I Am Not Alan

July 27, 2010

You are uncomfortable. The day outside has turned unexpectedly cold but the air in the underground remains hot and stagnant. Two micro-climates collide irritably in the sweat underneath your collar. You do not believe summer will ever come, but as it stands you are over-heating, rapidly.

‘I think it will be October forever,’

You announce too loudly. You are in an affected mood and think you are in a play.You rail, your arms flailing.

‘It’s June,’ I say.


You glower darkly and twist and turn in your seat, your neck craning awkwardly for attention. You always make a scene on public transport. I am glad the train was too full for me to sit next to you today.

We pull into a station, and wait. The doors open. The doors close. We do not move. A public announcement threatens. Then the voice, nicely spoken but stern, invades the carriage:

‘This is a passenger announcement.’


She can’t hear you. She says her vowels strangely: her aas and ees are too long.

‘Will Alan please come to the ticket hall, where his carer is waiting for him.’

Whoever he is, Alan does not depart from our carriage. Or indeed the train, because the voice repeats:

‘Will Alan please come to the ticket hall, where his carer is waiting for him.’

I think I would like to meet the voice.


You are growing louder. One more time, the voice cries out:

She smiles at you.‘Will Alan please -’


You rail, your arms flailing.

People stare.


You glare back at them.

‘I am NOT Alan,’

You announce to the carriage. I think maybe they wish you were.

Obscurely self-satisfied, you sit. The woman next to you looks you up and down suspiciously. You do likewise. I brace myself.

You are listening intently– but I cannot make out what to. You stick your finger in your left ear, shake your head, and lean towards the plastic bag on your neighbour’s lap.

You look at me, alarmed, and then back to the bag. Eyes staring, wide and round,

‘What’s in the bag,’

You ask the woman. She smiles at you.

‘Please?’ You ask, ‘Tell me.’

Your face screwed up in concentration, your wrinkled forehead off-sets your eye-patch ridiculously.confused little face

She beckons you to come closer. The bag rustles and you jump back in fright. She stills the shaking plastic and you close in, take a deep breath and peak inside.

Delight paints your features pink.

‘Pigeon,’ she says.

‘Pigeon,’ you repeat.

I can tell you want one of your own.

‘What does Pigeon eat?’

You want to know.

She takes a slice of bread out of her pocket, breaks it up and drops it into the bag. You clap your hands.

As we leave the train I catch a glimpse of the bird’s confused little face.

‘Now I’ve made a new friend too,’

You say.

I know you mean the pigeon.

I know you mean the pigeon


The weather has turned unexpectedly cold, chills his bones and makes him ache. His winter scarf, heavy in June, scratches his neck and makes his skin hate itself. This was not how Mr Smith had intended to spend his Tuesday afternoon. The call from the hospital had been unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome. There is nothing better than a family emergency for enlivening an otherwise mundane existence.

Duckman as a treeHis nephew waits in a green hospital cubicle, red bandages clutched to a hand awaiting the reattachment of its left middle finger.

Mr Smith arrives with a flourish:

‘Oh James! What have you done?’

His tone is theatrical, on the edge of an imaginary piano introduction, the twitching movement of jazz hands on his finger tips. He used to be in musicals and as such possesses awesome powers of projection. James does not answer immediately.

‘I was packing-’

‘Why were you packing? What were you packing?’

‘I wanted to know if it was working before I took it. The carving knife.’

‘And was it?’

Mr Smith is met by blank incomprehension.

‘Was it?’ he repeats, ‘Working?’

In the pause which follows Mr Smith is struck by the colour of the walls.

‘How very green it is in here!’

‘Yes, very green,’ James agrees.

‘Incredibly, green.’


Greenness lapses into silence, in which Mr Smith regains his sense of purpose, and steels himself for the all-important question:

‘James – ’. He falters. ‘If it wasn’t entirely an accident – you can talk to me, I do know, you know.’

He leans in closer, and in a conspiratorial whisper confides,

‘I am also acquainted with the black dog.’Very Green

‘The what?’

Mr Smith is suddenly overcome,

‘Oh what have you done to yourself, what have you done?’

‘I was packing – dividing, taking what was mine, just mine. She gave it to me, it was a gift, for Sunday roasts, she said. No more Sunday dinners – at least not with her – but I wanted my knife. I might love again, I might want to roast a leg of lamb for another woman. Not Her. Bet she’d hate that. GOOD.’

Mr Smith brims over with inarticulate sympathy,

‘Is it,’ he asks, ‘Is it – another man? Has she left you for another man?’

James is not listening, he continues:

‘So I didn’t see why she should get to keep it. But I didn’t want it anymore, not if it was broken, because what would the point be then? Broken. Oh God everything’s broken! Although as it turns out, the carving knife still works…’

He looks down at his bandaged hand, and then back up at his uncle. Realisation dawns.

‘Downsizing,’ he says softly, ‘Reducing,’ a little louder, ‘Taking things away,’ he declares to the green wall.

He begins to laugh, and his laughter fills the cubicle, escapes and stalks the corridors, joyful and malevolent, and the more he laughs the more bewildered his uncle grows, and so the more he laughs.

He is still laughing when the surgeon arrives to re-attach his finger.

He begins to laugh, and his laughter fills the cubicle, escapes and stalks the corridors, joyful and malevolent