenager. The girl he had loved and whose loss had caused him more hurt than he thought himself capable of bearing. She stood with her face turned to him and he could hardly wait for her to turn. His heartbeat rose even as he waited to catch a glimpse of that face with the dancing eyes and a secret smile he used to imagine was just for him.

The water of Thames was splashing. Leilah was not moving but suddenly she turned her head, and Malcolm was smitten with her eyes. They made the dark air of the canal full of sparkling waves of light. She smiled helplessly, looked at his baggy hoodie perfectly fitting for the night street walking and lifted her hands in dismay.

They were just walking along the river for some time. The picture of her life was becoming clear for him, Leilah was talking about her life; science, laboratory, and colleagues. She had a big family in America. Leilah confessed that she often thought about him, she mentioned his pictures and told that she asked her friend to visit his exhibition while in London and send her a poster of one of them. Malcolm was walking next to her and he was waiting for the moment when he would be able to recognise his Leilah. This woman was different; he did not know her at all. Malcolm suppressed the inner desire to yell “Where is my Leilah, you, stranger?!” Again and again the mad hot idea was pulsing in his head – “What if I asked her to stay with me?”

The voice of this new unknown woman interrupted the hurricane in his head:

“Why did you give up drawing? It could have brought you more money if you paid more attention to the image.”

They stopped and looked at each other, Malcolm was trying to hide his despair and rage. Both of them were suddenly disturbed by a drunk man singing somewhere near the river. Malcolm put his hand on her shoulder. The University had built a new campus alongside the river and installed dancing fountains just outside the riverbank.

“Do you remember how the water in is cold, Leilah?” he grinned, suggestively.

He felt that she shivered under the cloth of her coat. Something familiar appeared on her face, the mad energy and real courage. Leilah looked at him, and her eyes were still full of shine.

“If you ask me,” she said breathily half daring him to act.

He pushed her with all the power that he had, and Leilah fell into the fountains with a loud scream full of terror and delight.

Several hours later he was finishing the picture in his flat.

His wife prepared the hot tea for Leilah who was laughing and talking to her silently in the kitchen. Malcolm did not hear them; he was carefully drawing the figure of the girl falling into the cold water.

London did not change, and it became Malcolm’s realm again. It belonged to him with its streets, mist, and dark attracting surface of the river. He was finishing the picture feeling that he was finally able to master time.

 

PURPLE

By Kristiana Smilovska

it’s a dark and gloomy night

but it defies all expectations

 

it changes you completely

irreversibly

you feel engulfed

lost

and a little bit purple

 

no longer is the tube a mere train that

gets you places

but

a golden carriage

taking you where chaos and music meet

a place where dreams come true

 

are they ever going to be yours?

 

suddenly, impatiently

a jump from the audience seat and onto the stage

searching for a clue

 

my carriage took me to someone else’s ball

and I saw the success of another

love, work

love work

 

I think they taught me something

 

it’s a dark and gloomy night

like most other nights

but against all odds

tonight I feel purple

AFTER DARK IN THE CITY

By Rosalind Raphael

After darkness falls, a quiet calm descends:

There’s no one walking on the pavement or around the bends;

Busy workers leave their desks, shouting their goodbyes,

And disappear down stairwells to the labyrinthine

Underground tunnels where they all disperse

On trains that take them homeward bound, to the suburbs.

The wide roads empty as buses, vans and cars

Carry their occupants to restaurants and bars.

Everything has stopped; no sound can be heard

Except the distant rumble of a train towards its berth.

Lifts are static chambers clinging to buildings, amid

Precarious crane sentries that quiver in the wind.

Lights go out in office blocks like a slow… power… cut

And shop floors darken as the doors and grills are shut.

Windows remain lit, where mannequins show their wares

To foxes that prowl the alleyways, pitch black despite their stares.

They knock over dustbins, pigeons in the eaves:

There’s nowhere to sleep here, there are no trees.

Chairs upended on tables and stored behind glass

As bins overflow with remnants of many meals passed

On the pavements, now cleared of newspaper stands,

As after darkness falls, a quiet calm descends.

 

SOMNAMBULIST

by Keir Baden
I awoke, as I do every night, to the deep howling thunder, as if a colossal beast was experiencing its final death throws beneath the foundations of my home, a terrible lament cutting through the humid night air. Its harsh baritone rumbled my bones until they ached and I could scarcely move for fear of crying out in pain and catching the attention of whatever malevolent entity was filling my nights with such crushing ululations. After that came the familiar feeling of a longing, a need to convene with the beast. I felt my body begin to rise. Each night I climb out of my bed, drawn not by any rational thought, but rather in a state of mental paralysis. My destination unknown, I shuffle through cold night streets, my body no longer my own, but a host to some unseen quantity. My nocturnal excursions were only halted by the slow rising of the early morning sun, its slow ascent into the sky mirroring perfectly the slow reclamation of my motor functions. I know not where the sound is taking me, nor its purpose. What I do know is that, as autumn closes in on summer, the nights grow longer. There may come a time when the comforting first light of dawn arrives too late to save me from whatever grizzly outcome awaits me at my strange destination. In my desperation, I began to lock myself in at night, fearful of what might await me should I ever complete my forsaken perambulation through the city streets. Such efforts were in vain, I soon discovered, since whatever it was that had seized control of my body also gained access to my thoughts, my memories. I’d taken the key used to lock my bedroom door and hidden it in an old jewellery box beneath my bed, o. Only to have the entity, immediately after taking control of my body, reach down and retrieve it. I’d bound my feet in the hope that would slow my progress, but once my limbs were relinquished over to the beast, I simply leant down and untied them. For a time, I considered taking drastic action, breaking the bones in my legs, mutilating them beyond use. I quickly dismissed the idea, the image of me crawling through the streets, dragging my broken limbs behind me all too real in my mind, the malevolent creature not caring for the unspeakable pain such a scenario would impart upon my already fractured psyche. It was on one of my slow early morning walks home from the quiet street in which I regained use of my limbs that I felt a soft crunch beneath my foot. By this time I’d begun wearing shoes and clothes to bed in order to protect myself from the various elements competing to make my lethargic trek through the dark streets even more unbearable. I glanced down; beneath my shoe, the brown desiccated remains of a fallen leaf. Autumn had arrived.

With each passing day the distance I travelled increased. The warming embrace of dawn, which was my only salvation, slips further from my reach. It is now that I come to my final night, the hard concrete of the city behind me, my feet on the spongy fibre of uncut grass, before me a derelict building. It had been so demolished by nature and time, that it could have once been anything―a home, a business, a church. It was into this ruin that the entity took me. From inside the building an orange glow spilled out that danced along the crumbling walls. I crossed the threshold through an archway that perhaps once housed ornate double doors, used by parishioners of some long lost supernatural doctrine. Now they housed nothing, just me and the cold night air passing through them. From behind the remains of a ruined pillar I saw a fire reaching up, licking at the night sky. In its silhouette, I could make out the shapes of others like me, drawn here for some mysterious purpose. Towering above the fire stood a huge black monolith, its form faded and flickered in moonlight, transparent one second, then solid the next, as if it was only half there. On its facade was carved the most hideous mural, depicting the burning and beheading of men, women and children by huge humanoid creatures. Their features could only be described as demonic; their mouths filled with too many teeth and stretched unnaturally wide across their smooth skull like heads, their eyes small ingots of obsidian that gleamed in the firelight, their bodies like that of an upright dog, their arms long and thin. Their bulbous stomachs hung heavy over their truncated lower halves. Their hands spread out from their meagre wrists and had the appearance of some giant spider, having not five fingers, but eight.

It was there that I stood for some time, taking in the unbelievable sight, my mind reeling from such horror as was before me, when to my left a shadow began to move across the grass. It was a woman, one of my counterparts, drawn here by this mysterious obelisk. I watched in horror as she marched along with the same unthinking determination that I had come to know so well. As she came near the fire, her pace was unabated, and I watched as she descended into the flames. She made no movements, but on her face was an expression of pure anguish. As the fire enveloped her, I was overcome with a profound sense of dread at what might happen next. One by one they began their sluggish mechanical journeys into the open fire, until it was my turn. I felt my legs begin to move beneath me, an unspeakable panic exploding in my head. Struggle as I might, I could do nothing. I felt the suffocating heat of the fire pit on my face, the violent agony charging through my nerves as my body began to enter the blazing inferno. I looked up and saw before me the grinning faces of the demons that had called me to this forgotten place, watched their glee at the suffering they imparted on others and, in that moment, I was grateful that the raging fire would take me away from such horrors.

 

PERSPIRATION

By: Rob Hakimian

 

Diversions in the Heath?! It’s bad enough they seize up our streets with their relentless road works, and now their tyrannical time wasting has overflowed into our sacred green spaces! ‘Improvements to the ponds’ – how can you improve a pool of water?

And all I wanted was to get up to the hill for a quick smoke and a gaze at the skyline. It’s the only redeeming feature I’ve found to being shipped out to the Hampstead branch for a week. Hopefully it’ll provide some inspiration for my next short story but if not at least a nice buzz will soften the burden of my extended trip home. This ridiculous diversion away from the ponds is going to stress me right out, though.

Where the bloody hell is this path taking me anyway? They’re truly taking me round the houses on this one. There’s got to be some kind of alternate agenda here; some gardener must have slipped some money to the right person who fixed it so all visitors are made to walk straight past his prize topiary.

Actually, that can’t be right, there’s barely anything to be seen here. On the right a few bog standard trees and on the left a fenced-off patch of land that leads back down towards the ponds. I’m genuinely starting to perspire right now; trust London to have a random sunny day in the middle of October.

It’s so quiet here it’s unnerving. Better stick some music on before I get spooked. Dead battery? What the -? This thing’s been plugged in all day! I swear it was full when I left work. Must be fucked; the lifespan on these things is just getting shorter, it’s a farce.

Well, great, now all I’ve got to listen to is the grass brushing against the underside of my boots. I suppose I’d better spend some time thinking about my short story assignment for uni to distract me. ‘Out of place’? What can I write about that? Oh shit, I won’t even be able to make notes in my phone for when I come up with a pearl. Do I have a pen on me? Not in my coat pockets. Nope, not in my trousers either. Shit. I don’t even have a notepad anyway, come to think of it. Guess I’ll have to keep it all up top.

I can’t stand this quiet – give me some sirens any day. I don’t know how country bumpkins do it; how can you even hang on to any thoughts without some noise to stick them to..?

The fuck is that?

“Afternoon sir, lovely day isn’t it?”

Where the fuck did this guy come from?! I almost walked straight past his little hidey hole under the branches. Not sure how though, his blanket is aggressively colourful and that is one furry-as-fuck face. How did this beggar end up here? Probably wandered here pissed one day and never found his way out. Better break it to him. “You’re in the wrong place, mate. You won’t get much change here.”

“Change?”

“You’re asking for money, right? You wanna go back to the streets, to the centre, that’s where all the people are.” I think I’m pointing towards the city, honestly no clue though. Anyway, this coot is none the wiser.

“I’m not asking for money.”

Tricky bugger. “I just heard you jingling the coins in your cup.”

“No coins, sir. Just bracelets.”

Bloody hell, that is a lot of bracelets rattling around on that bony wrist. He must be trying to flog them. “Not interested, mate.” What, why’s he standing up? “I’ve got nothing to give you.” Better keep walking. I’m afraid he might start chanting some gibberish incantation and cover me in stinking spittle.

“Hold on just one moment, sir. It is not you who is to give me something, but rather the other way around.”

Hmmm, I should keep walking but this could be interesting. “What has a lost beggar got to give me then? And how much is it going to cost?”

“No cost. What I give is free.”

Wow, he’s standing awfully close. He actually smells surprisingly nice, like sandalwood. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much hair on a face before. If this guy’s not careful someone will phone the police and report seeing an orangutan on the heath. Now he’s putting his hand on my shoulder. I don’t know why but I don’t actually mind. I keep losing myself in the glittering of his earrings – they must be fake gold, but then again… “Alright then, what do you have for me?”

“Slow down. Look around you. Use your senses.”

He’s going to hand me some poorly spelt handwritten prayer or – “Wait, is that it?”

“Yes sir. Slow down. Look around you. Use your senses.”

Oh I get it now! This is some OAP hippy that slipped his carers, got stoned and couldn’t find his way back to his nursing home. Better get out of here before it becomes my responsibility to see him home safe. “Ok, thanks for the life lesson man. Peace out duuuuuude.”

Got to speed up now. Lost so much time already thanks to the fucking diversion, and now this hippy nonsense… It’s bloody hot though, feels as though my shirt is soaked through. I’d better take my coat off. Wait, hold on – there is a pen in here after all! I knew there must be – a real writer is never without a pen! No paper, though. I guess I can scribble on my hand if needs be. No ideas yet though, it’s so hard to think without any music and all these things distracting me.

At least we’re back on track now. Just got to head up this path and we’ll be at Parliament Hill. Then I can light up, unwind, and the ideas will surely flow. Blimey, this incline only seems to be getting sharper. My calf muscles are starting to ache. And this low autumn sun is blinding me. Will this view even be worth it? I should have just stayed on low ground and smoked, but now I’ve been sent to hither and yon I feel like I have to complete this mission.

Finally, here we go: the wide-angle cityscape of the most glorious and important place in the world. So many recognisable landmarks. I don’t need to look at the board to tell me which ones are which – I’ve lived here longer than many of them have even existed. They’re all just monuments to capitalism anyway, so why should I care?

Nobody else around. What luck! Got my pick of the benches. Maybe everyone else refused to take the diversion just like I should have done. But I guess I have the last laugh. Who dares wins, as they say.

Right, where’s that joint? And the lighter. Here we go. Ah, just the taste is making me feel better. All that nonsense is sliding away.

Wait a second, there was a point to coming up here… Oh yeah! To come up with ideas for my ‘out of place’ story… Bloody hell, it’s not that easy is it? Out of place, out of place… So tempting to just write a story about a fish restaurant that is literally ‘out of plaice’ and be done with it.

“That cloud looks like a fish!”

“FUUUUUUUUUUU-!” Scared the fucking piss out of -! Where the fuck did this person appear from?! “What are you doing?!”

“Just looking at the clouds.”

“But… why? Why did you sneak up on me like that!?” I need to stop cringing away from this… woman? Otherwise she’ll think I’m giving her the bench. “There’s a billion other benches you could sit on!”

“But this one’s got the best view. Besides, I wanted some company.”

This woman-ish creature is hideous. I’ve never seen a female with such a mass of fur on her cheeks and chin, and the way her snot is dribbling down the hairs is making my skin crawl. She’s probably got some birds nesting in there, using her dried snot for structural stability. I need to not focus on her, but I can barely look away. What’s going on up here today? Is there a circus happening nearby? I really want to get away from her, but I’m too tired to move after that climb and the smoke. And besides, I was here first.

“Can you see the fish? Oh and look, that one is a monster truck – do you see?”

I’m not going to look where you’re pointing, you crafty beast. You’ll pick my pocket at the slightest opportunity, I know it. “Look, I’m sorry you don’t have any company, but I came up here to be alone and I was sitting on this bench first so…”

Now she’s turning to face me. I can’t help but look back. I’m going to see the full extent of this facial atrocity.

“Don’t you like to talk?”

Wow. Look at those eyes. So brown. So deep… Wait a second – what did she say? “No!! I mean, yes! I like to talk.” Don’t get distracted by her eyes. Think about that mangy mass festering on the bottom half of her head. “But I don’t want to talk right now. Please go away.”

“Alright then. I’ll go. But do you have a tissue? My hayfever’s playing up.”

“No I don’t have a tissue!”

“Ok then.”

Now what is she doing? Pulling out her journal? Oh she’s going to tear out a page and use it for – oh fuck, that’s disgusting. I’ve never heard such a loud nose blowing! Jee-zus, now I really miss the quiet.

At last, she’s finally going. But she’s dropped her – “excuse me!” She didn’t hear me. “Excuse -!” Actually, if I call her back then she’ll turn around and I’ll have to look at that rotten hay bale on her face again. Best just leave it. If it were any other piece of litter I would of course pick it up and throw it away, like the model citizen I am – but not after what I just witnessed. There are probably untold amounts of germs on that scrap of paper.

Alright now I can get back to business. Story ideas, okay here we go…! Out of place… Out… of… place…

God she was repellent. I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s ruined my whole vibe. I’ll never think of anything now. If you have hayfever like that why the fuck would you come here? Literally of all the places in London, The Heath is the last you should be in. I know, I’ll get as far away from the street as possible and go walk among all the pollen in The Heath! Idiot.

Wait a second, that’s something. The Heath! It’s so ‘out of place’ in London. I mean, just look at that sprawling concrete jungle in the distance and then look at this verdant scenery surrounding me. How can they even be the same place? The Heath is totally ‘out of place’! Alright, this is something I can work with. Let’s see… maybe I can anthropomorphise the different areas of London, like posho Kensington and punky Camden, but they all make fun of Hampstead Heath for being green instead of grey… Yeah, then it could be an allegory for race and class and all that other hot-button stuff. Genius! I knew I would come up with something great if I just thought for a second.

Shit, I wish I could write it down though. I’m too sweaty to write it on my hand after all, it’s just going to rub off. Dammit, I’m definitely going to forget this idea after I have my stoned nap on the train. Fuck, why is my fucking phone fucking dead?!

I’m not going to have to… I think I might. It’s the only option. That snotty scrap might be the only way to preserve my thoughts… I hardly even want to get near it. But I have to. Okay. I’m going to wrap my coat around my hand and just lift it up to the bench where I can write on it.

Carefuuuuuuuul. Carefuuuuuuuuuuuul! Alright, it’s up. Shit, this side is covered in green goo. Gotta flip it. This coat-glove is worse than an oven mit. Delicately so I don’t push it back to the ground agaaaaaaaaiiiin. There we go. OK, where’s that pen? Aha! Alright, just a couple of sentences to capture the essence of the idea. That’ll do. Now I need to take this scrap with me. I’ll fold the snotty side in on itself so it’s more manageable. There we go. I’ll have to risk getting my coat pocket snotty… well it’s waterproof so it should be snot-proof too. Just shove it in quick and be done with it.

That’s it. Mission accomplished! I can set off home with a feather in my cap. One last good look at the skyline before I go. Thank you London for inspiring me once again, you beautiful bitch!

Right, now which way’s the station? I’m not following their diversion maps again – follow the purple blob around the green blob to the dark green blob – yeah right. It’s obviously meant for children and simpletons. I can find my own way. The station’s at the bottom of the hill, so if I just walk straight down through those trees I should get there.

Better get a move on, already running late. No need to follow the path, it’s just a matter of orienting myself through what I know. The skyline was roughly in that direction so the station’s got to be just a little to the left of that. Obviously cutting through the trees is not advised for people of a less adventurous nature, but for me it’s the perfect way. Best of all I’ll be alone, no more weirdos, so maybe I can continue to develop my Racist London Boroughs Story idea.

The canopy of these trees is much thicker than it seemed from the outside; hardly any light’s getting through here. In fact, I can’t quite see any sunlight coming from the end of the little wooded area either. The other side must be further away than I thought. It’s got a twilight kind of feel to it now, strange considering how sunny it was at the top of the hill. I’m sure the opening will come into sight soon though, as long as I keep walking in a straight line.

I need to take a wee though. Well, nobody else is around so I’ll just park up next to this tree trunk.

Ahhhhh, that feels better. Whoa, where did that cold wind come from? How did it make its way into the woods like that? Wow, that really sent a chill through me. My little guy has crawled back inside all by himself after that, hardly need to tuck him in.

It’s really chilly in here. Wait a second, where the fuck is my coat?!? Did I forget it? Really?! HOW????? My story idea!!? Hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow?

It was that bearded woman; she must have put some kind of hex on me.

SHIT. I’m going to have to go back up to the top of the hill and get it – if one of the freaks or beggars hasn’t already snatched it. Quick, better run back. But which way? Oh no, I completely lost my bearings going for that wazz, and it’s so dim and full of trees in here I can’t tell one way from another. Shit, shit, shit…

“Looking for this?”

NNNNNNNNNNNGG. “Who’s that?!” How do people keep appearing out of thin air?

“I think this is yours.”

That looks like my jacket, can’t really tell in this light, but grab it just in case. “Yeah it’s mine; get your filthy hands off it.” Phew, glad to have it back. Is my note still in the pocket? Indeed. Eurgh, got a little snot on my hand for checking though.

“I thought you’d need that.”

“Well of course I need it! It’s my coat and it’s freezing!” Wait a second; I think I recognise that voice. “You’re that foul woman that wouldn’t leave me alone at the top of the Hill aren’t you? I knew you’d played some kind of trick on me.”

“Trick?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about you hag witch thief!” I need some more light – quick, the lighter. “Try to deny it, you – oh.” It’s not the bearded woman at all. In fact, this woman is of a completely different order of being entirely. Maybe it’s just the warm glow of the lighter flame but she’s really rather gorgeous. The way her dark hair pours from her head down over her shoulders is just mesmerising.

“I was just trying to help. I thought you’d be cold. The chill comes on quite suddenly in here.”

Oh dear, I’ve completely put her off. Calm down. “I’m awfully sorry; I thought you were someone else.” Gotta turn on the charm. “Thank you so much for bringing my coat… It’s just, I keep running into some weirdos today… You’re not one of them I should say though!” Smooth.

“Are you lost?”

She seems genuinely concerned. And goodness that concern looks marvellous on her soft features. Maybe I’ll make out like I don’t know the way just so that she’ll accompany me. “I’m afraid so. Can you please show me the way to the station?”

“Just keep heading in that direction.”

She’s pointing in the complete wrong direction, I’m pretty sure. Her elegance is sublime though; even though most of her body is obscured by that bulky coat and the shadowy light I can tell she’s got it going on. “Are you sure?”

“Certain.”

“Are you heading towards the station too? Do you want to come with me? I’m afraid I might get lost again.” That’s it, play on her sympathies, buy more time to show her your debonair side.

“I’ll come with you a little way. Let’s go.”

OK, she actually agreed. Stay cool. Don’t walk too fast. “Do you come to the Heath often?”

“I wouldn’t say that, exactly.”

How cryptic. “No, me neither, I just came here for inspiration. I’m a writer, you see.”

No response from her, just the sound of the breeze in the trees. I guess she’s a little intimidated. “Yeah I’m gonna write a story about race relations in London, using Hampstead Heath as a character…”

“It certainly has plenty of that. And many interesting people in it.”

“Yeah…” She doesn’t get it. “But what I mean is I’m actually going to make the Heath itself a character that talks to the other parts of London like Camden or Shoreditch or whatever.”

Wow the rustling of the leaves as we walk might as well be literal tumbleweed; such is the harshness of her silence. “You see because most parts of London are grey but the Heath is green so-“

“Here you go.”

What? How – we’re at the edge of the woods, how did that happen!? I swear there was no end in sight just a moment ago. I must have gotten too lost in the sway of her gait and the train of my own thoughts. “Won’t you show me to the station?”

“It’s just there.”

She’ll think I’m an absolute hopeless case if I tell her I need her to show me the rest of the way.

“Alright then, well thanks.” I don’t want this to be over. She may be a little dense on literary understanding, but there’s something so other-worldly and warming about her presence. “Which way are you heading then?”

“Back that way.”

“I see. Where do you live?”

“That way.” She waved into the forest, she must mean in Hampstead. Of course, some rich banker has already claimed her as his trophy wife. Well maybe she’s looking for some fun on the side. “Oh yeah, in Hampstead? Well I’m working here at the moment, maybe we could-“

My phone’s buzzing. I thought it was dead?? Mum calling, probably wondering why I’m not home yet. I’ll call her back on the train. “Anyway, I was just thinking that-“

Where’d she go?

***

Rob Hakimian has bee10997723_10152683447410642_1187679547666072279_nn enamoured with London since a young age, when he would come up on the train from Whitstable at weekends to go skateboarding or watch his beloved Arsenal. He moved to London at the first opportunity, for university, and despite stints living in Los Angeles and South Korea, he has always found the British capital’s lure too great and returned to the city where his mind feels most alive. He hopes to channel that inspiration into his endeavours on the Creative Writing course. You can read more of his various writings at savedbyoldtimes.com.

INTIMACY

By: Alex Ciobanu

 

The neighbourhood proved striking. Its historical significance was unknown to me, but I was never one to revel in that. I was simply struck by such sophistication and style in the buildings, a consistency to the architecture, and I found it comforting. Colindale wasn’t the same. I could tell I was in the presence of greatness when a middle-aged woman walking one of those Chinese Crested hairless dogs passed by me. At least I was wearing my most expensive coat, from Next, so I didn’t feel like I stood out that much. I was hoping that the streets would be empty so no-one would see me fixing my hair in my phone’s camera, even if I would have to rely on street lights to do so. As I turned the corner and reached my destination, it was rather disappointing. A bland, square, apartment complex. It wasn’t the fact that I wished he lived in one of those expensive and refined houses I passed by, since he was just twenty-four, but it had to do rather with the architectural mismatch. A fleeting moment of disappointment, however. That should hardly matter to me at this point.

It was expensive traveling to Earl’s Court from zone 4, and it was my only day off that week. At least I was meeting him at his house, and that was saving me some money. I had gone on a few dates in the previous weeks, which never lead anywhere. Usually I would go in hoping the guys would be more than they were, and end up tolerating their presence for the duration of consuming one beverage. This time is different, I thought to myself, I haven’t had sex in a long time.

This place looks pretty strange, I pondered, looking at the white hallways with the uncomfortably low ceiling. It seemed as though a hospital and a college dorm were merged into one building. Not a good combination. I knocked at his door and a few seconds passed. Didn’t he just open the door for me downstairs like a minute ago? I was feeling a bit uneasy with the idea of meeting someone for the first time at their place.

“Hey,” he said with a smile as he opened the door.

“Hi. Fuck, you’re short…” I think you can imagine which part was audible. Handsome, curly blond hair with blue eyes. I already knew that, but not his height, because Tinder doesn’t make you fill in those details – and it’s rather weird to ask someone how tall they are. But damn, the place is bigger on the inside. This is my Doctor Who moment, I amused myself as I followed him up the stairs to the open living room and kitchen. He’s no Matt Smith, though. Then again, he’s isn’t thought to be conventionally attractive.

I remembered what he had written on his profile, which was ‘wine o’clock is my favourite time of the day’. That should improve things. I hesitated as to where to sit as he headed for the fridge and came back with a bottle of wine and glasses.

“So much chanting today from the stadium. Did you hear it on your way here?” he said to me after he sat on the couch, while I relegated myself to the armchair beside it.

“There’s a stadium? I’ve never actually been to this area before.”

“Yeah, Chelsea. There was a football match and all the fans were chanting on the way to the tube… How long have you been in London for?”

“About seven months. You?”

“Two years. How are you liking it?”

“Ah, the inescapable question. It’s a mixed bag, honestly.”

It has become so tiring explaining to everyone how London has failed me. Recounting the same ideas; that it is alienating, that it is quite difficult to find people to connect with, people that can become your friends and not merely acquaintances or classmates. And everyone nods approvingly while listening to their experiences proves they don’t really know how I feel. With him it was no different.

He went on to explain just how irritating winter in London can be. How he had failed to see the sun for three months once because he had to leave for his job in finance quite early in the morning and left work too late. Now he goes skiing and sunbathing abroad in the winter, or back to Paris where he is so glad he kept his place, or across South America for two months.

“I’ve heard that summer in London might make me fall in love with it,” I told him, thinking that perhaps I was coming across too defeated and joyless. He agreed, telling me of the barbecues every weekend and of how happy British people can be due to good weather. I think that neither the person that told me that initially, nor this guy, really knew anything about what I find enjoyable. But then again, why would they?

“Last summer I didn’t spend the weekends here,” he went on. “I went to Nice to my parents’ beach house.”

“I’ve heard Nice is quite crowded.”

“Yes, but the house is in a more secluded area. It has a pool and it was quite a lot of fun.”

As he was telling me this, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between his experience and a few chapters in the book The Line of Beauty, especially because it was standing on a shelf behind him. In the book, a politician and his family spend the summers in their holiday mansion in France, lounging by the pool and so on. I commented on this comparison, but I don’t believe he understood that in the book this upper class family is used to explore themes of hypocrisy and privilege.

We went on talking about books; the conversation was very harmonious. As a matter of fact, it had been this way from the beginning of the night. He proved to be educated, receptive, intelligent. There were a few moments, however, where I was unsure whether he was aware of the pretentiousness of his life stories. I was talking about LA as one of my possible dream cities to live in, and he was quite indignant at the thought. “Why would you want to live there? I was there once on my way to Japan to visit my dad when I was sixteen, and it was awful. Only three days and I wanted to go back to Paris so bad.”

I wanted to say that my family was poor, that I never even went to the beach growing up because we could never afford it, even though Romania has a seaside. But what point would that have made? Other than projecting my own insecurities, that is.

“Why was your dad in Japan?”

“He was there on business. He travelled a lot when I was growing up, so I didn’t get too see him much at home.”

He got up to retrieve the bottle and filled up the empty glasses. When he came back, he sat down closer to me. Subtle. I was still talking about The Hours, I think, when he put his hand on my knee. He was looking at me quite intently, having brought his face closer to mine. I was still very interested in what I was talking about and I didn’t want to stop – yet I felt I had to. And so he leaned in and kissed me. He lifted me and laid me on the couch, continuing to kiss me. For a half-French guy, he wasn’t very good at it. I was also bothered by his stubble irritating my skin so I couldn’t really get into it.

He got up and signalled me to follow. As if my responding well to the conversation was a sign that ‘the subject is ready’. It felt a bit odd and unnerving.

I hesitated. My reaction time is usually rather slow, probably due to an uncertainty effected by my severe lack of drive. My decisions are not made on the spur of the moment, since I constantly reassess where my interest in something lies. Needless to say, it is usually meagre. Why should I go downstairs with him? Where does that fall within my parameters of desire? Why did he have to signal me to follow instead of saying something, anything? Probably because that would have ruined the sensual atmosphere that he thought us kissing and rubbing up against each other had created. Also, it was rather authoritative. Without figuring out yet where my interest lied, I got up and followed.

We entered the bedroom and he pushed me on the bed. His piercing eyes and playfully mischievous smile made me uncomfortable. I remembered that look from other very nice guys I had ended up in bed with. Nothing in their prior behaviour had indicated that any such thing would occur. On those occasions I felt like prey.

I was lying on my back, then on top of him; we were making out. This went on for a bit. I was already growing tired of it. He took off my jumper and I felt compelled to take off his. He took off my pants and threw them away on the floor. I felt that was excessive. I continued to kiss him to delay what I couldn’t bring myself to stop from happening. Then he pulled my hair hard and slapped me on the ass. Oh, cause you’re short, I thought, you’re trying to release your frustrations about your height and exert dominance over me.

Eventually, I realized where my interest lied. And I told him, “I don’t think I want to go any further.” He suddenly changed back to his warm-hearted nature, reassuring me that he understood perfectly. That everything was alright.

I got dressed and he hugged me goodbye on my way out. The side streets were empty by this time and it made me slightly apprehensive, as though people might have assumed I was there scoping out their houses to rob them. That reaction soon collapsed under the weight of its stupidity. I felt proud of myself for attempting to have a sexual encounter, even if it was unsuccessful. Trial and error. But then what are the moral implications of using a person in order to get rid of one’s sexual inhibitions? They’re not getting what they’re expecting. I am a fucking tease. How do they get to have such healthy sex lives, expressing their desires so freely? Some sexual preferences are indicative of past trauma, right? But my reluctance could just as well be indicative of past trauma. He could’ve just liked it rough. And I could’ve just told him I don’t.

***

Alex Cioalex-ciobanubanu is originally from Romania. He enjoys reading and watching TV shows, anything that will elicit strong feelings. Social standards vex him and he usually draws inspiration in his writing from personal experience. As one of the greatest characters on TV, Lumpy Space Princess, says it: Get in touch with your feelings, babe!

WAR WORDS

By: myTh the Poet

Arm The Arsenal

If my pen is mightier than the sword
Then I shall be a mighty creature in folklore.
Serving hoards from moors,
Disarming them without chain-metal and gore.

***

Chain Reaction

I tread in the vacant and remote.
I’ll descend through the depths of hell,
Patient yet betrothed.
Given a reason to compel.
Proverbial, I’m not the sacrificial
Lamb or goat.
Paddling in the moat, nervously peddling.
Hoping the creatures won’t swallow me whole.
Wallow and gloat, calm at the surface
But purposely churning steadily.
Like a Memphis duck, stuck in a shooting gallery
No rubber duds, when adversity wishes to scuffle it with me.
It is what it is, if the ends justify the means.
Then I’m ready with certainty.
I rather die trying, enduring incredibly.
Than retire, allowing what I desire –
Slip by, with regret
Embedded in memory.

***

The Mushroom Cloud
A featured presentation, the main event.
Essays on a philosophy, contradicting in nature.
You say you support me, but you wish for me to wait more.
Now the time has come: progress has finally come!
Your stake – go for it with a calculated equation
Be weary of your travels toward destination
That seems cowardly and evasive.
Persuasive, inherently my poetry can’t be invasive
Capturing mind, body and soul
Like this is a pipe dream and I should resort to packing skoal.
It’s no illusion or delusion
Prose flows through me, like it’s a transfusion.

***

The Aftermath

Live by the gun
Die by the bullet
Which figure’s ring finger rests on the trigger, eager to pull it.
Living by the scimitar’s blade
Dangling overhead, over the neck
Flipping spades like it’s a charade,
Russian Roulette.
I scrape the razor’s edge
Shave the narrow ledge.
Digging as a far as any drill can dredge.
Tip-toe the serrated haemorrhage
The frontier you fear
Trembling to be the pioneer.
The biggest figure is the one who can outlast.
Circumstances’ contingency plans.
It’s not a gauntlet or a massacre.
You can’t flaunt it like macabre.
A man unleashes his vaunted monster
To thwart phobia from stepping off the pier.
Peering from inward toward out,
A man versus himself, the ultimate profound bout.
Entrenched in the ground, with a posture stout.
Tremors and fright, will not be the surrender and plight
If I perish, may it be I challenged these harriers tonight!

***

The Fallout

Poetry flows free like water from a faucet,
You cannot order nor force it.
If so, these tenants erode caustic.
The ability comes naturally
No predetermined prerequisite required
Harness your heart, soul, energy and effort perspired.

***

SOMEONE GREAT

By: Zahrah Surooprajally

 

You know the story. You’re at Winter Wonderland with a great guy, a cool guy. Someone who looks like he belongs with you in pictures. You drink too much mulled wine. The Mousetrap ride spins too much and makes you feel nauseous. You’re cold, you didn’t wear enough layers. Your new boots are muddy. People keep bumping into you, you feel invisible.

He doesn’t even ask you how you are.

You walk around the market, linked arms, obeying all the conventions of a couple that have been together for two years. The thought doesn’t cross his mind to point out something you might like (glass snowflakes, leather notebooks, bunny earmuffs) but then, maybe he just doesn’t know you well enough.

And then, miraculously, he decides to call it a night. He offers to take you home, but he doesn’t need much convincing when you say you’ve been looking forward to a tube ride home by yourself all night. The truth isn’t always sexy.

You catch the Victoria Line by yourself to Oxford Circus. You have a buzz and want to enjoy it with the Christmas lights. Fuck every guy out there that makes you feel more alone. Cold epiphanies as you realise that’s all you’ve ever done.

It’s a Friday night, but it seems deserted. You hear a muffled musical tune and can’t quite grasp what it is. Passing Miss Selfridge, you practically sprint to the sound. It’s spectacular. Love Yourself by Justin Bieber played on steel pans. There are a couple of people around. But they’re irrelevant – for the first time you feel as though you are the only one that matters. A song you thought was overplayed and only for the most shallow, suddenly seems like it could save you. But then, you’ve always loved niche covers of mainstream pop. You swear the pIanists are winking at you. You are in awe of what they can do. Putting a song out there, in a different voice, and with a different arrangement, and it actually being able to touch you, to spark something inside of you that you thought was dead, it was like coming up with an equally unique way of saying I love you, something we haven’t managed to do in thousands of years of history.

***

“I don’t know what I’m trying to say,” Jenna shook her head.

“Well, that makes two of us,” Noah grinned.

It was their time. No-one else mattered. It was two friends opening up about a world they felt didn’t understand them. They both lay side by side on the grass in Walton Park at 11pm, staring up into a starry sky. They stared into the velvety vastness, loving the feeling that life wasn’t about their tiny troubles. They reveled in feeling irrelevant.

“I wonder what it would be like to be a star… pretty cool I bet…” Noah mused, pointing at the biggest one he could see – he swore it winked at him.

“Hmmm, I’d rather be a cloud. Like if you get sick of one bit of sky, you just move on to the next one – and no-one judges you, like it’s complete freedom.” Jenna pulled her giant red and gold scarf around her and nestled back into her puffy black jacket.

Noah looked at her; really looked. He saw the tears brim in her huge, grey, 17-year old eyes, he watched her run her fingers through her hair, and knew she wasn’t really talking about clouds. He tried to skirt around the subject, but his irritation got the better of him. “Look Jen, he’s leaving to go to Asia, we all know what he’s like when he’s away – all of sudden he starts to show affection? For real, you know this guy isn’t serious”

Jenna sighed at how well he knew her, “I know, that’s why I’m closing the door on that, but you? You need to start practicing what you preach mate.”

He pushed her head away playfully, and put his hands behind his head looking up to the sky, “You’re different to me though. You are timeless Jenna, you have a beauty and personality that no one will ever get tired of.” Jenna stayed quiet and just appreciated what her best friend had to say.

Noah sighed, “Sometimes I think being hurt is the best thing to ever happen to us.”

***

“Oh come on, I didn’t mean it,” came his reply.

Oh, well that makes it okay. Jenna thought in sarcasm often.

“You didn’t mean it? You didn’t mean to tell my best friend you liked her arse? You didn’t mean to make me feel like absolute shit.” She typed so quickly and angrily she briefly thought about how the glass on iPhones had to be quite durable, resistant to scratches or resentful tapping. Sapphire crystal glass, if only feelings had a protective barrier made of something equally enduring.

She threw her phone onto her bed, and it hit the small brown teddy bear David had got her. Three years, countless spins in the washing machine and it was still soft. She placed it on the bed carefully, with precision, as though she was scared of it being hurt. The dim light in her dusty pink room made it glow, but her head hurt from looking at her screen. Jenna turned off the light, and switched on the lava lamp her father got the year before he left.

***

“Did you have a good time at Winter Wonderland?”

“No, it was shit,” she paused, as though remembering something, “and then it wasn’t so bad.”

Noah propped his head on his hand as he leaned towards her, surprised. “Wasn’t so bad? He turned it around and treated you like a person for once?”

“Of course fucking not,” despite herself she let out a laugh.

“Oh, I just thought, maybe it was a Christmas miracle,” he grinned that grin that he would only ever grin with her.

They laughed, their voices bouncing off of each other, complimenting each sound – making it more relevant.

“How’s your Mum?” It was a question asked gently, because it had to be.

***

Noah woke up from the most restless night he had ever had. He looked around his room and rubbed his eyes, as though getting used to it. 80s records bordered the white ceiling and cream walls. The room was immaculate, his tidy desk with books and notebooks piled up and his pens in his retro pen-holder. The only thing that was messy in the room was his body inside his unmade bed.

He heard shouting and then the door slamming.

“Mum?” No answer. He descended the stairs, not rushing, but with a sense of urgency. Tea towels covered the bannister, which was usually bare.

“Mum?” Noah raised his voice a little louder before he entered the kitchen.

“Yes, oh you’re up Noah, what would you like for breakfast?”

“Mum, I’m 22, I can make my own breakfast, what happened down here?” He asked, watching her sweep up the fragments of her favourite pink and gold china teacup.

“Are you OK?” He touched her arm gingerly.

She looked up, applied a smile like she would make-up, and pushed him gently, but firmly. “This is life, it get’s messy – and that’s when we have to clean it up.”

Noah had a feeling she was talking about more than just dishes. He looked at the smashed china on the floor and had an overwhelming urge to hug his mum.

He didn’t, instead he went upstairs and took a hot shower.

We make a lot of our introspective conclusions about life, the universe, everything, while we’re in the shower. Lukewarm, warm, hot water pelts our skin. And we have the discussion with our bosses that we were supposed to have last week. We tell our best friends how much we love them and how they deserve more; we do not smother them or patronise them. We are there for our families and for the first time they listen when we tell them they’re being self-destructive and hurting everyone by hurting themselves – that’s how much they are loved. We manage to capture, so eloquently, how to tell our antagonist to go and fuck themselves, to tell our lovers that we are trying to be so much more, to tell our past that we are strong and that has nothing to tell us, and we won’t be living in it anymore.

And we soap all our frustrations out into lather. We clean and exfoliate and we soften our skin. It feels warm and smells like apple and mint. Then we step out, dry off, and all the lather slinks down the drain and we forget, again.

“How was your morning?”
“Just woke up and had a shower.”

***

It was 12:30am, Jenna yawned, plugged her phone into her speakers and played a song Noah had never heard before. She sat next to him on the bench and leaned into his shoulder. The song was soft, acoustic, and made them both feel warmer despite the cold. They each put an arm around each other and for a few moments, things just felt completely okay.

“You know you’re more than that right?”

“More than what?”

“More than a shitty person who broke your heart. More than family relationships that pissed you about, and so much bloody more than the past that fucked you up.”

“Sometimes I’m not so sure.”

“I wish you could just see yourself like I see you.”

“And what’s that?”

“Let me put it this way, wherever you go? The people around you are the luckiest.”
Noah walked around the block five times, deliberating whether or not to go in. It was Autumn, again, it was enough to make you wistful, wondering where you were this time last year, when the leaves were this crisp and papery. Noah kicked the leaves aside, sat down on the bench and that same nostalgic sentiment passed through his mind whenever he thought about the rain, or the wind, or the sun – that the seasons came around all too quickly. It was 2pm, Noah sat on the same bench. He ran his hands through his once brown hair that was now speckled with grey.

He looked up at the grey sky, slowly bluing – becoming clearer. He winked back at the sun and let himself miss her. He sighed, smiled, leaned back as though she was with him, and hoped with every fibre of his being, that wherever Jenna was, she was happy.

***

Zahrah Surooprajally is a Creative Writing student, volunteer and campaigner from South London. She enjoys 80s music, comfortable clothes anzahrahd nostalgia. After studying a BA in Literature and Creative Writing and working in the charity sector for two years, she now dreams of writing a screenplay, becoming a stand up comedian, and creating her own dance flash mob.

SILENCE SCREAMS

By: Amanda Fuller

 

The first thing I learn about London, is that there are many kinds of silence.

Where I am from, it is rarely silent. The very moment that it seems that a silence might occur, someone will step in and fill it. Often, more than one someone, all at the same time. It is all noise, colour and chaos. Silence was an alien thing, to be avoided and suppressed – even when all of the very worst things were happening to us. When the noise of the shells and the guns joined with the terrified screams of the children in the streets and the roar and rumble of the tanks outside our splintered doors, we would meet in moments of calm, with what little we had, and raise our voices to drown out the death and the fear and the not knowing what was next. We would try to find some comfort, for then at that time, silence meant death.

In London, my new home, silence screams at me like an angry demon, pushes my mouth closed and my eyes down, holds its hand across my face making it hard to breathe. There is the tired silence on the trains, the buses; the silence of strangers who know the rules, and expect us all to know them too. The frightened silence of the deserted streets at night; berating me for my restless walking, chasing me back to my small room. The silence of the man behind the desk in the centre I am obliged to visit each week; a practised, artful silence that is aware of my discomfort and pulls words that will perhaps condemn me, unbidden, from my lips.

This is a familiar story, but one that nobody wants to tell. It is rarely even on the news now. When I arrived here it was all that seemed to be reported. Night after night I would press mute on the handset and stare at the screen, watching the boats come. Only rescues were shown, the few hauled to safety. But most of us could and cannot swim.

The boat was overcrowded, of course, they always are. The days and nights of hunger and thirst and sickness and pain were all for nothing, in the end. It is extraordinary what the human body is capable of, and what it will do to survive. When the boat overturned, I lost my children in the chaos, and panic. I remember being buried under bodies, my screams silenced by the crush upon my lungs. Then, I was in the water. I somehow found something to cling onto; a dead man in a rubber jacket. One by one the screams around me fell silent. I had known that all my own were lost the moment the boat overturned, so why did I cling to that corpse for so long? I ask myself these questions, but find no answers.

Not all of the silence is from outside. It is when this city is at its noisiest, that I become most aware of the silence within me. I have lost the ability to hear myself, and I do not know what to call my own silence. It is not like the others. This silence is an inside thing and it is hungry. It is slowly eating its way out, eating me alive. I have lost too much and left behind too little. There is no-one waiting for me in the place before, and no-one for me to wait for here; they are all dead. The silence within me is a vast, still pool of grief, in which all my hopes have drowned, along with those whom I have lost.

I survive here, though. The nights are longer than the days because I cannot sleep. I leave my bed and lock the door to my small room, creep past the silent sleepers in the other rooms in this place – I never see these people, I do not know who they are – and wander the streets until dawn. South London streets are silent too, but not in an unpleasant way. It is often raining and I like the rain; it is as though the skies are crying for me and for what I have lost. Sometimes I hear whispers that aren’t really there, the voices of children; soft laughter, playful teasing. I push them back down into the darkness, the silence is easier to bear. Often, I pass people as I walk at night, they might try to speak to me. Other lost people. Some have bottles or cans with them, trying to drown the silence. Perhaps it works, for a time.

I do not know anyone here from before, but if I did, I would not seek them out or speak of what I have lost. So here is another silence; this is necessary, for me, to speak of what I have seen, to find my voice, would be to lose my mind. It is best to be alone. What better or easier place to be alone, than this vast, crowded city? There are statues and streets and parks in which to lose myself, in which to wander with small grey birds and animals. They accept me in their midst; a small, grey person who sometimes feeds them scraps when she has some.

I am an unperson, with no past, present or future. The past is as if it never happened. There is nothing from there except myself, so I might never have been in those places, done and seen and heard those things. The present, the me here, in this city, merely exists. With no past to draw strength from and no present to spring from, I cannot think of a future. And yet, I go on. Yesterday, one of the other night walkers spoke to me, and I became real, for a moment, and felt no fear. He spoke to me of a life filled with pain, and grief, and terrible violence, and then he cried, because I heard him. Perhaps, one day, someone will hear me, too.

In the meantime, the silence is everything, and I am learning to embrace it. It is escape, protection, self-preservation. It is a habit that cannot be broken, a compulsion that must be obeyed. The silence screams from inside and outside and it is who I am, where I am, and what I must both acknowledge and overcome.

There are many kinds of silence. Mine is the kind that screams, that scars. The only thing I have that is truly mine, I would gladly give it up.

I would gladly give it up.

***

Amanamandada Fuller turned forty this year and is almost certainly in the throes of a mid-life crisis. A mother of two, she attempts – with varying results – to juggle parenting, a full time IT job, studying part-time for her MA in Creative Writing, performing at spoken word events in London and very occasional naps.

DOWN AND OUT

By: Sophie Bowles 

 

8 a.m. I rise, from unsettling dreams – last night it was the security guard at Morrison’s caressing my thighs in the back of a mauve van, as we headed for Plymouth to escape a Fourth Reich in London. Arms retreating under the mugginess of my duvet, the first thought of the morning is I’m Fucking Freezing. No central heating in the flat, so it’s twenty minutes clung to the fan heater before I head into the kitchen for a breakfast of stale toast and old beans. Monosodium glutamate, sugar, refined vegetable fat – I couldn’t get through the morning without them, as well as a cup of freeze dried coffee, falsely pledging affinity to the doomed coffee workers of the Honduras. After a piss and brief examination of the mould on the tiles, it’s time to get ready for work. A quick dive under the dribbling shower, back to the barren bedroom for my sweat stained jeans and out the door I go. I take the 29, run in the last door and don’t bother tapping in, though I know the Driver can see me. He doesn’t care, he’s dead inside, consciousness dimmed by the sound of swearing toddlers and weary mothers fighting for a seat.

Usually I’m about ten minutes late. Ignoring the constipated greetings of my fellow Half Dead’s, I grab my apron and head straight for the kitchen where the KP, origin unknown, stuffs his face with clandestine leftovers – half eaten pizza crust, a forkful of spaghetti. I join in. We make small talk over untouched jam and toast. Our mutual disgust at the customers is shattered by the arrival of the Beast. The manager, pompously fitted in cheap acrylic, demands me on the floor, immediately. A panicked frenzy. Four of sixty seats have been occupied and I, loyal slave, rise to the occasion. Table set, smile fixed but a crushing blow – they only seem to want tea. What can we do, mutters the manager – what can we bloody do? You take care of this table. He disappears into the office to ring his cousin, who’s also managing an unsuccessful restaurant in London, and complain at length – of our indifference, our inability to carry hot plates and the audacity of a member of staff to take time off for a dental appointment.

I smile, oozing falsities. You have to be friendly. Give them all you’ve got. You never know who might come in the door. I’ve got this childish fantasy that these people might be important. They’ve come to rescue me from obscurity. Celebrities can always be found in airports and cheap cafés. I’m next. They’re artists; they’re eyeing me up, intuitive whisperings that I might be the Next Big Thing.  Forget the steak, I saw you in the window and I will make you a star. Post spectacular debut, it’s onto bigger things. A writing career, clothing line, retiring as an ambassador – the voice of every slave to minimum wage below the Watford Gap. I ponder their dithering faces – will the apple tart give me a heart attack or diabetes? The sheen fades to grey. They eyeball me because they’re hungry, not dumbstruck by my quirky beauty. They’re office dullards who saw the lunchtime discount and thought it made for a nice change from a meal of crisps and Mars bars. I’m nothing to them, just a waitress who gave up on smiling.

They eat, they leave, it gets busy, we fuck up, the manager screams. Table three throw a tantrum, which cannot be soothed by tiramisu. I thought I showed you how to do refunds on the till, how long have you been working here? I mop, I savour pizza crust, I’m almost there. Can you stay another hour? I lie – I have to meet my friends, when really I’m just going to check my email at the Star Express Internet Emporium on Seven Sisters Road. This is the highlight of my evening. Nothing exciting, mostly cheap tickets to warm places. I write false promises to Mother that I’m one step further to my dreams – depicting a life of spontaneity and whim. Truth is, I’m in a vegetable state, crippled by long hours and scraping dirty plates.

I spend a lot of time looking up celebrities. I’m obsessed. Who went where? Does being an Aries help? Who got bullied at school? I want to know it all. Did they do time deep cleaning the sink? It’s comforting to know I’m not alone; it’s a stint we all have to do. A means to an end. Some of them never went to school. In two years I’ll be there, in a sparkling dress, blowing kisses to the manager as he watches from his TV set. I log out and my daydream ends. The future remains certain. Nothing will change. It’s useless to think otherwise. I’ll lie in my squeaky bed for years to come. I’ll buy reduced, I’ll wear my faded jumper to the bitter end. I guess at some point I had my ambitions too, but they were quickly swallowed up by bigger, more menacing fears – a roof over your head, money to eat and to get into noisy clubs where you might find true love. But I don’t go out anymore, I’m just too tired.

I get in, watch TV. Ignoring the warning, I help myself to my flatmate’s bread and butter – just to spite him. I trip in the darkness and crawl into bed.  Someday I’ll tidy my room, but for now I cosy up to some loose change, a bottle of stale lemonade and some toenail clippers, all which have their place in my little bed. After a final peek through the threadbare curtains at the body sea below – rude boys on bikes heading home to Mum, couples fighting, corner shop men leering – I drift off to The Sound of London. Sirens wailing, neighbours shagging, pigeons dying and the thoughts of every lonely soul echoing from here to Wood Green.

TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD, 3A.M.

By: Rachele Salvini

When Terry saw Nikki, she was alone at the counter.

Girls who had the guts to sit by themselves on a Saturday night, in a place that was as fucking crowded as The Monarch, Camden Town, deserved his attention. They knew perfectly well that pretty much everyone would hit on them and buy them a drink – so, if they were okay with just sitting and sipping their own beer as the crowd behind them screamed and danced to the Grease soundtrack, then they were probably confident enough to go home with a depressed motherfucker like Terry.

Or at least, that’s what he hoped.

She didn’t deserve to be his last resort, though. She was too beautiful. On the other hand, before he had spotted her he had tried to hit on a Dutch girl that told him her 6’4’’ boyfriend had just gone to get the drinks and was coming back shortly (why the fuck did she have to specify his height anyway?). Then he had said “you’re an amazing dancer” to a British girl who was too high to realise if he was good looking or not and actually danced as if someone had just run her feet over with a truck. She had tried to examine him but failed, so she had answered that she needed to puke to focus up. She had told him to wait for her. He had gone out to smoke a cigarette and, when he had come back inside, she was nowhere to be seen.

So yeah, when he saw Nikki, she was sipping a beer and laughing at something the girl behind the counter had just told her. He decided to give it a try. Terry’s last night in London should end properly.

In London, no-one knew who he was.

He needed to take advantage of it before going back home to South Carolina.

Well, he didn’t really need to go as far as London to stay in a place where no-one knew who he was. Canada would have been just fine, but two weeks before he had booked the first flight he had found – no, this wasn’t exactly true.

The night he booked the flight to England, he had been spending another Saturday night alone in his room on campus. It was a strange feeling for him. He knew his buddies were probably playing beer pong in someone’s kitchen, and he should have been there with them. But of course, he couldn’t. Not since The Thing had happened.

So, on that Saturday, the rain was hitting the windows and he was lying on the bed with his laptop on his belly, listening to music that was too quiet for him. He had gone from Four Tet to Chet Faker to Damon Albarn to Gorillaz playing live with Mick Jones and Paul Simon, and had finished with an old song by The Clash that he had never heard before. This is England.

He had booked the flight to London in five minutes. Then he had felt so good that he had gone out of his room, smiling back at the dirty looks he got from the girls who walked past him. Every girl on campus knew of The Thing. It was like he had a sign pinned on his forehead.

He had gone straight to the fridge in the common kitchen, opened a beer and then headed back to his room to smoke a spliff and masturbate.

It had been a good night.

Anyway, when Terry saw Nikki at The Monarch, he thought that she deserved more than being his last resort. He could see from the way she was sitting that she had a wonderful butt and she knew it. She had probably straightened her hair. It fell over her shoulders, heading to her lower back.

Terry approached her and told her she looked stunning. He also said that she must have been very brave to sit there, all by herself. She had probably said too many “no”s that night, but he wanted to try anyway. It was easier than he imagined. She drank the pint he bought her in two or three gulps. Then she got up, grabbed her Oyster card and looked at him. “Where do you live?”

He opened his mouth in disbelief, “Mile End.”

“Let’s go then. Central Line, right?”

He followed her out into the pitch black night. October was chilly as hell in London. Terry had hoped for better weather.

There was a guy dressed as Thor from The Avengers giving out flyers in front of the bus stop. They took one and started reading it on the bus, after going up the stairs to the second floor.

Nikki’s hair was touching Terry’s forehead as the words faded before his eyes. They snogged hard until the metallic voice announced they were approaching Tottenham Court Road.

You could have said that they were just a normal couple going down the escalator at Tottenham Court Road tube station at 3AM on a normal Sunday.

Well, it had started to be normal to see people wander around tube stations since London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan had decided that the young alcoholics deserved another night means of transport. One that worked better than the double-deckers, which were too slow to take brats back home in time for them to puke in the loo instead of on the bus seats.

Nikki could smell Terry’s hair from at least twenty centimetres away. He had combed it back, leaving just a very subtle layer of hair to cover the sides of his head. His veins were pumping under his skin.

He was beautiful. He had a rounded nose covered in freckles, big blue eyes and full lips that Nikki knew had made many girls drool. He seemed like the perfect fraternity guy, coming from money and partying all the time. He was wearing a fur coat over a nice and clean light blue shirt, and he had put on a golden chain just to seem a little more ghetto – in vain. He looked exactly like the perfect American guy that went to university and sucked vodka out of WASPs’ bellies.

That said, she needed to go home with someone that didn’t seem like a complete nutter. She knew that going to a stranger’s place wasn’t exactly a wise move, but she didn’t care.

Her cheek was still burning. She needed someone to make her feel at least beautiful. Her objective wasn’t the orgasm – she was probably too down to get one. She just wanted someone to sleep with. Even just sleep in the literal meaning was fine.

Fucking Connor had slapped her face as soon as he had seen her arrive at the club. It went like this: he had told her he was seeing his friends and wanted to spend some “dude time.”

As Nikki turned to look at Terry, waiting for the escalator to bring them down, she stroked her own cheek. It still really burned. She couldn’t believe it did, but she couldn’t help feeling the heat of fucking Connor’s fingers and palm on her skin.

“Are you alright?” asked Terry.

She nodded.

Fucking Connor hadn’t liked the fact that she was at the club too. In fact, he was talking to a beautiful Hispanic girl that looked disturbingly like Kim Kardashian. One of Connor’s mates had told him his actual girlfriend was there, so he had turned and spotted her.

Nikki had seen him murmuring “excuse me” to the girl. Then he had approached her, grabbed her wrist and taken her out. He had walked beside her in silence. When they had been far enough to avoid anyone seeing, he had finally slapped her.

Nikki smelled Terry’s hair again. It seemed like he had put a lot of stuff there. It was a nice smell, very manly, and Nikki hadn’t been used to smelling other men’s hair for at least two years. She tried to glance at it while he was looking right in front of him as they waited for the escalator to go down.

If she stopped smelling Terry or looking at him, though, the only thing she could think of was that Fucking Connor had called it quits.

She would have missed him, of course, but you simply couldn’t forgive a slap. Nor the cheating that she had suspected for so long.

“When we get to mine, we need to be quiet.” Terry said, bringing her back to reality. “There is a family right beside my room. If their child wakes up, we won’t hear anything other than his screams, I promise.”

Nikki smiled at him. He was trying to keep up the conversation. Sadly enough, after leaving the pub, they hadn’t really had anything to say to each other. Alcohol and music were two common fields for the both of them. But what else? He was a good guy. She liked the way he looked up at the ceiling when he wasn’t sure of what he was going to say next, and how he scratched the back of his ear when he was going to say something embarrassing – like how beautiful her neck looked.

He was sweet. She wasn’t used to it.

And now, he was telling her to keep quiet because a family was sleeping in the room next to his. It was nice of him. Nikki smiled.

“Alright, I promise.” she said. “I’ll be a good girl.”

Terry smiled back and kissed her. “I really hope not.”

He was hunched over himself, the thin fingers gripped on an empty bottle of gin. Terry saw him and immediately knew his night with Nikki was over.

“What’s wrong with that guy?” she said, frowning.

Exactly.

The guy was definitely not homeless. He had almost-white blonde hair, a very pale complexion and freckles all over his body – at least, on the visible parts. He was wearing jeans and a blue sweater. He looked like a normal 20-something who had drunk too much and had passed out on the floor of Tottenham Court Road station. His eyes were closed, but he was awake. Terry knew it because he was wincing slightly.

“Are you alright?”

Nikki kicked the guy’s shoe gently.

He didn’t react. Terry looked at him. He just wanted to go home.

But Nikki turned to him, and he caught her glance. He knew what it meant – girls were masters in that kind of look. They wanted you to do something, and they knew you knew perfectly what you had to do. So he sighed and bent on his knees.

“Do you need help, buddy?”

The guy winced again, then opened his eyes and looked at Terry. His eyes were red and his eyelashes were wet.

“My cat has just fucking died!” he screamed.

Of course, Terry lost his balance and fell on his butt. The first impulse he had was to get up and kick him in the face, but he was with Nikki. He just couldn’t.

“Holy shit.” he swore, as the guy sniffed noisily. “Well, sorry about that, but I’m sure lying on the station floor and screaming in people’s face is not making it any less dead.”

Terry knew Nikki had just given him a dirty look, but he couldn’t help himself.

“My cat has just fucking died!” the guy cried again.

“Yeah, do you want us to arrange his funeral here in the tube station?”

“Terry!” he heard Nikki saying.

He turned to her. He was still sitting on his butt after the guy’s hysteria had made him lose his balance.

“You look familiar.” said the blonde guy, showing his perfectly white teeth. He was no junkie at all. Terry turned to him and felt that look of recognition that he feared so much. He swallowed. He needed to play it cool in front of Nikki.

“Stop bullshitting. You’re drunk.”

“But I saw you somew…”

Terry felt his heart miss a beat or two and turned to Nikki to avoid the guy’s gaze.

“So what? What do you want to do?” he asked her.

“He needs help,” she said, “Let’s take him to the platform.”

When he saw the way she was looking at the stinky dude sprawled against the wall, Terry thought of the Dutch girl who had told him about her 6’4’’ boyfriend and then of the one who “needed to puke to focus up.” Two lost battles. And when he was almost going to finally win the war, a fucking pissed skinny guy (that probably knew who Terry was) had decided to snatch victory out of his hands. Nikki didn’t even want to fuck him. She wanted to fucking help him.

Terry knew Nikki meant well and that the guy really needed them. But he couldn’t help but hate him deeply anyway. After all, it was his last night in London.

Aksel had thought he could easily be taken for homeless. He hadn’t washed his clothes in at least a month and he probably stank like shit. He had drunk a whole bottle of gin by himself, wandering around Camden, and he had just collapsed in the station in his pathetic attempt to go home.

The floor wasn’t that bad, though. A guy had tossed a pound to him. And the station was warmer than he had thought.

“Do you need us to take you to the platform? Where are you going?”

What had really surprised him were those guys stopping to help him. No one had passed for a while, and then, these strangers just wanted to put him on a train and send him home. The guy seemed quite familiar, but Aksel couldn’t say exactly why.

He didn’t feel like engaging in a conversation, though. He had never felt like it, at least, not with strangers. And in the past month, with no one in general. So, he had tried to go with looking like a lunatic, screaming about his dead cat and shit, but the thing hadn’t discouraged them.

“My cat has just…”

“Fuck it, this is hopeless,”said the American guy, standing up. He turned to the girl. “Nik, it’s getting late…”

He really looked like someone he had seen in a movie. Aksel couldn’t say who. Maybe a minor part in a shitty rom com.

The girl didn’t listen to him, anyway. She lowered on her knees to look at Aksel in the eyes. He needed to focus because his eyelids seemed to weigh a ton, but he felt her dark gaze and swallowed. The rancid taste of gin at the back of his throat made him want to puke. Nevertheless, he kept his eyes firm.

“Do you need help, darling?”

She said it in such a kind tone that it broke his heart. Aksel wanted to cry.

He swallowed and tasted the gin again. You need to stop doing that, jackass, he said to himself.

He looked at the girl, and nodded slowly.

“Fuck me, mate, you bloody stink like a dumpster.”

Terry tried to keep balance while holding up the blonde smelly guy and forcing him to walk. What the fuck am I doing, just to impress a girl?

“Stop saying that,” Nikki told him, “and your British accent is horrible.”

“It is,” confirmed the blonde smelly guy.

Terry had another impulse to toss him on the ground and kick his face.

He had to catch his flight back to the US in seven hours and he just wanted to fuck Nikki. Was it that much of a wish? Didn’t he deserve a little fuck before going back in that shithole of a campus? Besides, he didn’t like how the guy was looking at him. As if he was going to spit out where he’d seen him and, most of all, why. Terry didn’t like feeling trapped.

Anyway. Nikki was following them along the corridor that brought them to the platform.

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” she asked Terry.

He did, but he’d never admit it.

“I’m fine,” he grunted.

“Thanks so much,” stuttered the smelly guy, ”I’m Aksel, by the way. I’m from Oslo.”

“Introductions later,” Terry panted, trying not to seem out of breath. He wanted to look perfectly at ease, as if he spent hours at the gym and was born to rescue 20-somethings that passed out on tube station floors. Aksel wasn’t even that heavy – he was very slim, and the skin stretched on his bones was as thin as a shell.

“I’m Nikki,” the girl said, smiling broadly at Aksel. Terry tried not to sigh.

The platform was empty. It was a strange feeling. Every time he had taken the tube to get back to the hostel, it was always packed with people – or at least, there was always someone to look at. But now, it was desert. A train must have been passed a few minutes before.

When he dropped Aksel off on the benches at the platform, he groaned. He needed to go back to the gym. He had stopped since The Thing happened.

“How are you?” Nikki asked Aksel.

Terry looked at him. His pale complexion didn’t bare the traces of a particularly hard, street life. He just seemed like someone who had fucked up his own night and couldn’t deal with it.

“My cat has just died,” he moaned.

If you kick him, Terry, you can forget Nikki’s butt.

Nikki smiled and sat next to him. ”I’m sorry, dear. Last year my dog died. I cried for days.”

It was when Terry saw how Aksel’s face cracked up in an awful grimace that he realised the cat was just… nothing. The guy wasn’t crying about it at all. Maybe there wasn’t even a cat involved. Wrinkles erupted around his eyes and mouth, deforming his features until his face looked like a crushed can of Coke that you’d kick absent-mindedly on the street.

Terry swallowed and saw Nikki putting her hand on the guy’s knee. It would be a long night.

They let a train pass. Tired-looking people got off and went home. A group of British girls, no older than seventeen, approached the exit shouting and laughing.

Aksel didn’t dare to look at them for more than two seconds. He knew he was not going to bear the sight. These girls’ most serious problems probably included a guy that hadn’t texted them that night, or the fact that they had broken one of their newly-painted nails during a wild dance to some shitty pop song.

“What happened to your cat?” Nikki said to him.

Aksel didn’t know what to answer. He couldn’t believe the girl really thought he was ranting over a fucking cat. Well, of course, pets’ deaths were always pretty sad, but not to the point of breaking down in the middle of the tube station at 3 AM.

He was going to answer something – he didn’t exactly know what – when the group of 17-year-old girls stopped in front of them. Aksel saw a pair of shiny silver boots. One of the heels was slightly chipped.

“I know you,” one of them said, her voice a bit altered by the alcohol.

Aksel looked up at her. Her eyes were circled by a thick light blue powder that some hours before must have been eyeshadow. She was talking to the American guy, who stared helplessly at her.

“You’re that guy of out the papers, right? I saw you on Buzzfeed.”

Aksel knew it. He must have been famous on the social media or something like that. “Yeah, I told him, right? He looks familiar,” he said.

Nikki was looking at the girls. The American guy seemed distressed.

”I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stuttered.

Aksel thought he looked like he knew exactly what the girl was talking about.

“Oh, well…” the girl said, a bit too loudly. “Fuck me, mate, of course it’s you. I read it today,” She took her huge phone out of the pocket of her golden shorts.

“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”

Nikki and Aksel almost jumped on their seats. The American guy’s face had suddenly reddened, and big, purple veins were pumping madly on his forehead.

“Terry!” Nikki said, flabbergasted.

The girls were puzzled. The one with the huge phone backed off, looking at him suspiciously.

“You’ll end up in jail,” she hissed, ”You know you will.”

Aksel saw Terry’s eyes widening wildly, his face getting paler than a paper sheet.

Terry’s heart bumped. The motherfucking whores. Did he really end up on Buzzfeed? Of course yes. It was the shittiest website in the world. Even ratemypoo.com was more reliable than that fucking webshite.

Terry looked at the British girl and tried to calm down. He was not going to lower his gaze anyway. He had managed to keep it cool with Aksel. He didn’t have to explode like this. Telling the girl to go fuck herself hadn’t been a wise move.

“Terry,” Nikki started, “What the fuck is happening?”

Terry didn’t answer. He kept on staring at the blonde girl, who was putting her phone back into her pocket.

“Girls, isn’t it a bit too late for you?”

Aksel’s voice was feeble, but still pungent.

Terry swallowed.

“There’s no need to be so rude,” one of the girls told him, ”unless you’re hiding something from your friends.”

Terry felt his cheeks reddening and a drop of sweat running down his nape, heading to the spine. He couldn’t believe the station was so fucking hot in October.

“I’m not hiding anything. Leave us alone. This guy is not feeling well.”

Blaming his distress on Aksel was a good move. Well played, champ.

”Seems like the one who’s not feeling well is you,” answered the girl with blue eyeshadow scattered all over her face.

She had a point. Terry knew it.

“Girls. I think it’s time for you to go,” said Nikki, ”We’re just trying to get home. There’s no need to fight over nothing at all.”

Terry thanked her mentally.

But then, as he watched the girls heading slowly to the exit and giving him dirty looks, his heart was crushed. Again. The blue-eyeshadowed girl turned to look at him, smiling nastily.

“Bye, rapist.”

The silence was on them, heavy and sticky as a slice of bread overloaded with jam, falling inevitably on the floor.

Terry kept his gaze on the exit, where the group of girls had been until a few seconds before. Aksel’s eyes were fixed on his own shoes. Nikki looked at the both of them, unable to utter a word. Did the girl really say it? Rapist? If Terry hadn’t known anything about it, he wouldn’t have exploded as he did. And Aksel had recognised him as well. She didn’t. When she had seen Terry in the club, the last thought she could have was about him being a rapist – after Fucking Connor’s slap, Terry’s smile had just made her feel better.

She didn’t know what to say, so she had a look at the arrivals. The next train was going to stop in five minutes. The night tube was slower.

“That was intense,” whispered Aksel.

Nikki turned to him, but Terry didn’t. He kept silent.

“It’s fine,” Terry’s voice was low, harsh. He was still looking somewhere between the advertisements on the wall and the infinite blackness where the train would come from. Nikki noticed all the advertisements had been bought by Apple. The whole tunnel was covered with pictures of the new iPhone 7. Squalid.

She didn’t say anything and looked at Aksel, whose face was still wet. His eyelids were stuck one against each other.

There was silence again. Nikki bit her lip, trying to think about anything, anything in the world, she could say to lift the spirits. At the same time, she really couldn’t concentrate on a good way to distract herself and the guys. Why the fuck did the girl call Terry a rapist? Was it true? There was something weird going on. And Terry was still trying not to look at her.

Aksel seemed more upset than before. As Nikki lowered her gaze, she noticed his pale hands were shaking. His knuckles were covered in freckles, and what seems like cold sweat was making his skin glisten.

”Are you okay?” she asked him.

Terry turned, as he thought Nikki was talking to to him, but she looked down at Aksel’s hands before meeting Terry’s eyes.

Aksel nodded. ”Yes,” he said. ”Yes.”

He sniffed, then he relaxed on his seat. He bit his lip, swallowed, and then cleared his throat.

”My sister died,” he said casually, as if he was just saying he didn’t like Coldplay. ”My sister. Not my cat.”

There was at least another minute of silence. Terry didn’t turn to face him.

At last, Nikki opened her mouth to say something.

Then she closed it, as another train passed.

Terry’s heart hadn’t stopped bumping since the girl had pronounced that word. And even if Aksel had just come up with his sister, changing the subject abruptly, he couldn’t help biting his tongue in anxiety.

”It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to tell us. You don’t have to explain anything. You can just tell us where you need to go, we can come with you and see you off to make sure you’re fine,” said Nikki to Aksel.

Terry felt his cheeks burning. That wasn’t their plan. Their plan was to go to his place, spend some fucking time together and get laid. It wasn’t even the banging that he craved for. It was just feeling okay with a girl. Like a normal guy who could do it. That was the most important thing.

He was sorry for Aksel, whatever his problem might have been, but he really didn’t give a shit. He turned to them.

”Really, Nikki? I’m going back to the States in a few hours. We were heading home. I thought we had a plan.”

Her gaze made Terry feel a pang of shame immediately.

“Seems like plans change,” she hissed.

Terry couldn’t blame her. A group of girls had just told him he was a rapist. Not only a normal rapist – an internationally famous one. Even Aksel had recognised him. And, well, urging her to go home and have sex while this guy had just told them about his sister’s death didn’t do much to help his reputation.

Terry knew he couldn’t help it. Nikki was right. He had thought flying to London for a week would make things different, give him a break from all the shit he had to deal with constantly, but apparently things were not that easy.

He thought of taking the next train and leaving them on those fucking seats. Go home, cry a bit while packing, head to the airport and fly “home”. He knew the next day he would be there, on campus, sleeping alone in his room. No-one would ask him about his trip. He looked at the arrivals, but before he could make any decision, Aksel spoke.

“Are you a rapist?” he asked.

Terry looked at him. Aksel’s face was red and slick with sweat and tears.

He tightened his fists. He talked with a low, raucous voice that had come out more aggressive than he meant to. ”Can you tell me, once and for all, what the fuck you want from me?”

“My sister drowned in a lake in Oslo,” Aksel said, ”one month ago. They found her body immediately. It’s not such a big lake. It’s not even that deep.”

Terry couldn’t stand another word. He knew he had to be sorry for the guy. He just couldn’t. He had run away from North Carolina to stop thinking about his own problems. People had lost any kind of empathy for him, even if what he was accused of hadn’t even been proved. No way he would feel sorry for this guy.

“Why the fuck should this be relevant to you asking me if I am a fucking rapist?” he growled. Don’t start shouting, Terry.

He knew Aksel was scared, but the guy kept his eyes on him. Nikki was looking at them, startled.

“She didn’t commit suicide,” said Aksel, “she was followed.”

Terry saw Nikki’s jaw dropping.

“Aksel, you don’t…” she tried to say, but the guy kept on talking, looking straight into Terry’s eyes.

“Everyone thought she had committed suicide at the beginning. Then they found evidence. They found the traces of her struggling on the ground. They found a male’s DNA under her nails.”

“I don’t care,” said Terry, feebly.

Did Askel want him to admit anything? Did he think he could “save him from himself” or any other bullshit people would say in these cases?

“She was assaulted,” said Aksel. ”Every time I think about her, about her swollen, violet body, and about how fucking scary her last seconds on Earth must have been, I think about people like you.”

That you made Terry feel like a shit. Which you? Who was this you?

“That fucking lake was my favourite place in Oslo,” said Aksel. “I had to flee to stop feeling my stomach churn every time I would take the subway. Our house is in Ullevål, all the way to Lake Sognsvann. And Sognsvann is the name of the sixth line, the one I would take to go home every fucking day. The name of the place where my sister was assaulted and died. I puked on the tube once. That’s why I’m here in London, alone. To forget that in the world there are people like you.”

“Aksel, you’re drunk. Please, you’ll regret this.”

Nikki couldn’t believe how fucked up her Saturday night had come to be. Well, it hadn’t started that great either, with Fucking Connor hitting her and breaking up with her, but her short time with Terry had definitely started to cheer her up. Now things were falling apart again.

“You’re making assumptions about Terry. We don’t know anything about him. I know that your story is sad and I’m…”

“You’re making assumptions too, Nikki,” said Terry. He seemed extremely calm. He talked slowly, his voice low and his eyes on her. “I see how you look at me. You don’t know jack. You’re trying to be all open-minded and tolerant and whatever shit you think it’s appropriate to be, but you act like you already know everything. And you didn’t ask me anything.”

Nikki saw Terry’s veins pumping under his forehead. It was reddening.

“So tell me, then,” she said, more angrily than she had thought she was. “Tell me. Have you raped a girl? That’s why you’re here? Is it true?”

The noise of another train approaching filled her ears. Nikki and Aksel looked at him as his knuckles went white. He shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. For everyone. It really doesn’t.”

The silence fell on them again, over the clatter of the train.

***

Rachele Salvini  is a 23-year-old Italian student of Creative Writing. She has started writing in English last year, during a semester at Sarah 1915390_10208740411170622_3012928592423707750_nLawrence College, NY. She’s from Livorno but has studied in Florence and Oslo. Her favourite author is J.D. Salinger, but she has a soft spot for chick-lit.

ONE FOOT IN THE SEAGULL’S SONG AND ONE FOOT IN THE DARK

By: Angus Rogers

 

A circle sits in a square on a high wall and
looks down at the stagnant river.
What have I done to deserve this? He wonders.
It’s not so hard to keep a fucking plant alive.
You pour water on it and open the curtain.
Why is there foliage inside the house, child?
She cries into the dead leaves of her spider-plant,
fainted dry on the bureau, and wonders how
on Earth she came to be where she was.
Home wasn’t so far away; a thousand miles
of bluebell wood; seven bolts of shimmering
silk across the open door; a kettle screaming
a lullaby somewhere deep inside. The hot pipes.
Home won’t be so far away, the next time,
when the time comes round again,
too-rah,
Hokey Cokey,
bread and butter,
raw sewage down Argyll Street.
Are you hearing the distant muezzin, child?
Are you still locating these sounds like you used to
when you were an un-budded thistle?
How are you finding the one-horse town of Earth?
Climb the hill. The sacred heart. Primroses.
‘Hallelujah’ on accordion. Leonard is dead.
Everything should have been in place.
Perhaps, in your absence, the hallways had
swapped places and the compass upended itself.
Too far in to think about that now, though.
You, a triangle of love and hate and
whatever this new one is, sitting as reviled as a rat
at a dinner table in the octagonal hole
in the circular hole in the middle of the night
in the shadow of the valley in the manhole cover
you have slipped halfway into. Enough!

Cease thought!

For, really, who am I to question the order of things?
For, really, who am I…?
For, really, who…?
Four rolling hills at each corner of the map.
I tie my grandfather’s handkerchief tightly
around my throat and scramble up,
only to slide back down.
Where?
Here!
Here I am, the circle in the square.
It should never be so difficult
to remember to water the plants.
I can hear the deep-sea leviathans,
laughing from their boardroom meetings,
actually laughing, laughter like crying –
Ancestors, fetch my watering can;
My spider-plant, Lazarus; my wet shoes; my eye;
A light in the village hall come on COME ON
COME ON EILEEN geography homework dignity
beauty come on scream hark hark hark hark hark –

One foot in the seagull’s song and one foot in the dark.

WE NEED THE FOREST

By: Jessica Wragg

 

The tracks of the underground train from the carriage window. Hot breeze of the last act of summer whistling beneath my blouse. Barbed wire like thumbprints and fingers and outstretched palms. No, the jungle is not the same as Streatham Hill, but the birds are just as loud.

Jealous of our travelling friends in Thailand and South America we did the best we could. Tooting Bec Common was our wilderness, that place in which we searched for things un-done, never tried, never seen. You wanted mountain-scapes, thick cities rich in colour, but instead the horizon was tower blocks behind Bedford Hill and the same church building; a thick tapestry of brown brick and a canopy of tile rooves.

We blew smoke rings, propped up by our elbows until the room filled with the thin mist of mid-morning, searched the internet for the cheapest flights to the furthest distance. We visited the aquarium and spent hours in the tropics, in the pacific, in the mangroves. We fought through the thickets of commuters going south as we travelled north and hiked the Parliament Hill. In Richmond Park we got as close to the red deer as we dared, ignored the twenty others around us snapping pictures on their smartphones, throwing a peace sign to the buck. The zoo was as close as I came to the Savannah desert, or the outback of Australia.

Car exhaust on our tongues, pigeon shit, stagnant water; we turned them to spices and incense, salt water and red dry dust. Our flat was our cabin; pale floral wallpaper faded to brown, overrun by damp. We looked out onto a neat row of garages; grey, brown, black doors, blue beneath as the paint cracked off. Ten, perhaps twelve angular hatchbacks parked in front but to us they are rocks in a stream. At night, sirens turned to the chirping of crickets, and the headlamps of passing cars illuminated our window like torches. Cars that scraped their bumper on the road taking a speedbump too quickly sounded like the cracking of branches. I worried sometimes that the longing would drive us mad, you wondered if we already were. Me and you, we both fitted in quite well.

And then one night you woke me when the sun hadn’t risen yet. My eyes searched for you in the dark and found you, a figure crouched at the end of the bed. Your body bent double and your back hunched with urgency, the cool side of your hand brushed my ankle. In the black I found your face and felt the damp contours and the rolling tears. The shuffle of your canvas rucksack was soft and quiet, and when you put it on your back I could tell it was heavy from the sound you made. You kissed my hair and opened the door of the bedroom and yellow light drowned the room, blinding me. The last thing I saw was the rubber heel of your boot as your closed it again.

I lay on my back until the sun came up and waited for the birds to signal morning, climbed the tree down from the upstairs window to the forest floor. The soft gravel branches crunched beneath me and the mist hung low by the very ground. I caught a sparrow by the wing and plucked feathers from its breast, hung it by the limp feet and bit into it with a frenzy appetite until the guts dropped onto my chin. I bounced from the rocks in the stream, dipped my toe in cool water of the puddled pavement and ran barefoot over broken glass and the speedbumps. The ground shook with an underground train but to me it was the earth sighing, and when the rain fell thick it got caught in the canopy. I spoke a strange language that I didn’t understand, walked upon my hands and lost my fingernails digging in the dirt.

Wildness is a strange word, but I understand it to be me. We did our best there, in the city. Yet still, the feeling that I needed the forest and the mountains, the beaches of an island and the tongue of natives won me in the end. A life without me seemed to have won you.

***

Jessica E. Wragg is a full time fiction writer, a some-time butcher since the age of sixteen. now 24, she divides her time between telling stories, image1drinking gin, and longing for cold weather so she can crack out her winter coat selection. Her fascinations include women in history, short fiction and second person narration. If she could she would write everything in italics. You can visit her website to read more: jessicawragg.co.uk

 

BEING A PERSON

By: Lauren Cadogan-Grealish

 

I hadn’t known Charlie for long, had first met him just two weeks before, at the opening night of a street art exhibition in Shoreditch. I had written an article for Time Out London about the growing scene in Walthamstow and its surrounding constituencies, and thought it would be nice to meet one of the artists I had written about. I found GHX to be personable – he offered me a bottle of Beck’s and we shared a short conversation. His wife arrived a little later with his baby boy. They made a nice little family – GHX, Claudina and baby Shaffi. It had made me ache, seeing their family unit. I wanted someone to love me, but I needed to love someone more. I excused myself when another fan cut in, wandered away from them under the pretence of wanting to browse the artwork.

I was zoning in and out of the event when I noticed him. Tall, slightly-ginger beard. He filled the space in his clothes nicely – ripped jeans tighter on the calves than the thighs, a black knitted jumper.

I made my way over to him and fearlessly asked him if he was enjoying the artwork. He introduced me to his friend Rado. Rado was slightly shorter than Charlie. I learned he was the assistant at a contemporary art gallery in Islington.

‘And what do you do, Charlie?’

‘I’m a freelance project manager.’

‘Nice,’ I grinned. He smiled back.

I told him I was studying, that I worked a few shifts at MNKY HSE in Mayfair.

All three of us had needed a toilet. We left the exhibition quickly, finding separate dark corners to piss in. Rado said he needed to go because he had work the next morning, and had already drunk too much.

Charlie was shy but he asked if I wanted to go back to his flat with him.

‘I live with my older brother,’ he told me in the Uber ride over. ‘But it’s kinda spacious so it doesn’t matter. He’s an Operations Manager for a restaurant chain – Josh – and he makes pretty decent money. He practically lives at his girlfriend’s place in Bethnal Green. I’m on my own a lot.’

I follow Charlie into his room. It’s just past eleven, and I’m tired already. I am overcome by a sudden feeling to leave, to get away from him.

The walls were painted a duck-egg grey. There was a small two seater sofa, as well as his bed, and a television mounted on the wall. He had a few film posters – films I’d either never heard of or hadn’t seen. But one caught my eye – a print of a white skull on a purple background. Underneath the skull were the words you, in another life. I started to feel hot.

‘Your posters are pretty cool,’ I said.

‘I screen-printed the skull one myself.’

‘Is it a reference to life after death?’

‘In a way… But I think it’s more the idea that if you were someone else, you’d still have a skull, literally. So the point is… That’s all there is underneath our skin, and since we’re us, we might as well carry on the way we are. We all have death in common.’

We stood awkwardly for a moment before he gestured that I should sit down. I sat on the sofa, and felt myself sink into it. He asked if I’d like a beer. I nodded, and he went downstairs. While he was gone, I stared at the skull print. It unnerved me. I felt a slight breeze – Charlie left his window open. I walked to it and leant over the sill. Would he come to the funeral?

‘Are you cold?’

I jumped. Charlie was back with my drink. He set the can down on his desk. Unsure of what to say, I nodded again. I stepped back and he closed the window. I returned to the sofa.

‘You’re shivering,’ he said. ‘Do you want a jumper?’

I muttered and he asked me to repeat: ‘Yeah, please.’

He crossed the room to his wardrobe and dug out a navy hoodie. He handed it to me and I stood to pull it over my head. It was a bit big. But it smelt like him, even though his scent was a new thing to me.

‘Better?’ He watched me.

‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘Thank you.’

He passed my can and I sipped it.. It stung my throat a little.

‘I’m going to roll a joint. Do you smoke?’ he asked.

Yes, Charlie – but if I get high as well as drunk –

‘Sure,’ I answered.

‘Great,’ he replied, taking a tin out from the top shelf of his wardrobe. I caught the scent of cannabis as he closed the door.

When he was finished rolling and roaching, Charlie lit the joint, inhaled a few times, then handed it to me. I took it, and breathed deeply. I got lost in the smoke.

***

I woke up in Charlie’s bed two weeks later. Charlie was gone, probably to work. The indent of his head on the pillow was the only mark of him having been here. That, and the musky smell of sex. I stumbled up, still drunk, still a little high. I picked a t-shirt and shorts of the floor, pulled them on, and lit a vanilla scented candle that Charlie had left out.

The room was warm – I opened the window and leaned on the sill, letting the air find its way into my lungs. I looked around the room, my eyes finding and settling on the skull print – you, in another life. I was caught, for a moment, in a spasm of panic – our lives had started to merge together. I considered leaning a little too far over the ledge, and dropping onto the concrete below. Any doubt about Charlie, or my ability in a relationship, would die with me.

I shook my head lightly. There is no need to go down that road, I told myself. For a moment, I traced the scars that marked my left wrist. I was tired, my body weighted by a heavy sleep. I moved slowly to the television. There was, as usual, nothing on that interested me. But I settled for a mediocre comedian’s stand-up show, and the joy-hungry audience roared with laughter at his mediocre jokes. I did not; I lit a cigarette, returned to Charlie’s windowsill and contemplated my sexual performance with Charlie – was I good enough?

***

Two days later, Charlie met me at work, since I finished at half nine. We walked from London Bridge to Southbank, found a quiet space on the grass and sat down. Charlie started rolling a joint and when he was finished, and it was lit, he took a long draw. I watched him, noticed the way the lighter flame illuminated his face, his eyelashes casting shadows across his nose. We laid back on the grass and got high. I looked at him. He was beautiful in the half-light too, eyes closed in the grip of the buzz. The air made my skin tingle and my eyes closed under the weight of the weed. Charlie’s hand found mine.

An hour or so later we made our way to a bus stop. A chill was settling, and it left goosebumps on my arms. He pulled me against him and I didn’t pull away. But I was scared. I was so high, and starting to fall.

***

The bar was packed and loud. It wasn’t very big, and it wasn’t long before I felt claustrophobic. We pushed ourselves towards the bar to get some drinks, and Charlie was patted on the back by several guys. He introduced me to two of them, and I stood in their company awkwardly sipping my rum and coke. One of them informed me his girlfriend was dancing but would be over here soon, as if my lack of interest had anything to do with a lack of female company. I excused myself and went to find Charlie.

He was outside, talking to someone on his phone.

‘Yeah, sweet Matt… See you soon,’ he said and hung up. He turned, saw me, smiled. ‘You ok?’

‘Um… Yeah. No, actually. I’m going to head off. I don’t feel well. I feel quite sick.’ I stumbled over my words. Charlie studied me for a moment.

‘I’ll get you an Uber,’ he said, unlocking his phone with his thumb. The smile had dropped from his face. I wondered if he knew I was lying. Act sicker, I told myself.

‘No – I’ll be fine. I think I’m going to walk to the station – it’s only a little way. I’ll have a cigarette. Go and enjoy the bar. It’s really cool in there. I’m sorry I can’t stay.’ I feigned sincerity. Not difficult, since I did it all the time.

‘You sure? I can walk with you – ‘

‘No, it’s fine. Really. I’m sure.’ I looked at him in the half-light and nodded weakly. I added a small smile so he thought I meant it. He placed a hand on my shoulder, squeezed lightly, before kissing me on the forehead. I watched as he turned and headed back into the bar. I walked away from the entrance, and the bass from the music faded into something sporadic. It was replaced by the thud of blood in my ears.

On the walk to the station, I rolled a wonky cigarette. It was smokeable. I inhaled so deep I coughed. My mind was everywhere but on the street. I let people walk around me as they needed, I kept to a straight line. Autopilot engaged. My mind flitted back to Charlie, and his skull print, and I thought of myself in another life.

TIME

By: Amanda Hein

 

Thousands and thousands of books.
Hundreds and hundreds of stories.
Centuries, decades and years,
Cities, maps and streets.
Mothers and children,
Dates and graves.
Names, ink,
Time.

Time.
Ink, screens,
Graves and photos.
Children and television,
Streets, satellites, and google.
Years, minutes and ancestry.com.
Hundreds and hundreds of timelines.
Thousands and thousands of data.