Monday, 6 June 2016

The Smoothing Iron (2008)

There was nearly, nearly a book called Hyperkinetic which me and Paul Sullivan edited. The publisher ran out of money though so all that was left was a collection of orphaned stories by music writers, and a mix of the songs they chose to soundtrack their own work. I spent ages on it when I first moved to Cayman and didn't have a job. It's very strange but I love that about it.

Here's my orphan story. It's quite long, and not much happens. Such is life.


The Smoothing Iron

Once upon a time, there was a man who went to work every day on a train. He saw the same people and looked out of the same windows. If he could, he sat on the same side in the same seat. He didn’t get agitated if he didn’t sit there but he would have rather been sitting facing the direction he’d been so he could see everything he’d left behind him. He didn’t think that this had any kind of further significance aside from the fact that when he sat in the direction of travel sometimes the trees made him feel sick because they jumped his eyeballs around a little. But it wasn’t too bad. He had been going to work on the same train at the same time for several years. If he’d counted the times he’d travelled he thought he would probably be upset in some indefinable way so he didn’t bother with that sort of thing.

When the train pulled up at his station he’d get off and buy a coffee if the morning was a bit cold. He liked to warm his hands round the paper cup as much as anything else, and by the time he’d walked the seven minute journey to his office he’d have usually got bored of the drink and thrown it in the bin. He worked in a windowed cubicle counting lots of different numbers but the game was always the same: to make the ones at the bottom match each other. He rather enjoyed the challenge of it and didn’t understand when people said that it was dull, difficult or somehow boring. It was just his job and he didn’t mind doing it. It was just nice, he thought, when it was done because at the start sometimes there were so many numbers that you didn’t think they were ever going to balance. But in that same moment he knew that there would come a day when it all would work out and he trusted himself to work through methodically and accurately until it was finished.

At half twelve he liked to eat his own sandwiches, sometimes by his desk, but mostly he hoped it wasn’t raining because he liked to get out of his office and walk, alone, down the street, munching on cheese and onion and not really thinking about anything in particular. It wasn’t of any consequence to do this, he knew, but it seemed to break up the day and he often looked forward to feeling at least a bit of wind on his cheeks occasionally. It stopped him feeling sleepy in the afternoons. In the past, if he’d stared at the numbers all day sometimes it made his eyes swim a little and it meant he’d make a mistake which wouldn’t do at all.

Sometimes at about half past three some of the guys from downstairs would come up and walk past his window on their way to the toilet or just to meet each other and talk about anything except for work. Sometimes they waved at him and he either waved back or ignored them depending on how much he really needed to concentrate on the sum he was calculating at that precise time. From time to time the exact visages would change, as would the length of the collars or the flare of the trousers or the design of the fringes, but the type of face would invariably be the same: early twenties, not long out of university, he supposed, with a twinkle around the eyes and a smile never far from breast-fresh lips. After a while passing his window he could see the smiles fade a little, the twinkle gone and replaced by a curious minim of what he took to be a kind of sly desperation. The faces would be fatter and a bit greyer, and the clothes would hang with a subtly distinct but distinctly sadder aspect. At that stage the waving would invariably also stop, at which point the man would know that the faces would soon change and reboot to younger models with bluer eyes and the bodies attached would have ever-so-slightly tighter buttocks. It’s just how it was: in here time was unique and he quite welcomed it, probably for many of the same reasons that would provoke the faces to change every now and again. The outcome, of course, was different. Not everybody was born to whistle.

By five o’clock the offices around and about would start to wake from their post-prandial slumber as the buzz of finishing work came around in waves. The man would usually finish his sums before he went; it was easier to do that than to try and retrace some often-complicated steps the next day. But if he finished his sums early he would spend the rest of the day double-checking them because it might well mean that he’d missed something important and he was as sure as sugar that he knew how long these things usually took. But he would have always got the sums right and secretly he liked to go back over the worksheets because it pleased him to see the journey had been a good one. It was good to finish and it was good to start anew. He didn’t get bored with it.

When it was time to go home again he’d put on his coat and try and wander quietly toward the train waiting in the station for him. Although he was surrounded by people it always seemed that it was more like a taxi back; he knew which carriages to go for to try and get a seat, and he knew where everyone would get off. It was nice to get home, with a cup of tea and some television perhaps, and Michael Stripe would occasionally deign to make his appearance if he was hungry. The man knew that the cat was only really going through the motions in order to get fed but he didn’t mind that either because as long as the two understood each other then nothing could really go awry. It was an easy relationship with distinct rules attached and – occasional small bird and turd-slipper aside – nobody really got hurt in the ever-repeating process. Sometimes the man thought about going out to the cinema, and occasionally did so, but mostly he was content with a cup of hot chocolate, or perhaps a glass of red wine, his armchair and updating his blog. Whether anybody ever read it was irrelevant. He knew it was there.

Time passed without much trouble and though the seasons changed the scenery outside the window the man took little notice. If it rained, he reasoned, he would use a brolly and that would be fine. If it was fine, though, he wouldn’t use anything. It wasn’t the best joke, he knew, but then there probably wasn’t one of those anyway. So it would suffice.

One dark and stormy night after work sometime in the wintertime he saw a girl. He’d seen many girls in his time and survived the experience; they had every right to be on the station and go on their way to wherever and that was clearly nobody’s business but theirs. He seemed, however, to somehow know this girl’s thoughts from the outset. He suddenly, and with something of a start, came to the realisation that this was, beyond a doubt, the love of his life. Charming, intelligent, kind, beautiful, she was none of these things and therefore everything a man could ever need. At this sudden flash of clarity, he did the only thing he possibly could do and immediately walked rapidly in quite the opposite direction, head down a little and hand over his drying mouth stifling an unnecessary cough. Perhaps he might have become an alcoholic at this exact point, returning home to weep over the lost opportunity, growing sad stubble and contemplating the curse of his own clumsy shyness. As it was, however, he was more than content in spending the evening searching for grammatical and proofing errors in the curry house flyer that, to his reasonable delight, he found nestling paperly on the black rubber mat when he opened his front door.

The truth was that of late he’d rather have liked to have become infected with a kind of exquisite melancholy of paralysis. Ideas, dreams, he hoped to muse, were best kept preserved in amber, filed away in boxes and neatly stacked within dusty-drawered oak trunks, to be taken out only on very rare occasions, and even then merely gazed upon for the briefest of moments in case they somehow broke out and were ruined by drearily familiar disappointment. Better, much better, he wished he could say, to treasure them as pure possibilities without any chance of acting upon them, rather than rashly allow them freedom and therefore risk destroying them – or, worse, that (God forbid) they came true.
He knew that it wasn’t all that much of a philosophy, but he’d never much cared for that type of thing in any case. Apparently, though, it was advisable to always keep one handy in case of conversational emergency. Permitting himself a satisfied half-smile, he reminded himself that all this was suitably grand-sounding and would do for now, but when it came down to brass tacks actually believing in it was another matter. All of which exhausted him to the extent that he immediately forgot what the point was, which also suited him very well.

Day turned into evening which became early night and suddenly it was midnight and he found that he was still staring into space. With a start he realised that usually by now he’d be in bed. The television was burbling in the background showing some reality show about clubbers in somewhere beginning with an unexpected letter of the alphabet, probably in Greece. Wherever it was, there was a girl washing water onto her shirt whilst lots of orange-faced men called Guido sporting spiky hair danced around gleefully. Lights flashed and bottles of beer were raised along with a guttural cheer as suddenly from all directions blasts of grey-white foam came in and enveloped the girl and boys alike in wan globules that popped and left streaks down their faces. It was all so obvious, so preposterous, so beautiful-desperate that the man snapped himself out of his reverie and actually laughed out loud, something that was rare at the best of times. As he turned the television set off he felt a little porridge in his heart. But it soon passed, and he padded over toward his bedroom, scratching his balls and yawning.

The morning came, as often it was prone to do, and a bleary hunger sighed through the man. He decided it was an egg day today and he rose smiling because he knew the secret of a perfect poach. It was the pinch of salt that was important because it stabilised the boiling point even whilst it seasoned the water, saving cooking time and energy. He set a pan to heat on the stove and as he did so his mind wandered back to last night’s dream. Such a recollection was unusual but as the bubbles began to insinuate through the warming water so snatches of recall came back to him. He was, he’d felt, young, very young and in his grandmother’s old house, romping around on their carpeted old floor, gazing at this strange but somehow brilliant noisy brown box in front of him. It seemed massive, certainly big enough to fit in a few people, and judging by the sounds coming out of it there was definitely a woman trapped in there making the most peculiar and beautifully-tuned screams he’d ever heard in his life. He chomped on the thick slice of currant bread and pondered this magnetic wonder. At that point his reverie was interrupted by the pan starting to shudder as the water boiled furiously. Quickly, he stirred a clockwise vortex in the pan and cracked an egg into it. It formed a beautifully satisfying, near-perfect oval shape, comforting and somehow otherworldly in aspect. For the next two minutes he admired his handiwork and by the time his toast had popped up it was time to eat and the dream was entirely gone.

The train was busy that day but despite the packed carriage the man was somewhat astonished to find that he was able to sit down. The seat was facing forwards rather than back, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. There was a free paper on the floor on the table in front of him which he picked up and began to read. There was a story about a guy who looked a little like Barack Obama, except he really didn’t and the man wondered if that made him or the paper racist. Such philosophical conundra were only a passing thought these days and as quickly as it entered his brain it passed like the trees and the fields, blurring into one indefinable blob along with all the rest he’d endured over the years. To find a seat, though, was a stroke of luck and as he gazed half-detatchedly at the paper he found a quote he rather liked, attributed to Groucho Marx this time but he was shaking-sure he’d seen it before.

            Love

he read

            Is the interval between meeting the most beautiful woman in the world

But his thoughts were cracked by the man opposite starting to croak and cackle and gurble and hack. With every cough he seemed to be getting louder. The man reading Groucho Marx dared not look for fear that the cougher was about to expire: he saw, in his mind’s eye, a busting, purple-faced balloon; the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the film about Mars. About to pop, eyeballs distended and skin utterly stretched for want of air. The paper needed his concentration and he tried to focus on the quote once more.

            And finding out

It was no use: the man with the newspaper was quite angry by now. Not at the rankle-lung opposite who was still in fits of cawking, but by the people in the carriage for not letting on as to why there was a seat free in the middle of the busiest train of the morning rush hour. It made him almost nauseous to think of how irritated he was at himself for not questioning it earlier. He’d never been one to complain overly and he wasn’t going to start now, but, well, really. The crescendo of coughing continued, reaching toward hitherto unthought-of heights and it seemed that the carriage seemed silent as all eyes and ears rested in thrall; even the train’s own buzz and clatter seemed to recede into the background. Faster, more numerous and more racking were the exhalations until finally and almost triumphantly a ball of luminous mucus bounced out of the coughing man’s lungs and stuck to the window.

The man with the newspaper felt quite happy that this was the end of the matter and he knew that as long as he didn’t look too hard to his side things would be just fine because all told he’d rather not have the noise anymore. Gradually, though, the phlegm that had now begun glooping down the window beside him insinuated into his periphery making him think of the yolk of his breakfast egg. He very quickly became very ill indeed as his stomach started to bubble of its own accord. Surely everyone could see it boiling like lava and he felt that if he pressed down it would burst. He also knew that this train had no toilet and he was twenty minutes from the office. That all made for a sum that would never, ever add up.

Therefore, for the first time – well, ever – he jumped out of his seat, startling himself and a few faces that no doubt would recognise him if they allowed themselves to do, and he got off the train at the next stop. It was a matter now of urgency for all he could think of was his predicament. He was never late for work but there again in a sense it was only really important that the sums were done. It was such a rarity of unpunctuality, he reasoned, that people would never believe it if he turned up quietly a few minutes later than normal and probably would adjust their watches instead, leading to all manner of missed appointments and transports as the week rolled on. It was an amusing thought, but a thought that was usurped within a split second by a knife-sharp pain deep in his guts. The station platform was empty as the train rolled and roared away without him as he shuffled toward the public lavatory. But when he got there he found a long-bolted door heavy with rust and graffiti and a sign indicating that due to vandalism the facility was regretfully closed. He groaned out loud and jumped from foot to foot as waves of nausea racked through him. It took every last essence of an ounce of self-control to keep himself together. He breathed and he counted, breathed and counted, breathed and counted until the pain subsided to a near-manageable point. Sweating profusely, he glanced up and as he did so he thought he caught the eye of a jumper-wearing man who held his gaze for a slight moment then scurried off over the footbridge toward town with a most startled manner.

The first place he came to was McDonald’s – always a good bet, he’d read on the net once, for this kind of thing. But the toilet door was locked, probably because people on the net talked about the restaurant in those kinds of terms. The man was bent double again, the perspiration soaking his every footfall. Perhaps if he bought something they would let him have the key so he stood in line behind several people, two of whom looked like schoolgirls and one who looked like their teacher. Although they couldn’t be such, as the teacher appeared to keep accidentally brushing up against their buttocks, eliciting squeals of mock-horror from the pupils. The man’s head was now lolling from side to side. He studied the menu. It looked like food, somewhat, but it was really the last thing he needed and as the smells came from the back of what is technically called a kitchen a new wave of nausea came over him. He put his hand to his mouth as he felt the spume rise inside at another blast of McEgg but there was nothing to be done and – eyes drying in pain - he had to dash out of the bright lights for fear of losing control entirely. This would not do, not at all.

He staggered down the street, moaning; morning shoppers moving out of his way. They think I’m drunk, he thought, and I wish I was. But the mere suggestion of alcohol itself set off another smash of horror within his lava-gut until – finally, and after quite some time – he came upon a dilapidated, but obviously in service, public convenience. There was graffiti, there were green paper towels strewn all over the floor. The stench reminded him of the puma house at the local zoo. The puma that had stared back at him, the most malevolent stare he’d ever known. A laser-eyed glare of challenge, of power. But for these bars, the stare said, but for these bars. You alone did this to me. But for these bars. The smell was unbearable, there and here, then and now. Paralysed then by fear, now by necessity. Another stab and he almost lost it entirely, but he managed to clench for another few moments and collect his thoughts again. Deep breaths, deep breaths as the glutinous warmth moved and bungled its way through his hellishly undulating bile.

Panting with gravel-chested terror he picked the most stinking cubicle, putting into practice the old army saying that If You Want Something Doing, Give It To A Busy Man. And as this particular loo was considerably more noxious than the rest, and stained in quite an utterly disgusting manner, then clearly it was the most popular and therefore by definition the best. He pulled from his pocket his never-ending roll of toilet paper, measured out four strips, and placed them with loving exactitude over the seat lest his buttocks should kiss the cracked plastic directly. Wrinkling his nose, he did what was necessary in divesting himself of the badly-poached egg that had troubled him so, and the thought came into his head that one of life’s greatest pleasures is in letting go of unwanted ballast.

Surprised but rather pleased at this unexpected and entirely unwanted barrel-roll of insight, he shifted his weight on the seat so his left foot could push shut the lockless door again. Insodoing, he noticed that when he turned his head to the left there was an average and somewhat unremarkable cock poking through a hole in the wall to the next cubicle.

Somewhat puzzled, he blinked at it. It blinked back. He knew that this was something of a situation you didn’t really encounter every day, and, fully-emptied so feeling brave, he reached out and flicked it a couple of times. This elicited a strange guttural noise from next door, which subsided into a low moan as they went back to blinking at each other for quite some time. After several minutes of this wordless contemplation, the airing cock withdrew itself. As he listened to the slamming of doors and the scurrying of feet into the distance he realised that he was, once more, quite alone. Moreover, and to his great chagrin, the carefully-placed paper had somehow fallen off the seat and no doubt the plastic had left tangible impressions in his buttocks. When he flushed the chain, even the cistern chortled.

Feeling quite pleased with himself after washing his hands properly as directed by the poster he saw in dad’s hospital the man peered out into the growing sunlight and realised that it was shaping up to be a reasonably nice day. He strode past the dry cleaners wanting to wave at someone but nobody seemed to be there so he changed his stance into a swift glance at his own reflection and seemed to get away with it well enough. He set off once more toward the station, humming a tune to himself.

            Twas on a Monday morning la la la la la laa la-la

The faces seemed different to those he’d see at work at this time of day. Usually people would be rather professionally-communicative until around 11am when they’d be resigned to their fate, full of caffeine swagger and chunter about football, weather, girls, boys as they relaxed into the social aspect. But here on the street, there was a different kind of talking going on. The street had opened up into a small market that he didn’t remember passing before. Hang it, he thought, I’m already late so I’ll have a look around. The incident with the penis had not left his mind entirely and he wasn’t quite sure he knew what to think about it. In the past there had been girls, but never boys, although online there was always some body or other to admire and he’d realised that it wasn’t really any bother to anybody which gender he masturbated to. He put it down to experience, which was another thing that people seemed to value in life, so he was above all rather pleased to have notched up another experience to add to his experience in general. It might come in handy one day, he reasoned, as he stopped near a fruit stall where a woman in her lateish sixties was fondling some red peppers for firmness.

            New innis mornin neearmyluv

Said the greengrocer

            Ger aurafit, they’re more wrinklier than me, sjust I duntek sa ma chaionin

She replied

The man smiled and moved on; this was clearly not the first time that this conversation had taken place and both seemed to be enjoying it. A rather surly chap smoked hard and stood in the man’s way for a second, staring him down, before moving to reveal a book stall behind him. The smoking man had an expensive watch and freckles. The books were mostly conspiracies about 9/11 and remaindered biographies of Trivium and Kasabian.

            Too forafeyvurmeat

Smokey said.

But the man shook his head with a smile and moved on; he was enjoying the chatter and buzz of the streets around him. The colours and smells and sounds of the market were bruisingly exhilarating and he swelled with a new-found happiness. This was wonderful. There were stalls selling curtains and a fish van, fresh not stinking; there was a T-shirt stall, a behatted man with a display of cheeses and a chubby, pretty enough lady with watches, buttons and sticky toffee bars; there was even a tent with a display of electric wheelchairs. He loved every second of it. Standing underneath the town clock, he surveyed the scene. Maybe he could get his morning coffee here instead and take a half day. It wouldn’t make much difference now.

As he walked toward the church he could see at the top of a road, he spotted a small crowd outside a tired-looking hardware store. They gathered round a group of gentlemen dressed in what he took to be some kind of old-style finery; all tight black pants, rosy cheeks and strangely billowing white shirts. The group stood staring back at surrounding souls. It was serpent-tense.

The wind blew, flumping at the dressed-up group’s wigs, and as it did so they sprang into action as one. One mimed playing a cello; another a violin; the third another violin and the fourth something inbetween. They played so well that it seemed that they had merely forgotten to bring their actual instruments but, not wanting to attract attention to themselves and too proud to admit it, they carried on playing without them. The crowd, marginally confused but mostly disappointed, began to disperse. Soon the man was alone with the quartet, watching their busy fingers and their concentrated, semi-ecstatic faces. It was all very familiar to him and, maddeningly, he very nearly had the tune in his head but whenever he tried to pin it down it danced a little out of reach, coquettishly. He stood, and closed his eyes, and swung and danced in his mind like a music box, becoming part of the music and notmusic which cycled round and around and around and around and around and around and around.

After a while he heard a small cough and peeped a letterbox blink to find that three of the performers were now standing limp like marionettes, gazing through the floor. The other one, one of the violin players, was holding out a hat, to which the man who wasn’t at work mimed getting his wallet out of his pocket, opening it, licking his fingers, peeling off three crisp notes, folding them and putting them into the proffered headgear.

He walked away very pleased with himself. Before he had reached ten yards, however, it struck him that he ought really to have paid for his entertainment, and he knew that the four players were surely following him one breath behind, hands clawing toward his neck in virulent anger at demeaning their art. The man felt their growling behind him and broke first into a jog and then a run, a mad dash away from the scene of his crime. He ran, and ran, and ran, dashing away through an underpass, shoes clattering devilsong echo before he realised that the only footsteps he could actually hear were his own. He bit his teeth and stiff-grittedly looked back.

There was nobody there.

Shaken and smiling, he left the underpass and found himself in a twisty concrete skate park. There were ramps and pipes and all kinds of undulating concrete surfaces on which to play. He rather liked the idea and remembered the time he and DD had gone out on bikes and done skills. A long time ago, now, he thought. A long time. Somewhat exhausted from his exertions he stooped and began to read the graffiti around him.
bad grilled hymen
                        EDGE higher
                                    maNaNa TeCH GriNd 09
He took them to be names of bands and DJs; there was definitely amount of artistry in some of these colourful pieces and liveliness, even in hoppus is a fag and Fuck Off PEEDO’S, although he had to admit that he was a little lost with Nigarz Nunrape. Nonetheless, he surveyed the park and thought it on the whole to be a better use of space than whatever may have been there before. Heart pumping brine, he climbed to the top of the nearest half-pipe. It was a lot steeper up here than it appeared on the television for sure. He sat down a little gingerly and stared back toward where he felt town to be. He could see very well how he’d gone wrong, confused a little by the market more than likely. It was half-blocking the station road, after all. Pondering his next move, he absent-mindedly picked up a stone that was half-wedged in a small hole at the top of the pipe. As he made to throw it away he realised it was encased in cling-film. Oh dear, he thought. But he put it in his pocket anyway and carefully made his way back toward Station Road, humming a folky tune to himself and promising himself that he would beyond doubt set to avoiding any lurking mimes that may be gunning for him on the way.

He reached a newsagent’s shop. It was entirely unremarkable but for the fact that seemingly as soon as he’d noticed it he suddenly found himself standing outside it again clutching a lighter, ten Silk Cut and a pack of blue Rizla papers. The braver thing to do was to get back on the train and get the sums done, he knew, but it had been a relatively long time and something in the aspect of the midday sun glinted at the back of his brain. The consequent itch was becoming irritating so he made his way into the church grounds, checked all around was clear and made himself a scruffy, mouse’s sleeping bag of a spliff.

Ten years since? Maybe more. But he was surprised his fingers retained some kind of memory even if his lungs didn’t quite. As the smoke hit the back of his throat the nausea of the morning returned and he nearly, very nearly, lost what remained of his breakfast. But after a few puffs he felt his shoulders sag back and his essence start to diffuse into the sonics that surrounded him. Cars beeped; the church bell sounded; somewhere a couple argued, or fucked, or both. It was an unstintingly gorgeous cacophonic symphony, fluidly unpredictable in amplitude and timbre, themes and melodies intertwining, rankling, scheming to create something messy and quite magnificent. As he listened and let himself become part of the village song he let his mind drift toward a vague point of light in the middle distance.

When he got there he realised that it turned out that here was life all along. Here, of all places, inside a village long-subsumed into a conurbation but in its own way timelessly raucous once the commuters had left for the day. Of course, there was death, too, shrugging at the end of it all. It was a paradox that the most peaceful place in the villageytown was the place where those who least needed it now lay. God bless us, every one. And the man allowed the thought to come that he’d seen enough graves in his time to know that one day, and one day all too soon, he would have his own. Because if and where choices exist, they exist only in life.

The man who didn’t smoke anymore sat on the grass, peering at the stones subsided and slates straight that surrounded him. The clouds and the sun dappled leopardskin onto his hands. As he studied his fingers it all suddenly made a bizarre, puzzling sense. As long as the sums added up, he mused, nobody should really take any notice what happened in between. The problem was that people always did take undue notice and because for the sake of… something… it seemed hysterically important to be seen putting hours in, days in, neat and nimble, stretching out the work until such a time that it was right to preen and parade the results in an effluent-brief explosive show of finery and ostentation. And then the only thing that could be done was to start all over again. And again, and again, and again, and again, and again the same until your buttocks sagged along with your soul and with your heart. How beautiful, how pointless, and how addictive it all was. It was an unbidden realisation, and one that both saddened the man to his baked core as well as freed him. This kind of circular nonsense was the reason, he knew, that he kept himself away from these moments. As sugar was spice it made no salt of sense. All of which made him rather upset, which would for once simply have to do because now there was no more arguing about it, at least from any angle that he could see.

And so the man with the slumped cheeks trudged once more toward the station. He knew that it wasn’t worth the trouble to bother himself too much with this sort of thing, but apparently this sort of thing was going to bother and trouble him regardless no matter how long a route he took around it. It was unavoidable, inevitable, ludicrous, and above all comforting in its finality. There was really only one sensible option and it was quite the relief to allow himself to go along with what he now knew to be the single honest and true way to resolve this nonsense once and for all. A few minutes later and he found himself standing on the very edge of the platform, looking over toward the footbridge where a girl was crossing, much as the man all those hours and years and lifetimes ago had done. She looks like a duck, thought the man, with a tight smile.

The man with the arched eyebrow and the wry heart stood straighter and stronger than ever before, and looked at the iron tracks that converged in the distance into a single point. He knew he would never reach there. Nobody ever would. A horn tooted in urgent, deafening panic as the man kissed his entwined knuckles and gazed up and down at the warm, smooth metal. The waiting man breathed deeply at the decision of what was to come so quickly. It was the deepest decision of all – but it was his decision, and his alone, and he knew that by taking back ultimate control he had therefore finally stolen back his heart. It was good to start, and it was good to finish.

And the train came for him.

***
A month later or thereabouts a woman walked alone in a graveyard. Charming, pretty, intelligent, funny, she was none of those things. Clutching a tired bouquet, she paused at a rather new grave, and stooped to lay the flowers there before reading the stone’s inscription and, realising her mistake, set them down at her grandmother’s grave next door.

As she crossed herself and walked back the way she came, she felt quite peculiar when the thought came into her head, quite unwarranted, that she’d never taken a train in her life and she sure as sugar wasn’t going to start now. Just as suddenly, her heart seemed full of hot porridge: warm, glutinous, and rather uncomfortable. She dashed away and didn’t look back. She was, perhaps, the woman of someone’s dreams, but of whose, it was rather difficult to tell.

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