Down York Way toward Kings Cross. I’ve been smiling at the seamless solidarity of our journey, floating through sparse five a.m. conglomerates debating the morning. Buses shunt toward the footpath, stop and swallow wads of passengers. Condensation curtains the upper windows, words and shapes are communicated in slimy streaks.
Our footsteps, on the concrete, tap in time. I start laughing. Maxim turns. I keep laughing. He bends his index fingers into little horns sticking from his forehead. I laugh louder.
I laugh at the horns. I know the horns. I mock whisper, “cacoo, cacoo,” mispronouncing a word I don’t even know except from his mouth.
My laughing starts to slow. I think about moving my hand down from his shoulder. The thought gathers itself and I find my hand on his chest, his hand holding mine against his breast. I take the half step closer to him. His hand leaves mine and reaches around the back of my neck. I lean into his arms, his right hand pushes at the small of my back. I look up and he bends slightly toward me. We kiss for a long time. My eyes are closed until we begin to part, I feel his lips purse trying to hold my bottom lip. I hear him say, “Stephen.”
Blue helmets, retractable batons, round plastic shields. The leading cordon of police plough into the crowd. Thick, padded, black gauntlets. Blows caroom off a white boiler suit onto the shoulder of a shirtless man. Metal poles are removed from banners. Banners bound around a wedge made from two red and white barriers and metal pole. A woman in a black shirt, two men in boiler suits arrange themselves to stabilise the wedge. They charge at the line of police. Shields and batons fly. The crowd moves in behind the wedge. The police line begins to break up. People run from the foyer of the LIFFE building. Police without shields loose baton swings as people run past. The crowd pushes forward through the gap made by the wedge. The police move backward. Smoke swirls from the foyer.
“I see you my mirror girl,” yells Maria. Her arms stretch through the air and embrace. “Dove
to see you.”
“Same.” replies Astrid into her ear. “Every morning,” she laughs and leans back from Maria’s ear.
“I need you in the mirror every morning.” Astrid begins to laugh again.
“You’re looking moderate.”
“Still a bit left foot from the protest.”
Maria nods, a smile beginning to cross her face. Her eyes move to Astrid’s left hand. “What magic have you got down there?”
Astrid looks down at her left hand. “For Gaston,” she lifts the plastic wand in her left hand and holds it toward Maria. “Peace, maybe.”
Through the floor six people felt the steady vibration of tires passing over the smooth surface of a freeway. Metal guards around the pallets rattled at their hinges. His head was full of disappearing identity. Don’t remember who we were, his brother had said, don’t remember until we get there, we’ll learn the city. He forgot himself in the darkness and did something he would never have done. He reached for the stranger next to him, reached for his brother, lifted them as he stood. Felt his way through the darkness, past his brother and lifted the next person. As people stood they began to stumble a disenthralling dance, strangers circled in the blackness and reached for each other. Six people moved swiftly toward the channel, their eyes wide and sightless. Familiarity became a texture of fabric, a scent, the size and shape of body, a hardness or softness of hand.
Silhouettes move in front of two drums. Hand around, up and down, bodies past, stopping and past. The fire throws sparks into the air, light catching the smoke as it floods the sky. There and gone, smoke rushing through the light. Astrid looks at the silhouettes. Light from inside is at her back. Tough techno belts out through the back doors. Astrid waits in front of the double glass doors. The sky is dark grey as smoke caught rising from the drums. Voices and laughter come from the silhouettes around the drums. She steps forward tentatively into the darker light of the backyard.
…they were waiting for us…
…it was their plain to break the crowd…
…trashed the Benz showroom…
…went around from Bishopsgate…
…hit her and kept going…
…parasite tried to take a photo…
…had them on the run at LIFFE…
…on to Upper Thames…
…would have pushed us into the river…
…hit me four times…
…horses and over twenty vans…
…from all over London…
…four hours I heard…
…wanted to search every person…
…closed for the night…
…could have been millions…
…work at Croydon…
“You always listen in on people’s dramas?” He turns away from the fire to face her, pointy smile on his face. “I remember you. You gave me the crossy placard. I lost it not long after, got it ripped out of my hands when one of them tried to drag me onto their side of the line. I wasn’t going there by myself. They beat everyone out of the building,” looks away from her, “don’t know how I ended up there.”
“People were ragging everywhere,” she offers, hand bending to her hip. Her face turns to the firelight.
His face follows her look at the fire. “No one wants to get battered.”
Astrid looks him down and up, from his feet in darkness to the firelight glancing off the sheen of his shaved scalp.
He waits for the glance to rise, less then a second, to his face. He offers a hand. “I’m Stephen.”
Astrid takes his hand.
“Did the pineapple heads get you?”
“You don’t give much away.”
“They held us at Finsbury Circus for hours.”
“They say it gives them the right to hold and search innocent people.” His hand touches his cheek. “In order to stop further disturbance.”
“There were hundreds.”
“Did you give them your details?”
“I thought we had to.”
“What did you say?”
“Name and an old address.”
“They’ll keep it on file for seven years and use it as evidence if you’re ever arrested.”
“I wanted to get away.”
“Don’t let them bully you, next time say none of your fucking business, you don’t have to answer their questions,” glances over his shoulder at the fire, “they make you think you’ve got no choice. Remember you’ve got the right to refuse, all they can do is search you for weapons.” He turns back to the fire, reaching into the bag slung over his shoulder. “I’ve got something for you. I’ve been waiting for someone who needs it.” He pokes a plastic wand at Astrid. “It kept me out of trouble, I’ll pass it on.”
Astrid takes the gift, a child’s toy, plastic wand blinking red and white light. “For next time.”
“For any time if you want to use it.”
I see them as I open my eyes, over Maxim’s shoulder, walking toward us. They’ve got rosy cheeks from the booze and cold night air. One of them must have said something to the others, they’re looking at us with bitter amusement. Swiftly aggrieved, now, because I’m looking at them. I look from the side of Maxim’s face, back again, quickly. The light is still beautiful on his skin, his expression is unsurprised, composed to conceal emotion. They’re younger than twenty five, each wearing an all-weather jacket. They look like they’ve been dressed by the same mother. I can hear the rustling of their jackets, their shoes are shining new leather. I imagine the selling points of their garments, the guarantee of durability, the thermally adaptive inner lining, the low surface tension of the weather protection layer. I think of them, each being convinced, each standing in a shop at a different time, each touching the exterior layer and feeling a surface that water will bead on and run off, each convinced by the ruthless practicality.
His brother stopped breathing. He waited. His own rhythm fell carelessly away until his body jerked, coughed and gulped at empty air. Sweat covered his limbs. The body in his arms. He kicked his feet against the metal cage, it rattled loudly in the darkness, he kicked again with more force, slipped down on to his back, arms tight around his brother’s head kicking both feet at the cage. Noise bounced around the rectangular container, a harsh, toneless and violent tolling. His tears came in a torrent, filled his eye sockets, ran over his temples as he twisted his head from side to side.
Stephen nods, “I stand in a queue pretty much, try to help people with the bureaucratic stuff. That’s officially. Unofficially I link people with people. My big achievement is getting people into jobs that pay cash at less than minimum wage.”
“I’ve never worked on the books.”
“Yeah right. I’m like the pied piper of dishwashers and minicab drivers. It’s not pretty but people need to eat. If you’re in Limbo you don’t get much help.”
“Sounds like you need the magic.”
Music, lights and club-smell hit her simultaneously. She walks in between the shadowy shapes, turning and sliding sideways until she is under the balcony of the mezzanine level. Steps lead up on her left and right, the long bar is directly ahead. Between her and the bar is a fifteen metre clot of moving bodies.
“It’s been scarce without you.”
“I came to take you some place real.”
“Gotta play for the slave warriors.”
Astrid shakes her head. “Still?”
His face creases into a frown. “What you mean?”
“After last night.”
“You’re still blurred A.”
“Blur’s not the rage. I’m asking.”
“Don’t play all unique A,” he looks through the shadows at her face, “I’m the one with manoeuvres to make,” he sips cola, “you be wise.”
Astrid holds up the wand. She presses a small black button on the handle; the star shimmers with tiny red lights and emits a long brrriinnng. Gaston stares, moves his head to follow the line of her arm until he reaches her face.
Astrid raises her eyebrows and nods her head.
“I’ve got a wish.”
The beat jerks, slows, jerks, disintegrates to silence. Lights close to darkness. The room disappears. For a moment, silence. Blank darkness surrounds them. Voices begin. Names in the darkness, names fill the silence. Gaston stands still, he feels a hand on his side, it touches his arm and moves down toward his hand, it runs across his fingers, follows his hold on the wand. Her fingers reach over his hand and locate the button. She lifts his arm, presses the button. The wand sparkles with warm red light, the brrriinnng of a wish fills the silence around them. The light floods down their arms, flickering like fire, their eyes watching the light. Astrid steps closer to him, as the sparkle begins to die she presses the button again, they see the darkness outside the flare of red, hear the brrriinnng of another wish. Lighters begin to flicker in the dark, orange flames throwing circles of light, hands illuminated, the half moon of a face.
“Did you wish for this?”
“You need a minicab?”
“Yeah, Chalk Farm,” replies Astrid.
“Be thirty.” The driver is young, belt thin, he moves toward a dirty sedan.
Astrid nods. She moves quickly to the rear door.
Gaston’s voice, yelling, cuts through the sound of the engine starting. He runs along the footpath toward the car.
Astrid shakes her head, reaches around to the shoulder bag at her side. Her fingers latch around a bunch of keys.
The driver glances in the rear view mirror. “I don’t want trouble.”
His eyes stray down to her hand in the shoulder bag. He turns to the steering wheel and presses his foot on the accelerator. The car begins to move, jerking away from the kerb. Astrid lifts her hand from the bag and sidearms the keys through the open door. Gaston is at the door, the keys hit him on the right shoulder. He steps, keeping pace with the car. Astrid is thrown part out of the car as it pulls from the kerb. Gaston grabs the door. The car begins to gather speed. Gaston slams the door. It smacks into the side of Astrid’s face, just above her left eyes. The car straightens. Astrid tips herself back into the car. She reaches forward, grabs the handle of the door and pulls it closed.
Out the rear window she can see Gaston watching. His face becomes part of his body, hands on his knees. His body becomes a man. The man becomes a shape in the darkness. Astrid feels a warm dampness on the left side of her face.
The nearest has a racing stripe of shaving burn running from the middle of his cheek, across jaw line and down his neck. This is what they choose. The mean shell of all-weather protection, a few grimy lines of coke, drink until they’re sweating the sick-sweet smell of vodka and red bull, then shoulder into a fight. I can see pinpoints of sweat appear on his face, they’re catching prickles of light from the station. I look down and see the Kings Cross lights reflected in the dark leather of their shoes. I’ve got one hand in my right pocket. I’m looking down, caught in the light reflecting from their shoes.
“Take me to a hospital.” Astrid nods her head under her hand. “I’ll pay.”
“My first night, you bleeding,” he looks around her and the back seat, “not my car.”
“I’m sorry, please take me to a hospital,” she looks at him with her uncovered eye, “I don’t want to go back.”
The driver looks at her, “I don’t want trouble.”
“Please take me to a hospital,” she repeats.
The guy with razor burn is yelling at us. “You’re filthy, filthy.” He keeps yelling. From this distance, those bodies in the light appear to be moving in a perpetual approximation of convergence. Our deeds are steps around illumination.
Rico Craig © 2008