Dave walked past the old park, near his old primary school, near where his parents still live. Up and over the hill, remembering the big snowstorm of 1990. The broken boiler. The week off school. Sledding on tea trays and an old road sign that someone’s older brother had pulled down, arriving just in time to see Ally ‘Pally’ Paisley carried off to an ambulance weeping with his foot all crooked, only making the experience more exciting and wondering if his life was ever that innocent and Beano-like or it was all just a nostalgic myth caught up in semi-autobiographical storytelling. Did any of it really happen? Had it snowed that year at all? Had it been so magical? Wasn't he just forgetting all the times of bullying and being desperately unhappy? The quiet sobbing outside of the headmasters office?
As he tried to peer through the haze of his now seemingly lost youth, Dave walked over the hill, down through the gate and without thinking slapped at where a loose metal gatepost used to be. He wandered down roads, over a hill, past houses, past the allotments, following invisible spots of blood nearly two decades old. It was ten minutes before he realised where he was, where he’d been walking to. It was already too late. He was already there.
At first Dave just looked at the notice board, outside of the main door. Weathered signs advertising Kundulini Yoga, life drawing and bicycle repair classes, gigs and parties, some upcoming, some long gone, remained static in the air like a neon signpost to a life he was not a part of, scarring green into his retinas. As he read through each one intently like postcards in a langue not entirely unfamiliar to him, he picked at the flaking blue paint. Looking beyond the notice board, he gazed at the front, trying to remember the old door with the panel missing. Now it looked like a reinforced security affair, like the fire exit at a community centre. Not welcoming or mysterious or foreboding, Just a door. A definite ‘no’. His eyes traced up the side, past murals and windows filled with colourful Hindi emblazoned cloth and little figurines and posters advertising anti-war protests and further still to the roof, still dominant but softened somehow. Tempered against the sky. Smaller and more real. Just, now, a roof. A real, functional thing stripped of personality and character and intrigue. And up and up still his eyes travelled, past the clouds and approaching rain and the vapour trails fading into the bright blue and all of the mystery they used to hold and resting, fixed on the outside of the sun. His eyes began to water against the brilliance, against the wind and his lost youth, a bygone time in which he had convinced himself he was truly happy.
“Can I help you?”
A man with Mediterranean skin and dreads on the back of his head stood at the door holding a bag of recycling.
“Uh, I was...”
“Are you looking for someone?”
“Well, no, I, not really, I...”
“You want to start a class? They’re cheap and everyone is welcome”
Dave noticed a shadow behind one of the thin Indian wall hangings that covered a window. At first walking passed, it stopped and looked at him. Dave stopped floundering for a moment and looked straight up at it. They both paused. The shadow remained static, as if mesmerised by him. Dave remained transfixed. Acting in direct opposition to his usually timid nature, he stared not at the floor or his hands or the bottom seam of his coat but directly into the eyes of the figure. Straight into the black heart of the howling abyss, the spiralling unknown that locked eyes with him and demanded personal justification of his being. As Dave stared, questions tried to form, floating just outside of his conscious mind as their lines of intrigue met each other head on. His breath became short and he began to feel cold. His skin prickled at the back of his neck, under his arms and in his groin like they were both dying and becoming alive and he could feel the big nothing moving in his belly. Then the shadow moved. It’s head. It put something down on the floor, disappearing from view, before becoming visible again. Then it’s arm moved towards the wall covering. Grabbing the bottom right corner, it began to move it away from the window. Dave did not look away.
Dave did not look away. A flash of yellow. An arm. A man’s?
“Hello? Hello, excuse me. Can I help you?”
Dave did not...
“Oh, uh. Hi. Yeah. Hello”
“Yeah, can I help you or what?”
“Sorry, I was just passing. I used to... I thought. No. No, I’m fine. Sorry to bother you”
The door shut and Dave carried on walking.