Writing by Lola Weisselberg. Illustration by Antonia Popescu.
What the hell is that noise? Oh. Right. Alarm. Shut it off. Shut it off now, before Ms. Mayhew’s cats start acting out. I really can’t deal with this again. That’s better. God, it’s early. Why is the sun so lazy in the winter? If I can get up at 6.30 every day, you can too, you big burning ball of- It’s going to be freezing today, I can feel it. Better wear a jumper – maybe that one Karl gave me. I wonder how he’s doing. Haven’t seen him since - haven’t seen him- when was the last time I saw Karl? Last time we spoke, he was about to sit his- Got to get moving. Can’t be late again. Shower. Fuck, the water’s cold. Get dressed. Good. Wash face. Good. Breakfast? No time. I’ll pick something up on the way to the station.
I do like this walk. I feel like it’s the first moment I can really think, when I can stop barrelling mindlessly through a routine and actually occupy my own body for a change. The sun must be rising. The city is too built up for me to have any hope of catching a glimpse of the sunrise, but the small rectangular patch of sky above me as I walk down the street is a soft pink. Have I got my keys? I haven’t seen the sunrise in a very long time. I wonder if I’ll ever see another like that one on the beach in Wales. When was that, 2016? 2017? God, it was a slog to get down there, picking our way over the rocks in the half-light, still bleary-eyed with sleep, Amina marching out ahead. She was so afraid we’d miss it. I’m pretty sure we nearly did, with me grumbling and stumbling along behind her. But she was right to drag me out there. Christ, she was right. I’ve never seen anything like it. Well, the pink rectangle will have to do for today.
It’s a short walk, but I notice something new every day as I meander down Station Road: a sign on a window, a brightly coloured door, a wobbly paving stone. Today, I spy some crocuses under a tree in the park, their white bayonets just about poking out of the dirt. They’ll bloom in a week or so. They always do, around Dad’s birthday. Fuck, I need to get him a present. I wonder if Sarah will come back for the party. She never- Hang on, the station is coming up. Mask, card, ok, we’re good to go. Through the gate, down the escalator, my fingers run like little legs along the handle rail, onto the platform, why is it always a Bank branch train first? The train arrives. Don’t get on. Remember when we rode all the way to London Bridge before we noticed it was the wrong train? Stupid question, of course I do. I am us. I’ve got to stop thinking in dialogue like that. I think I need to talk to more people who aren’t – you know – me. Maybe I’ll ask Axel if he’s up for a drink later. Charing Cross train arrives. Here we go. Thank God there’s a seat; the new shoes were not a good idea. The roar of the train fills my ears and my mind goes quiet to make space for it.
This station is: Embankment. Change here for the Bakerloo, Northern and- Snap out of it, don’t miss the stop. I get out and the train doors beep behind me. Up the escalators, palm flat on the handle rail, through the gates, into the sunlight, and there it is, a part of my day I’ll never tire of: the Thames, flowing slow and wide and deep. I love the walk from the station to work, too. I tend to think of it as my last respite, my last pocket of calm before the day’s onslaught really begins. I ought to check with Dan about whether the Marchmont account is- Jesus Christ that bike came close.
I just about manage a few minutes of dry chat with Laura when I come in. I never had much of a silver tongue. Amina always said it was closer to titanium; still silver-coloured, but less malleable and far more robust. I’m not really one for polished speech or poetry. I’ve always been better at simple and straightforward talk. Although, I suppose, that’s not quite true; I used to be able to wrap my words around anything, just like the Boa Constrictor in that wildlife book Sarah and I shared when we were kids. But somewhere along the way, in my mid-teens, I’d reckon, the silver must have tarnished. Oh well. Titanium will last me longer anyway. I sit down at my desk and endure the mind-numbing drudgery until 11. Quick coffee, then back to it. Mind starts to wander around 12.30. I catch myself thinking about Sarah again. I really don’t know whether I want her to come to Dad’s, to be honest. It would be better if she didn’t. But it would also be better if she did. Lunch alone in the park at 1 – I never did end up getting any breakfast. Feed the crumbs to the pigeons. Walk slowly back to the office. Back to work by 1.30. I think I switch my brain off for a while, just letting my fingers glide over the keys of my computer in their practised, mindless patterns. The headache starts around 3. Painkiller around 3.15. Better by 4. Clock out at 6.
It's dark by the time I start my walk back to the station, and the lights of the city are dancing across the surface of the river. My feet hurt. I was right – the new shoes really weren’t a good idea. When I was little, Mum would carry me on her shoulders when my wellies rubbed, and bathe my feet in hot water when we got home. I listen to music on the train ride home. I’m not really listening, just drifting in and out of my own head, but one song catches my ear. It reminds me of something. I don’t know what. The memory darts around a few moments until it lets me catch it. I’d completely forgotten that summer in Devon. I must have been around 13. I’m in the back of the car with Sarah. We’re hopelessly lost. Dad is driving, Mum is reading the map and swearing. The radio plays. What is that smell, grass? The wind, the sunlight and the smell of warm grass rush through the open windows as we drive through a field. The cottage, a pokey old farmhouse, swings into vision. Mum almost cries with relief. Dad smiles. Sarah and I laugh.
Back at home, I put the kettle on and take off my shoes. My feet are covered in blisters. Do I have anything in for tonight, or will it have to be toast again? The kettle clicks off and I make a cup of tea. I walk to the telly and place the mug down by the sofa, ready to pass another evening with flashing lights and empty dramas and contrived characters for company, when I stop. I walk back to the kettle and switch it on again. I stand by it, hands braced on the counter and my mind blank as I watch the rising bubbles, until it boils. The song from earlier loops around my head.
I pour the water into a mixing bowl – the one I’ll use for Dad’s cake. What type should I make him? I add some cold water from the sink and steam rises to greet me. He always liked Victoria sponge. Gently, don’t spill it, gently I lower the bowl to the floor. I pull up one of the chairs from the table and lower myself into it, my feet thanking me for taking the weight off them. I never asked Axel if he wanted that drink. I slip my feet into the water. The dull ache fades. I lean my elbows on my thighs and my head on my hands. I sit there until the water cools.
I switch my brain off again for a while. I crash out around 11