He gazes up at the sky and thinks how very blue it is, how soft the clouds and silent. A lazy bird dips and soars, dips again and slips away. Sound creeps in like an approaching car, like a dial slowly turned, and he begins to remember. Hurried footsteps crunch on glass and a face appears, wide eyed and breathless.
“Don’t move him,” says a man’s voice, somewhere off screen.
“Don’t touch his helmet.” A woman this time. He almost laughs.
He remembers now, roundabout, white van, cutting in left when it should have gone on. The swerve, sudden loss of equilibrium and then, then nothing.
Just the jolt, the jolt that hit his bones, all of them at the same shuddering moment.
And then the scraping sound.
He remembers he hasn’t put the bins out and then laughs that she can’t really be annoyed anymore, at least for the moment.
The movement hurts. He tastes blood and wonders at how soon the everyday ends and you become the centre of a drama you’d prefer to be watching. It is starting to hurt.
He becomes aware of a distant siren and his vision begins to narrow to a tube and then to a pin prick. All these people here for me. How strange. How absurd.
Light red over black
Standing alone before ‘Light red over black’ I start laughing as I remember a fool I knew whose cat was called Rothko. A few of the people standing nearby look towards me and move away. I have always been intrigued by Rothko. I don’t understand him but I like him all the same and suspect this makes me a fool. Most who like him seem to be so.
I was nervous in galleries when younger, always unsure if I was reacting in an appropriate manner, saying the right thing or standing the right way. I’d always be looking for how others were acting, to see if they were looking at me. I’m a harsh judge of others and thus expose myself to the same exacting and withering gaze. I can never take joy from clothes or haircuts. If I were to wear something stylish I’d be tormented by knowing that others were sneering, thinking I might think I looked good in it.
Anyway, the galleries are not a problem nowadays. I find someone who looks like they think they know what they’re talking about and stand very close to them. I wait until they’ve said something particularly erudite or absurd, it doesn’t matter which, and then laugh derisively. I never move away. They rarely challenge me and if they do I say nothing, just stare until they drop their gaze.
It really is pathetic, bullying the art crowd, but I’m at ease now in galleries. Some day I shall start to look at the pictures again.
Incident at Brixton
I couldn’t find my keys and missed the bus, which, as it turned out, may have saved my life. I made the next one and took a seat on the top deck. I was on my way to Finsbury Park to see a friend, changing onto the tube at Brixton.
The bus was stopped outside The Fridge, engine idling while it waited for the lights to change at the crossroads. There was a white flash and the roof of the bus seemed to buckle at a booming concussion just above our heads.
“Wow,” I heard a man behind me exclaim. “That was close.”
It was a cloudy day and we all assumed it had been a clap of thunder. What alternative was there on a quiet Saturday afternoon?
The bus continued to sit in traffic, the seats vibrating with the engine’s throb. With a rattle and shudder the vibrations ceased and the driver’s call came from below, matter of fact, unconcerned.
“Everyone off the bus.”
A few passengers looked at one another, confused. I peered out of the window. We weren’t even at a stop, we were in the middle of the road. I heard the door hiss open and the driver same shouted instruction, a little more insistent this time.
“Straight away please,” he added.
People began to get up from their seats and move down the aisle towards the stairs. I got up too. I would have been more indignant but my stop was just after the crossroads anyway.
“Has the bus broken down?” someone asked me. I shrugged.
Outside on the pavement it was clear something had happened. Traffic had stopped in all directions and on the far side of the crossroads people were walking in the middle of the usually busy street, away from the tube station. No one was running and the only sounds were those of the city on any usual day. There seemed to be smoke drifting across the street further down and a couple of policemen were gesturing for people to move away from the direction of the tube. I crossed the road, hoping to make into the station before they stopped the trains running, thinking that perhaps it was some kind of civil disturbance. I passed a couple of black women who were holding each other up; they seemed to be drunk and I thought they were laughing. Looking back I don’t think they were. A few other people were trying to go in my direction but everyone else was walking away from the smoke, not running, but walking. There was no panic that I saw. I gone a few steps further when a policeman sidestepped in front of me, his hand held up.
“Turn around please sir and head back the way you came.”
I did as I was told while a hundred yards further on a baby lay with a six inch nail in its head. I looked at my watch and decided my best bet was to try and make it to Stockwell tube station before they closed that as well.
A man sits at the kitchen table. He is unshaven and his shirtsleeves are rolled. His necktie lies tangled on the floor by the door. The house is silent now that his fingers aren’t drumming. Instead he twists his wedding ring and stares at the tumbler, golden with whisky and greased with fingerprints. It is half full. No, he smiles. Half empty. There are two other chairs at the table. One is a high chair and both now are empty.
He is wondering if he is thinking about killing himself or only thinking about thinking about killing himself. A small insistent voice has been appearing in his head a lot these last few days. It is not her voice.
He’s pretty sure there’s a crucial difference and that it matters, but he can’t for the life of him think why. He wants to stop thinking.
And then he remembers.
His hand moves to his breast pocket. Through the blue cotton of the shirt his yellowed fingers feel the creased rectangle of photograph. His hand returns reassured to the table. It’s as good as a lifebelt.
His chair scrapes the silence and standing he walks to the sink, full of dirty dishes and mugs. He turns on the tap and stares at himself in the blackness of window. He looks away, turns off the tap and returns to his seat.
He sighs and his eyes rise to the ceiling. Upstairs and always somewhere in mind, soft little breaths keep him alive.