That point when you’re fever dream struck down on something, viral, vodka, whatever your poison is, caught under daylight when you need it to be night and almost spinning in the street, seeing it all from the angle of outside-
To try to learn a city – and it will only ever be the act of learning, as this place is a language far too complex to fully process – you have to walk. That’s a thing we Know, but don’t; I knew it for years, yet rarely acted upon it. Perhaps it would be better to say that I was Aware, but didn’t Know, or didn’t Act. Three stages, but without each other, they don’t Work.
Walk. I once walked Manchester roads, half out of my mind on grief and starvation, trying to glimpse goddess in the details, but I just found my once-places empty, and bars at the windows of my old home. It was an hour’s train journey and about eleven years to get to my new home. I wasn’t looking properly.
Can you see it? Get out. Look at it. Turn the corner. There! Behind that high hedge, tucked behind the children’s hospital. That house. Three stories, Victorian. A dedication stone: it was the Spiritualist Church. Dead voices talking in every room and now someone lives there and listens out just a bit too attentively every night. Imagine fifty years ago, a single landline, every call a throw of the dice – living or dead callers?
There – great concrete slab of many angled building, locked down and invisible in its vastness for decades, looming over the circular underpass, the empty silent green tiled space. Once I kissed someone there against a sharp grey wall, and felt that cracking ice feeling of the world changing forever. And that stab, oh, it’s dangerous, but it’s so very addictive. Transformation is my vice, but it’s one I share with this town, the town that stole me like a changeling, as soon as I was old enough to dream of its tower mazes and to listen to the deal they offered.
There – the barely visible entrance to the caverns of bats and pale life. There – oh, it’s a tower block, brutalist heaven, but you don’t know about the people that snuck up there to carry on dancing one dawn, years ago, a shining dancefloor with no walls or bouncers, but one hell of an exit charge.
There, right now, the woman on the till thirty minutes ago, making a wonderful confusion of trying not to really fancy the security guard, and you can see that, but if you look, you can see where this used to be the laundry too and how many other stories like that did we miss?
And there’s that dreadful pub, but once it was a supermarket too, and there was a ghost and this story was never written down or shared, but no-one would go into the stockroom alone, apart from one woman who talked to the dead and taught her family something of that skill. And no-one knows how the ghost followed her home and shared her house for years, as a bit of company – the woman next door had budgies instead.
And in each moment, the stab of transformation. The leap when you know you’re going to fall, but it’s alright because falling can be good. There’s always some fear, because that’s part of it, but just once in a while, you can stand in front of the haunted house and knock on the door, let it swing open by itself, walk in, let it slam behind you, like that dream you had. And there’s a black rotary phone that keeps ringing, and dust and incense and kisses from shadows. And all the walls are painted with all the stars, and it’s everything all at once, and it’s ours, ours forever.