Oscar stands on the landing for a few seconds, staring at the blue wall, his breathing heavy with a hint of drool. His four squat legs threaten to buckle under his barrel torso. Climbing the stairs is gruelling these days.
I walk back down the 86 flights of steps and look for Tyke in the basement of Tower One. Tyke’s name isn’t really Tyke, but he’s from Yorkshire and I can barely understand a word he says. He’s carved out a niche in this Brave New World by acquiring knowledge
Steve: Where’s Eric?
Dave: Floating in a paddling pool three gardens down.
Steve: What? Why?
Dave: The kid was flailing his arms around like a lunatic, so he bum-dropped him.
The reassuring aroma of freshly-cut grass and freshly-baked pies wafts across the ground. George watches on from square leg as the spinner stands at the end of his mark, tossing the ball from hand to hand, a reflex as natural as breathing, contemplating his next move.
The young girl at the counter of Susan’s Nail Bar looks surprised, startled even, to see Laura walk through the door, bell tinkling as she does so. A glance around the salon reveals five empty stations.
He despises himself even as he presses record, red light blinking at stabilisers discarded, front wheel wobbling at new-found freedom.
Everyone remembers where they were when The Fall came. Evie was in a meeting about how to get fresh water to those in the city centre. Clive says he was fishing his sister out of the river.
I am a liar who cannot be trusted. After a self-pitying post about how I was going to fail to post anything for the first time in two months, I’ve snuck in before midnight and written something. I have no idea what this is, it fell out of my brain in about 10 minutes, but it is something and it’s late.
The boy slips off the arm of the chair and cracks his head on the wooden floor. Pain consumes him and his searing cry is genuine, this time. His father rushes to pick him up, holding him tight before setting him down in the chair, but he is surprised to see the boy’s face has transformed from pain to disgust.
How will we know when we’ve got it all wrong?
Buzz flips open his wings .
‘Hey Woody, want anything from the kitchen?’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I’m going to the kitchen, you want anything?’
Evie and I live on floor 43 of Tower Three on the south side of Central Square. We share our room with a couple called Amy and Graeme. Graeme used to be a fitness instructor and DJ. He still talks about football as if it exists.
‘She’s chatting shit mate, she loves you.’
‘I ain’t chatting shit, it’s over.’
‘She is chatting shit.’
‘I ain’t chatting shit. I’m movin’ on.’
She seems a nice woman. Her kids are well-behaved, and he feels a little ashamed this is the first time he has spoken to his neighbour in the two years since she moved in.
George recalls exploring his father’s musty old study, whereupon I realise these characters are developing far quicker in my head than I anticipated. Time for a rethink…
Margaret doesn’t want George to come home, tail between legs. He knows that now. She wants him to find whatever it is he is looking for and come home so they can grow old together.
The Jubilee Line sways. George steels himself.
George’s room is on the basement level of the Golden Guest House. Outside his rotting sash window is a shabby courtyard, walled in by the rest of the U-shaped building and the street above. There is a broken bench and child’s bucket, bathed in the dirty orange of a street light.
Off the 171, George unfolds his map, searching for Russell Square and the sanctuary of his bed & breakfast. Distracted, he is joined by a young girl in a branded t-shirt.
Eye-contact, a smile, a quick step and she is in, walking alongside him with promises of redemption if only he will give sixteen pence a day.
The town is abandoned inside an hour. Sixteen thousand people, gone. I sit on the pavement and watch a family cram as much as they can into their car.
Dad looks worried.
‘We absolutely have to leave in five minutes.’
The 171 grumbles north towards the city centre. George’s thoughts turn to the bed & breakfast. The lady on the phone sounded friendly, if distracted. He hopes it’s on a quiet street.
The 199 tracks the river west until Greenwich, whereupon it peels off south to Catford. George likes the look of Greenwich. He imagines it the sort of place Adam might be living had he succumbed to family life.
The end of the route takes George by surprise. He has a sense of having travelled south-east, but the scale of the city is yet to avail itself.
George starts at the beginning. Route 1. Every route from start to finish, a sticker on the window of each bus.
Come Home Adam.
There is only one Adam back home.
The bus snakes away from Tottenham Court Road, but he is nervous.
George spends much of the tube journey trying to work out why the train is moving left while the stations on the Northern Line map above the seat opposite seem to be moving right. And isn’t he supposed to be going south anyway?
Ralf watches from the steps of the clubhouse as Sylvia squats over the ball like a sumo wrestler. She has new clubs, but is wholly unsuited to the treacherous demands of the prestigious Lesser Frampton Links.
His blue blazer confirms he is a Soldier of Christ, boarding the 139 to Waterloo. He stays downstairs – those upstairs already condemned
His camera has become an external memory device, a means to document – and fictionalise – every event in his life. Its very presence taints the purity of experience
On Saturday morning I was set a challenge on Twitter – write a short story that involved no living thing. So I had a go…
In a nondescript outhouse in the joint security area of Panmunjom, Joo-won watches as the enemy completes its theatrical changing of the guard.
Losing again. He stands and shuffles, avoids eye-contact. A deserter avoiding the rush.
We can see you sneaking out!
Through the turnstile, he hears those left behind bellow their futile chants, demanding one final effort.