8. Rats and MiceA man is sitting in the corner laughing and beating his fist against his chest. He coughs wet and painful. His eyes are wide and bright and he looks bleak between the floor and passers by. The floor is wide and dark, the passers by in their long coats and dripping hoods are slim and gaunt and look straight on. They are the imposter, the French hypocrite who sucked the family out of each other and left the house expensive, cold and empty. I should say we are, but we're not thinking about that tonight. Water splashes onto the street and Yours Truly (that's me and my name) holds out my hand, looking up to see if it's raining. The palm stays dry but behind me another splash. Twenty floors up a woman stands with splashes of her own not yet dripped from the bottom of damp cheeks. Something sour has sucked the life from party number two-seven-four of three-six-five. They're all staring at him and her as she lifts her chin and meets the monster's eyes, the drippings building from her little pools and spilling into the one around her feet. With a rush the monster stands from the water and wades out with a wake, grabbing a towel and pushing roughly through the watching, angry eyes. She looks away and thinks Oh God have I done this as her friends go to her and cry Oh God what has he done. The wake swells and rolls back and tips gently over the edge, a splash to the sidewalk below. Is someone singing? Way down below it sounds like there's a voice but Yours Truly shrugs and moves on. Wait! Come on. The steps are damp but not so much to slip, they tap down and around and into the main hall where three other holes open into the warren, two from the Garden side and one from the Hippodrome. We beep through with cards and phones and stand chatting on the escalator that takes us with our cards and phones and bleary eyes onto the platform. The sign reads 1 Edgware on the left and 6 mins on the right. Then underneath; 2 Edgware and 16 mins. Somewhere someone sat and thought up how far apart the trains should be which is easy at rush hour you just pump them through the tunnels as fast as is safe but at this time, how did they chose? Four minutes of people are already waiting, sitting on the three-wide benches or standing on their phones. A couple look up at us new-comers who look at the big paper ads on the opposite wall; the massive faces of new smartphones, online estate agents and a bank that reminds us that WE ARE LONDON. Sixth months ago it was decided, in an agency somewhere, that purple was in. A lovely, deep, regal purple features as the background to two, and significantly in three others. The way to stand-out is to stand-in, though mostly it seems to be bigger is better. When it's money on the line and competition... Bigger is always better. 'I just want to take them home and give them a good shampoo.' 'Could be rabid.' 'They don't carry rabies.' 'They carry tetanus though.' 'Like roses.' 'Really?' 'I can't do mice.' 'I can do a really good goat.' The platform looks up at the strange noise, then goes back to itself. 'That's actually a really good goat.' One sitting, two standing in each others arms, the other peering into the dark below the tracks. 'I can do a dolphin as well.' 'That's not natural.' 'Good pigeon too.' 'I think your dolphin was best.' Sickboy, OneTwo, and Yours Truly (and that's my name) makes four lolling about on the side and kicking at the whatever, we've had a cool night alright, sweating in up in the air somewhere where the sun kissed last. They've got nothing on tomorrow and I've got nothing till three or four, (I should check) so we've gone later than usual? Maybe just as late as we have been all week, it's been a special week yeah. Special alright. When God (or Time) made rats he made them twice, the other half smaller. He saw all the cruelest parts and took them away, put them in vultures. Penelope kept rats, Elizabeth and Margaret, but her name was really Laura and the rats' names were just rat and rat, white rat and brown. Funny how she named them after we named her. It might seem like I chose mine (Yours Truly or just Yours, or just Truly, but never Truly Yours; they say I was saving that) but really the others did, probably Two, she named One before she was Two so that was funny when I came out with it, funny old names for funny old friends which came out some one at a time, some all at once; there was the day, when they became OneTwo not just One and Two, that Penelope had come out to the park and swung on the swing and cried stupid breathy tears over rat or rat (I don't remember which) because it was dead, so I said yeah haven't you seen dead yet? and Two shushed spikily and One went to her (Penelope that is) and said the theretheres and Two was watching One be all friendly and caring and lovelovelovely and I think that was the moment, watching him be such a darling, a sweetheart (even though it was for the other, Two was never jealous, still hasn't been, though One has), that was the moment she thought yeah for sure and later, when Penelope was calmed down and Truly here had said all the sorrysorrys I could muster, later on Two went to One and said how about, well... OneTwo was formed that rat Day of the Dead day and now here they are still but it's not Penelope who's with us it's Sickboy and I don't find his complexion quite as agreeable (if agreeable is the word), and I'm watching him from behind going down and round the stairs, his stupid greasy skin tapping through to the next bit, his stupid ugly hands, and going down and round the stairs again, his dumb, big, ugly eyes staring after the ads by the escalator and he's standing on his fucking two dumb big feet on the fucking platform and there's OneTwo and Yours Truly and FUCKING Sickboy. If it was Penelope... I shake my tired head and look up around. Sickboy tells a joke and I laugh (and I mean it because it's funny), and actually I love him and take my hand we do a little dance on the platform there and actually he's quite nimble on those two dancing feet, and his grin has got that childlike quality that brightens up a room and yeah, yeah he's not Penelope but neither is she really. Opposite a man carrying stacked pages slips on the last step and stumbles onto the platform. People laugh (we all do) until he loses his footing and it looks like he'll fall but his leg kicks up on instinct and he's sitting with a jolt. From his arms the papers fly up around him and he clutches bewildered at the air above, grabbing and snatching sheets, throwing them behind him away from the distant sound of the train. Sheets flutter onto the tracks and on our side there's a silence when he stands and looks down at his lost pages. The station holds its breath tight and waits. 'Don't be a fool.' It's deep and rich and everyone turns to see the woman sitting at one end, gently easing herself up. Stick to the ground and weight on top of that she takes a few steps and looks across to the forlorn figure on the other side. 'I said don't be a damn fool.' The man looks up. He might be crying and looks pleading at us on our safe side. He looks down again and takes a step towards the edge. 'Will you listen to me?' Deeper and richer she mirrors his step. He looks up and reflected in the darkest part of his glistening eyes are the lights of the train that rushes past on his side. We all try to see but then ours comes too and we're all getting on and realising we'd held our breath and looking at each other and thinking thank god for that woman right? So we've had a good night alright. It's cool at last on the train and it's alright, don't worry, there's plenty of seats. Some hard, some soft, with a few others (not with us) swinging or swaying or holding the bars. So we're four and it's been a good night alright. We've had a good time alright and now we're all feeling pretty loose and friendly and in our own worlds. This isn't a first, and it won't be a last but it's got a special something about the night that's made it real cool to be... to be out and about... This is real cool. This is a... Brooklyn Bound A Train, next stop: Canal St. It'll take us all the way home for three and close enough for the other. Sickboy the sick boy is standing up next to me. He's the one who drank that dare in a horrible cocktail and chucked it up before eleven, groaning about Fireballs and aniseed. He's grinning now on his own, his eyes red and half-open. He's sticking his tongue out, talking about Freddie Mercury. Low under, One is singing softy, I've been writing stories, You've been walking across the page. Something about clouds and daffodils, More like waiting with my phone by the shower, And staring blankly at floors and walls. 'Post Malone will lose his voice in two years. He smokes and drinks every day.' OneTwo are sitting opposite me, eyes only for each other, and Sickboy because he's distracting them. They were locked in but One is locked and Two pulled back once and when she did he just flopped down and had to catch himself halfway. Two laughed at that, alright, she laughed so much and snorted and clapped a hand and then OneTwo were laughing so much. But now One is singing Led Zeppelin falsetto, he's got a whole second blow before he crashes out in twenty under a bench or tree or wherever the hell he lies out. Welcome mat, scuff your shoes, Hang up your coat in the room by the door. There's water in the kettle if you've filled it, There's food in the fridge if you haven't eaten it. 'Mick Jagger never lost his voice.' 'He never really sang.' Two is a mezzo soprano but she's not showing off now. 'The secret to pop music isn't to sing well. It's just to make songs people can sing.' 'Ariana Grande. She can sing.' The train stops. A group of language exchange students get on and stand by the door pushing and laughing. Their smiles are brilliant and I found myself smiling too, brilliant. I look up a bit and smile into the window that smiles back, brilliant. They get off at the next stop. Would have been quicker to walk, just look at the map. 'On Slash's album the singer hits a high F sharp.' 'Good to have in your repertoire.' One has moved onto Rock 'n' Roll. He's not listened to a word so far. He's listened to his own high F sharp but it was more like a... something flat. Driverless cars going emptily by. Planes without passengers or pilots in the sky. Phones without wires, bombs without tanks, Trains underground, road-trips to space. 'You're such a dad.' 'I love that.' Two and Sickboy have started talking about an old boyfriend. She introduced him to her dad and he pretended he had tourettes. The first time he ever met him. Cashier no.4 please. Sickboy's dad wore pants on his head. 'He took a tab at a Pink Floyd concert. Back in the 70s. Lying back and watching a flyover with the first chord of Dark Side of the Moon. The colours, the lights, Breathe (In The Air).' 'Your eyes look super blue.' That's Two with a smile. 'Do they?' He (Sickboy) turns around to stare at his reflection in the dark windows. 'Is he alright?' That's One to Two. 'I think he's still thinking about her.' I forgot your birthday Because you took it off Facebook. Does anybody give love on Bebo anymore? They laugh for a while before I realise they're looking at me. I laugh too and shrug. They were right, I was still thinking about her. The warm-up act for a gig that a friend of a friend had suggested the night before. When she looked into the crowd it was easy to image she was looking at me. A solo act at a pub/venue in the NE, an area that used to be dodgy and still had a bad name but really now it's all cafes and cafes and a shop that designs bespoke teddybears. Three of them (three of us) standing at the back by the bar whilst the friend of a friend talks to the girl she knows on the door and people trail in, filling the small back-room. She's tall on stage and blonde. She sings and the music she plays from her laptop sings with her, the lights are rare and blue and the crowd are silent while she sings, even the guy behind the bar stops and listens. Afterwards we sat outside, four or five of us friends of friends, chatting about the music and the industry and things we didn't really understand because we were only at the edges. But actually one of us did because she did a year of journalism, and someone was going into radio and they'd heard someone talk about someone who was up-and-coming and the sound was similar to this but unique. Fairy lights criss-crossed the rafters of the smoking area. Red. Blue. Green. Gold. One of us was tired and I don't know why I didn't leave. Just get up and go. Walk and keep walking. My friend was talking to his friend who had been the journalist and she was looking across at another who might have been in the band, might have played the bass, but might have just been in the crowd it was hard to tell from the angle. Would they have noticed, really noticed, or maybe even cared if I'd got up and walked away? They would have thought I was going home probably, out onto the street and back home on the bus. But I could have gone anywhere. How much was the train to the coast? And the ferry to Calais? How long before someone realised I was hitch-hiking through fields in eastern France and down the Rhine to the Alps, an Alpine idyll and down into the lush green hills of Italy. They still giggle and I let thoughts of her go. Bridges are lit up on the left, Queensboro, Blackfriars, Rosie, Williamsburg, great waves of light that stretch in huge half circles from shore to shore. I look right but there's another train going the other way, heading south into Downtown. I check my watch. Who's going west at this time? Tired faces slump down on sleeping chests and weary early-early-morning travellers cuddle up to strangers who lilt away. Streets where it's warm to walk about, that's nice, that's just fine. Where it was too warm at midday, now it's warm enough to come back up in the dark and still enjoy the walk from the station; out at Camden Town, up to Putnam or back down to that bar on Nostrand. Or was it Parliament? Where out back there's three playing jazz like something from a movie and the kid with the floppy hair gets up to sit at the soft hammers and all four blow the minds of the empty room. These four are coming out into the night and breathing it in, stumbling back to the floor where they lay, wrapped arm in arm, one shifting up and out and, ignoring the sounds, he steps carefully through to the next room where the glow shuffles behind the window from across the river, and lights the small sofa room and kitchenette with a dim gold highlight. Boy rubs his eyes and flicks the thick switch that goes red for coffee. Not caring about quietly they're asleep he goes to the door that opens onto the narrow balcony where he breathes the night in again, hands two hands apart on the cool warm rail. The sky is switched to purple, the streets to blue and gold, but everything's muted, and so much bigger. He watches the planes coming in and out of Newark. Him, tomorrow, looking down on him looking up like a thousand other dots in so much light. Elsewhere the parties continue, the trains keep running, people like him stand out and smoke and look at the city, marvelling at it or shaking their heads. Taxis roll and stop, people shout and laugh and inside are hot, loud, quiet. A man cries into paper at the edge of a track, a woman stands dripping by a rooftop pool, rats run from woods to streets, to skin. On the seventeenth floor of a hotel where someone famous died a young man in a jacket and a sweaty shirt climbs the metal steps that lead to the roof and stands blinded by the brightness around him before he turns and makes his way down the stairs and out into the heavy, bright night. And the end of that songs goes Hum hum hum hum. Listen to the sound of the Hum hum hum. Breath in the night Look out at its eyes Walk up to the moon Silver surprise. A bird that lifts off And lands once a year On October the first When the cool sky is clear. Wings, feathers and beak She takes off with a hum A burr in the heart Cold claws that go numb. Listen to the sound of the Hum hum hum. The end of the song goes Hum hum hum hum.
©2007-2021 Benedict Esdale