Wednesday, 30 June 2010

From the Fringes of a Story

An old man looks past his reflection in the glass front of a betting shop. His afro, unkempt and retreating, his whitening beard, yellowed by tobacco smoke. The relentlessly good weather pays no mind to his three jumpers, and his layers pay no mind to the unforgiving rays of the sun. He tries repeatedly to light the stub of a fag with a broken lighter. The flint keeps sparking but the gas won’t catch. The flint keeps sparking. He ignores the punters coming and going from the shop and the pool of dried and liquid snot around the bottom of his nose.

In the road behind him a police van screams past as the traffic parts for it. He stops for a second to turn his head before carrying on attempting to light his cigarette. Muttering to himself, he walks on.


A blonde, topless man slumps against the barrier in the queue at a post office. It supports his entire upper-body weight. His arms hang loosely at right angles. He scans the queue, lightly licking his chapped lips. Two girls, barely 16, stand further back, melting in the heat. The plainer of the two explains her mathematical equation for the amount of time it should take for them to be served, based on the average time it was taking to deal with requests, the amount of people serving and the amount waiting. Her friend, less plain, more tarty, feigns what could at best be described as vague interest, whilst fanning her armpits with a Post Office leaflet about their home broadband service. The queue moves on, as does the blonde man, whose gaze does not leave the girl fanning herself. She notices and flicks her highlighted hair.

Two Police cars, a van and a fire engine all rush past, the sunlight reflected by the ladder dazzling anyone who bothered to look.


An old man sits in a plastic garden chair in the only operational lift at the north end of the Greenwich foot tunnel. Dressed in some kind of vaguely official uniform, this has been amended with his own jumper, given the unseasonal cold. Beside him sits a thermos of tea, a lunchbox and a radio, playing a world cup match at a hushed but audible volume. He reads a tattered copy of the Sunday Mirror, leafing through it idly for the fourth or fifth time that day. He nods at the young family, the 4-year-old, the toddler in a pram.

“Alright, mind how you go”

The family grin back at him and make their way out round the corner to the sunshine and the stretch of green at the bank of the Isle of Dogs. He gruffly greets two men pushing bikes. A Spanish woman gets on with a man and abruptly ends her conversation. “I’ll finish telling you downstairs” she says, avoiding the old man’s gaze. He presses one of three buttons, the doors close and the lift descends again.
The monitor in the corner of the lift, relaying the feed from the tunnel CCTV, shows a man in a long coat, holding himself awkwardly and dragging one leg. No one pays any attention to the screen.

The doors open to the cold acceptance, the unchanging light and temperature of the tunnel. The men on bikes leave, waiting until out of eye-shot to mount, despite signs to the contrary.
The man in the long coat shuffles towards the lift.

The man and Spanish woman leave. She immediately erupts into her story with a volume and tone reserved for tales of embarrassment and sexual adventure.
The man in the long coat waits for them to pass, propping himself against the wall as they do. He then lurches into the lift.

“Alright there?” Asks the old man? Hearing no reply, he shrugs and pushes the button. The lift once again reaches the surface. The man in the long coat shuffles out, saying nothing.

“Mind how you go”

As the doors begin to close again, the old man notices blood on the floor and reaches for his phone.


“See that? Drippin’? Up there?”
“I can see the steam”
“Yeah. Nah, nah. That’s the big pipe. The white one. The little one. Underneath”
“Oh aye”
“Is it dripping yet?”
“Alright, hang on... How ‘bout now?”
“Oh yeah, it’s just starting to drip”

The young woman pulls her head back inside the window and shrugs.

“Well, aint they ever complained?”
“The downstairs”
“Sue? No, not really. I mean, I don’t talk to her that much, though”
“Hmm. Hang one, I’ll have another... When I stick my head out, you run the hot tap”
“Yeah, look, there it goes. I don’t ‘spose she ever goes round there”
“Apart from to water her plants, no”
“Oh well. I’da thought she’d have complained”
“Cup of tea?”
“If it’s not too much trouble, miss, I’d love one”
“Two please, miss. Day off then?”
“Yeah. I work odd hours”
“Yeah, sometimes. Wednesday off is better than nothing”
“That’s quite common now, isn’t it? Working weekends?”
“I suppose so”
“Weekends off is a thing of the past nowadays”
“There you go”
“Tah, miss”
“So, is it dangerous?”
“For you, nah. It’s just... Oh hang on.
Yeah, hello.
I’m just over in... yeah that’s right.
Did you call?
No, no.
The outlet pipe, did we do it at this property?
Hang on.
Miss? What’s the postcode?”
“Oh, it’s uh, SW9 8LB...”
“Yeah, SW9 8LB.
No, it wasn’t us. It doesn’t look like...
And it should be looped back, yeah?
Yeah, thought so.
Alright, yeah you too"

“I’m sorry?”
“Elvis. My phone ring. I Got A Woman. Rare one that. You know, Ray Charles. You an Elvis fan? I spose you’re too young”
“Well, my dad used to listen to him. I like the Sun stuff. Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore”
“Yeah, he wrote Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins”
“Yeah, that’s right”
“Cousins, they were, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis”
“Oh yeah, that right?”
“Yeah, I believe so. Amazing, he was. Jerry Lee Lewis. People went off him though, after he married that 13 year old”
“Ha, yeah. That was definitely his cousin”
“Can I just open the back door?”
“Of course”
“Yeah. No. It’s gonna have to have some work done on it”

Somewhere outside there is a series of metallic popping noises, followed by shouting and the squeal of a loose fanbelt. The engine stalls. There is more shouting, more pops and then the sound of tires at speed on asphalt.

The pair look at each other for a fleeting moment. Neither says a thing.

“Uh, right then. Thanks for the tea”
“Oh, uh. No problem”
“I’ll let myself out”
“Sure, OK”
“Bye then”

Somewhere overhead a helicopter begins to circle.


A woman walks in circles on an underground platform. She mutters loudly to herself and for the benefit of others about nothing in particular, but with an intensity and obscenity that holds the attention of everyone within earshot. She settles on a bench, not lowering her volume.

“Come on train!” she screams at the automatic display, hanging on “1 min” for the past 3.

She plays with the ragged hem of her skirt before getting up again, dragging her oversized left shoe.

“Yeah? Yeah?” she screams to an unspecified, detested third party, somewhere down the entrance/exit tunnel.

“You wanna see what you look like, take a look at yourself! Don’t look so fucking good!”
A young woman rushes along the platform in tears. A man rushes after her, shouting, also with tears in his eyes. The train pulls into the station.

“Go on love!” screamed the woman with the orthopaedic shoe.
“Keep running! Don’t you take any of his shit!!”

The doors open. Her screams are muted by the weight of people, walking in with no real understanding of the situation. A few stop and look for a moment before carrying on. The people waiting have all boarded. The woman with the orthopaedic shoe walks in a slight circle again but does not get on. The train leaves and she is left alone on the platform, except for the man with tears in his eyes. His hand tenses to a fist and he turns round to her.


A young man staggers off a late bus. Still in his work clothes, he commands the easy swagger of someone growingly accustomed to long periods of post work drinking. He listens to an MP3 player, which has blocked out all sound. As his favourite songs come on, he sings along seemingly without realising. A dry noise from the back of his throat, half escaped. Malformed words and syllables, phonetic aping of lyrics he is unaccustomed to singing out loud. He starts to cross a main road in between two crossings, drunkenly getting as close to the traffic as possible without getting hit. It takes three attempts, as each time he has to retreat from the threat of being hit by a bus. Running impatiently, a speeding car narrowly misses him. The man isn’t quite sure if it swerved towards him, but doesn’t pay it much more mind. He cuts down a back alley towards his house. After stopping to urinate where he thinks is unseen, he continues with his swagger. It is only at the end of the alley that he notices the bright blue rhythmically cutting into the dark. Outside a corner shop, two policemen take notes. The front is taped up. A police van waits, its lights flashing. The front door of the shop is open. No one is inside. There is blood on the lino floor.

Two young women stop, momentarily before continuing their conversation, listing the faults of a mutual friend.

The young man stares with his mouth open. After some time, he walks on.