August 9th, 2020
Muswell RunPast midnight. He took a left along some other road, flicking a cigarette into the undergrowth, cartwheeling and whooping for joy. His mouth was dry, his lips chaffed from the cold. Frost was crawling up the curb and into the cracks between paving slabs, curling around the bushes and lampposts that dotted the roundabout on the hill. This far from the city centre the roads were quiet, the only noise two buses disappearing into the city fog on their empty way North and East, red lights misty and fading. He watched them go, the one he'd hopped off and the one that would have taken him home if he'd been thirty seconds earlier. The buses run every half hour and he didn't fancy the wait standing in the cold so he trudged on after the 102 with its warm, glowing electric hum. The next stop was only a hundred metres away and he passed it without stopping, may as well go to the next one. A little further along and he was travelling with purpose now. So it would be a long walk home. The next bus stop passed and he lifted his hood, fur lined and cosy inside. He breathed hard into his hands, collecting and warming steam that seeped through his fingers into misty clouds. The next bus stop past and he checked his phone, the TFL app said forty-five minutes till the next bus. Jamming his hands into the breast pockets where he kept his keys on the left and wallet on the right he started jogging towards East Finchley, an easy, loping stride. Everything around was silent and cool, the houses dark, nature and man huddled for warmth in their burrows as the frost thickened at the door, climbing walls and tapping at the window frame. East Finchley tube station appeared as he rounded the corner, the pub on the corner cold and shuttered. On the station roof Archie stood, eyes ahead, arm outstretched, ready to fire a shattering arrow towards central London where the Northern Line shot Southwards on the High Barnet branch. Without breaking a step he jogged on, rounding the corner under the railway bridge onto Bishops Avenue. Here his breath really fell into rhythm and he found his pace settling into a steady run, some old muscle memory staring of years gone by where the miles of cross-country runs sped easily by under his stride. Onto Lyttleton, side roads, more familiar now. Shops he knew well that were closer to opening time than closing. He panted his way through the suburb near home and eventually found himself walking the last street towards a roundabout where he cut left, then turned onto the path that lead to the white front door of home. He stood in the hallway, the lights off, coat still zipped up, hood pushed back from the fine beads of sweat that had started to gather as his breath stiffened close to home. For a minute or so he barely moved, until his heartbeat slowed and the slight sickness settled, at which he bent down and unzipped the boots that released his tightly packed toes with a sigh. He took off his coat and hung it behind the door of the toilet in the hall, placing his boots underneath the coat pegs. Next he went to the kitchen, wavering slightly on the threshold as whatever mixture of churning liquids that kept his body moving sloshed around inside him, blood in his veins and poison everywhere else. Water from the tap tasted better than it had every done as he chugged it, one glass then another, filling a third to take to bed. Without turning any lights on he stumbled, with as much stealth as he cud muster, towards his room, stopping on the way to look out of the big stairway window that looked out on the street below. Someone was walking past the house, and, though there was no light coming from the house, they seemed to sense they were being watched and suddenly looked up into the window. The one holding the glass of water froze, weary of the unexpected interaction, wondering if the net curtain hanging between them hid him in the soft gloom. In answer the one in the street looked away, to the front door, then up again at the window, then down at the pavement as they tugged their chin into a tightly wrapped scarf and walked on. The last few steps were the slowest, most likely to creak painfully, and therefore the most carefully taken as, without major obstruction, they made their way to the door of their bedroom which whispered open as it brushed the carpet inside. Moonlight was there, it came in through the open curtains which were quickly drawn shut and the room was dark. Just so they liked it, the darkness, at least at first, omnipresent, swallowing them as they stood, glass in hand, eyes wide to nothing, listening to their breathing and the ancient groans of the house as it cooled in the frost. The glass set down they set about getting ready for bed, stripping quickly and almost diving into thick cotton pyjamas then beneath the duvet, running horizontally on the icy sheet to build some friction warmth to curl up in. Then, with the covers pulled up over their head they breathed in deeply, sucking in the cold air and letting it be warmed by their body before letting it out warm and moist to fill the space where they lay, thinking about cigarettes and wandering adventures in a strange part of town they had never known and now felt sadly sentimental, wondering if they'd ever go back and why, and if not then what would become of that street and those house in the long time between remembering and memories. Outside a cooly glowing sun began to rise and, as the night sky was turning blue, a boy fell into easy, weary, peaceful sleep.
©2007-2022 Benedict Esdale