Sunday, January 19

The Silver & The Glass

ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, when I was very tired, I had an argument with my girlfriend.
She had been gone for thirty-two hours when my alarm woke me up at four-fifteen. The streets were very quiet as I jostled my way down them at ten-to-five. Early birds in vans gassed past and taxis with their lights extinguished rolled toward their routes—they didn’t care for me, though I hailed them and sighed. The tube station had its doors closed; I had not seen that before. Outside a man adjusted his gloves and stared forlornly at the street road car puddles. An Irish labourer was chain-smoking, spitting bits of tobacco here and there, and he considered, with fondness and memory his steel-toe capped boots. The three of us waited for the station doors to open, which, eventually, they did, and the floors were freshly mopped of all yesterday’s rainy mud.
King’s Cross was quieter.
No more than seven people lingered on the concourse. I bought a coffee. The coffee machine had not even been turned on, as though it was still a sleepy woman in bed with the sheets draped over her. The man behind the till, when he handed it to me—‘There you go, sir … thank you very much … have a good day.’
I was heading to the north of the country with another gentleman I had met before in the brisk winds of Venice as we sped across the water in a small boat built for six. I was still unsure what to make of him but it was six-ten and I was in no mood for making enemies. The scabs upon his hands had healed and he glowed with a mid-winter tan. We sat opposite each other. He pulled out his laptop to work and I stared at the smiley-face someone had drawn on my coffee cup.
As the miles ticked beneath the wheels, I saw the sun open up; it opened up but it was grey and that was England, along its spine, grey cold uncomfortable. A cheerful young man ran up and down the aisle, offering food. He had spent an inordinate amount of his morning trimming his beard. He had the Venus de Milo on his face and cans of coke in his trolley.
These are the organs of England passing the window.
On the rainy platforms of towns I had not visited, there were people with their collars turned up. I was in love, as I am always in love with you, England, with you, Great Britain. The man next to me was gazing at a sheet of glass and laughing hysterically. Every now and then he took a sip from a plastic bottle he had filled with tap water. The man in front of me talked of all the places he had been on holiday. On the table next to us were three men and I heard one of them say—‘If you do, we all will. God help us.’
Durham was shining in the way that a fish shines after emerging from the shadow of a bridge. A mist was all over it. Was it mist or was it drizzle?
Our car—driven by a soft man made of cold sores and wrinkles—went up the hill, an endless hill. On both sides I stared at the stone bricks and the dark windows of houses. Around us the scenery was painted silver. It was a very good view.
In the right-hand fields horses chewed and they disappeared in the fog.
In the left-hand fields was white where the hill had fallen away.
When we got there, our soft cold sore man who was wrinkled told us—‘The lad who was supposed to be working with you today can’t come in due to a family grievance … his wife died Sunday night … she went in with bowel problems Saturday night, she had an operation … then she died Sunday night.’ The man spoke in a quiet room and outside were the quiet hills painted silver. He talked as I had not heard southerners talk when they were in the office. When he had finished talking, I felt my throat tighten eyes water lungs crease, so I stared out of the window at the silver hills.
The men I worked with charmed me and I fell in love with them.
‘The underground scares me,’ said one man. He looked very muscular so I did not understand him because I had slept on the tube, and there is nothing to me, no muscles at all. ‘It terrifies me.’ No wedding ring. His fingers were a constellation of knuckles tied together by bones. He and I swapped stories. The cold off of the silver hills blew into the factory. I watched the other men work: cutting metal, pulling drills, driving forklifts. I went into the carpark to smoke; the hills were still silver; the puddles had tiny fractures in them; the cold wheezed; a deaf man who could not feel his ears strode right up to me; I threw my butt into a skip full of unwanted sheet metal. My man shook his head of the cold. His dialect beat against me. ‘Aye,’ he said. All of the words he used that southerners didn’t were a magic show to me. I stood there with my hands in my pocket.
On the train home I fell asleep.
Exhausted.
‘O, you’re awake! … you know, you snore?’
‘I’ve been told that before.’
(She pinched me and asked me to stop snoring—‘I’ll go downstairs.’ ‘No, don’t go.’)
Out of the window and for all one could see was black but the distant apparitions of light—streetlamps or candles or who-knows-what. Timidly they bobbed and skewed on the line. Two Sikhs chatted the entire journey over a beer. The whole carriage listened in, or at least heard and wished they’d shut up. Me, I just leaned against the glass and saw what there was to see: the pinpricks of a sleepy nation, reclining in front of the t.v. after mopping up gravy.
I ate a bowl of cereal. My feet were shoeless and had never felt better.
I was once more in the groin of England, balancing on the hip, sweltering near the genitals, wigged in the pubic hair of skyscrapers. Everything around me throbbed and bred.
That was when she called me.
On Wednesday night, when I was very tired, I had an argument with my girlfriend.

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