It is a conscious decision. I allow my feet to carry me across uneven oceans of stone, broken by islands of dirty rain-water like a British, land-locked archipelago. I let them trace broken circuits throughout the town and follow the ghosts of themselves. I try to consider how often these same angular cobblestone have eaten away at the soles of my boots; how often these same walls have loomed over me and rejoiced in their dominance.
I can still taste coal-dust in the air, or I can dream that I can. It is a romance that hangs over this town like a shroud; a romance that moved through the thoughts in silent, subtle ways; a romance that curled about the larynx and then, without a moment’s hesitation, tightened. This place would render a man mute, if you let it.
The road stretches upwards and I walk along it. Some feet behind me, it is cut off by a series of black iron bollards and so I make the most of the uncommon freedom to move in a twisted, snaking pattern along the tiled stone itself. There is a distinct pleasure to be found in walking in any direction you please and, if I had been the last man alive, I could have spent my last days moving in pointless shapes across any terrain I pleased.
I catch reflections of myself in those few shop windows which have raised their shutters at this early hour. I refuse to look as blatantly as I might desire, and I resort to fleeting glances at the state of my hair, at the shape of my shoulders and the angle of my arms as my hands seek the warmth of my pockets. I would look better as a silhouette, as a blackened image in a burned retina.
I am following someone, unconsciously. My feet have taken advantage of their liberty, and they pursue a tall, broad-faced woman as she descends a set of stairs into the shadows beneath a bridge. The bridge is an internal one, closed off from the world, and it is part of the dead shopping centre which clings to the centre of this place, like an old God refusing to believe in science.
It is not an ominous pursuit and, in fact, she is moving a little faster than me. She vanished into an arcade several seconds before I arrive at its entrance and, though I see her moving through the narrow causeway of commerce, I ignore that turning and move on. I pass beneath another bridge, and try to count the pieces of chewing gum stuck the floor. I lose count at twelve, and the rocking of my body’s motion jars my brain until I cannot count past ten.
I dream, then, that I am following in a ghost’s footsteps. I follow the spectre left, and then right, and through a small, dimly-lit arcade within which the very first stores were opening. I saw a jeweller’s, and the young woman with neon-red hair and a lip ring offered me a fleeting smile as she typed in the code to an electric lock. I smile at her, and can almost feel her shudder in revulsion. I do not have a nice smile – it twitches dishonestly across my face and makes a mockery of my emotion.
The shadows give way to light again, and the wind picks up. A little way up the road, I can see a family stabbing at the air with their hands and their voices. The mother is rounded, and she is leaning heavily against the handle of a pram as though it were a crutch. The child itself lolls in its seat, rocking its head left and right as though trying to ward off unwanted nightmares. The elder child is walking beside them both, in a school uniform with a navy blue blazer and grey trousers. He has a flat face, still grazing at the edges of masculinity, but it will grow harsher in a few years and turn into the expressive front of a pugilist.
We pass each other, and I cannot help but feel the divide between us. It breaks the air around us into sharpened wounds, and I cannot move through those sharpened edges to this family. I avoid looking at them when we are close together, but I may as well be staring at them. I think I hate them; I think they hate me. We would all be fools not to.
I pass through another arcade; this time an internal one which stretches over the outside marketplace, now nothing more than narrow iron girders where stalls once stood, and an elderly woman selling cheap, but hardwearing, handbags and travel accessories. Makinson Arcade, it is called. I walk past a shop called Love Forever – it has closed down and the dust wages a gentle, deathless war against our health.
Thank You. This little piece of prose has been cannibalised from a short poem I’m working on – it’s more of an exercise in description than a genuine narrative. I think I’d like to ‘prose-ify’ (that needs to be a word; I’m going to start using prose-ify (prosify?) in everyday conversation) the rest of the poem at some point, but I don’t know how well the imagery might translate towards the last few verses.