“The wee fat man: the Mittel-European; the guy with the cheeky smile; the captain of the ship; the Boss. He’s the one you want. But you’re starting from the wrong place. You are at the door of his castle, but you can’t enter. You must speak with his agents. His agents are not here. I can’t tell you where they are, but they will tell you if you are likely to be granted some level of permission. It would be best not to try; it’s best to wait. They’ll come for you. If they don’t, then that is an answer.”
Half a million spent on cranes and forklifts and trucks, lifting rock from a stately home (that doesn’t need to profit, what with the visitor tariffs and gift shop and restaurants) and digging up another site on monied ground. Planting up the flowers and pumping water through like it was a stream, a real stream. The Champagne people are here, stroking their chins and their wallets. The Royals stagger through. The paying people gawp. They look at the sandstone, at the scale. They feel in their pockets for cash. They forget that all this is theirs; that the land lives.
Charles had bunked off. There was some story about his mum, but they were only told that he had terrible hayfever. While he was away friends started telling tales, bad things. And though not many would have known Charles’s influence, in his absence the playground became raucous. There were fights. The girls goaded the boys. The boys got rowdy. The teachers stepped in and were mocked. Lessons became chaotic. One lunchtime, a game of British Bulldog was turning violent. A punch was thrown. Against the brick wall of the school Andrew flicked back his hair. This time would be his.
There will be no clichés. No morning light, no birds singing, no greening of the year. This is no bildungsroman. We learn nothing. We will repeat the same mistakes because we have the same hopes and the same fears and we continue to lack the facility to contend. We are compromised by ourselves and others but prefer not to think about it. We will not accept ourselves and our complicity. We accept feeling thwarted, but deny the true challenge. The roles of hunter and hunted are vainglorious, but we never let them go. We enjoy stasis. It is our alibi.
She was running through snowflakes. He always told her to take care, don’t slip, keep her gloves on, wear a hat, knowing how paranoid he sounded and how much he felt like his own father. The moment made him anxious, frustrated and sad. She just smiled and ran off up the hill. Look at her go. She was too young to know anything, she just wanted to slide. The burn of the cold would come later and she’d know then. Adults forgot how these days were nothing but fun. Fun was blind. Was that an expression? If only she’d lived.
I was told that water has memory. I can believe it. I think of how a drop – the cold moisture of a cloud, somewhere a continent away – might precipitate itself upon an azure sea. That it might get pulled this way and that, become submerged, forgotten, embroiled in the waves and the churn of marine life; that it might be lifted and fall again, that it might enter rivers, cross countries; that it might finally be taken along by a tide, that it might beach itself on closer shores, that it might pour from our taps, with its memory intact.
Choking from the tree pollen and the blanket of smog that had blown in from across the sea and the dust that had risen from the roads after the fires of the previous week. The atmosphere was unbreathable. Slowly jogging through the drag of streets from west to east was a chore for the chest. The sky was cloudless, but all the towers and cranes in the distance took on a muddy, sepia colour. It was a sense of desaturation, a fading, that was at odds with the coarse, thick reality of the air. The town was suffocating under itself.
I can’t explain it in any other terms, she said, waving her hands in front of her and gesturing at the trees. I can’t read the papers any more. I can’t watch TV. I know what’s coming. It’s like this every time. Whoever wins out, it will be the same. We’ve still a month to go. And then here, this morning, it hit me. The nettles are coming up, those little purple flowers dotted around. And there’s this stench. It’s meant to be spring but something already smells of decay. Breathe in: can’t you smell it? You know what’s coming.
Trains backing up into Surrey and the onslaught of the crush at the barriers.
A roadside reek of last night’s piss and the morning’s nicotine and bleach.
A man laughs into his hand.
A woman switches to flats.
The freesheets are a coconut shy.
Two shots please. I like my coffee very strong.
I couldn’t sleep because of our stupid neighbour upstairs playing music and crashing around at four in the morning.
Did you eat there? It’s amazing.
I am booked up pretty much all day, back to back. Sorry.
A notebook on a desk.
The words: ‘Dream of plenty.’
With one small bag and no note he became the next of the disappeared. He was seventeen. They searched for him on maps but the maps were empty and sand covered them. They searched for him across websites but found only redacted rhetoric. He was gone. And he was gone before he was gone. The government said they were liaising with other governments to see if anything could be done. The police said they had monitored him, but he was untraceable. His school said it was a tragedy. His parents said he was a perfect son. He had said nothing.