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Electric Face

Smooth plaster walls, cold to the touch, in the dark. Remember how you felt the Sunday carpet under your bare feet? Press your face to the window and greet whoever you meet there, looking back. Run your fingers over the cold, reach up, find the Switch. Don’t rush, just hold it for a second. I want to see when you light up.

She’s strapped in, locked in tight in the back of the black maria – filtering sunlight that’s cold and washed very very clean, sunlight that’s been ironed. Every single house has a completely empty pristine upstairs bedroom that she sees through the meshed in window. Every single room contains the secret of eternal life, the hidden mystery which is to make the bed and dust a lot. The driver speeds up and hits every bump on the way up and on the way down again.

Unexpected twist: Junkyard Casanova, rebuilt by the swishing knives of wipe clean PVC surgeons, takes a turn around the block in her coach and four; glimpses the speeding wagon and makes a snap decision. The beasts whip up into a gallop. “This”, she says “is clearly an emergency for which I have Affection.”

You wanna press that Switch yet? I’m neither stopping you nor pleading with you. I mean, I want you to press it, but you know that. The dark is good too, but something is moving outside the window and I don’t know how long that lock will last.

The screech of tyres, but it’s too late; the captive, noticing at last that her blindfold is perfectly see through and her bindings are barely cobwebs, leaps from the unlocked back door of the wagon, angling between a forest of upright swords, to land on tiptoes beside Junkyard Miss Casanova. She hands over the priziest of prizes as the judges go wild, scoring them both perfect 10s for style and vile. Nova takes it from her, a pomegranate wrapped with a neat ribbon, the prettiest one that you ever did see.

“Ringstone Round, darling” says the Nova, trying her hardest not to explode just yet. They both instinctively look at the sky anyway, but the constellations are just FINE.

You did it. You pressed the switch and that thing outside leaped away into the laughing dark. Your face illuminates; your bone structure is a fine sculpture of neon tubes, each one perfectly shaped and aesthetically as perfect as ANYTHING. The curve of your jaw flares between blue and green as we overcome awkwardness. We waltz across the Sunday rug and the points of our high heels score tally marks into the floor. Outside, a new star suddenly flares over the ruined ski slope and illuminates the cemetery, casting wild and unknown shadows from every headstone.

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Haunted Carpet

It is. Look down now, do you see the trace marks of ghost fingers? Your carpet is haunted, and I don’t know what you expect me to do about it. You called us in and here we are! So what do we do now, dear?

Don’t ask me about this, I’ve just got back from school at night. Floodlights everywhere outside, but they turn the lights off and the radiators on indoors. If you put your ear to the keyhole, you can hear the new classes starting. The register is still in alphabetical order, but it’s not the alphabet you learned, the man from the AUSTRALIA committee upgraded our register last autumn and I only know the Imperial alphabet with 39 letters. It’s alright because once, I found a skull in the road and brought him in for show and tell: I can’t tell you what he showed, but I can show you what he told.

This carpet is SO haunted too. The one in the pharmacy, the grey carpet of doom that they have to vacuum every night after 5:30, grown fat and pale with the wheezing and terror. Something is peeping around the non-brand nail varnish, and its eyes are WAY too big for such a small frame. You wanna talk to the dog though? He’s in back. It causes us some issues, having a dog pharmacist, we don’t like to talk about it, after what happened. He howls at the stars a bit much for my liking. Or perhaps he has a point: Watch Out! Miss Ingrid is going to get jealous at this rate! You remember her Uncle Sigrid? They never found him. Mind you, they never looked.

After dark in the playing fields, I found some playing cards, and a knife trap of the kind perfected by the Viet Cong. I was going to take it to the Head, but the craftsmanship was so exquisite that I didn’t want to ruin it, so I covered it over again. Kept the playing cards though. The Queen of Wands had a nice smile.

This carpet is haunted by the fear of smoking. Rag rugs are filled with anxiety I’m afraid, but I adore them. Utterly beautiful but gosh.

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YOU

You

Yes, you.  Right now, under a sky.  Looking up at Mars, which holds the horizon like an old friend.  I used to dream about walking, flying on Mars.  I had wings.  It was my favourite dream, I think.

You.  There you are, all of You.  I wonder what it is You look up for?  I’m standing on the front step of my house.  The waxing moon is to my left, Mars straight in front.  A cat hides under a car, watching me – I worry.  There are foxes here, late at night, a whole family of them, beautiful, probably lethal to everything.

There are so many of You, and I wish I could be here with many of You.  There are some I know well, and some I am just starting to know, and some I don’t know at all, You, the ones that I’ve never even met.  The night is huge and looming and full of a cold sound, but I think my job tonight is to be a musician, and to improvise a tune, a little counterpoint to the night song – I can’t see the other musicians, but that’s OK.  Sometimes, the song gets really minor key, and I don’t mind a song in a minor key – but not forever.  Not always.  Songs end, and I don’t want this to be the blues, no need for torch songs tonight, no matter how much I want to play the tragic femme fatale.  No.  Or rather, yes, because that’s how it changes.  Just when you think You know what the song’s going to be like, a new instrument joins in- you shout YES at the stars –

1973: with apologies to the Reptile House

Here I am, at the top of my life, with the threat of a downhill race in front of me.  I’m not sure I want to look over the edge, yet here I am.  If I’ve made the choice not to have children, perhaps not even to live with anyone, tentative future plans aside, what then?  Where do I go?  Is working worth it, just for a retirement?  Is staying healthy worth it?  Is any of it now serving any point at all, when what I really want is a life of mild debauchery and beautiful music and art?  Art, the Art, the one Art, the only one worth pursuing, the Art that is Us. The Art that is You.

And feeling, feeling an emotion so strongly and so well and with so much honesty, that it changes the world.  Like how I feel right now.  Like the words that you’re reading, because all of You, I want you to hear that sound.   To go outside and listen to the stars and the nightsong and know that no matter how fucked it seems, how lonely you feel, how empty the night looks, it’s not.  I know because I’ve felt that and god knows, it hurts like splinters, shards of glass under the skin, but when you look the night in the face and feel what you want to, and sing the song back at it, you can be more than you ever dreamed.  When You remember.  

You.   I love You. It’s as simple as that, the best truth of all, worth living for. I love You. Would You like to dance?

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Rain expected 8PM Sheffield

For a bunch of witches

…so normal and everyday, just a piece of the world that’s always happening, a mundane magic that calls through me like the song of a wineglass, and the roads shine in the last of the sun, and it’ll be full of an enchantment too big for any one heart to hold alone.  So hold hands with me, my loves, and we’ll go walking, shiny second skins reflecting the stars as they come out one by one.

And then there’s the other side of it, the dragging silence of late Sunday.  Full of school ghosts. It’s full of longing, if we’re fortunate, and regret if we are not.  This is what it costs – the Sunday night trains that haunt me, the empty last bus, the traffic lights that change themselves over and over, remembering the crowds.

Do you know what it is to be yourself, to wear yourself in all your colours?  How precious that is?  Oh you do, you do, and you know it well, and it was dearly bought with pain and starlight. And still, it’s such a simple beautiful secret, so simple and so radiant that I want to rush up to each and every high street stranger, to see what light’s in them, to ask with a desperation that borders on mania, is this you?  Look at us, look at this, you can shine, please, if what’s in you is the need to shine, then be radiant, because Sunday night is always coming and the best of times are just little splinters, tiny and bright sharp things, that get swept away before you even feel the scratch.

 I want to put all the shards together again and build something new, something that holds the light

The absolute perfect silence of a Sunday morning and the cold that accompanies it, right through to the bones.  The light that diffuses through strange clouds, taking forms of things never seen.  This city becomes alien, but perhaps we start to reflect a little of that ourselves, maybe that fractured sunrise reflects in our eyes.  Oh, and it’s a hard road back from the shores of night, we all know that, and it’s a steep harsh climb back to the oppressions of Sunday late dark; the empty house, the unmade silent bed, and more wineglasses than you’ll need till next time.  But once I’d come to the beach and looked at the ocean, I never doubted the worth of throwing my heart into it.

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Last Quarter

I’m not saying anything new.

The light, the summer light, is losing its intensity.  I’ve talked about it a lot; the high calorie light of early August that takes on a sad paleness as the month fades.  I’m mixing metaphors, if you’re counting.  

There’s a little broken piece of memory that I have.  The last day of the summer holidays, a very long time ago.  Darkness rising all around, a clear sky and the first hints of cold, right on the very edge of perception.  My parents, wanting a walk, and we walked and walked, down silent streets that were the very essence of a Sunday night, all dereliction and longing and the dreadful aura of ironing shirts  (my family have very strong views on the horror of Sunday night).

And the stars were coming out, in my memory at least.  I don’t know where we went, just that it was somewhere that I’d never been before.  A suburban street, a good half hour from home.   And we went to see a streetlamp, because my dad worked for the street lighting department.  It was a gas lamp that had been converted to electricity, a little shiny white bulb when all the others were sickly migraine amber.  We looked at this streetlamp, then we went home again.  And I was sad because it was the end of the holiday.

 I’ve dreamed variations on that moment for about thirty years.  Dreams that end with the feeling that the holiday is now over, and I’ll never see my dream friends again.  

That’s my biggest fear and I’m writing about it here and now because writing about it is a way of dealing with it.  Saying goodbye to someone and it’s the last time, and you know it.  Didn’t someone define the meaning of hell as that precise concept?  Does that mean my personal hell is feeling sad looking at  a cast iron lamp-post?  ‘cause that’s quite on-brand, really.

September is pure magic, but part of that is the understanding that we are giving up summer and the long days.  Where I live, I can lie in bed and listen to drunken songs and laughter, the exact same sounds that have been heard on this road for over a thousand years now, perhaps much longer.  And they are summer sounds; they grow less as the year grows old, except around Christmas of course.  Those late falling nights (and for children and teachers, the long stretch of summer days) are what we give up, our little unknowable sacrifice.

Oh, it’s not like we have a choice, but still we give up on the idea of them.  A heatwave in late September feels horribly wrong, because we’ve allowed ourselves to let go of the summer, so that we can walk in colder mornings and under early stars, so that we can burn old wood, because we’ve been doing that on that very road for at least four thousand years.

Remember what we burn?  Chipped with paint, fragments of things that fell apart, iron nails, splinters.  When August becomes September I can think about the nights when I look down on all the streets and see the maps of bonfires, every single one with an audience; no-one builds a fire and doesn’t let it hold their attention (or if they do, they learn otherwise quite quickly).    Every single distant speck of fire is surrounded by What Happened, be it hand-holding, or sadness, or being horribly drunk, or devilish excitement, or tears, or the utterly unexpected catch of the heart when reality gets theatrical and delivers a wild magic that doesn’t equate to explanations or words at all.

I’m not saying anything new, but I have a sadness tonight and that’s a beautiful thing, and I want to watch my summer’s end sadness by the last quarter of this August moon.  There will be fires and meetings and perfect frosts, but now is the end of August, a fine night for flying sadness like a kite.

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Writing on things

If you drive out of the city, through the suburbs and up the hills, the greenwood starts becoming clear and the houses get a little space between them and the architecture takes on the form of an afternoon.  Lazy gaps, quieter; I suppose the packed in, built up areas that you’ve left behind are the busy mornings.  This is afternoon space.    

As you travel, notice that things are less and less friendly for anyone not driving.  Invisible underpasses beneath unexpected dual carriageways, baby motorways trying to get bigger.  Pavements are sometimes narrow or sometimes just empty – perfectly usable but clearly pointless.  There’s not even litter here sometimes.  Then it’s the fields and the odd tiny estate, often disastrous and visibly falling apart, lost in a state perfect isolation and disconnect from the heart of the Town, slowly being eaten alive by fields that were first cultivated before the printing press was running.  

Just before you arrive at that space though, there’s a pub, a big late 60s ex-Harvester, the sort of place that’s there because it’s on a big spare corner at the ends of normal living space.  First one to get a huge TV in 1989.  A wide open car park, because people come here to have a burger after the shops, not to get drunk, or not much.   We aren’t going in.  There’s nothing wrong with the place really, but we aren’t going in.  

Here it is.  Right where the car park meets the pavement.  Slightly paler smush of concrete surface.  Details that are so small that they aren’t ever accounted for – a change in texture out front of a dull pub.  I can read it though, literally, because there’s a fragment of writing still there; it says L84 which I know because I was standing next to L in 1984 when they wrote it with a stick, in the first month of secondary school.

Fragments of writing hanging around, like the dark blue stabbed phrase in the subway about WOODS which was a testimony to someone’s power and control.  CONVICT BEATS in whitewash on the quarry wall for forty years.  But I can’t shift that moment from my mind.  Standing in the half sun in Autumn, near the bus stop.  And then what we make stays still in place and we get older and wander on but those words stay where we left them for a little while and anyone who sees them meets that version of us, the writer who was.  

Even when the writer isn’t any more.  Not in some dramatic and tragic manner, just in that we aren’t concrete.  We aren’t even wet cement.

Oh god, we must leave our stories, we must, we must.  Every word that we can, because even your name and the year is glorious, shining in memory and saying yep, something happened, there was Something, and maybe there’s not any more, but it doesn’t matter, any more than it matters that some words in the ground got bulldozed over again, or words on a wall that got demolished, or painted on a quarry that’s a supermarket now.  

None of it stays forever, and that’s alright too.  

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Straight Track

Warning: you can’t follow this. It doesn’t work when you’re awake.

It starts in the woods.

There aren’t any woods anymore, so we’ll have to move back a few decades. When we are going to be, there’s a tower block unexpectedly in a clearing, with a sacred tree before it, growing in image of the dead. A tragic fall late at night. A story lost and filed in time until it’s only half recalled in quiet moments, as we are now, amongst the woods all round.

Follow the winding path to the white manor house, skirt the edges catch glimpses of faces watching, magpies thieving from windowsills. Leave the forests and cross the roads; your path will bisect them over and over until suddenly, you find yourself winding in circles and then the road runs with you and you’re following the long track.

It will take you a time and it won’t follow the straight road for a while. House upon house upon house. This is territory of big space, heavily inhabited and no-one around. You could die out here, no trouble. Keep walking; would be terribly unlucky for the sun to to set on you here. Keep looking, we need to find our way.

On and on, but here the houses shift upwards and become twisted with age and poverty. They become fractal, one big house becomes seven tiny houses, all creaking with the weight of Victoriana. Don’t step off, we need to keep out of the nineteenth century today, it’s much too respectable and has far too many buttons to undo. Keep walking.

Suddenly, the cinema. The seats are too small and will crush your hips, and no-one will stop you drinking, smoking, shouting. The screen worn soft with light for sixty years. I suppose we’ll lose some of you here, and not even halfway yet.

Suddenly, it’s busy, pints and hasty words, the epic solemnity of pubs in the daytime. Pass through, don’t stop for long, we can’t risk falling asleep, we might never find our way back. Long tables, and scattered faces, clean, too clean in fact. It’s only calm because it’s waiting for everyone to get out of work or university or school, and water down the afternoon crowd, half asleep and half maddened as they are, for the mood to turn frantic and for the endless nameless laughing to begin.

On on on on on

The bike shop, with it’s shifty forms half glimpsed within, shadows that terrify the man who obsessively grows nettles in his front garden to smoke and make bitter, bitter tea from, whilst he thaws cows’ hearts in the sink as a treat for the cat. Who can remember these shops, that sell such fancy and valuable nothings?

More towers and shapes here, but the territory runs thin now and you might want to start watching your back a bit, because this is where they beat the bus drivers for pulling in a bit too swift. Keep walking, but keep walking fast, and no, we aren’t nearly there yet. Just over there? House of cold. Stone cold, bitter through and through. Mice and beetles. You have to fight to stay warm, I mean it quite literally.

Hear that noise in the distance? Every inch crowded with images; that kid on the bus with the hair there reading Oedipus, reading about Teirisias, it means “he who delights in signs”, he’d have been well in here. He hit two snakes with his staff and turned into a woman, but the daft bugger turned back again seven years later, not knowing when he was on to a good thing.

Busywork, constant movement, don’t stand still, there’s a battle against entropy to be won. If you reversed this voyage you could gain speed and overshoot onto the plains, land by the radio telescopes watching the universe achieve a flatline dead stability over trillions of years. Down here, at the sharp end, everyone fights that flat balance every second. Till you get to the park. There’s the house that doesn’t exist, just behind the supermarket, the missing map place.

There’s the park, we’re passing it now. Blood shed, desperate young man shouting in breathless fear as wild eyed children threaten him, he’s running now, he got away, but no-one knew what to do until it stopped and we could move on. Magpies flying around, one for sorrow says the boy with the guitar at the bus stop. He’s just seen the other face of the place.

Don’t catch the bus, that’s cheating. Keep walking.

White stones now, huge and elaborate memorials to dead scientists and travellers. There’s a tattered television star on the steps; there’s a young couple in their finest getting turned away from the guestlist. Quicken your step, this can be hunter’s ground, especially by a bomber’s moon. That man shouts the time at you and tells you he’s filled with hate. Steps wind up, a wild collection of angles. Below them is a bar so dark and lost that people only go there in their dreams, which means the clientele is inclined to the less obvious meanings; every conversation is symbolic, mathematically, psychologically, semantically, inevitably. All you have to do to get past the bouncers is to be home in bed fast asleep.

Pass through, pass through. Peaceful retro future hidden here, turn the corner, frozen 1981, the movie posters are still up, even for those of us not dream-tripping right now. They never sold this place, at least not awake. Keep walking out and down the other side. Keep going, follow the line. There’s a bullet hole in the wall of the green tiled building (there’s not, but I once wrote that there was). New builds and redbrick now, in honour of queer martyrs, plugging the wires together that build thoughts out of impure silicon and leading the way into biology. Turing, eating an apple of temptation, destroyed by a serpent that wore a demob suit and offered him conversion therapy. Keep walking.

Crossing the river. You can feel it, just after the basketball courts under the motorway bridge, beat of the water right down deep below, getting into your bones, washing through decades of silt and fag ends. Down there there’s underground bridges from the sheep fairs, slabs of ancient wood, bats and spiders running halloween rampant. Screams of the city, louder you scream, faster we go, here we are. Oh! This is nearly the end. If we ran further, there’s a dead woman wrapped in carpet right out in the open behind the car park, but they won’t find her for twenty years yet. And over there, the cold war gate that leads down into the secret city, the municipal afterlife that waited impatiently. Lift shaft hidden in a simple yard behind the Odeon, with a neat sign “Enquiries 0236 0430” – secret code in plain sight, though the razor wire is a bit of a giveaway.

On, but now you’re running into a dead end, the conclusion, the temple that balances the woods. The great hall, the Library, to return the books we borrowed and it feels like heartbreak to reach the end and I know I want to travel it again and again, leaving more of myself in the stories each time until I’m just a ghost whisper down the Road.

Or a part of me does, but that’s not why we’re here today, did I not say?

This time, don’t slow down.  Keep walking, let it merge into running.  On on on on, faster, run straight at the temple to end the road, let all the accumulated speed of years fill you like lightning, on until you can orbit around the curve of the building round and round faster, gravity well, swinging around with delirious velocity until the weight of time turns into speed and we fly, off into stars and free, planet diminishing behind us, out into night and sky forever, onwards, on on on on.

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Outside the A to Z

Once, about twenty-nine years before the day on which I’m writing this, I lived in one room of a four story Victorian semi in a massive city in the north of England. And I loved it, for a very short space of time, before the experience became so frightening that I still have nightmares to this day.

It was near a park and a football stadium. It rained a lot, sometimes inside the house, as the roof was not exactly in perfect condition. The landlords were respectably shady, comfortingly menacing. An old lady and her angry son lived next door. My room was the first on the right as you entered. It had three huge windows and two outside walls, and, had I not moved quarters by November, I think I might actually have frozen to death.

Seven of us lived there at first. Smokers every one of us, drinkers too. The furniture was not fireproof and the only heating was a series of small gas fires installed in every room. We had a lot of plastic mugs and we drank a lot of tea. There was a cellar with a dozen rooms and an incongruous bath plumbed in right at the centre of the maze.

No-one went in the cellar, except to show people the strange bath, or the meat storage room with hooks still hanging from the ceiling and a stone slab cutting table. Sometimes the cellar would flood and I’d sneak down to look at the little black waves. But I wasn’t always able to do that; after the first time someone tried to get into the house via that route, we dragged a cupboard in front of the door.

But I loved it there, those first few months. Walking through the park, perfect autumn sun, and the knowledge that I didn’t know what was going to happen next. The raised voices, laughter and rage, the screaming roads and crammed restaurants, windows that seemed far too bright, cheap neon, cigarette end illuminations, dark woods alive with alien movement, crumbling building sites, chains of buses snaking into town – I’d grown up on the edge of another city, where the night seemed to go on and on, out into farms that stank of three hundred years ago, the empty cold of deserted dual carriageways and derelict airfields. But if this place went back anywhere, it was only as far as about 1975, and it screamed with life and a sickly strength, a determination to manifest something not altogether wholesome, but with a bit of blood in it, or on it, at least.

It seems odd to remember thinking like that. Now, I choose to live somewhere that’s near silent and has been occupied for about four thousand years, but then such things felt like fading out into the emptiness and loneliness of history. There, I couldn’t stop smiling for the first few weeks, grinning with wild joy at the all night cafes and brutalist precincts, the record shops and vintage stores, the steam of industrial chimneys turned to flame by the sodium glare of the streetlamps. A million lights, a library of possibilities. I was a tourist, in the worst possible way.

And best of all, no-one could find me. No mail, no visitors, no phone. They’d rebuilt this district years ago and our little street had been cut off from the rest of itself, amputed by a carpark and a row of maisonettes. We weren’t in the A-Z or the streetplans. We didn’t exist. Should have been a warning, but what did I know? Lacking the self awareness to see that becoming invisible is an appalling crime against love, against identity, against becoming something brighter?

I could tell stories and I might do, just to record them somewhere. I can’t find any of those people I shared that space with, so otherwise, each story will be forgotten and that makes me anxious somehow. But for now, I want to record this; that room, the sun setting, the house silent for once. Sunday or Monday night perhaps. No light, the electricity has run out again. Sitting by the unsteady orange light of the gas fire, wrapped in an army coat. Curtains open, view of houses, lights, movement. Clear sky, a rarity. Cold excitement. Distant calls. All the space for anything to happen. It did.

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Sunday Tracking

It’s night nearly, dusk, the shadows are almost complete and I’m moving onwards, over and over.  I couldn’t begin to count how often I’ve been there.  So many times, following the pattern; you drive or get the train on Friday evening, you travel back in Sunday dusk.  

The train, then.  Getting the train just as the darkness starts, then two, three hours of Sunday darkness.  The movement, the sensation, swaying.  The Friday train is full, thinning out over time, but the Sunday train is often almost deserted, bright lights and the taste of instant coffee.  It’s a cellophane journey.  The morning’s paper rammed into the back of the seat in front.  Old news.  

Each town swings around into view.  The car parks and retail estates, all empty, all locked up.  Optimal Sunday train time, four pm, closing up time.  Some places locked since Friday, that turned the alarms on when I was shuffling for a ticket leading out into the wide world, when my bag was full of outfits and ideas, not just laundry.  Look out of the window and learn to see past your own reflection, stare into your eyes until you can see the streetlights of somewhere unknown.  Empty voids, closed up cafes, glimpse a wrecking yard, a bridge, the rush of water passing, only there in waves that steal the light, out into the country night, nothing now, fleeting village station lamps to break the self portrait.  We don’t stop there.

There, you can see the fields, Sunday afternoon fields, dog walkers and kids running free, but now utterly impassive.  Everyone’s gone home, the shoes are getting shined and the dread of an ironing smell fills the space.  Kitchen lights on, upstairs bedside lamp, rush past, what dreams?  What are you scared of, what are you dreaming of, whose eyes are they that you see as you look out of your own train, at your own track paling away into the unknown horizon?  Who is it you long for, rushing on towards a morning destination?

I hope they will be there to meet you from your train.  I hope you run into each others’ arms and I hope that the day you have arrived at is the one you needed.  I hope the eyes you see are only your own when you need them to be, and I hope that when they aren’t, they shine for you, bright lights of warmth, of contact, windows on a place that’s more than getting ready for another day.

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Underground Aeronauts

There are two small parks not far from here. One is neat and clearly holds the shape of its Edwardian origins, down to the small bay in which an ornamental cannon was once mounted. There’s a perfectly square boating lake (lacking boats this century), some ornamental flower beds, and a little playground which could well be the most modern part.

A busy road forms a boundary line, and there starts the other park. This one is wild, unplanned, open spaces, unexpected corners. Never fully in view. You could get lost and I imagine people have, though it seems to be nothing more than fields and trees. Here, there’s houses and flats and shouting late at night.

But it’s only two parks above ground.

If you could find a way into the underneath world – and I’m not saying that you can, because I don’t want you to die on my account – you could see that. There might – and I’m not confirming anything – be a whole other world down there.

The story is, it’s where they used to store barrage balloons. One doesn’t ride around in a barrage balloon, but this isn’t real, so in my mind, it’s the kind of balloon that you can travel to Paris in. Except, underground. In the subterranean park. How much space do you need to store a balloon like that? It seems like there’s a lot of room down there she says, based on nothing whatsoever. I think they were – are – inflated, perhaps even floating gently in huge ink dark spaces. Underground ballooning.

I might have done the neat park a disservice. It’s a beautiful place and you can hear owls there at night. Yes, the boating lake has no boats, and it’s a perfect square, but how deep does it go down? Every side is sentried with warning signs; it’s deeper than you think. How deep, exactly? How far down? Once I made a map of it, and drew undines at the edge, singing sirens in the municipal depths. Yesterday morning, there were swimmers where I placed water spirits, determinedly blanking the DANGER NO SWIMMING DEEP WATER signs, and the geese.

There’s no obvious water on the other side of the road. Never means it’s not there though.

According to legends, people often got into the Underneath. There were secret hatches, passages, unexpected caves in the bushes, ways In and Down. Lit by thin falling sunbeams from far off inspection hatches, it was party time down there after dark, despite the fact that one of the most popular routes in consisted of a climb down a disturbingly long steel ladder, descending a shaft into the earth, looking for balloonland. Candles propped in wine bottles, everything running from 9V battery packs, and smeared with that grime of dampness that fills such spaces.

Apparently. I wouldn’t know.

No, really, really. I wouldn’t. I’ve never been there. I’ve spent many hours in the two parks, but never in the one park, the one down there. I know the ways in, or I know where they might be, but they’ve been cemented and welded over many many times now, perhaps finally. Or maybe not. I don’t care. I love the idea of underground balloons, and I’m happier with the dream than the reality.

Also, why would anyone store balloons in a huge underground facility? Perhaps it’s not that huge. Don’t care. The legend is better.

This is where the ghost zeppellins float dreamily on in the dark, lit by candlestars. Ferrying the council undines back and forth under the road. Of course, to one side there’s a tower where you can ride the Paternoster (another story) and over there is the aerodrome hidden by a ring of factories (another story). The sun rises dead on a line with this place, straight down into the district named for an Egyptian city, just over from where they used to take us to see the Egyptian sarcophagus (another story).

They built a huge university building right next to the neat park this year. And then they pulled it down again. It was sinking into the earth, vanishing into the underneath.