By the Duck Pond

October 4, 2009

‘It’s a cliché, but a true one…’ she says.

In the early light the park is a junkyard of frozen machinery. Her voice echoes through the stillness, and then curtails itself awkwardly.

‘… one. It’s not me. It’s you…. ou.’

The council are in the process of draining the duck pond by the east gate, and the pool is shrunken and dried out. An imposing blue and white sign beside the dormant digger announces the general intention in specific terms: the drainage equipment will not resume its course until mid-morning. The sign does not, however, explain the overall purpose of the scheme. In the meantime the ducks return, and find their home diminished.
‘I think you have that the wrong way around,’ he says.

‘You hear it in pop songs all the time now,’ she says.

A long pause. She fills the silence, a barely audible,

‘Oh.’

They sit on a bench overlooking the dust-bowl. The ducks are indignant and peck at the dry earth. A radio from a passing car plays out the news at one minute to nine. A source of abrupt inspiration, she announces:

‘We need to downsize.’

‘Downsize?’

‘Yes, from a fixed unit to something more fluid. But individual. Everyone’s doing it now.’

‘Companies. Not people.’

‘All the same,’ she says, and the morning blows a long pointed finger of cool air between them, shaking the leaves from the trees. The digger rattles its chains.

‘I think I only loved you because the

weather was cold,’ she confesses.

He suggests central heating next winter,
‘Less emotionally expensive.’

Neither of them move for a while. He wonders if her choice of language has been influenced by the council’s drainage plans. She wonders if the point of departure has already passed her by. They stagnate.

To the west of the pond two pairs of shining eyes recite. She stands up and starts as if to apologise, but thinks better of it. Her heels ring out hollow on the tarmac above the sounds of their chatter.

‘It’s not me. It’s you.’

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Reading to the Pigeons

October 4, 2009

‘It’s good to have dreams,’ you say, ‘But what’s the point if you are about to stop breathing?’

‘You’re not about to stop breathing,’ I say.

You exhale and the lights in the carriage come back on, and we continue thundering forwards, however many feet beneath the earth. They only flickered for a moment.

‘There’s nothing funny about madness,’ you say.

‘I’m not laughing, and you’re not mad.’

‘I’m creative.’

‘Yes,’ I say, but I don’t sound convincing enough and you sulk.

The rush hour commuters swell the train with the smell of cold coffee and warm photo-copying, paper-cuts and paper-clips, and a bitter unease that catches in the back of my throat. I hold my breath.

‘You’re not about to stop breathing,’ you say in a silly high voice that comes from the top of your head.

I suggest we leave the train.

Pain is ugly, it comes in waves. You face me on the escalator like a child afraid of heights, and I watch it twist your mouth, a gruesome blue. The wave breaks and passes, and I am sure that you are well and I only imagined it. We step out of the station and the sunlight catches me off-guard and flecks my vision with heavy black spots. I can see around the edge of things.

‘You look different,’ you say.

‘So do you,’ I say, ‘Speck-ly.’

The air by the river is stagnant with hateful heat, a climate we never grow accustomed to, even if we have lived here all our lives. Summer in the city is always surprising when it arrives.

We reach the spot, a grass scrap beside a concrete pillar.

‘Here’. You are definite.

I shrug, and put the keyboard down. Today you decide you will read Foucault at the pigeons, in D minor.

‘A cliché,’ you announce, ‘But a true one,’ and begin.

The boy in the torn T-shirt tattoos a red flower onto his wrist using a needle and a red ballpoint pen. He hunches over himself, perched on the old woman’s wall – the house opposite the supermarket – from which she heckles the traffic every dole day, reeking of whiskey, paint and peonies. But today she isn’t here – because today is Monday.

The boy’s expression is grotesque with concentration: his mouth is stretched wide in unwavering dedication to his task. He is a gargoyle on a high cathedral wall and the supermarket door is a portal to a hell lit with neon strip lights.

Their constancy is really a fast-flickering, a high frequency sound which screams in my ears, though those inside do not seem to hear it. It is the voices of the dead, who laugh at the living and their cut-price purchases: all those who have perished on this ignoble plain, a spillage in the cereal aisle.

The supermarket gargoyle has failed as anathema. People come, people go, but I try not to judge him too harshly.

His eyes roll back in their sockets and he slips from the wall, blood thick with red ink.

I shut my eyes tightly and step over the threshold. I remember her. The last time I saw her she was propped up in boots with holes in the soles, and a purple puffer coat on top. Her hair was falling out, she swayed. The history of her madness is well-documented: she likes sponges, they are all she ever buys.

She stands before me, her basket full of fibrous yellow fruit.

‘Do you eat it?’ I ask her.

She doesn’t reply and continues filling her basket.

‘Do you actually eat it?’

She stops. I lean forwards and press down hard on one of the sponges, my finger’s weight impressing. We hold our breath, and the roar in the aisles is still.

Centuries pass, empires crumble, and anticipation stretches between us like a current of electricity. It holds us fixed, magic. We wait.

The sponge springs back against the transparent plastic packaging, and the spell is broken. She smiles, a fine line drawn in red-ink.

‘Sponge cake,’ she says.