A dirty street in South London. Smoke-breath gusts in freezing air. The promise of snow.
A huddle of patch-jacket smokers shuddering and inhaling outside the pub. A few piercings, studs, heads newly scalped, boots, army coats. Some tattoos visible. A solitary dyed Mohawk. An elderly West Indian woman shuffled past. Scowled. The rumble of music from inside bursting onto the street from an opened door. Dead cigarettes lying where they fell.
Her eyes dilated, saucer wide. His the same. Chemical rush fending off the cold. Rum and coke pooling in their stomachs, mixing with weak lager, an ill advised shot of tequila. They smoked.
Back inside, now. Noise, lights dim, punk, ska, sweat and alcohol. The heat a coruscating fire shredding freezing skin. Self-immolation, just to stay warm.
A small crowd, in various states of inebriation. Sweating men and dancing girls, a heaving bar. A spilt lake of Guinness shimmering under a wooden table. A few shards of jagged glass.
He looked at her, dancing now in the crowd, accentuated movements, exaggerated enthusiasm, drug product. She, oblivious, hugged a close friend, her short cropped hair temporarily obscured in the embrace. A feeling, maybe longing.
Later that night. The DJ playing old ska songs, fucked skankers with head-splitting grins.
She looked at him. He sat on one of the rickety wooden chairs, talking (what seemed to her) bullshit to a friend, male hand gesticulations comic and touching. He didn’t notice her glances. Draining his pint glass, he stood up, unsteadily, made directions for the bathroom. Another bomb. She took her cue, retreated to the ladies. Bombed.
This would continue.
The next day. Frozen snow clinging to the ground, she sat inside a café, vegan, somewhere in East London. A sad estate the view. Sipped herbal tea. Talked to a friend, about their respective week’s experiences. Lack of sleep painted in blue-black brushstrokes under her eyes. She looked at the small selection of books on offer for sale. ‘The Story of Crass’. ‘The Day the Country Died’. ‘Another Dinner is Possible’. The café was two-thirds full. A dreadlocked woman in her early thirties silently chewed a piece of cake, her sleeping baby pram-bound. A slight dampness in the air, last night’s snow already slushing the pavements grey black. She was coming down, small gestures more poignant in sober light. The way her friend sipped her tea. The clatter coming from the kitchen, steam from the coffee machine thrusting into the air. All beautiful and sad, today.
He sat in his flat, on his battered sofa, leaked smoke, sipped tea and half-watched an episode of an Eastenders Omnibus, the sound down low, not concentrating. Vaguely pondered a show set in a mythical section of a real city, somewhere between Stratford and Walthamstow. A bit like Moorcock’s Brookgate, or, Morris’ Hosegate. This is what he thought. It was around two in the afternoon. A rumble came from behind a flatmate’s bedroom door, some 1980’s anarcho. He sighed. Had not planned on conversation just yet. More tea. Opened his book, utopian visions of a colonised Mars. Thought about the night previous, the alcohol, drugs, music, brief flirtations with physical union that had amounted to nothing. Anyway, he mused, half-smiling, I was too fucked to do anything.
She left the café. Odd looks from a group of young children from the estate. They giggled and disappeared.
He was sitting on his sofa, with a flatmate and neighbour, smoking a weak joint, gulping yet more tea, watching a Stewart Lee DVD. He thought about her, briefly. Stood up, wandered over to the window to stare out at the Church. St Michael & All Angels, a group of elderly West Indian women in floral headwear exiting onto the pavement, into mist and snow, two hasids scurrying past them. He would often sit at the window late at night, watching urban foxes tear bin liners and run across holy ground. Their cries unearthly and unsettling, even after all this time.
He thought of a time, early Autumn the previous year, in a house nearby, post-coital morning coffee, the smell of vegetarian sausages slightly burnt, frying mushrooms, tomatoes turning to cooked mush. That strange morning lull, mist-stillness muting the world and dampening time. She had been upstairs, showering or perhaps straightening her hair as he had drank coffee and stared into the overgrown back garden. An orange bundle, furred and dew-covered, now recognised as a sleeping fox. I hope it isn’t dead, he had thought, and then she had entered the kitchen. Come look, he had said, whispered even. She looked, smiled, but their noise had woken the fox. A male, big, predatory features fixed on him glaring with deep yellow eyes. He had never seen anger in an animal’s face before. They had eaten their breakfast and he had thought of the fox, he had looked at her. They had both been coming down that day, too.
The West Indian women had disappeared. He returned to the sofa.
She made her way home. A walk through Hackney Downs, a few teens on bikes passing her, a dog chasing a damp tennis ball crossing her path. The world quiet in the mist, the Downs white and expansive with snow. Approaching her house, the Church, a foxes den, looming over her. A few West Indian women were leaving the building, their bright clothing shocking against the snow’s whiteness. Keys turned in the lock, a greeting from one of her two housemates coming from somewhere upstairs. Heaters on full, in a vain battle against the cold. She made tea, sat at the kitchen table, smoked a cigarette and looked into the overgrown back garden and remembered, last Autumn, the fox that had lain there, asleep beneath it’s dew duvet. A predator’s rude awakening. The way he was amazed at the animal’s presence. Hot cooking smells, strong coffee. A good morning.
They had both been coming down that day, too.