cheesy railway chase

Confidence Man — Don’t you Know I’m In a Band

My trainers are slipping from my feet, they rub against my ankles and my heels slam into the soles. It hurts but I don’t care, I need to run faster. The train leaves in six minutes.

I take the escalator two steps at a time but get stuck behind a small woman, she is wearing black leggings and the material is stretched thin around her buttocks. She is intolerably slow; one step at a time, one step at a time; I mumble ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ as I push her onto the right hand side in between a teenage boy and an old man. Her winter coat is spongy and plasticky, I wonder why she is wearing such a warm jacket when she can barely be bothered to cover her bottom half. She yells out in shock or anger but I’m gone, two steps at a time, two steps at a time.

There’s a queue at the barriers. I push to the front, I feel like shouting ‘outtathaway, I’m in love!’ like some cheesy American movie but I don’t. A thin man with a suit and trainers practically gasps when I push in front of him and slam my card onto the touchpad. The barriers open and I’m GONE

The sign tells me to take a right but I’ve been here before so I know it’s faster to take a left. I take the stairs three at a time and jump out of the way of an elderly couple at the top – what a stupid fucking place to stand – turn the corner and burst onto the street. A taxi driver is smoking and we make eye contact briefly. He looks familiar.

I’m running at full pace now, the red brick walls of the station are a blur on my left, nobody comes this way so I don’t have to avoid the pedestrian cattle. My feet THUD THUD THUD onto the pavement, the pain is more noticeable than ever and causes me to draw in a sharp breath through clenched teeth. I pump my arms for momentum and feel like I might take off.

My chest hurts. My lungs feel small and tight and my throat is filled with cold air that whips my eyes and it’s like they’re taking an ice bath, they start streaming. After a few metres I round the corner and the wind stops blowing into my face and my eyes feel better but I feel more out of breath than ever. A stitch in my stomach stabs me in the side when I slow down as I reach the entrance.

King’s Cross is like a mouth, sucking in Londoners and tourists, chewing them up and swallowing them down different digestive tracKts (get it?), I know she’s on platform 11 but I don’t know how to get to it. I stop running in the foyer. To my right are platforms 1-4 so platform 11 must be straight ahead. I look up at the clock – the train leaves in two minutes.

I briskjog through the station, weaving in and out of wheeled suitcases and groups of children (families, school trips, truants). It’s dead ahead – platform 11. She’s in coach K, seat 42.

I don’t have a ticket – obviously I don’t have a ticket – so I slam my card onto the touchpad. It bleeps three times, a red light blinks at me. I don’t have time for this so I hoist my arms onto both sides and, using every fucking muscle in my body, lift my legs up and over the barriers. I am seeing stars at this point. The guard’s eyes pop out of his skull on stalks and steam fizzes out of his ears as he gesticulates wildly in my direction. My feet make contact on the other side and I am running, hauling my weary bones with me, my legs now feel like wobbly matchsticks. One minute fifteen seconds left. I see her metres ahead of me, heading down the concourse to her carriage, the sight of that curly brown hair gives me the energy I need and I make my jelly legs solid again and run after her.

I shout her name. She stops and turns. The guard’s hand is on my shoulder.

erasmus

Baywaves — Still In Bed

There’s a group of four not-quite-adults-not-quite-kids walking through the square. They are not dressed for the weather; three are wearing grey, black and dark blue jeans, one a long fit maxi dress. Their skin is pale and they are wearing sunglasses in March. Three had emerged from the nearby supermarket, one rejoined the others from the Tabac, and they appear to have purchased groceries rather than souvenirs. They are not fazed by the Mediterranean surroundings and they are walking with purpose; they know their surroundings well but are clearly unfamiliar with the temperate spring climate in Antibes.

Kamran smiles to himself – foreign exchange students for sure. He watches them as they walk towards the restaurant and approaches them, offering a table in his silky North African French accent. He makes eye contact with the tall blonde and tries to imply with his gaze that he would like to take her home and ravage her – she is shy and avoids his gaze. A short man with glasses replies in broken French that they are not eating tonight, and leads the group forwards. They walk past and he stays in place, watching the figure of the blonde, her buttocks fill the dress she is wearing and her hips flare with every step. She turns and they make eye contact and he licks his lips.

The group eventually pass out of Kamran’s view, down a side street behind the bus station. The beautiful marble tiles are replaced with cobbles and graffiti, instead of designer shops there is a hole in the wall that sells kebabs and Iced Tea. They huddle outside a small green door on the left as the short man fumbles with his keys. The two women feel uncomfortable under the leer of an overweight African man, emptying a large plastic bucket of foul smelling liquid into the gutter. The other member of the group withdraws the cigarettes he purchased in the Tabac and lights one. The bucket man goes about his bucket business. Finally the door is open and the two women huddle in quickly behind the short man.

The corridor sucks in the dry heat from outside, its cold stone walls and tiled floors seem damp by contrast, and the cracks in the walls breathe out dust that is briefly illuminated in the light from outside. None of the group try and call the elevator behind the iron gate in the centre of the stairwell, they instead take the stairs, knowing that elevator has been out of service since the day they moved in. As the short man who is leading the group reaches the first floor, he hits a yellow plastic timer switch and the hallway is illuminated by a dank orange glow. The only sounds are their shoes slapping against the tiles and the wheezing breaths of the smoker, at the rear of the group and falling behind. They finally congregate outside a large brown door on the third floor as the short man once again fumbles for keys, giving the slow man time to catch up. The hallway light clicks off as the door clicks open.

vegas burgers

ShitKid — Oh Me I’m Never

They stopped to grab some burgers on their way to Vegas. The heatwaves rose off the car’s bonnet like steam, the yellow paint looked like it might melt and drip onto the tarmac. Joe unwrapped his burger, he did not notice the splat of mustard that dripped off the paper wrapping onto his jeans. He took a bite – the bread was firm on the outside and soft in the middle, the beef patties were thin with a grilled skin, the bacon was smooth and salty, the mustard and ketchup was sweet and sticky. He felt a sesame seed lodge in between his two front teeth.

As they walked across the parking lot Joe continued to eat his burger, and the mustard on his thigh was soon joined by a dribble of ketchup. Jean waited to eat hers. The thought of consuming greasy food in this heat made her throat feel even drier, and the warmth of the burger was oozing through its wrapping into her palm, making her skin clammy. She lost her appetite. She ran her free hand through her hair, dragging beads of sweat from her forehead with it, and when she put her arm back down she felt how wet her armpit was. They needed to get the car’s air conditioning fixed.

“Of all the places to stop at, why did we pick this fucking dive? I don’t even want this,” she stared at her burger, “all I wanted was a drink and some AC.”

Joe finished his burger and scrunched up the wrapper, rubbing it on his lips to wipe off the film of sauce and grease. He stuffed the used wrapper in his jeans pocket and took a sip of his coffee. Jean looked at him and exhaled over the back of her throat, making a disparaging noise. Joe carefully considered his words.

“I know. I’m so sweaty my shirt is now part of my skin.” It was true – the thin cotton was so damp it clung to his back. “Look – we’ve only got a few hours until we get there, and EVERYWHERE in Vegas has AC. And showers. And booze. Could you hold this for a second?” He held out the coffee he’d bought. Jean did not hold out a hand in return.

“I can’t believe you got a coffee.”

“Why? It’s what you are supposed to drink when it’s hot. It cools your body temperature down.”

They paused halfway across the parking lot as Jean took the cup. Joe reached into his pocket and took out the wrapper, walked across to a chipped green trashcan and threw it, the wrapper bounced off the rim onto the ground. He sighed, and as he bent down to pick it up, his damp shirt drooped and hugged him close, the wet fabric felt cold and uncomfortable on his back. He swallowed a gasp of discomfort, picked up the wrapper, reached out and placed it inside the mouth of the trash can.

One hundred and thirty two miles to go.

party

Frog — Photograph

I found her outside, alone, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. The kitchen door shut behind me and I opened my mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of a young girl vomiting. Her friend – Tanya? Tonya? Tara? – is hunched over on the floor, almost invisible beneath the window sill. The kitchen light illuminates the splatters of sick on the patio, and as Tanya-Tonya-Tara leans forward to hurl again, the light falls on her hair – black with red streaks – and she manages to direct her next spew into the flowerbed.

I ask if her friend is OK. She asks me what I think. We both laugh and she squats down to rub Tanya-Tonya-Tara’s back. A strand of hair falls down over her shoulder and dangles dangerously above a small puke-puddle. She stops rubbing Tanya-Tonya-Tara’s back to tuck it back behind her ears. She asks me if I’d mind getting some water from the kitchen, so I open the door, throwing some light onto the patio; Tanya-Tonya-Tara looks up at me, black eye shadow streaming down her face and purple-red lips coated in a fine film of frothy saliva. Her eyes are out of focus, she doesn’t seem to register my presence, and burps in my direction. I step into the kitchen and search the cupboards for a glass. First try, above the sink, just like mum. I am about to go back outside but pause by the fridge –

Tanya-Tonya-Tara cradles the glass with both hands and takes a sip. She slumps back against the wall and stares into the distance, her eyes closed. Finally we are alone. I offer a can of Fosters and she takes it. I open my own and for a second we say nothing, our silence threatens to drown out the music coming from the living room, she breaks it by asking if I want a cigarette. I clear my throat and nod. She takes them out of her jacket pocket and offers me the pack. I notice there is one hand-rolled cigarette floating against the tightly packed Marlboros and my fingers hesitate slightly. She senses the pause and asks if I want a joint instead. I hear myself saying ‘sure’ and the knot in my stomach tightens even more.

We walk down a small path towards the shed at the bottom of the garden. It’s been raining all week so the grass is damp and muddy, I take care not to scuff my trainers and hop between paving slab islands laid into the lawn, but she doesn’t care; she seems to miss the slabs on purpose. There’s a small bench next to the shed made of curved iron arms and cold, wet wooden slats. She sits down and puts the thin end of the joint between her lips. I sit down next to her, I can feel the wet wood soaking through my jeans. It makes me uncomfortable. She doesn’t seem to mind. The fat end of the cigarette puffs out a whisper of smoke as she lights it; the smoke is fragrant, floral, but also sticky and coarse. I watch intently how she inhales – a drag, a pause, her nostrils flare as she breathes in again – and she watches me watch her. My stomach is now churning with nerves. I wonder if it’s obvious it’s my first time.

cinema date

Young Again – Gents

The air smells of salt or sweet or butter or toffee popcorn. The corn is trapped behind an inch of plastic, when the attendant lifts the lid the scent escapes. He scoops some into a cardboard sleeve and hands it to her. She takes it in one hand and with the other picks a fluffy yellow piece from the top, smiling at me as I hand over five pounds. I smile back.

The sweets in my pocket crunch as we walk over to the attendant. I always get nervous about sneaking snacks in but I figure a fiver for some popcorn entitles me to bend the rules a bit. I hand over my ticket and the guard checks it, rips it and hands it back. He does the same for hers. The whole time he stares at his feet and doesn’t acknowledge us. I recognise his mousey hairdo, freckled cheeks and broad forehead; he is Matt Powell’s younger brother. On Tuesday Matt’s friends had thrown his rucksack onto the tracks as the train arrived, I remember his cheeks bursting scarlet from trying not to cry as he stood there and waited for our train to leave so that he could retrieve it. Everyone watched him through the windows. I respect his wish not to be acknowledged, he ushers us past the velvet rope towards the screens.

The doors are so heavy here. I am a gentleman so I have to open it for her, I fix my foot on the carpet and lean backwards to pull it open, I can’t use both hands, she’d laugh at me. As she walks past I smell her hair and my cheeks begin to flush. I enter behind her, it’s hard to see in the darkness so she reaches out for my hand. Our fingers find each other. I’m sure I can hear her heart beating.

We have an entire aisle to ourselves and our seats are right in the middle so we spread out either side, she takes off her bag first, followed by her scarf, then her jacket, and finally her jumper. I wonder how she will ever move all of her things if someone takes the seat next to us. The wrappers of the sweets in my pocket are louder than ever as I take them out, I move my arms slowly trying to muffle the noise, I’m convinced people in other rows are craning their necks to get a look at me, trying to sniff out the rulebreaker, they’ll hand me in to Matt Powell’s younger brother and he’ll get to throw me, a Year 11, out of the cinema, and in doing so win back some much needed street cred, maybe he’ll even get to ride off into the sunset with Tom Croft’s younger sister, meanwhile I’ll be the one crying on the platform, waiting to get my bag from the tracks.

After a while we are comfortable. We have retained our aisle but the trailers are yet to start and there’s no longer any background sound from the steady stream of arrivals, making it obvious that we are not speaking to each other. I can hear my cheeks go red and my mouth feels like cotton wool, I begin to wish I could withdraw the sweets again, just to drown out the silence. I build some words in my stomach but they can’t get past my throat, I look at her and she is looking at me, waiting for me to tell a joke, tell her she’s beautiful, make her smile and tell her I love her. I want to do all of it, but before I get the chance the adverts start.

hiding in the dark

Sexual Harrassment — I Need A Freak

Your chin hurts and your palm is red, the hairs of your beard have pricked the skin and left tiny dimples. The window is so close that you can see the reflection of your pupils. Outside, children are playing in the street, hiding behind cars and chasing each other through the cracks in the bumpers, dusky light helping camouflage them. There is a small boy that the others are ignoring who is desperately pursuing them, but his age and size prevent him keeping up, and as they disappear behind the net curtain only the boy is left. He loses sight of them and kicks a tyre of a burnt orange Cadillac.

Your eye stares back. It’s dark now and there are no street lamps on this road. Your reflection has a solid outline and it’s like looking in a mirror. Turn off the lamp, both sides in darkness.

Gradually lights in the houses opposite flick off to on to off again. It’s almost eleven PM and most of the neighbourhood are in their beds now, but you are still stuck at the window sill. Your elbow is numb from resting on the hard wood and your teeth feel tight from the pressure on your jaw. Your lips are dry and your throat is blocked, a roof-of-the-mouth-cough clears it. There is nobody on the street, when your neighbour opens their porch to light a cigarette you hear the click of the lock and the tchk of the lighter and the dry puff of their smoke.

At twenty past eleven you hear her car turn at the end of the road, and seconds later you see the beams of her headlights as she turns into your street. She drives slowly, respectful of the peace she is disturbing, and you duck behind the wall before she turns into the driveway. The room you are standing in is briefly illuminated. A chair, a fireplace, a tall bookshelf and a short table –

She is quick to turn off the headlights. Her neighbours are asleep. You wait in the darkness and your eyes gradually readjust. The bulky shadow of a sofa is within arm’s reach, it is large enough to hide you when she opens the door. You crouch down behind it. If she turns on the headlights she is sure to see you there but she doesn’t and you begin to feel yourself merge into the darkness. She is still in the drivers’ seat, her head against the steering wheel, not moving. After a minute passes the interior light of the car blinks off and you can no longer see her, but you sense she has not moved.

More minutes pass. You cannot explain how you know but you know that she has not moved. The dark living room becomes to shrink in size, the tension in the air begins to tickle the hairs on your arms, the thud thud thud in your chest becomes louder until your lungs begin to feel smaller and all the while you just know that she isn’t moving from her spot. Your mouth is dry, you lick your lips and swallow and the sound cuts through the darkness. You are an unwanted stranger in this house, this street, this night.

Beach

Hatchie — Try

Every time Alex breathed in he could taste her. Her perfume had filled the room like a cloud, it was heady and potent and thick and clogged his throat and nostrils making it hard to inhale. She had stayed just five minutes but the scent was inescapable, he felt it prick his eyes and they began to water, roses and lilies and vanilla and citrus and freshly cut grass and cream and pollen and silk and white and blue and green flitted through his imagination.

He closed his eyes and a single tear blinked from his eyelashes and rolled down his cheek. He captured it on his fingertips and brought it to his lips. It tasted like the sea. He remembered when he was a child and his dad had walked him along the beach on an overcast dreary day. The wind had whipped dry sand grains against his face and the sky was threatening a storm but it had not rained. His coat was too large (you’ll grow into it, his mum had said) and the toggles fluttered behind him in the breeze. Even with his hood up the cold was everywhere and his nostrils leaked snot that felt like it would freeze in the open air and he wondered why his dad had brought him here when he could have been at home playing on his Sony PlayStation. Soon they reached the damp sand, wet from the morning’s tide, and it clung to Alex’ wellington boots like clay. They still did not stop. After a while they reached a small river of sea water trying to make its way inland that cut through the sand like a ravine. The banks were smooth and the water was clear. Alex wanted to touch the riverbed sand and feel it flow through his fingers in that liquid-solid-gas consistency of thin wet sand, but his dad stepped over the river and carried on towards the sea. As they got closer the wind lifted drops of water from the spray and coated Alex’ upper lip with a moustache of seafoam. He licked his lips and tasted the salt.

His tear had the same taste and he now desperately clung to that memory, that wintery beach walk, determined not to lose himself in the fog of Jean and the pale skinned woman and Sylvester and the governor and the man he had seen in the mirror and the perfume.

The Star Ferry

Weyes Bloody — Diary

Alex opted for the upper deck. He figured the sea breeze would do him some good and he wanted to take in the sights of Kowloon and Lantau; he had never been to Hong Kong and, in spite of himself, he found a growing excitement in his stomach at the prospect of partaking in a stalwart tourist tradition – The Star Ferry.

Sylvester had calculated Alex’ flight risk as minimal and opted for the lower deck. When their paths forked at the point of boarding, Sylvester sensed Alex’ pulse racing as the option of escape entered his mind, and so gently lifted the grey cotton flank of his blazer, exposing his pistol. It gleamed in the Hong Kong haze. Sylvester motioned for him to continue, walking two steps behind him over his right shoulder.

The boat was annexed onto the pier with a thick wooden board, with chunky rungs protruding to help passengers find their footing in wet weather. As the waves gently rocked the boat the board bobbed haphazardly from side to side, and when Alex stepped on it his legs felt like jelly; did he get seasick? When was the last time he’d been on a boat? That school trip when he was fourteen? Would he throw up over the side? His panic was interrupted as a large wave caused the board to rise underfoot and he almost lost his footing, his torso toppling backwards and arms flailing –

A firm hand caught his shoulder and pushed him upright. He stepped onto the boat and grasped the chain-link railing, flakes of green copper paint splintering into his palm, and turned to thank the owner of the hand. A stern Chinese man in a cream uniform looked at him and raised his eyebrows in the direction of the stairs to the upper deck. Alex smiled and stuttered a thank you before making his way up the wooden staircase.

The upper deck was less grand than he had hoped. Thin wooden benches lined the centre of the vessel and there were some plastic seats fixed onto a metal frame at the rear of the deck. These were already occupied by two conductors – or ship mates – who were wearing the same cream uniform as the attendant that helped Alex on board. They were smoking cigarettes and engrossed in deep conversation. Alex crossed over to the bench in front of the two men and took a seat on the outside so that he could absorb the view. When he sat down he spotted a wooden safety rail affixed to the bench in front with a brass hinge, similar to that you’d find when boarding a rollercoaster. He briefly wondered how fast this boat could manage – surely this was an unnecessary precaution – however still folded the bar across his lap. Just in case.

The Idiot

Iggy Pop — Nightclubbing

There’s a story on the news aboutta guy who ate a dover sole whole, got it stuck down his throat til he couldn’t breathe no more, his friends called an ambulance when his face went blue; meanwhile I’m a fuckin’ idiot cos I don’t know the first thing about Tianaman square? Bullshit. Don’t even know how it’s spelt but I sure as shit can use a semi colon.

There’s a guy on the tube wearing a tweed blazer tryin’ to ignore the bead of sweat making its way from his neck to his back, he could take off the blazer an’ that bead of sweat would be no more, and yet I’m the fuckin’ idiot cos I didn’t know you’re s’posed to serve a latte with warm milk instead of boiling it first.

There’s a tune in my ear from Annie Clark about a monster hankerin’ for a sacred cow but everyone knows Hindus don’t eat cows, it’s the catholics that eat baby Jesus, and yet I’m the fuckin’ moron ‘cos it took me months to notice Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett aren’t the most famous Kurt & Courtney out there.

My yellow coat has a brown line along the neck ‘cos I wore it to a festival and never washed my neck, and when I got back I never washed the coat neither. I’ll admit that one’s pretty fuckin’ stupid.

I’m mindin’ my own business on my way to work, keeping my elbows sharp in case some prick next to me thinks the arm rest is single occupancy, realising it’s much faster to drop a few letters here an’ there when you’re talkin’ quickly but it’s a bitch to write, and then I look up from my phone and realise everybody on the tube is paused. It’s mega-weird, they’re not moving an inch.

I pause K&C halfway thru their continental breakfast and it’s like the tube-sounds have paused too. I take my headphones out and nothin’. It sounds like how I’d imagine space would sound, there sure as shit ain’t nobody screamin’, my ears have got that weird feelin’ where you need to chew somethin’ to get ‘em to pop.

The tube ain’t movin’ which is nuts ‘cos I never got that slanty slowdown you get when the tube driver hits the brakes. What were we smokin’ last night, man? That’s a line by the way, I gotta job in the city, I ain’t smokin’ nothin’ but Marlboros. There’s an old dude opposite me halfway through a page turn of his paper, if he’s havin’ me on he’s doin’ a bang up job; the other folks I can see are all starin’ into the distance or leanin’ against the pole, to be honest you wouldn’t notice anythin’ out the ordinary if it weren’t for Fred. That’s the old geezer’s name in case you weren’t payin’ attention.

I think about standin’ up but I hate standin’ up on tubes in case they jolt forwards and I fall onto an old, pregnant, blind, and black woman, so instead I sit still but get a good lean on. There’s a skinny bloke in front of me wearin’ skinny grey jeans round his skinny drainpipe legs with a skinny tie on a skinny shirt drinking what I expect is a full-fat latte and I lean forwards toward him to get a look down the tube; a real good lean, lean in so good that my hairspray quiff crunches against him and gets messed outta place. Normally I’d be fuckin’ pissed but judging from the freaky sci-fi time pause shit goin’ on I got bigger fish to fry.

 

 

broom closet

Big Black — The Model

I want your money / That’s / What I want

The lobby was grand. Black columns decorated with gold leaf trim grew out of a white marble floor, my suitcase wheels made almost no noise, gliding along behind me as I approached the desk.

A short Asian woman greeted me. One of those rich places where the staff don’t smile. It’s more honest that way I guess.

“Good morning sir. Here to check in?”

“Yes, I have a reservation under Greene.”

“Just a moment please sir.”

She tapped some keys on her keyboard, the small black machine next to her whirred into life and a white keycard slid out.

“Have you stayed with us before sir?”

This suit I had on must be working. If she had seen me in my clothes from yesterday she wouldn’t have needed to ask that question.

“No, I have not.” I flashed a shark smile.

“Very well, you are in room 427. It is on the fourth floor, the elevator is just to your right,” she motioned to the black elevator doors behind one of the columns. “This is your keycard,” she tapped the white plastic card, her eyes were hazel and soft. “You will need to swipe it to use the elevator and then again to access your room. Please do not lose it as there is a fifteen dollar charge for replacements, which will be added to your bill at the end of your stay. Breakfast will be served in the restaurant” – another point, this time to the glass doors to the right of the reception desk – “between six and nine thirty tomorrow morning. The bar closes at eleven pm, however the front desk will be staffed all night should you require anything else.” She did not smile at me. She was being rude. It was sexy.

“Thank you” – a glance at her chest, small pert breasts framed in an oversized bra cup, red text on a white plastic gold framed name badge – “Elaine.” My eyes stayed on her chest and I felt my leer being returned with a blush. Women – so fucking predictable.