Friday, May 23

Events That Lead To a Plume of Smoke

ALL OF MY poems are political poems, and all of my stories are stories about death. Politics and death interest me deeply, but I don’t think about them enough. Though I would very much like to be an outstanding writer, I don’t think that I am an outstanding writer. If I sit in front of a keyboard – like I am right now – I believe that maybe everything will work out for the best and maybe someday something will get published and I’ll have made it in some sort of abstract manner. Really, I am not sure why I do a great many things. This is all folly to me. It was so when I was walking to work on Monday morning, believing—‘This is the hottest day of the year so far,’ and it was May because all of the stars shone at night but this city, this swollen glowing beast, was blotting them out for me not to see. I was wearing a loose shirt that has a fourteen-and-one-half inch collar. The shirt blew a little in the wind, restricted by my satchel, caught a kite in a tree. I was busying myself at work when someone noticed a plume of smoke from the building next-door. We all got up to see. Within a moment, someone – for a joke, I suppose, though it may have been me, if only for some amusement – shouted—‘Fire!’ At that instant, all of the computers died and the lights died with them and the office was all quiet of machines and buzzing. We went down the fire exit. Many people were still walking to work. As instructed, we went to a courtyard between the buildings and gathered there. Smokers had a cigarette. Some people held mugs of coffee they had just brewed or slices of toast they had just toasted. A few buildings had been evacuated so that there was a large crowd in the courtyard. Everyone speculated what could have happened. A popular story – garnered by someone overhearing men from another company – was that a power cable to our building had been cut by a roadworks operation not too far away. Another popular story was that a basement plantroom, full of electrics, had been flooded someone and that this had triggered a series of events that lead to the plume of smoke.
Either way, everyone was stood in a sunny courtyard when before they had been sat in a Monday morning office.
At first I stood alone – because I had wished to observe everybody – but when I was surrounded by some colleagues from the office I came to enjoy the weather even more. A young man came up to me and asked me whether I liked port. I thought of the cabinet in my parents’ house where my father keeps the port and the port glasses. I thought of my father sipping it most contentedly after a large meal as I made my mother and I a pot of coffee. I told this young man that I didn’t much like port, that I found it too sweet. ‘I got two bottles for my eighteenth birthday. One from my Nan and one from my Aunt . . . Auntie Susan.’ I told him that port was, I thought, a strange gift to get an eighteen year old, but he assured me immediately that he very much enjoyed port, mainly as an accompaniment to a well-stocked cheeseboard.
After a couple of hours – with many people leaving of their own accord – the power did not return, so, in the glory of the day, went back home.
I took the opportunity to go into the courtyard with a couple cans of beer, my book and some music to listen to. I had some things to settle in my mind and by sitting in the fierce sunshine, I thought they would settle by themselves. In the courtyard, above a building, is a sundeck, where long slats of wood are laid out, bordered by untidy shrubs, and some tables and chairs. It was all empty but for two women, separate, sunbathing in colourful bikinis. They wore sunglasses that stared at me, giant fly eyes, for me to see my reflection looking back. Timidly, I hid in the corner and faced away from there, with only some flats for my scene but facing the heat more than anything for it to hurl itself down on me. I burned up and went through my beers; each of them imbued me with a heavy sleepiness that I tried hard to ignore. Without mercy the white bludgeoned me from above in the blue sky. What had I done to deserve such treatment? But, for a reason I couldn’t fathom, I remained there. It was, for all its cruelty, quite agreeable to me. So, without moving, but holding my book or lifting a can, I stayed there, with the sunbathing pair and, facing all that there was to face, I was hot and burned.

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