On the Train

May 31, 2010

Technologically primalHe earns nine times the recognisable salary, at least. He wears his resolve like a mask. It fixes his mouth, his eyes, his skin, and he speaks the language of business, a shape-shifting re-ordering of stock words and phrases. He flies by the seat of his pants and cares what time it is in Tokyo.

He watches the red sun heavy in the sky through the train window, double through an impenetrable layer of dirt and dust which sets the world at bay. He wonders what you are doing now, and banishes the thought with a scrape of keys down the window pane. Instantly ashamed of this act of petty vandalism he turns off his mobile phone and hopes for no electronic witness – a first instinct, technologically primal.

He realises he has carved the first stroke of your name into the glass, and moves further down the carriage to escape the words on the tip of his tongue, anticipating the crashing and conclusive relief of the train pulling into the next station. He glares at the woman who collapses with too much purpose and too little grace into the seat opposite, crosses her legs and holds her phone to her ear. A portal to the world beyond the carriage, he resents her, and it. The volume is too high and announces three rings to the carriage, four, five, six.

The phone slips through her fingers. She untangles her legs and scrambles to pick it up. Her eyes meet his.

It is not magic.

‘Yes?’

‘Sorry?’

‘You’re staring at me.’

‘I wasn’t.’

‘You were. You are.’

She discards the phone in a labyrinthine handbag. A cavern of arcane secrets and mysteries, he is sickened by the foreign possibilities of its contents. It is dizzying in its depth: keys crash against zips and wind-up pens in an unsatisfactory meeting of metals. The frustratingly slight tinkling of bells, he notices a charm-bracelet. He has always hated charm-bracelets – he believes you make your own luck.

No, he does not want to think about the bag any further.

She looks up and catches him off-guard.

‘You’re doing it again.’

‘Sorry.’

She calculates the variables of his face: nose, eyes, mouth. He squirms, her face lights up. She reaches into the vortex and takes out a notebook and a biro, still looking, deep in thought, she chews the lid. Pulls it out of her mouth, and speaks.

‘Can I take your picture?’

He is captured, unsure and anxious, flattered, as the sun sinks beneath the skyscrapers.

The hurried sketch complete, she closes the notebook and returns it to the depths. He wonders how many men live there, in the dark. Their hands reach out to touch him. He leaves the train.

On the Train

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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.’