Metropolitan Lines Literary Magazine, vol. 1
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Metropolitan Lines Literary Magazine, vol. 1



Literary magazine showcasing student and faculty work, responsible for design, layout and formatting.

Literary magazine showcasing student and faculty work, responsible for design, layout and formatting.



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Metropolitan Lines Literary Magazine, vol. 1 Metropolitan Lines Literary Magazine, vol. 1 Document Transcript

  • Metropolitan Lines Volume 1 2007 1
  • postgraduate fiction Contents Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007 Volume 1 2007 FICTION Editors: UNDERGRADUATES Editorial Staff David Fulton The Undertakers 3 Charles Thurlow Robert Stamper The Game 8 Jacqueline Brooks Slightly Delusional 18 Mike Park Layout and Formatting: Being About 23 Krystel Thompson Samuel Taradash A Dying Trade, Dear Boy 27 Luke Melia The Ice Maiden 29 Jenny Neophytou Metropolitan Lines is the literary The Young! 34 Luke Melia magazine of Brunel University’s School of Arts. It exists to showcase the FACULTY creative writing, prose and poetry of Beds 39 Bill Leahy students, faculty and staff connected Does My Bum Look Big? 45 Verena Adams to the School of Arts at Brunel University. The Somerset House 48 Sean Gaston The Right Connections 50 David Fulton Questions, comments or submissions are welcome, and should be sent to POETRY UNDERGRADUATES Peep Show 5 James Wood Any submissions should be sent as Goodbye 7 Karen Harlow attachments to e-mail in the form of .doc or rtf files. Please, check your Smile 10 Mary Channon spelling and grammar before sending. Taken as Read 12 Paul Crisp Recorded Tears 17 Jagmeet Sidhu The copyrights of all works within are held by The A-Z of Dating for Women 19 Hina Ahmad their respective authors. Where is He? 22 James Wood Bog Cubicle 23 Johanna Steele Me. You. 25 James Wood For Andrew 28 Mary Channon 5 Minutes 30 Andrew Tucker FACULTY The Hotel Pool, Mombasa 38 Rob Cook The Sea Wall 44 Stephen James Well Now 49 David Fulton Empty and Marvellous 55 Rob Cook 2 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates “What are you playing at?” “All in good time, gents,” replied THE UNDERTAKERS It was Mike. Mike, gulping his tea and ignoring Charles Thurlow “Nothing, just mucking about Carl’s eagerness. waiting for you,” Carl gabbled. We perched on the gleaming C arl and Finney had already “Are you all right, Colin?” I was work surfaces burning our hands on arrived when I pushed open leaning against the big industrial the thick green mugs. They used to the door into the kitchen’s warmth, fridge, catching my breath. have the clubhouse printed on the bringing the cloud of my last frozen “Yes... I’m fine... Mike” side, but they were cheap and breath in with me. “Well you can all piss off home if bought in bulk and the picture had “You’re late, Crapper. Too busy you think you’ve come here to muck long since worn off. Mine still had wanking to drag yourself out o’ bed about, me laddioes.” half a roof and ‘Go lub’, but it was in this mornin’?” “Sorry, Mike,” we chorused. the minority. None of us spoke as “Fuck off, Carl. Is he here yet?” Even Finney, and he hadn’t done a we sipped and slurped our tea, but Carl was fifteen and just because thing. Carl glared at me through the Finney and I were two years Mike had a red nose. That was almost imperceptible steam that younger he thought he could rib us the first thing I’d noticed about him rose from his mug. I knew he about masturbation - like he didn’t when Finney and I came up to the wouldn’t have forgiven me yet. He do it either. club the previous summer, looking spat in my face once when I called “No he‘s not. Maggie let us in, for ways to supplement our meagre him a ‘fat blubber bundle’, so I said he’d be down in five minutes,” pocket-money. He was nice enough, booted him in the shins and he replied Finney, taking off his glasses quite serious, although I did would have leathered me if he hadn’t to wipe away the condensation overhear some of the members been so slow. He didn’t speak to me caused by the kettle boiling on the talking about the night he was for a month, but I wasn’t too worktop behind him. I nodded, forced to run naked round the bothered because most of what he more to myself than the other two eighteenth green after losing a game came out with was gobshite. and crept over to the swing door of cards. This vision often popped I was deep in thought, that separated the kitchen from the into my head whilst I was being remembering the spitting incident, rest of the golf club to see if I could given my instructions for the day when Mike let out a loud, contented spot any sign of Mike, our boss. As and it was all I could do to stop sigh and put down his empty mug. I stood on tiptoe, peering into the myself from collapsing into giggles. “Right lads, are you ready for some red half-light of the dining-room, an Today he seemed cheerful enough, graft?” arm yanked me back savagely by the after delivering our dressing down, “Yes, Mike,” we chorused. Well, neck. and whistled merrily to himself as he Carl and I chorused - Finney was “Don’t tell me to fuck off, little prepared our tea. This Saturday swallowing tea at the time, so he Colin Crapper,” Carl hissed as he morning ritual was a much-needed chirped up a couple of seconds late. manoeuvred me struggling into a perk of the job, especially in the “Do you remember I mentioned headlock. depths of winter, but there was last week that farmer Bradshaw’s “Get off Carl,” I choked as I something sinister about the been ‘aving some bother with a fox?” tugged at his wrist. I could smell his tinkling of steel against crockery This information was met with B.O. and feel the folds of his flabby that put me on edge. He was never blank looks from all three of us. belly against my cheek through his usually this cheerful, and when he Mike carried on regardless. “Well scratchy woollen jumper. was it usually meant someone on Tuesday night he shot the little “Say ‘sorry sir’. Say ‘little Colin would be on the receiving end of a bugger and it ended up dead in the Crapper’s very, very sorry sir’.” rotten job. rough off the fourteenth. Your “No.... Fuck off,” I spluttered. “What would you like us to do mission, should you choose to “Say it!” Carl tightened his lock. today, Mike?” asked Carl, accept it, is to bury the flea- ridden I felt faint now from lack of air and sickeningly trying to win back furbag before the members start to was on the point of giving in, when favour. complain.” He always said that the door swung open and I was thing about, “Your mission...”, and I rapidly released. didn’t have a clue what he was on 3 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates about until Tom Cruise did that ‘Mission: Impossible’ in front of Carl, though, he was far too self-righteous – film. I don’t know why he bothered saying it when we “I’11 never smoke, my granddad died of lung cancer and never really had a choice. you’ll go the same way” - and he had such an irritating “There’s shovels in the shed and you’d better take sing-song voice when he was on his high-horse that it some plakky bags to pick it up with. Don’t go touching wasn’t worth giving him an excuse to get up there. it yourselves, mind, or you’ll end up catching all sorts of We set to work looking for the shovels without The Undertakers diseases.” Having duly instructed, he pushed back his another word. After five minutes we’d only managed to chair noisily, stood up, and hurried off to his next task. unearth two and realised that the plastic bags were kept The tinkling of the crockery foretold correctly - burying in the kitchen. a dead fox on a freezing cold January morning was “There’s no way I’m going back in there. Mike’ll bite pretty close to my idea of a rotten job. Finney looked my head off,” said Carl, coward that he was. Mind you, green, but it could have been the reflection of his mug. I didn’t fancy facing Mike’s wrath again either, so I was “Nice one, Crapper! Thanks a bunch for landing me pleased when Finney volunteered. Carl stooped, Charles Name Thurlow in it,” Carl said as soon as he was sure Mike was out of examining the shovels intently after Finney had gone earshot. and I ventured further into the shed, pretending to look “What!” I said, incredulously. “You’re the one who for another one. Neither of us felt like speaking to the attacked me!” other. I was in the process of tormenting a giant brown “Well, you deserved it, and you’ve still not and red spider when Finney returned two minutes later. apologised.” He started after me, but the table was “Maggie were there. She gi’ me these.” He held up a between us and we began dashing round in circles, bundle of crumpled supermarket carrier bags. “She said backwards and forwards as he tried to lay hold of me. she din’t know ‘bout the shovels, though.” Finney started laughing and playfully punched each of “Never mind, we’ll just take it in turns to dig,” said us in turn as we dodged past him. Carl made a lunge at Carl. Satisfied with this suggestion, we upped tools me across the battered table top and I knocked over a and set out to the fourteenth hole. chair as I side-stepped his flailing arm. His face was It was a freezing cold, scared-to-get-out-of-the-bath turning purple with rage and exertion. kind of day, and the frost on the tall evergreens that “Get to work!” bellowed Mike, as he burst through surrounded the car park glittered as the sun fought the door. We stopped, instantly shocked, stationary, to through the rolling mass of cloud that threatened to dull see Mike’s glowering face preparing to spout forth one the bright morning. I liked being out and about on of his well- known tirades. All three of us were out of the mornings like this - the world seems a much cleaner, kitchen and halfway to the shed before the door stopped crisper place when everything is edged with frozen dew. swinging. Safely inside the musty wooden haven, we I know it sounds daft saying it, but this kind of day gradually regained our composure. always made me believe in childish notions of magic, “Bloody hell, I thought he was going to explode!” I fairies, elves, wizards, stuff like that. One day, about a said, partly because Mike really had looked like that, year ago, I was walking through the park on a morning and partly to brush over Carl’s grievance by inspiring a just like this and I saw a duck by the side of the boating sense of camaraderie. No such luck. lake. As I approached, I realised it wasn’t moving and, “Well, if you hadn’t knocked that chair over he thinking it was asleep, I crept closer, intending to shock wouldn’t have.…” it from its slumber. But when I was close enough to “Give it a rest, Carl.” This was Finney, the voice of touch it, and just about to clap my hands and shout and reason. scare the thing witless, I noticed it was frozen, frozen I tensed, still expecting Carl’s panting bulk to solid with its head tucked under its sparkling wing. It pounce like a lazy, overweight leopard (he had really bad rolled over when I kicked it with the end of one of my acne), but he just rutted and finally let the matter drop. damp trainers. I went back the next day, to see if it was Finney didn’t say much, but what he did say was usually still there, but it had gone, and while the bitter breeze to the point and worth saying. That’s probably why I turned my ears red, I convinced myself that the duck liked him. Well, that and the fact his Dad owned a had thawed itself out, flown on still dripping wings. newsagent’s, which had given us unlimited access to It was a ten minute walk to the site of the fox’s sweets and football stickers when we were younger. It demise and our conversation turned to the subject of meant we could nick fags now too. We couldn’t smoke Emma Radcliffe as we set off down the path, past the 4 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates eighteenth green. I knew her “Bullshit!” That was my “What? You haven’t spoken to because she lived at the end of my contribution to the debate. Emma Radcliffe.” Carl was looking street and used to play with Finney “I don’t give a shit whether you nervous. and me when we were younger. She believe me or not, ask her “I did, on Thursday. Me mam was three years older than us, and yourselves.” This, as Carl well knew, asked me to tek round some quite a corruptive influence even was impossible. Emma Radcliffe groceries for ‘er mam and when I The Undertakers then, but now she was notorious reserved for Finney and myself the were in the kitchen Emma were fodder for the playground gossips. kind of contempt you reserve for the there and she asked me wor I’d been Carl and Finney were arguing. puddles of vomit you might up to, and I said ‘Nothin’ much, wor “Bollocks!” That was Finney. I accidentally tread in outside ‘The ‘ave you been up to?’, and she said told you he was to the point. Randy Spaniel’ on a Sunday she visited her Gran on Monday “I swear, I’m not lying. On morning. The irony was, Finney night to cheer ’er up ‘cos it’s not long Monday night I went up Tanner’s and I were probably the first two since ‘er granddad died, and Charles Thurlow with her and she gave me a B.J.” lads in the area to see her naked Tuesday ‘er dad came over from Tanner’s Copse was a patch of (told you she was a corruptive Bolton and took ‘er to the cinema densely packed trees and bushes influence), while indulging in the and ‘ad a row with ‘er mam when between the estate we lived on and age old ‘you show me yours...’ game they got back and she threw a pot Bradshaw’s land, famous for illicit at the tender age of seven. Now, plant at ‘is lead, then Wednesday she sexual encounters. However, I was undoubtedly because of that former ‘ad to go an’ stay at ’er gran’s again quite sure the closest Carl had ever familiarity, she vigorously ignored ‘cos ‘er mam ‘ad been teken down got to one was when the school us if ever our paths crossed. So it the police station on account of ‘er nurse took his temperature by came as quite a surprise when lavin’ thrown a pot plant at ‘er dad, shoving a thermometer up his arse. Finney said he’d spoken to her two then she said she were stayin’ in that days ago. night ‘cos Eastenders were on the telly, so I said ‘All right, best be off First Year Students then’ and came home and me mam shouted at me ‘cos I forgot to bring PEEP SHOW the box back.” I was beginning to suspect I FLASH OH MY didn’t know Finney as well as I’d Thigh OH MY thought. Carl didn’t seem to know Tit GOD! what to say in reply to this, so after a Here “Would you like me to be few seconds of whirring cogs and a There STRICT?” couple of ‘ahhhs’ and ‘uhs’, he said Dirty “Would you like me FLASH?” nothing. He’d been rumbled and Sweaty FLASH we all knew it so he strode off ahead, Lovely Lip sulking, red-faced. Finney and I Oh my Bum laughed quietly. to be NASTY?” Here “You never told me you’d spoken FLASH There to Emma Radcliffe,” I said to FLASH Filthy Finney once Carl had. Turned the Wiggle Gorgeous corner in the path as it dipped Jiggle Bloody behind the bushes at the back of the Jiggle Bloody sixteenth tee. Wiggle BLOODY “I didn’t. I made it up. I was sick BUGGER Hell! of ’im coming out with lies, so I BUGGER “I’m a DIRTY girl.” thought I’d shut ’im up for once.” BUGGER “Are you a DIRTY boy?” That was it - seeing Carl ME! FLASH humiliated was funny enough, but knowing that Finney - Finney who James Wood 5 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates hardly ever said anything unless he had to - had made it two bunkers that stood as sentinels to trap any golfer all up, well, that was just hilarious, pant-wettingly funny, who might fall short, until we had gone about a and I couldn’t help bursting out into raucous laughter, hundred yards from the green. Looking left over the Finney joined in and soon the pair of us were stumbling rough we could see the smoke from Bradshaw’s down the gravel path with tears in our eyes and aching chimney, twisting out of the hollow that concealed his stomachs. We were laughing so much that we didn’t farm, rising lethargically into the rapidly thickening The Undertakers notice Carl had stopped in the middle of the path, until cloudscape. There was no mistaking it now - the smell we bumped into him. radiated from the little orange bundle just visible behind “Watch it, Carl!” I muttered, rubbing the spot on my a patch of long, wiry grass. We stood, thirty yards from chest where the end of Carl’s shovel had bruised me. the fox, with our sleeves over our mouths and noses. “Can you smell that?” Carl had his nose thrust “There is no way I’m touching that,” said Carl. forward into the air and was sniffing tentatively. Finney “Neither am I,” said Finney. They turned and looked and I exchanged glances - maybe the recent blow to his at me enquiringly. Charles Thurlow pride had knocked a screw loose. “No way. There is no way I’m even going near the “What, the grass?” I offered. thing.” “No, no. That smell. Have a proper sniff, it stinks.” I “You should do it, Carl, you’re the oldest.” Finney took a good lungful of air through my nostrils and really had a problem with Carl today. exhaled loudly. I was about to start deriding Carl’s “What’s that got to do with anything? You should do imaginary stench, having smelt nothing but the slowly it ‘cos you’re the youngest. Anyway, because I’m the defrosting grass and the chalky gravel odour, when oldest, I get to say who’s doing it, and I think it should Finney groaned, “Uuurgh! That stinks!” be Colin.” “See, see, there is something.” I sniffed again, more “You’re only saying that ‘cos he told you to ‘fuck off. seriously this time, but I still couldn’t detect the horrible Anyway, you’re nor in charge, we should tek a vote.” stink that disgusted Carl and Finney. “I am in charge, I’m two years older. You have to do “I can’t smell anything.” I moved over to where what I say, and I say Colin’s got to do it.” Finney stood, to the left of Carl, and sniffed again. “That’s crap. When’s Mike ever said you were in “Ugh! It’’s like cabbages.” charge?” “No, it’s more like gone-off milk.” “Well...he...that’s not the point. We’re here now, I’m We started walking briskly to evade the stench, all the oldest and the biggest,” Finney pointed out how three of us holding our breath and sporting screwed-up true Carl’s observation had been, but it passed without faces of revolt. We stayed like that, moving briskly with comment, “and I say Colin’s doing it.” a short-step half-run until we reached a row of waist- “That’s not fair, and there’s two of us. Maybe we high shrubs that backed onto the fourteenth green. think you should do it.” Thankfully, they were a pretty good windbreak, so we All the time Finney and Carl were arguing, I stood collapsed with our backs to the bushes and breathed. passively looking at the indistinct orange blob, whose All I could smell was grass and gravel again. funeral we’d been charged with arranging, and an idea “What the hell is that stink?” asked Carl, not really occurred to me. With my sleeve over my nose, the smell expecting either of us to know. wasn’t actually that bad, and a morbid curiosity had “I ‘ope it’s not wor’ I think it is,” replied Finney. arisen within me. I wanted to see the fox - and it wasn’t Then it clicked. I looked at Finney, then Carl, then as if it was going to bite me - so if neither of my Finney again and we all peered through the shrubbery accomplices wanted to touch the thing, it really in the direction of the fourteenth. I felt like Tom Hanks wouldn’t bother me that much. And I might be able to in that war film. “Well, there’s only one way to find get something out of it. out,” Finney said, before clambering to his feet, bags in “Stop arguing, you two, I’ve got an idea.” Two pairs hand, looking expectantly at Carl and me, crouching in of eyes and a pair of sleeve-covered hands turned to face the untainted air. We followed reluctantly. me. “I’ll pick up the fox, I’ll even carry it wherever it As we skirted the fourteenth green and reached the needs to go, provided.…“ edge of the fairway, the smell worsened, so between “What?” They said this simultaneously, eagerly. gulps of air we were silent. We walked purposefully “Provided you two dig the grave.” They looked at down the fairway by the border with the rough, past the each other, weighed up what they were both thinking, 6 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates and said yes, all in the time it takes pleased with my foresight - it would fetch his BMX from Floppy’s to say ‘stinking dead fox’. “You’ll take them another half an hour to domain probably hadn’t helped. have to dig out of bounds, though. dig a hole anywhere near big Once I had reached the fox We can’t carve up the rough.” You enough to bury the fox. (sleeve still clamped firmly), I wasn’t had to pay four hundred pounds a The fox. How could such a huge, so surprised: it was a gruesome year for that privilege. “Fine by rancid reek be generated by the one sight. The prostrate vermin lay on The Undertakers me,” said Carl. “We’ll just head over tiny dead animal I was now its side, with its head thrown out in there and start digging. OK? Don’t approaching? As far as I could see, it death at ninety degrees from the rest bring it over until we’ve finished. “ was no bigger than a large rabbit, of its body. Its tongue had been Finney handed me the bundle of the kind Adam Riley used to have in pierced by the large canine at the carrier bags in exchange for the his backyard that served his family front left of its mouth, but no blood shovel I’d been carrying and then as a guard-dog. It was impossible to discoloured the stiff, pink casualty of they sprinted over the rough, past get in or out of the back of his house its final mournful gnashing. One ear Charles Thurlow the white posts that marked off the because anybody invading Floppy’s was hidden by the grass, but the fourteenth, until they arrived at the territory would inevitably find the other still pricked forward. I top of the bank of waste ground that Bigwig from hell clamped to their wondered what that ear had heard led down to the dry-stone wall that ankle. That rabbit lived for twelve last. The crows had taken the eyes - separated Bradshaw’s land from the years and Adam Riley had grown ghoulish pits betrayed what had golf course. into a particularly nervous teenager. hidden behind the fox’s cunning “We’ll dig here, OK?” Carl Living with the fear of violent gaze, behind the green reflection if shouted. retribution every time he dared to caught in headlights. “Wherever!” I replied. I didn’t I retched. My first sight of the think it would make much head transfixed me, but difference, it was going to First Year Students my next glance sickened. be hard work wherever The belly and a part of the they chose. ribcage were torn open, GOODBYE “It’s rock hard!” horrific evidence of Finney’s first attempt at Bradshaw’s true aim. So there’s nothing left to say, except goodbye. penetrating the frost Maggots writhed in and I can’t believe you no longer care, compacted earth rang out about the pulpy mess of Won’t even give a reason why. across the surrounding intestines, membranes, greenery. I chuckled to gloopy red mash. I had a I notice you won’t catch my eye. myself I could see them vision of coming There are things I want to tell, but do not dare. struggling to make an downstairs into the So there’s nothing left to say, except goodbye. impression in the soil, lounge after one of my grumbling barely audible dad’s Friday nights up late If this is truth, I’d rather live a lie. curses as they puffed and in front of the telly, Either way you’re not being fair, panted, thumped and surveying the debris of his Won’t even give a reason why. clanked. I watched the excess, noticing with rising vapours of their revulsion the leftover cloudy, mingled breath for Chinese - overfaced We still had loose ends to tie, a while, with my sleeve himself in his alcoholic Now must find an identity, not half a pair. still faithfully blocking the greed - the sticky red So there’s nothing left to say, except goodbye. reek. Despite the fact that sweet and sour covering they were over fifty yards little white flecks. At least You said together we’d touch the sky. away, I could make out rice didn’t squirm. I Look, you left my dream cupboard bare the pitiful amount of earth retched again when I And won’t even give a reason why. they had managed to heard the faint sounds of So there’s nothing left to say, except goodbye. extract, a forlorn hump maggots feeding, moving, between them. I was very struggling, striving. Karen Harlow 7 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates The bushy tail had moulted, or or Finney’s encouragement, was farmer’s gun. All of us. I was ashen- been ravaged. It lay crimson, unclear. But did they share my faced as we flung the last clod of orange, ropy, chewed. The thoughts, as we gathered around earth over the fox. sickening sight mesmerised me. the grave, silent, considering the We ran back to the clubhouse, We’d all laughed at the gore animal? Had they, too, woken up to sprinting until our muscles ached witnessed when Finney’s older the terrible truth that we were all and the pounding in our ears The Undertakers brother let us watch Brain-dead one going to die? Kicking and became too much. afternoon when we’d all bunked off screaming, or twisted and crushed, school - especially the bit when a or dashed on the rocks in some crazed zombie pulled out a isolated spot, or sleeping peacefully, screaming victim’s ribcage. Faced or eyes closed in a sealed car, or with the fox’s protruding yellow, lying in a ditch, torn apart by a sinewy, gunk-covered corpse, the Charles Thurlow humour failed to materialise. I forgot everything in that moment as I crouched, peering at this image of death. The frozen duck hadn’t flown. I saw myself, years and years away, lying underground, my so- familiar body mutilated by larvae, stolen, broken down, savaged by self-serving parasites. I saw death in all its gory Technicolor and for the first time I understood its inescapable horror. This fox was me and I too would be decaying, reeking, open, dead. I was no longer the same person by the time Carl and Finney finally finished digging and I carried the festering corpse to the burial site. Who knows? Maybe they changed too. I saw the disgust, the fearful revulsion in both their faces when they eventually helped me fill in the hole, as the first drops of cold winter rain escaped the clouds that had been amassing steadily all morning. Had they seen what I’d seen? Realised themselves what had become apparent to me? As I trailed maggots over the rough, holding the threadbare tail through a plastic bag in my left hand, the cloying, creeping stink had overcome Finney’s fragile stomach, sending his breakfast surging over the weeds and rocks on the bank. Carl had followed suit, though whether this was thanks to the presence of the fox 8 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates of work was one of necessity and not say he was at all envious of his THE GAME of choice. The family business was colleague’s preferential treatment. Jacqueline Brooks not his to control, but while his It never ceased to amaze Brian father remained absent, he would that Ventrue would only ever deal B lood and salt. take care of things for as long as he with Daniel. Sure, Daniel knew Shivering as if from a chill, the had to. Besides, it wasn’t as if he had what he was talking about, but he young boy clutches at the to be involved in the slaughtering of was a bit of a strange one really. bedclothes, salty tears running innocent animals; those poor With a terrible temper and an eye- down his face. His large round eyes creatures were already dead by the patch, all he seemed to lack was a appear not to blink and though his time they reached his hands. hook for a hand and a parrot. bottom lip quivers, he emits no Fortunately, he had Daniel to Rising from bed, Brian prepared sound. Darkness envelops the take care of most of the dirty work. himself for the day ahead, relieved room, seemingly impenetrable but Since his father, Leonard, had that the Ventrue order would keep for a single moonbeam weakly jacked it all in and buggered off, his him from having to deal with dead filtering in through the open old partner Daniel had more or less things. Daniel would ensure that window. Barely illuminated, a small taken over. Brian did what he could, the last of the order was packaged form lies deathly still beneath the but didn’t really have a flair for and ready to go by the end of the covers of the bed opposite. business. He handled the high day. Then, later, Brian would help In his agitation the young boy’s street shop, but preferred to let him load the delivery van and rid his teeth chatter, cutting into his Daniel take care of the trade home of hacked-up animal. tongue. Blood and tears mingle in customers. Trade customers such Slinging a tired-looking dressing his muted mouth. Dumb with as Ventrue’s just weren’t his forte. It gown on, Brian ventured into the terror, he finds his limbs are frozen. was the Ventrue order that had bathroom, did his business, and The air seems rank and the shadows taken over the unit downstairs. then watched his reflection brush unnaturally black. He can do There were some curiously picky his teeth. A minute passed and the nothing but stare, stare as the customers out there and Ventrue electric toothbrush buzzed three looming darkness turns to face him. was one of them. For starters, he times to tell him so. Leaning over would only ever accept carcasses the sink, he spat out minty * from specific suppliers. Naturally, whiteness, drool, and a substantial their hygiene was always tip-top, amount of blood. Startled, he The blur of red gradually came but despite this Ventrue demanded choked on his own saliva, into focus: the clock glowed 5:16am. that Daniel prepare and store his involuntarily put his hand to his Groaning, Brian rolled over and meat in isolation. Brian figured the mouth and whipped his head up to stared at the wall. He’d had the orders either had to meet some kind check in the mirror. same recurring nightmare for as of religious requirements, or the guy In contrast to his ghastly pale long as he could remember. Early was just super-paranoid. Whatever face, dark oozing liquid filled his nights had become second nature to his reason, he paid enough for the mouth, overflowed onto his chin, him, a habit formed to compensate dedication. ran down his neck and soaked his for lack of sleep, a healthier solution Cubing meat wasn’t that chest. Gagging, his stomach than the sleeping tablets that he unusual; neither was dividing it into convulsed and blood erupted from used to take. portions of equal weight. However, him, spattering the glass. Dizzy, his Listening to the radiators tick, he it wasn’t the individually wrapped, ears ringing, he felt blackness close contemplated the contents of the 800-gram portions that fascinated in on his vision. refrigerator. Downstairs, the Brian. What he couldn’t understand compressor of a large cooling unit * was the interest in the waste – all the was working hard at preserving the blood and gooey bits. Why would freshness of a substantial load of Blood and salt. anyone want gravy made out of meat. Stomach churning at the Staring up into darkness, fear that? Just contemplating containers thought of teeth tearing into flesh, gurgled in the child’s throat, rapid full of the stuff made him feel sick. he pondered over the irony of a breathing turning into short painful Daniel must have iron guts. Can’t vegetarian butcher. At least his line gasps. Saturated teddy-bear 9 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates pyjamas clung to the skin of his small legs, tears Yeah right, the day he started learning manners continuing to run down his face and into his mouth. would be the day she started leaving the latch on. The darkness increased in size, obliterated the “Ventrue’s gonna tear you to pieces, Di!” meagre light, and closed in on him from above. Crossing her legs provocatively, Diana noticed a nail From the bed opposite there was a strange that needed reshaping and picked up a well-worn nail hiccupping sound. Swiftly the darkness receded, seized file. the bundle beneath the bedclothes and catapulted it “Seriously, man! He knows you went outside last across the room to smash night and word of what you against the far wall. First Year Students did has spread faster than The Game Watching wide-eyed, the piss in an alley!” SMILE little boy’s body jerked in On a good day, Eric’s sync with the impact. His gaunt, hollow-eyed visage You smile jaw snapped and his teeth face as though it has never And you are beautiful: Jacquline Brooks sank further into the flesh if had a lick of sun in its life. Lips full and soft, eyes holding mine. his tongue. Blood filled his Unbelievably, even that grey I cannot hold your gaze for long. mouth, overflowed onto his complexion had ebbed Its unashamed happiness in the object chin, dripped onto smiling away, the papery skin taking Embarrasses me. I turn away. teddy-bear faces… on a bleached, almost translucent appearance. * It is rare Even the sight of her long For your face to take this shape. bare legs, substantial Diana sat at her dressing Too used to friendly banter and constant change, cleavage and erect nipples table applying her lipstick Like an actor failed to summon any colour and absently curling a lock It plays centre stage to your wit to his cheeks. With a sigh, of dark hair around her And mimes to make me laugh. Diana let the file fall and index finger. Various I am anxious to be back rose from the stool. “Oh, cosmetic products lay To the teasing and laughing, don’t have a heart attack, strewn across the mahogany The old familiar positions darling. He’s a pussycat, surface, while hair brushes, And complicated ways of saying I love you, you know.” tongs, strengtheners, styling Which neither of us understands. Calmly, she decided to products of every select the most revealing red description, cluttered the Your smile is brave. dress she possessed. shelves. Discarded cotton I keep it “Besides, it wasn’t anybody pads, smudged with nail As a gift from a small child, important.” varnish or mascara, A treasure I mustn’t lose, Lost for words, Eric cascaded down the sides of To carry carefully, stood transfixed as Diana a small swing-bin that no Take care nothing should spill, clothed herself, then left longer swung. Shoes That none of my newly discovered joy with a shrug. Maybe she peeked out from under the Should escape, was right; she did have an bed and a G-string hung Soak into ground amazing effect on Ventrue – from the knob of an Or evaporate into air. she had a pretty amazing underwear drawer. effect on him. Absently Bursting in without Mary Channon fumbling with his trousers, regard, Eric was brought up short by the naked flesh on display as, in a whirl of Eric headed for his own quarters. He really didn’t want movement, Diana swung round to face him and blue to stumble into Ventrue’s presence just yet. satin parted. Recovering, she smiled knowingly, * drawing the gown back together with deliberate slowness. Daytime television being what it was, Brian chose “Darling,” she purred. “You really should learn some not to spend all of his free time cloistered away in the manners.” house. The day was overcast but mild, suitable weather 10 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates for a healthy walk into town. bruise. She wished he had struck standstill with a frown. He’d caught Making sure he had bus fare, Brian her anywhere but upon the face, the sight of bare hands; Daniel should locked up and contemplated visiting place where Ventrue knew it would be wearing gloves. his mother. hurt her the most. Re-tracing his steps, Brian’s With his father out of the picture, Heavy footsteps intruded upon hand rose to push the door wide Abi had packed up and moved out. their quiet, and though Diana open, but it froze in mid-air and his She now lived in a poky maisonette continued to knead his muscles, reprimand died in his throat. on the other side of town with her Ventrue opened his eyes and sat There, upon the table, lay the torso dickhead boyfriend, Tony. Tony forward expectantly. The upon which Daniel worked. Only The Game was okay really, but did have a dick newcomer approached with the partially concealed by his colleague’s for a head. confidence of one very aware of his broad frame was, unmistakably, the The walk into town would take formidable size and strength. trunk of a human body. an hour, whereas the walk to work African in origin, he was certain that For one brief, horrifying Jacquline Brooks would only take half. He could pick anyone who was not intimidated by moment, Brian could not tear his up his usual gift of meat and a his enormity would certainly cower eyes away from the macabre decent bone for the dog, then catch beneath his dark menacing gaze and spectacle. Locked into position, he the bus to his mum’s in time for gruesomely scarred features. His watched as Daniel carved the lunch. She usually had some veggie- voice, as strong and as solid as his abdomen like the breastbone of a friendly food to offer, and he hadn’t biceps, always sent a thrill through chicken. Time seemed to slow, done his shopping yet. Diana, who made a point of leaning delaying the revulsion, while the further over Ventrue. scene sank in. With comprehension * Seemingly ignorant of both the came shock. He found himself low cut of her dress and her entire cocooned in a debilitating thickness Seated in a voluminous room person, Mason spoke directly to his that dragged his muscles and made without windows, the figures by the superior, “The delivery is on time.” his ears ring. As the panic built large mahogany table were Ventrue relaxed once more, within him, his senses became illuminated by candlelight. Flames gesturing with his goblet before intensely heightened. He tasted the danced against each of the four raising it to his lips. iron he smelt and felt the flesh being walls, and an impressive iron- severed. wrought candleholder glowed from * As a slice of unwanted skin the table’s centre. A richly coloured slapped onto the floor, a wave of rug attempted to cover the vast The sun tried to break through nausea bubbled up in his stomach stone floor, while several tapestries the miserable clouds without and forced him to back away. broke the monotony of the cold grey success. Keys jangling, Brian Without quite knowing how he had walls. entered the establishment via the got there, he stood hunched upon Ventrue’s presence dominated high street. Leonard’s High Quality his own doorstep, bathed in sweat, the head of the table, his seat butchers was always closed to the gasping for breath, the left hand still imposing in its size and grandeur. general public, while an important grasping his bag of purloined meat. The remaining four chairs were trade order was in process. Nausea flooded back and unoccupied, though the angle of After raiding the cold storage for overwhelmed him, doubling him one indicated it had recently been sausages and chops, Brian ventured over with a retching that sprayed his disturbed. further out the back on his quest for shoes with vomit. Diana’s sweet scent permeated a bone. With the local radio station the air and intoxicated Ventrue as cranked up, the sickening noises of * he relaxed under her skilled Daniel’s wet-work were practically Blood and salt. massaging hands. A hush hung in drowned out. As Brian wandered As blood continued to well from the atmosphere, like that which past the ‘red room’, he glimpsed the cuts in his tongue, the little boy’s follows a storm, soothing tempers Daniel back-bent over his work, silent sobbing racked his body with and discouraging talk. A shadow of completely engrossed in slicing and tremors that caused him to spasm darkness upon Diana’s left cheek dicing. Continuing a few steps intermittently. promised a large unattractive more, Brian abruptly came to a 11 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates Collecting the crumpled body of the four year old was going back there now. He didn’t quite know what from the floor, the towering darkness fed upon the he was going to do exactly, but he didn’t fancy joining toddler with an urgent greed. Noises of wet suckling that torso on the slab. filled the youngster’s ears and unbidden understanding His head thumped, sausage meat clung, and the kids poured into his innocent eyes. The intensity of the terror settled themselves on the curb. broke through the choking hold upon his throat, Reaching for his wallet, he selected a credit card and releasing the pent-up scream, at which the darkness, decided to try what he’d seen the locksmith do last year. sparing him only a brief glance, swooped onto the The Yale lock on his front door could be double locked window ledge and dived out into the night, still cradling for extra security, but he always forgot to do it. Thankful The Game his prize. for his carelessness, he leant his weight into the wood and slid the card down the jam, wiggling it to spring the * latch. Flustered, he snapped two cards before the third brought him success and he was able to enter the When Brian came to, he was face down upon the Jacquline Brooks moderate safety of his home. pavement. Miraculously he had avoided landing on his Wondering what to do, he focused upon the chin, but as he scraped himself up, he pressed his hand telephone, but thought better of it. He couldn’t quite into spilled sausages. Sausage meat bulged under the grasp the situation himself, let alone explain it to the pressure and forced its way between his fingers, almost cops. Besides, how could he keep his own name clear setting him off on another fit of retching. when he had who knows how many cubed body parts Trying to wipe the offending stuff off onto the grass, sitting inside his own refrigerator? he noticed a couple of kids watching him from across the street. Wanting to get out of sight, he dug in his * pockets for his door keys. A wave of dread washed over him as he remembered dumping them on the counter Eric sat cradling his knees on his bedroom floor, inside his father’s butcher shop. There was no way he picking at a scab on his left arm and listening to the voices coming up through the air vent. First Year Students He’d heard Diana get hit earlier and the grin still played about his lips. So much at stake with all that “Wrapped round your finger, my TAKEN AS READ fear! arse.” Well-paid job, children, wife. He could now hear Mason and Well-paid job, children, wife, Ventrue discussing the preparations Big house, two cats and a dog, Twenty-first-birthday present for the meeting later tonight. As if in it’s all clear: from wealthy uncle, Clive: tune with the topic of conversation, “These are the things that make Brand spanking new Mondeo, Eric’s stomach gnawed at his insides. up life”. complete with six gear. It was so unfair; Ventrue’s curfew was “These are the things that make really starting to get to him. He felt Best friends, relationships are up life.” like an adolescent and Diana didn’t full of strife: help matters. If only she would stop That sexual conflict - am I Swimming pool in the garden, sneaking out and shitting on their straight or queer? foliage neat, not rife, doorstep. He was getting punished Well-paid job, children, wife. But in reality we come nowhere for a situation she was the cause of. near. She deserved more than a slap as far Watching the football, Rangers Low-paid job, no wife, no as he was concerned. Flaunting v. East Fife, children. herself the way she did, if he were Cigarettes, drugs, gambling, Are these the things that make Ventrue he’d give her a good – beer. up life? Ventrue’s voice boomed through “These are the things that make the vent and Eric jumped guiltily. up life.” Paul Crisp Lost in his own thoughts, he’d missed what had been said, but whatever it Followed down an alley, was it had brought all the talk confronted with a knife. 12 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates downstairs to an end. With a well- keep an eye on things from a safe remember Adam, but the years chewed thumbnail between his distance and then figure things out were like layers of clouds that he teeth, Eric strained to discern from there. simply could not break through, and Ventrue’s movements. He could Brian leapt up resolutely from all he was left with was the make out a faint whimpering, and the stool, but had a temporary drop nightmares and a therapist. Neither now and then there was a grunt. in blood pressure and passed out was very helpful: he’d ditched one Mason must either be spectating onto the kitchen floor. and accepted the other. He down there, or it was that time accepted the nightmares, but * already and he’d gone to help Daniel recognised that they were founded The Game with the delivery. on emotion, not fact. According to Blood and salt. his mother, he’d never even shared a Hysterical screams and sobs * bedroom with Adam. That memory filled the child’s bedroom. Tears was apparently as real as vampires. streamed down the little boy’s The metallic surface of the Jacquline Brooks As he rose, Brian’s eyes fell upon cheeks and chin, mingling with the refrigerator gleamed in the electric the refrigerator once more. blood that continued to well from light. his lacerated tongue. Rocking Earlier, Brian had practically * dementedly, his gasps for air began turned himself inside out over the to sound more like crazed hiccups. toilet bowl. He felt faint and knew The rear of the butchery was Dizzy, his ears ringing, blackness he should try and eat something, badly lit. Brian had never had cause started to close in on his vision. but water was all that he could to notice that before now. As he As he sank into unconsciousness, manage. crouched down behind the a comforting, warm pressure Having finally emerged from the dustbins, he was grateful for the enfolded his body. A voice reached bathroom, Brian had sat staring at shadowy shelter. He’d left the note him through the ringing in his ears. the refrigerator ever since. He was on his front door as planned and all It sounded muffled and distant. He trying desperately to focus and he could do now was hope that thought he heard his name. He figure out what to do, but it was Daniel had found his keys. knew he heard his brother’s. impossible to concentrate. Shifting weight to ease the Blood, flesh, guts, gore – all cramp building in his right calf, * other thoughts eluded him. Brian’s balance wavered and he Chopped up bodies in his almost sent the bins toppling over Awake, but too weak to move, refrigerator. In his kitchen. In his with his rucksack. In the same Brian lay on the kitchen floor house. Bits of people in his house. instant, the rear door opened and remembering his little brother, Fixated there upon his stool, Daniel emerged, followed closely Adam. He’d only been six when Brian remained acutely aware of the behind by a black Hulk. The Hulk’s Adam went missing. More than a passing of time. He was tuned into arms were filled with what he couple of decades had passed since the incessant ticking of the wall assumed to be Ventrue’s blood and then. Sometimes, he wasn’t sure if clock and inwardly cringed as it gore. He expected Hulkman to the memories he had of him were counted away his time with return for a second armful, but real, of if he’d just absorbed his infuriating speed. apparently Ventrue was interested mother’s fond recollections over the And then, inspiration. in quality, not quantity. Watching years. He knew that his brother had He had approximately two hours him climb into the van, Brian been only four years old. He knew before Daniel was due to turn up on wondered why it took Daniel the that he had been physically his doorstep expecting to pick up entire day to prepare such a small handicapped since birth. He knew the rest of Ventrue’s order. He could amount and then quickly decided he was as blonde as Brian was dark simply leave a note for the one- eyed not to think about it. and that the baby blues had never animal and let him get on with it. A As the van left his line of vision, faded. He knew these things, but he set of his house keys were stranded Brian scrambled to his feet and didn’t remember them. in the shop with Daniel, so Daniel made a dash for the rear door. Once He had always felt it important might as well use those to let himself inside, he ran to the tiny office that to know that his memories were his in. In the meantime, Brian could had always functioned more as a tea own, that he genuinely did 13 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates break room. Invoices were filed alphabetically. His fumbling fingers were mostly thumbs, but Brian was certain that there was not one invoice for Ventrue’s under ‘V’. Cursing under his breath, he swallowed his impatience and began to search laboriously through the entire cabinet. Time was literally money as a cab sat waiting for him on the high street, charging by the minute. Fortunately, he only had to search as far as ‘L’. According to the numerous invoices, L. Ventrue’s Steak The Game House was located in central London. Stuffing an invoice into his pocket, Brian hurried out to his minicab, gave the address to the driver, and tried not to contemplate what would be poking out of steak Jacquline Brooks and ale pies. * The journey to the city centre was surprisingly short. Amazing what the promise of double fare can do. Once there, however, the restaurant itself was pretty hard to find. This was mainly due to both Brian and the driver being on the lookout for a lively restaurant, and not a partially bulldozed building. Brian didn’t know whether to be relieved that there weren’t cannibalistic customers to worry about, or to be even more apprehensive than he already was. Looking out into the darkness through the car window, he decided to be both. As the cab disappeared out of sight, Brian delved into his rucksack and pulled out a small torch. The light it emitted was rather inadequate, but it was enough to stop him tripping up his own feet. He hadn’t really expected to use the thing; it had been packed as an afterthought. The bag mainly contained stuff he’d need if it became pertinent to do a runner. Now at the scene, he didn’t quite know what to do next. His hoped-for plan of action involved being safely surrounded by lots of people, outlining the basics to a friendly policeman, who would then call for back up, find the evidence in the van, and then arrest the lot of them. It didn’t involve being stranded in a dark lonely street armed with a crap torch. As he’d obviously got himself a fake address, Brian decided his best bet was just to go home after all. Having had little to eat and given the stress he’d been under, he’d had the mad idea that the bodies were being eaten. His bloodthirsty nightmares had obviously coloured his thinking. What he had actually witnessed was clearly some diabolical method of body disposal and nothing more. Expecting the undead, or similar, he’d contaminated the entire contents of his refrigerator 14 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates in the hope that such animals would probably knew her game as well as As soon as the door had been OD on crushed sleeping tablets and Eric did, if not better. pulled shut, Brian pressed on anti-freeze. He figured that Ventrue was indeed fully aware forward, minding his step with his anything that ate people should of the games Diana played. She was torch. It was almost disconcerting surely deserve to be put to sleep or his creation: as were they all. Each to discover it unlocked. Were they given tremendous stomach cramps. personality had been carefully really so confident that nobody The only reason he’d set out to find cultivated with a painstaking would dare follow them down the restaurant was a vague attention to detail. They each had there, or were they just blinded by recollection of the Sweeney Todd their individuality, and each had a arrogance? Brian hoped it was the The Game story. He didn’t want to end up different part to play, but together latter as he sneaked down the inadvertently responsible for the they were a family. They were all staircase after them. poisoning of innocent customers. linked together by a common * Figuring that he should really go purpose, linked together by blood. Jacquline Brooks to the police, Brian switched off the The main hall was warm with * torch and made his way along the merriment and candlelight. Around pavement. As he did so, Daniel’s van Frozen in fear, Brian pressed the mahogany table, five seats were swung into the road, barely giving himself into the cold brick wishing filled. him enough time to dive into the he were thinner. As the van passed Diana smiled at Ventrue, shadows away from the revealing his hiding place, he almost sagged delighted that she had retained her beam of the headlights. with relief, but the vehicle place beside him. She knew she was unexpectedly turned to its right, particularly captivating that night; * bumped onto the pavement and not one man at the table could keep Diana had attempted to disguise entered the derelict building their eyes off her. She’d almost her bruised cheek with many layers through an area of collapsed wall. forgotten about her bruised face as of foundation. Sitting across from Brian’s ears seemed to be she basked in their admiration. her at the large mahogany table, concentrating upon internal noise Watching her fall even more in Eric studied her face with outward rather than external. His breathing love with herself, Eric wondered compassion and inward glee. He almost drowned out the crunch of what Diana would look like dead. wished he had Ventrue’s strength; gravel, and car doors seemed to He’d always had a fascination with he was a worthless wimp himself. slam in sync with his pulse. death. Perhaps because he was Ventrue was extremely Listening out for their approach, always being told he looked like displeased with her at the moment, Brian realised that their footsteps death. Weak and gaunt, he would and she now knew it. With last were heading in the opposite never be able to dominate a woman night’s little escapade being direction. Spurred forward by like Diana. But, dead, she would be discovered, she feared that she adrenalin more than anything else, as pale as he, and she would have no would be denied her share of the Brian crept towards the makeshift choice but to be completely passive. banquet. Her revealing little black entrance as silently as he could. He Ventrue sat savouring the number was always reserved for could easily make out the rear of the moment. Normally he loved such emergencies. van in the darkness, but the nothing more than to provoke Well-accustomed to her tactics, retreating figures were harder to Daniel’s volatile temper and to goad Eric leant forward on his elbows discern. They seemed to be heading Mason into senseless combat. He and enjoyed the view. He knew it toward the back of the building. In admired physical strength and it was really Ventrue’s eyes she wished the gloom it was hard to see if there excited him to see it demonstrated. to have glued to her body, but if his was a door hidden in the shadows; Recently, however, he had eyes were glued to anything it was all he could make out was a wall. thoroughly enjoyed toying with to the inside of his eyelids. Ventrue’s However, the door they opened and Eric’s self-image and encouraging dominating presence headed the then entered was a trap door in the Diana’s self-delusions. As the two table, but he was presently relaxed floor that evidently led to a youngest members, they were the back with his eyes closed. He basement of some description. most self-conscious of the group, and playing them was highly 15 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates entertaining. He revelled in the power he had over At the clink of glasses, he mustered together enough them. strength to raise his body from the floor to witness the Upon the polished surface before him lay the dice. consumption of tainted food. Blood and salt… The looming darkness turned to The dice decided the fate of each of them. It was the ace him… dice that dictated their actions and reactions. As each played their role in this game of Ventrue’s design, they Blood on his lips, Ventrue tipped his head back, each became engrossed in their characters even more relishing the taste. Blood and salt. deeply. An addiction more potent than any drug, the game engulfed their lives, but also gave them a reason Tears welled in Brian’s eye as he recognised his The Game for living, and killing. father’s upturned face. Blood and salt. Through years of playing, their personalities had become fused with the characters that Ventrue had created. In effect, they had become their characters. Jacquline Brooks Fabricated scenarios were played out and given life. The game world and the real world became one. They were thoroughly absorbed into, and lost inside, the dark underground world of the vampire. The dictates of society no longer held any meaning for them. They were bound only by the rules of the game. Ventrue intended to present Diana with a mirror that night. As the rules of the game dictated, her throw of the dice would determine the intensity with which she would become infatuated with her own reflection. A high score would keep her fixated indefinitely, regardless of dehydration and starvation. That was the nature of the game. * From his elevated position, Brian looked down upon the ill-assorted group with a sense of bewildered fascination. In the middle of the table lay a pile of human flesh and a punch bowl full of human blood, yet they played out some kind of dice game completely unperturbed. It was clear from the pile of crockery and cutlery that they fully intended to dine upon the grisly centrepiece. The thought brought with it the familiar wave of nausea. A light-headedness returned with a vengeance and Brian sank onto the floor, semi- conscious. Blood and salt. He could hear the clatter of dice upon the table and the constant drone of a single male voice. Blood and salt…the crumpled body of the four year old… He heard a cheer go up and plates being handed out. Blood and salt… The child’s shrill cry rang out… He heard liquid being poured and the fleshy substance being served. Blood and salt… The darkness spared him a brief glance… 16 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • First Year Students breaking point. And yet it has not sunk in. RECORDED TEARS Any minute, any minute now Handset replaced. he’ll burst into tears. Tissue? No tissue. Get a towel. It’s a cool winter night, Still half-asleep and longing to Play. Fast asleep on this comfortable return to my bed, “You have two messages. night. My comfortable bed, the body Message one....” Suddenly, the phone rings. yearning for sleep, It was my cousin from Canada. Ignore it. I reach out with my left hand, Handset. Dialling numbers. Can’t be bothered to answer it. Clutch my fingers round the Weeping. Still rings. cordless handset No chance of conversation. Let the machine get it. And raise it to my left shoulder. And now the tears flow from Finally the recorded message “Hello.” both sides. answers: It hasn’t sunk in yet. “Don’t cry, stop crying, please “Sorry, your call cannot be Maybe it’s the shock of the stop crying, don’t cry.” taken at the moment, news, And yet she sheds the tears So please leave your message Maybe it’s the sleep, herself. after the tone...” Maybe it cannot be accepted, Ironic? Death is ironic. Silence. But it will cause great sadness And yet it has still not sunk in. Crying. And more weeping, more Sitting on the chair, Someone’s crying out loud. crying. Looking away, It’s not a dream. I can’t bear to see her crying, This is no dream. Dead. Or else tears will flow from Someone is crying very loudly. Stopped breathing. these eyes too. Finally I decide to leave my Extinguished, passed away, bed, departed, deceased, And now it’s all over, Throw-off my blanket and quilt, Perished, expired, gone, gone And now I’m back in my Slip my feet into awaiting forever. comfortable bed, slippers. Yes, he is dead. Forever. But it’s not comfortable The room has departed. It is now left to me to break the anymore, Caught a glimpse of the clock: news to my mother: And within a blink of the eyes 5:20. Her father is dead. The tears present here will flow Half asleep, I finally reach the too, phone. “What?” And now it begins to sink in, It’s stopped ringing. Sheer disbelief. And now tears flow, they flow “I’m turning the car round.” thick and fast. The message on the machine Sadness. And now sleep has departed, has finished. “I’m coming home.” And now comfort is gone, Play. To mourn. And into the silent morning the “You have one new message. And yet it has not sunk in. tears flow. Message one...” Up goes the handset again, And now the phone doesn’t Crying. Numbers punched in. ring, I can hardly make out the voice, I can hear his voice again, at the And now the body doesn’t still crying. other end, yearn for sleep, It’s ringing again. “How? When?” she asks, And now the heart barely beats, “Sorry, your call cannot be Her voice rapidly changing to And now it sinks in. taken at the moment, tears too. What a start to Halloween! So please leave your message Crying. More crying. Weeping. after the tone...” Mourning. Grieving. This time it’s my Uncle. Jagmeet Sidhu Her brother explains. No crying, More crying. More grieving. But I can hear his voice at 17 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates acids I would employ for the disposal of the body, acids SLIGHTLY DELUSIONAL that could envelop the body (in a bath, for example) and Mike Park melt them completely so they could be simply poured down the plug-hole. (I have since read about such S o. It has all come down to this. This piece of paper chemicals, though they are apparently quite difficult to will be, by six o’ clock tonight, me. Should have obtain). planned this earlier I suppose… There were occasionally times, in my later days at So, this is all about me. Sometimes I think I may be school, when I would find myself in a better mood crazy, mad or maybe just slightly delusional. I mean, do (these were generally sunny days – clouds make me crazy people actually realise they’re crazy? Do they miserable) and on these days I liked to look at you. I only realise that those people they see smiling as they walk ever noticed you on the bright days. To this day I think down the street are in fact laughing at them? Do the I still believe you don’t exist in darkness. You’re some friends of these crazy people actually turn around and kind of romantic, mythical creature that only lives in say, “Look ‘Bob’, you are really fucking mad. We are, in sunshine. I never mentioned you to anyone. I still don’t reality, nurses employed to look after you. Did you know if you exist, or if you were a construct of my good actually think we wanted to be here?” Yes, well, I think moods. It was on these days that I felt especially crazy. probably not. You made me cry. I’ve hardly ever cried since (except at Since I was a child I’ve always feared death. I know the odd movie). I would sit there, staring, ripping the everyone effectively fears death in some way, but I have grass from the ground until there was none to reach and always found myself thinking about it. Even as a child I had to move. And you, standing, beneath that tree, when everyone else was playing, I’d sit there, in the staring, occasionally smiling, apparently at nothing, as corner of the field and think of ways I could change if you too realised the irony of it all. something, leave my imprint on the world, but there I couldn’t describe you to anyone in a satisfactory was nothing I could do and now I lie here, with hours manner. You never looked in my direction, ever. You left, still thinking those same thoughts. had great trainers though: old, small tattered holes As a child, sitting on that field, legs crossed, tearing around the toes. The jumpers, always woolly, awful up the grass with my hands and piling it up next to me, patterns and colours, as if someone knitted them as a I could never think of that one thing that would ‘make practical joke for a blind child, but on you…. And then, the world a better place’. All the ideas I ever had were, the hair. That hair, red, so bright it illuminated in the general understanding of the word, ‘evil’. Day everything near you. Curly, but never controlled, as if after day I’d sit there, cross-legged, staring at a fellow you simply used your fingers to brush it in the morning, pupil and for an hour each day plan, to the smallest strands sticking in unnatural directions, occasionally detail, how I could, without ever being discovered, kill getting caught in the wind and blowing across your him or at least permanently remove that stupid, fake face. You never touched it. smile from his face. It wouldn’t always be the same child I would stare (A conversation I heard on the train) at, running, skipping, laughing, doing all those useless, So is this it then? pointless activities my generation decided were a good No, I just need a break. use of their time. Most days it would be someone else. So, we will get back together. Sometimes I would know this person, sometimes not. Yes, probably, maybe, some time. Sometimes they would catch me looking, sometimes Should I wait for you? stare back, but mostly just run away. No, well if you want to, I don’t know how long I’ll Most of my plans were hypothetical back then. My be. ideas would depend on using imaginary chemicals, It’s him, isn’t it? I know they broke up. which I made up in my head to do jobs I couldn’t think No. O.K., yes. I’ve just got to know what may have of how to do in real life. These would be poisons that happened. would kill ‘friends’ in different ways. What effects these Fuck. I’m not waiting. I won’t be second to that. poisons had would depend on my level of hatred for that O.K. It’s a risk I have to take. person (decided on the moment, depending on their I’m sorry; you know I’ll wait. Promise you’ll call if it appearance, behaviour or mannerisms). Others were doesn’t work. 18 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates Yes. wanted to ask. Maybe everyone else is just stronger than I love you. me. They can all block out the voices. No, not voices, Goodbye. I’m not schizophrenic, just the images. The same repeated dream, like a movie clip looping over and over. My dreams scare me. It’s not that they’re frightening, I discovered quickly I could stop them by acting out the I just get scared that someday they may make me do dream: if I did what it told me, it would stop. I could Slightly Delusional something I may not want to do. No, I don’t have any sleep. kind of special powers, it’s just occasionally things I see I love sleeping. Nothing bad ever happens to anyone seem to happen before I wake up. So I may dream while they’re sleeping. Even the worst dreams are about being an old man, sitting in an old wooden forgotten when you open your eyes. Sleeping lets me armchair with a cat upon my lap, listening to music, and escape from the other dreams, the ones I have when my I’ll wake in my bedroom with my hi-fi on, listening to eyes are open, the ones that burn. The world I live in track six of a CD I didn’t know I owned. Or maybe I’ll while I sleep is perfect. It is hollow. It inhabits only me, Mike Park dream of a man I met in a pub, only to awake to see his in a void, a huge white hall, with a perfect grass carpet. face in the morning news. I wish you had looked at me. Even once. If I had had I don’t remember a whole lot more about life at you face to look at, maybe I wouldn’t have done it. school. Sitting on the grass was the only interesting Maybe I never would have felt I needed to look at part. People I met meant nothing. They were just another girl. I know your image so well. But, no matter characters, entertaining me with their First Year Students irrelevance. Thinking back, they all blur into the same image. Not one of THE A-Z OF DATING FOR WOMEN them did anything, in the entire ten- ish years I spent in their presence, to A is for anguish before that first date. make me remember them. In my life B is for beautiful compliments, paid you all night. they were as relevant as those blades C is for chocolate to help calm the nerves. of grass I would tear at on the field, D is for the ‘dickhead’ you hope he won’t be. simply occupying my attention for E is for enchanting women, who know the dating game’s rules. those few moments, before I scattered F is for foundation, a girl’s one true friend. them behind me. G is for “God, you’re gorgeous...” You image, though, has grown H is for happy – don’t forget dating is a laugh. with me. I didn’t leave you behind on I is for intellect: just pray he has a little. that field. My mind decided it needed J is for joking and generally having fun. you to stay with me. I need you here K is for knight in shining armour come to sweep you off your feet. to take me away from the thoughts, L is for the love you are seeking. the thoughts that make me do these M is for mascara, key to ultimate sex appeal. things. N is for naughty girls, who stay up after bedtime. O is for ovulation, a time you can’t bear the sight of men. “Cries of babies wrapped in sheets P is for pretending to pass out, so you don’t have to kiss him. Falling through the safety nets, Q is for queen - that’s what he should be treating you like. Screaming, kicking, biting, R is for romance - every girl needs some. You too late to save us all.” S is for sex - if you’re lucky, you might get a bit. T is for tantalising; it’s every woman’s best kept secret. The dreams, nightmare, thoughts, U is for ugly men, who try to chat you up. whatever you may call them started V is for Venice, a girl’s dream date location. long ago. I don’t remember exactly W is for wonderful men, who make you feel great. when, but it was definitely during X is for x-rated: just use your imagination. those years of sitting on the grass, Y is for why are the dream men not dream men? tearing at the blades till my fingers Z is for Zzz - after all, dating can take its toll. bled. I’ve never worked out if other people have these thoughts. I never Hina Ahmad 19 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates “Why?” how perfect, how divine, you were never complete, “So I can pass laws.” never three dimensional. I needed her face. I’m sorry for “Like what?” my greed. You were a gift, my gift – from God. And I “People who don’t pronounce the letters ‘TH’ in a decided that it wasn’t enough. I deserve all this. satisfactory manner shall be shot on sight.” I am, I would say, an attractive man. Although I “That’s nice.” would hardly ever be tempted to do anything about it, Slightly Delusional They’d look down and smile, and think I was weird, I would quite often catch a girl or woman having a when in fact I was the one laughing at quick glance at me. This generally repulsed me. I was them, at their pointlessness. ashamed those girls thought they had a chance, like they “When I grow up, I want to be a rapist.” thought they could interest me with anything their They’d pretend they didn’t hear. feeble minds could muster. They weren’t you. However, I’m not saying I was completely unaffected. Sex interests me like it does any man, but not in the same It wasn’t cheating really. Yesterday, when I saw her, Name demeaning way. Most men are completely run by sex. sitting on that bench, sun shining from her hair, looking Sex is the reason why women are now almost level in at her feet, thinking about everything I have ever terms of power in the world with their male thought, it was you I saw, you I finally walked over to, counterparts. Men came to understand that unless they you I called an angel, you who I asked to dinner, you gave women the power they wanted, then women whose eyes I stared into for the first time as you wouldn’t give men what they desired. Ridiculous. The whispered ‘yes’. weakness of my generation. “Making love” has never “The raindrops stop falling, interested me. The kissing, stroking, touching, tickling, The blood stops running. suckling, licking, caressing, hugging. Why? It all ends now. When I was a child, I would often say things to It all begins from new” people to gauge their reactions. “When I grow up I want to be a policeman.” Last night my world was invaded. The perfect was “Why?” filled with characters. The perfect carpet replaced with “So I can shoot the bad guys.” surfaces I couldn’t walk on. It was a game I didn’t know, “When I grow up I want to be the Prime Minister.” one I would never win. The characters would 20 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates persistently chase, attack and kill me Psychoanalysing strangers, and then, rather than waking, it I met her. She didn’t dress like satisfying my thoughts, killing would start from the beginning. So, you, and her hair was too perfect, people. I would remember the pattern, but she had the face I’d been seeing, “Films, music, books, ballet.” change my tactics, and just as I had in the daydreams, in that looping “Oh, I love the ballet.” Of course my chance to win, the rules would movie, the flashing image of her she did. “I always wanted to be a Slightly Delusional change and again I would fail. I face, smiling at me, making silly ballerina when I was little, I just got awoke, knowing I couldn’t win, faces, screaming. Although I had no too fat.” knowing that eventually the world experience of having dinner with a If she honestly expected me to beats everyone. My nose bled. I girl, I knew how to behave. My compliment her here she was looked in the mirror but it wasn’t mother had taught me very well as a mistaken. I hated her again. me. I woke up with my nose child what was proper conduct and Her face, contorted in pain and bleeding. politeness, and how to impress hatred, as I ripped off her Name One lunchtime, back on the field, people. Everything else was learnt underwear too roughly. one boy made an impression I do from films, the small touches like “I haven’t been for a long time, remember occasionally. Looking at kissing the right cheek on meeting, maybe we could go sometime.” him, walking between different complimenting the dress, and “That sounds beautiful.” popular groups of children, keeping eye contact whenever she Beautiful? Did she really think that exchanging nods, smiles, said anything. made sense? handshakes, sweeping his all-too- She looked as perfect as anyone “Don’t you get bored of these perfect blonde hair to one side and who isn’t you could look, her red conversations? The ‘what do you intermittently biting the end of his hair glowing slightly under a like?’ conversations? Come on, tell thumb, he suddenly stopped, dead, mixture of the streetlights and the me something interesting. What do alone, and turned to me. For half an moonlight, two ringlets hanging you hate?” hour, we stared at each other, down the left side of her face, The “Um, I don’t really hate emotionless. I don’t even remember elegant, knee-length dress, showing anything.” what he looked like physically but in just enough flesh without looking as I’m sure all girls say this so as not those thirty minutes I felt we shared if she was the kind of girl who to appear unladylike. everything with each other. I was would spend the daytime in a “O.K. I’ll start. I hate the black almost happy. It wasn’t a sunny day, tracksuit; and perfect little kitten- leather, zip-up ankle boots all in fact, and although I didn’t realise heeled shoes, which didn’t attempt common girls wear, and I hate gold at the time it had rained all to make her any taller than she jewellery, and fat people, and lunchtime. He showed no reaction actually was, just accentuated her lateness.” to it, even though I remember being perfect size, like the trainers did to “You hate a lot of things.” wet for the whole afternoon. He you back on the field. “I’m sure you do too. Think.” looked sad, this perfect-looking, And then the dinner. “Sure, O.K. I hate clouds.” popular kid, and he showed me that “So, what do you do?” “Not bad, I also hate people who I missed nothing, that he was no “I work in computers.” don’t appreciate good music.” happier than me, even though he I was already bored. “I hate people who don’t speak seemed to know everyone of the “Wow, that must be interesting.” properly.” characters I saw around me on Firstly, I doubted that it actually I love her. those lonely afternoons. As the bell was and, secondly, I didn’t actually “I hate all people who think they rang, he again adjusted his now wet work in computers. are better than they are.” blonde hair, stood and turned away. “Yes, well I’m pretty lucky.” “I hate men.” I never saw that kid again. What else could I say? “I hate people.” She looked around the room; she At this point we stared at each “The dogs were barking was beautiful. I was interested other, through each other’s eyes. As it all ran out, again, and I hated that. The second true connection of my But no-one else noticed “What are you interested in?” life, and very similar to the one with The burning, crumbling pieces.” the nameless kid. I’m not sure how 21 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates long it lasted. I went deaf, and all I over, her screaming, smiling, to do. What they showed me to do. saw was the grey of her eyes, the giggling, crying. It wasn’t that hard, I had seen it over Title (2nd page and onwards) pupils dilating, contracting, Outside, it was cold. We both and over in my head, and she didn’t dilating, contracting. shivered loudly as we stepped really try to scream after the initial “I hate awkward silences.” outside. She looked up at me, realisation. She lay there, head to Awkward silence? That wasn’t obviously wanting me to make the the side, barely moving, not making awkward, that was perfect. I hate decision about the next step. I a sound. Was she breathing? people who can’t tell the difference suggested a walk through the park. “I only remember you…” She between a moment of perfection She agreed. There was only one ripped up a handful of grass, held it and an awkward silence. thing on my mind now. She in front of me. A droplet of blood “Shall we leave?” deserved this. Walking through that ran from the corner of her mouth, “Yes.” dark park, her thumb caressing the down her cheek and into her hair. I’m not even sure she said this, all back of my hand, silently listening to How long it lasted and what Name I could hear was my own breathing. the owls calling, occasionally happened next I don’t know. The Was I growling at her? All I could swooping in on their defenceless movie stopped, peace for a few see was the movie, playing over and prey; I almost regretted what I had moments, only to suddenly replaced with this dream, the one that ends at six o’clock. First Year Students “You know it’s too late. WHERE IS HE? They’re not screaming anymore. The babies all grew up. The tower lies broken in the sea. The mothers lock the door.” Screams curdle the blood-scented air. Now with a few minutes left, all Infernos ravage the city. I can think about is how much I’d like to be back on that field, The fountain springs clear no more. smelling the grass scattered around Straggling residents trample on their neighbours. me, the dirty, musky smell, nothing The earth cracks open and consumes with delight. like that of freshly cut grass, a more raw, almost threatening smell like The tree hangs, shrivelled and discarded. the smell of the rabbit hutch the Cascades of tears are wept unnoticed. morning after the fox has hunted, Lightning caresses the clouded sky. the screams still hanging in the air. The final reel. The ticking clock, Broken, bloodied men slump in gutters. striking six. The flashing of their Rotting, infested children remain cradled. faces, all contorted, bleeding, Starving, comatose mothers whisper their final words. crying, begging. Then her, peaceful, under the tree, hair blowing, in the Where is he? the remaining plead. sunshine, blood running from her He is meant to help us! mouth, then me, peaceful, eyes half He is meant to save us! closed, knife at my throat, the blood. I heard the clock click onto six. I Instead all they have is you. didn’t hear the chimes. Standing there, among all your glory. Triumphant in every manner. And there I am, Chained to you like an animal, Subservient to every command. James Wood 22 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates Brent place. Do you understand. I repeat, do you BEING ABOUT fucking understand?” Krystel Thompson Message deleted. Next message sent today at 3.42 A.M. B eep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep: you have nine “Oh yeah and if you want your son on the weekend, new messages, four saved. First message sent then you won’t be playing any games!” today at 1.55 A.M. Message deleted. “KD, when you get this message just, please, please Next message sent today at 4.05 A.M. phone me back. I...I...I didn’t mean it.... I’m just “Hi KD, it’s Vanessa, just driving past your flat, I so...ahhhh – just phone me back!!” know you’re a late sleeper, just checking to see if you’re Message deleted. still up. I would have come up for a coffee. Anyway you Next message sent today at 1.59 A.M. must be sleeping. Call me, haven’t heard your voice for “Hi, babes! Thanks for this afternoon! Never felt so hmmm over a week now. Hope to speak to you soon.” good! You really spoilt me! I think you and me can be Message deleted. special. Anyway give me a call, when Next message sent today at 4.32 First Year Students A.M.” you switch your phone back on!” Message deleted. “It’s been an hour, and I’ve now left BOG CUBICLE Next message sent today at 3.18 you 3 voicemails. I guess it’s over. I Am. need to collect my boots, jacket and filthy, smelly, sickly “Hi, you little fox, or should I say make up, plus my toothbrush you shit, fart and vomit Big Boy! I was wondering if we tomorrow. I can’t believe you want to could link up. True, we had a wicked end it this way, we’ve been through so ellie + james 4ever time last night. You get me! Ha ha ha! much together, and you’re prepared to what a pile of crap If you’re going to Selfridges throw it away, just like that. tomorrow, I’m working. I can get you Disappointed.” this is public nature discount for you and your boys if you Message deleted. go have sex like animals need it? It’s Eve by the way. Bell me!” Next message sent today at 5.00 beat the sin out of each other. Message deleted. A.M. Next message sent today at 3.32 “I can’t sleep, Kevin. I’m feeling wash your hands in acid A.M. really nervous about you meeting my but don’t forget to dry them “Why haven’t you called me? I’m parents tomorrow, but I’m quite in dirt. hurting, and I know you’re hurting excited too! Maybe we can go to the just as much. I left you a message travel agents tomorrow, you and me, a Johanna Steele about two hours ago. If you haven’t holiday. I feel like I haven’t seen you called me in an hour, then I guess it‘s for ages, it’s only been two days. Sorry over: KD and Jennifer are finished. Don’t leave me I’ve been neglecting you, I’ve had so much coursework feeling this way. One hour, okay?” to do, just one more exam, then I’m all yours. If you’re Message deleted. up, give me a call, or phone me tomorrow, so we can Next message sent today at 3.40 A.M. arrange what time you’re coming down to meet the “You fucking bastard! You said you were going to folks. Oh yeah, got loads of travel brochures. I’m bring some money for stevens school trip tomorrow, thinking Miami? Florida? What do you think?” and once again you havent delivered the goods. Listen Message deleted. here, you fucking black cunt. Dont fuck with me, Next message sent today at 5.51 A.M. otherwise ill have child maintenance sitting on your dry, “The rave was wicked! You should have come. You crusty back. Is that clear enough, you shit? Abc 123! I looked really nice yesterday, have to admit. I’m liking want you here before 8.30. You cant promise your son the way you wear your blazer with jeans! Very smart, one minute, raise his hopes, and then let him down. Just very retro! Are you still going Oxford Street tomorrow? be fucking responsible, youre 26, going on 12. If you I’ve seen this really nice pair of trainers i can see you in. couldn’t make it, all you had to fucking do is call me, you Gosh! The birds are singing, better go to bed! Call me, know 07944 211 320. Not that hard, eh? 8.30a.m., 24 23 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates so I can know what’s going on with Oxford Street! her, you’ve got to treat them mean to keep them keen. I Cool!” bet you £50 she’ll be making me dinner tonight. Message deleted. I feel like I haven’t given you enough exposure of my End of messages. lifestyle. I’ve got a story to tell you, but I can’t be too Oh, boy! long, you see I’ve got to make it to the gym ASAP. You must be wondering, how I manage to stay sane, There’s a hot chick that’s playing hard to get, she won’t listening to all my fans in the morning. It’s a chore I have be for long, though! to do, since I refuse to keep my phones on at night. I “A day in the life of KD?” I hear you wonder. Well, Being About know it’s quite tedious, but a man’s got to do, what a don’t worry, there’s no need to panic. I’m gonna fill you man’s got to do! You see I’ve learnt the art of separating in. I’m going to describe the most eventful day of my life. the big boys from the big boys. And, yep, I’m definitely This was the hottest day by far; this was the day a big boy! when sudden realisation fell onto my sexy lap, the day when I knew I wasnt just a player, I was the player. I’m gonna put one thing straight before you class me Krystel Thompson as a typical black man. I’ve only got one child, and, yes, August the 12th, K.D.’s birthday. I do take care of him. And furthermore I did bring his I woke up at 7 a.m., had to be up bright and early, I baby-mother the money I promised I would. However, had made so many appointments. Brushed my teeth, she wasn’t in her yard, so I gave it to the neighbour to and took up my spot in front of the mirror. I was staring give to her in the morning. She’s just a hyper woman. at God, a superhero. Who would have guessed that by She’s still hurting because I’m not prepared to be a full- 12am, I would have a total of 17 birthday cakes, 6 time lover for her, but I didn’t delusion her for one bunches of flowers, 7 bottles of after-shave, 3 bottles of minute. She knew the score! I am not a faithful man, champagne, 8 boxes of boxer shorts, 5 pairs of Diesel R never will be. I’ve just got too much love to sprinkle jeans, 2 pairs of Levi’s, 1 pair of Dolce and Gabanna around to the zillions of ladies in London. sunglasses, a trophy, 3 teddy bears, 12 offers of cooked You see I’m like a kid with its toys. Since when do dinners (half of them I did take up and, yep, gained you see a kid playing with one toy for more than two more than a couple of pounds - had to do some extra weeks before getting bored? Huh! Exactly! Every other time in the gym), countless cards, the list goes on and week my son is begging me to go to Toys ‘R’ Us to get on. the latest gadget on the market. Fortunately, for the I decided to put my three phones on simultaneously. ladies, that’s just like me! There’s no point in me There was a chorus of beep beeps. Yeah, I know I’ve got becoming attached to one toy, when I’m fully aware three phones. Well four, if you count my house phone. there’s so many waiting on the shelves. My generosity One of them is strictly for my boys to phone, no girls get is a blessing from God and I’m no fool, I must this number. I need some sort of sanity! I can’t be appreciate it. Right now I’m sitting in my favourite spot dealing with business and have a chick, stalking up my - no, not Z-bar - opposite the mirror. I know you think phone, just because I didn’t give her a goodbye hug or I’m vain, but don’t bother thinking because that’s exactly something. You get me! Never mix business with what I am. I’m vain, confident, and I’m proud to say not pleasure. My dad made sure he drummed it into my only do the ladies love me, I love myself! It’s just a head before he died. Yeah, yeah, my dad died when I natural thing, don’t beat me up about it. If everyone in was 13, and a number of the ladies have tried to go all this world had the same personality, wouldn’t it be psychoanalytical on me because of that. They feel boring, eh? Anyway, enough about me, well okay, just a because I suffered a loss, I’m using my admiration of the little bit more. I don’t want you to beg. I’ve got the ladies to cover it up. Nigga, be serious, for Christ sake! buffest body in London. I work out five times a week Let me give you a word of warning. Yeah, it’s an and, to top it all off, I have tattoos, two on my arm, and achievement to have a smart intelligent university one on my back. The chicks love them, especially when goddess on your arm (preferably with a nice arse!), but I grease my body with cocoa butter, and sling on a those are the girls who like to make too much noise, Persil white vest. My hair is always neatly plaited, and, they’ve always got an opinion and, boy, do they make okay, okay, I’m boasting. I’ll stop. sure they express it. Oh shit! I’m babbling on again, I Oh shit! I’m sure you’re wondering about Jennifer. tend to talk a lot and, as I said, there’s a potential lady She sounded desperate, didn’t she? Don’t worry about arriving in the gym. 24 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates Back to my birthday, August the I also needed a shower, but thought Sharon was a feisty woman and 12th. 7am, sitting in front of my best I might as well leave that until one of my mature ladies. I wouldn’t friend, my mirror. My voice Monica came round. The least I be able to palm her off with ease, messages consisted of girls battling could do was have a shower with which meant I had to catch Monica to be the first to wish me a happy her to say, “Thank you” for and get her to arrive an hour later. birthday, at 1 minute past 12. Text breakfast. As I said, Monica was bubbly girl. messages were all sent between It was 7.16, and I was nearly She chirped on that it was fine, she 12.01 a.m. and 12.15 a.m. The ladies finished replying to the ladies when would turn back and watch Being About were sharp, they wanted to prove I heard the doorbell ring. It couldn’t cartoons or daytime television, and their love for me by being punctual be Monica: she said she had to go to come back in an hour. She would be on my birthday, and punctual they Tesco’s, before she got to my flat, to late for work, but would have to certainly were. Within seconds one buy the breakfast ingredients. ring her boss, and invent some of my phones began to ring; the I opened the door hesitantly to excuse. I told her we could make it Krystel Thompson name Monica flashed lovingly on see Sharon with an enormous another day, if it was too much my Nokia screen. Monica was cute bunch of flowers in one arm, trouble. After all, a cancellation with a bubbly character. She used to croissants and jam in the other, and would make not the slightest bit of work across the road from my flat in a party hat on her head. Shit! This difference in my jam-packed day. the hairdressers. That’s where I was exactly what I didn’t want that Of course, I didn’t tell her that. catch about 37% of my prey. day surprises. She insisted it was a minor hitch. Sometimes you have to be wary of Happy birthday, honey, she This was a habit of hers I didn’t like. chirpsing girls too close to home, screamed. She was always too happy for things they could pull a stunt, like I took the flowers off her and to run on my terms. She never surprising you, especially at an ill thanked her with a hug and a kiss. I argued and always believed my moment. was pissed off. I hadn’t managed to excuses, as if they were gospel. I answered the phone to hear, get to the letter S in my phonebook. Sometimes I didn’t even have to “Happy birthday to you, happy Otherwise I may just have been able make excuses with her, it was that birthday to you.” She sang the to head her off. bad. Complacent girls become Stevie Wonder version to me. boring; there’s absolutely no “Happy birthday, Kevin.” challenge. Kevin was one of my make- Sharon, however, was no First Year Students believe names; my real name is walkover. She waltzed into my flat, Kwabna. It all basically depends on took her knee-high boots off, picked ME. YOU. which country each girl comes from. the remote up, and sank into my If she’s African, I’ll release my leather sofa. Out of her bag she Thunder. Ghanaian name; If she’s from the drew a well- wrapped box. Once Lightning. Caribbean, it’ll be Kevin. opened, it became an aftershave set Rain. Sometimes a girl will just receive my with shower toiletries. Well, it Me. initials: K.D. – Kwabna Daku. It all looked as if me and Sharon were You. really depends on my mood. gonna take that shower together. “Thanks, babes,” I replied. This idea seemed much more Watching. “Is it alright for me to come and entertaining, as Sharon had a few Me. You. cook your breakfast now?” more years on Monica. She knew You. Me. See, look at my artwork: 7.04 how to play with bubbles, if you Touching. a.m., and my birthday had hardly know what I mean! Sharon’s begun. Of course, I said, “Yes.” She shapely body consumed most of the Hands. only lived ten minutes away, so she shower space, exactly how I liked it. Lips. said she’d be at my flat for 7.30. I like to feel suffocated by a woman’s Always. That gave me 26 minutes to reply body, totally enveloped. I mean I Forever. to the girls who had texted and left don’t detest skinny or unshapely me birthday greetings on the phone. girls. However, if you went into James Wood 25 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates KFC and asked for a bucket, you “‘Darling?’ What’s all the ‘darling’ Sorry, MY mistake. Phone me, would have to lodge a formal about? screamed Sharon, whilst when you get home! complaint, if they had the audacity forcefully putting her clothes back to serve you bones, now wouldn’t on. LOVE YOU you? It’s all about the tender breast, “She’s a fruitcake, man! A xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and you do know that the favourite psycho!” I tried to tell her. part of the chicken is the fat! To be Now this was becoming long. I What was her problem? quite frank with you, 99% of my had to meet some posh bitch in Had no time to dilly-dally. Being About ladies are a size 12 or above, and Kensington in an hour and 15 Went to see the council chicks. I that’s how I like it. I’ve tried to date minutes, and pass by a couple of added more birthday cakes to my skinny chicks, but I always feel girls who lived in the council estate charity and one pair of boxer shorts, deprived and cheated! round the corner. I had no time for and a couple of cards. Anyway, away from my curvy drama. Sharon had to leave, and so It was now 11.30a.m. I rang my Krystel Thompson ladies’ philosophy, back to Sharon, did Monica. Monica’s noise posh bitch.(Excuse my terminology! a size 16, lovely in the shower. Now stopped and Sharon’s looked like it ‘Bitch’ is a phrase I use a lot to imagine this: a mixture of had only just began. describe my flock of sheep.) Her suffocation, warm kisses, steaming I decided it was about time to name was Mary. I told her my bubbles, John Paul Gautier drop my famous lyrics in her ear. ‘meeting’ was running behind fragrance and naughty pinches, “Look Sharon, maybe our schedule and as soon as I left the when BEEP BEEP BEEP relationship just isn’t strong enough. office, I’d be at her side. No, don’t BEEP, my alarm suddenly goes off. You seem constantly paranoid that get it twisted, I don’t have a legit. It was coming from one of my I’m cheating on you. If you don’t feel Job; you see, you have to be able to phones lying next to the sink. I content in our relationship, then you adapt to the different ladies in this didn’t have to look at the screen to know maybe we’ve reached the world. When I first met Mary I was know what it would say, because I point where we’re gonna have to wearing a suit, as I had just come suddenly became aware that an give up.” out of court for a driving offence. I hour had escaped by, and before I I shouldn’t have used those lines had my Prada specs on, and, yes, I could blink, there she was. Monica on her. Being such a confident girl, did look hot, so hot I knew I could banging on my front door. it took me 35 minutes to finally see draw this high-class female into my “Kevin! Kevin!” she sang. My her out. To top it all off, when she fan club of honeys. I told her I heart skipped a beat! I knew things opened my front door, on my worked for a financial company. She were on top! Sharon blurted out doorstep sat a large birthday cake believed I worked abroad a lot, aggressively, “Answer the door with the words “SEXY” exploding which made it easier for me, when I then! Who the fuck is Kevin?” on it. Candles, which were once lit, was covering my tracks. With just “I... I... I... I cant!” I stuttered. had burnt down, and there were enough time to visit the first floor of What was wrong with me? I was a two plates of full English breakfast Selfridges where I knew 4 chicks, I big man. Why was I acting like a sat staring at me, with its glare, from set out for some more birthday strangled pussy. Fix up! They’re the bright yellow yolks of the eggs. loving! You must always have ladies only bitches, I was on a tight Sharon climbed over the goods, who work in big department stores. schedule, I didn’t have time to be managing to stamp in the cake as You know: discounts! losing so early in the game. she raged off. The S and Y were BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP ”What do you mean you can’t?” trodden on leaving the word EX. Oh shit! Look, you guys, I’m bellowed Sharon. This noise from I chuckled, “Precisely!” gonna have to take a pause in my her mouth blended in with Monica’s Thankfully, there was no birthday story. There goes my shrill “Kevin? Kevin? Are you in physical sign of Monica, but she had alarm. It’s 9.15, got to catch some there, Kevin?” left a note saying: fine-arse girl in the gym, but be “Look, the girl’s crazy! She’s prepared, yes, very prepared! insane. I told her it was my birthday I must have misheard what you today, and she’s trying to stalk me.” said this morning. Oooops!!!!! “Kevin, darling, are you in? 26 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates “A dying trade, dear boy. They don’t rule the world A DYING TRADE, DEAR BOY until they’re long dead. No,” he sighed again, “everyone Luke Melia wants to rule the world while they’re alive nowadays.” He didn’t move. I didn’t speak, but changed the I walked into the fish shop and the old man nodded. weight from one side of my body to the other. “There’s No one was serving, so I queued behind him at a no need to apologise either. You’re not to blame.” distance I felt comfortable with: no less than four feet. “Thank you.” I began blushing the moment the He turned and smiled. words passed my lips. Thanks weren’t needed. It “Good day?” he asked tensed the situation, serving to make the moment more “Not bad,” I replied, surprised at his readiness for awkward. conversation. “You feel you’re to blame?” “I found God today,” he said casually and turned “No. I mean, I suppose everyone’s to blame really.” away. Clutching at sentences, I stepped forward and back to Taken aback slightly, I nodded as if someone finding keep my balance. God happened most days. “Everyone is a great number. There are some that ask “Where was he?” I found myself asking in a strange a few questions. Read a book or two on Plato or vocal reflex. Socrates. But those bastards...,” his voice boomed The old man turned slowly, the wrinkles around his suddenly. “They were starting afresh. Everything was eyes straining. He was taking a better look at me. Years questionable. There was no science.” He hissed the of assessing people made his attention daunting, as if he word in a manner that sounded great pain. “Not a was drawing a mental note of all the insights my features scientist, are you?” The calm, collected, very English might offer. tone returned with the question. “You taking the piss?” he asked neutrally. “No, an English Literature student.” “No.” It was a quick reply, but I was unsure myself. “Oh joy, dear boy. Oh joy.” With the words he “He was under the bed. The cat put him there. I walked past the counter to the serving side and faced don’t think it likes him very much,” he sighed. me smiling. “For you, a miracle. Dear boy, dear boy, “Oh,” was my response, a trivial sound, why, if science says we have come from chaos, do we no understanding nothing, merely an avoidance of silence. longer live in chaos? Where do we find the ability to see “I have Him in my pocket now. He’s not going to get the smallest living creature alive in a universe that is so away again. The little Bastard, so small. Hard to keep vast and getting bigger, and yet remain sane? So many track of sometimes, especially with the cat gunning for questions and so few answers But...,” his voice boomed Him all the time.” He spoke calmly with very little again. I expected a nervous young worker to return to emotion. investigate the noise. “THERE MUST BE No one appeared behind the counter. There was a MORE.…” bell, but I didn’t feel bold enough to pass the old man to I nervously tried to keep calm as his face contorted press it. I lumped all my body weight to one side and with degrees of pain and passion I have never seen tried to slouch casually. The old man assumed the before or since. I thought he was about to have a stroke conversation was over and once again turned his back and tried to remember the recovery position, but on me. A few minutes passed. The traffic on the main instead he plunged his hands into the metal basin of road outside moved in fits and starts between the boiling oil and began to laugh. My light head forced my pedestrian crossing. Fish and burning oil clung to the body forward and I found myself on the other side of battered air. The two long light bulbs were brightened the counter with him, watching his hands crisped to by their reflection on the white work surfaces. The cinders. Still he laughed and his eyes bulged. brightness hissed unnervingly. “Here’s your Shakespeare! Here’s your Keats! Here’s “Don’t suppose you know where all the philosophers your Joyce! Here’s your Salinger! Pain, my young son, have gone, do you?” His voice bounced off the heating is how we live. Tragedies. Comedies. I am as deluded cabinets, housing the already cooked fish. His back as the Wife, as guilty as Faustus, as clipped as Hamlet, remained towards me. as isolated as Crusoe, as proud as Darcy, as paralysed as “No, sorry,” I answered, after an uneasy pause. Bloom, as tamed as Chandler. It is the very essence of the God I have found. Forget love, this is process. 27 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates Change! All is change. Feel the joys of this wretched pace. Standing over the basin, nausea made a potent ally waiting room!” of the catching smells. I had to get back. I was meeting He removed his hands in perfect condition, the old people at the pub in less than an hour. I had to drive skin full of veins unblemished. I stood amazed, catching home. I had to... I should have... this wasn’t normal... A Dying Trade, Dear Boy my breath, but having no real reason to. this wasn’t right. “Your turn,” the old man said, calmly using a tea My hands plunged into the fat without forethought. towel to dry his hands. Emotion sprung in leaps and bounds up and down my “My turn?” I replied weakly. small sub-adult frame. Pain pumped through the veins, “Yes.” cascading new senses that almost brought me to my I was in no position to ask questions. The man knees. stepped back from his position over the boiling fat. Still “Oh my God! Oh my good God! Please! Please!” I no one came to investigate the intrusion into a staff area. screamed and lost breath, and the scream became silent, Our dinner was free to take, but his eyes controlled me but somehow he heard it anyway. Luke Melia like a puppeteer, willing every step and intricate “Good, good. Dear boy, He’s listening and so am I. movement of my body. Sweat ran down my back at Come now, question like they all did before. This is the very forum denied to most. You are the most powerful First Year Students person alive at the moment. Live it. Live it!” His voice boomed again with the last two words, whipping them FOR ANDREW into my ear unrepentantly. (my brother, who is autistic) There was power: images of childhood and future trials to come; the birth of my own children; my wife in Wide, clear blue eyes for a moment hold mine. all her faceless glory; the overwhelming inconsistencies In his pupils’ dark pools my face glimmers white. of my character and how beautiful they were; each Recognition flickers. mistake a work of art; the mistimed words; the ruthless Who does he see? intentions; the need and lust and great want for I smile, recognition; fear and loathing waltzing happily with Anxious he should understand my love. love and compassion. In a strange minute of calm, when While his face begins to turn, I was no longer screaming vocally or silently, I sensed The eyes linger. the shadows smile. The choking pain in my burnt hands For an instant we know each other, tamed me, nails and skin melting into each other, My friend. shivering at the scorching touch of fat. I didn’t realise my eyes were closed until I tried to open them. I Now I sit alone, watching silence. remembered my brother wanted cod and chips, Dad The night is heavy, time drags. battered sausage, I scampi just like my eldest sister, You must be asleep with the rest of the world. Mum fish cakes and my other sister simply chips. The I list the sounds: cat didn’t like God very much and went for him. The old man wasn’t talking any more. Suddenly I was Distant traffic, scared. Stirring sleepers, “Hello,” I said nervously, trying desperately to end, And the clock, wave after wave of shock ripping my intestines out of Tick, tick, my body. Tock. “Dear boy, I phoned an ambulance.” A shadow rushes across the room “What?” And stops, motionless, “They’ll be here shortly.” A quivering iron cage, “But...” Thick black body, splinter legs, “I pulled your hands out the fat, you fainted. They A fearful night creature don’t look too good, I’m afraid.” Like this hard ache inside me “Am I dying?” I asked, my eyes remaining shut. That keeps me from you. “Of course,” answered the old man’s measured tone, “enjoy it while it lasts.” Mary Channon 28 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates Behind them, Coll smoothed a his hearth-fire, the wooden pendant THE ICE MAIDEN fine-grained oval of wood between hung warm about his neck. Jenny Neophytou his fingers, the honey- tinted yew It‘s like being horn, she warm against his bare skin. No considered. The restless fire danced T hey didn’t know where she friendship connected the before her, scattering motes of light came from that winter’s day. metalworker and wood carver; the like undulating whirlpools in her No more did they know who she smith’s fiery gaze was too disdainful, vision. Pressure on all sides was, slender as a lily-reed, pale as like the cutting mockery that compelled her to follow, yet she frosted sunlight, alone, when twisted the smile on Lí Súla’s sharp wondered that her skin did not purple-tinted clouds rolled and face. Still, only a fool could ignore blacken and blister for the heat. brooded over the lonely hills, with the beautiful stranger’s nature, and Darkness fell over her, and while the the metallic scent of snow skittering Lí Súla, whatever else he was, was flame grew brighter, it could not lift down the long passes. no fool. the oppressive shadow. Then it They hid their eyes as she walked He turned away from the stopped, and so did she. Coolness amongst the rough-hewn cottages, shadowy forge, pressing his hands was pushed into her hands. ignoring the sharp cut of ice and into the dust of his work table. Who “Drink,” a voice commanded, frozen soil upon her naked foot, or was she? Mortal, or immortal - a and she frowned as the sound the curvaceous north wind that wight, oathbound to the land, or compressed and frayed. “Drink,” it licked at her white, white gown, to merely a woman, bound in foolish repeated. “Drrrinngk.” caress her bared arms. Later, he spirit and youth to a man that she Why? she asked, but it wouldn’t would tell them that she was his would (surely she must) grow to hear her. She felt her head tipping wife – later, when such a lie would hate? Slowly, he lifted his hands. back, and the coolness splashed be believed. Storm-white ice- The slim pendant of wood lay there, upon her lips. She choked. No. I maiden, a creature from an older dimmed by dust, and his palm felt don‘t want that. Something held her time, an older life, trapped within cold where the yew had touched his tightly as she tried to back away. the middle-garth until the final flesh. He picked it up, and No. I really don‘t. Please. But when storm of ice and fire, and cold, so smoothed the grey from its glossy she coughed, she couldn’t help achingly, achingly cold. sheen. Absently, he picked up a swallowing some of the liquid, They said she was wrought of whittling knife, cutting a straight though it seemed to freeze her winter, yet, if so, then Lí Súla was line through the centre of the wood, throat, sending a shock of frost flickering flame. A metal crafter, slanting its ends to form the rune through her heart and limbs. The whose works were praised from the éoh, or ehwaz. “Firm in the earth, burning warmth was stripped away, glacial reaches of Alba to the the yew burns well in the fire,” he and she drew in on herself, shaking mellow valleys of the south, whose heard himself say, and blinked in with the cold, gasping with its auburn hair and amber eyes burned surprise. Those words meant cutting bite. Suddenly released, she above a laughing mouth, a transient, something, trembled like a fire dropped to the floor, feeling the never settled, trackless as the late contained in a mere spark or the splintered, abrading wood under autumn leaves, yet, as the woman stirring of leaves before a winter her fingers while it snagged on the entered the village, he set his storm. He shook his head at fine fabric of her dress. A heavy craftwork aside, and came to the himself, laughing suddenly, and put blanket fell over her shoulders, the door of his forge. Unlike other folk, the carving into his pocket. Perhaps, thick wool coarse and scratchy, but he met her eyes, blue as the sunken later, he would bore a hole into one blessedly warm, and she pulled it depths of Wastwater and brazenly end, hang it upon a leather thong tightly around her. The darkness slid his gaze across the straight line about his neck. Perhaps. Still shifted, coalescing into a thick of her body, lingering upon the fine chuckling, he pushed away from the sediment of colour that firmed and wave of moon-gold hair. Then, he table and went to find a drill blade. confined itself, coagulating into offered her his hand, and she came By evening, he had forgotten the objects that reflected light, rather to him, though never a smile graced strange words he had spoken and than absorbing it, reflected the the set stillness of her mouth. even the unsettling nature of the ice- fierce brightness of the fire. maiden at the forge. By the light of 29 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates “She seems weak,” a thin, nasal the edge of that voice. “You are ours clarsach, in its oiled-leather carrier, voice declared in disappointment. now.” and a small drawstring bag holding “Her strength will grow,” a man Though it was still winter, the rest of her life, she felt free; light answered calmly. “She is ours now.” Faelinn could feel spring in the as thistledown caught on a breeze; He walked around to face her, westering wind that played a long trackless as the arch- winged hawk leather-wrought boots grating on straggle of brown hair about the that roamed the clear sky above her. the rough floor. Seizing her chin, he sides of her neck. It was cold, yet her Like the hawk, she stood still, The Ice Maiden forced her eyes to his, and she stared hood was thrown back, the loose hovering between moments. Then, into the heart of searing fire. “Do ends of her dark cloak flapping as though unfurling wings, she ran, you hear me?” Laughter hovered on wildly past her thighs. Weighted stretching her long legs before her down by only her silk-wrapped even as she laughed in joy at the icy First Year Students Jenny Neophytou And all is quiet, 5 MINUTES Except for the birdsong, Except for the voices, All is quiet, Except for the megaphone man, Except for the birdsong, Except for the sullen hum of the waiting car, Last stand of nature in a concrete world. Menacing, dirty, aggressive, like a factory dog Free from dawn’s shackles they sing, Straining its leash, vodka breath. Preaching a message of harmony to all I will get you next time. Then away they wing. Flashing eyes light up, piston muscles tense and release And all is quiet, And a blanket of reverberations muffles the air. Except for the birdsong, And suddenly all is car. Except for the voices of people: Not many can tell you that. ‘Men’, even in the generic sense, would, of course, be sexist And all is quiet, And that would be politically incorrect Except for the birdsong, Or something like that. Except for the voices, Oblivious to our world they mill about Except for the megaphone man, And scream and shout, Except for the sullen car, Oblivious to theirs we sit and listen, Except for the clock, Hearing, but not quite understanding. Tick after tock after tick after tock, Relentless. And all is quiet, Time follows you, walks with you, Except for the birdsong, Does it all with you, Except for the voices, Except grow old with you. Except for the megaphone man, Invasive. Faceless, soulless, metal speech clanging out, Time is the shadow that walks in the night, clubbing the air. Unseen yet constant. Who are you, megaphone man? Time is the face in the crowd, I do not know but will obey, Unnoticed, so easy to forget, except I can’t Yet there to grab you, greet you, For I am in here and you are out there. Show you all the things you never wanted to admit. No, I will not be your drone, your worker. Tick after tock after tick after tock, I will not do as you say, buy what you say, It always comes back to the sound of the clock. Eat what you say, wear what you say, Live what you say, love what you say, Breathe what you say. I will not. Andrew Tucker 30 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates gust of wind in her face. Perhaps it was still winter, and than once had destroyed an idle carving with the cry of perhaps not safe for anyone to travel, least of all a slender blasphemy. Yet, one afternoon, when the sun sparkled minstrel-girl. Perhaps. And yet she could not have in an azure sky above the crisp frost, he could not remain stayed any longer. The wind had changed, and the within. Breathing deeply as the tingling air enlivened seasons were turning; it was time to move on, move on his spirit, he strode past the last houses of the village, and perhaps put right the mistake she had made all almost without noticing. It was at times like these that those years ago. he could almost understand a minstrel’s choice, could The Ice Maiden She had been many things in her twenty-some years. almost feel the rush of air that tried to sweep him away. She had been both dutiful daughter and wild Yet he knew he would never leave. His roots were too changeling-child, devoted Christian and pagan deep, here in this crystalline home of lakes and wanderer. She had even been betrothed, before the mountains. As a tall tree that spreads his branches to wanderlust gripped her soul with its avian cry, sweeping the beckoning wind, he nevertheless drank the cool, her into a world of skirtling winds and music. And once, deep waters of the earth. Jenny Neophytou she had been in love. A sound broke him out of his musing, and he looked Face flushed, Faelinn allowed her feet to slow to a up. Grave eyes studied him carefully, and Coll found trot and then a walk. It had felt so nice to run, to laugh that he could not look away from the pale woman’s as though nothing mattered, but down in the south, a steady, considering gaze. “I didn’t mean to startle you,” would-be king pressed upon the borders of the Land of he said cautiously. Comrades and the lords of Alba reached after the prize A frown creased her brow. “Forgive me,” she in their turn. Some day, perhaps soon, war would come apologised, her voice like chiming crystal. “I am not to Cymru and the sea-wolves, the Saecsans, would used to.…” The words trailed away and still she watched finally settle in her beloved mountains. Some day, him, like a puzzle to which she lacked one piece. perhaps soon, death would come for her and when it She sat upon the bank of a small stream, heedless of did, she wanted to meet it with a smile and a glass of the the brittle frost. Rippling waters swirled about her Uisge-beatha in her hand - not with tears, and a heart alabaster ankles. “Isn’t that cold?” Coll asked writhing with unspoken regrets. wonderingly. The land fell away before her as she crested the open She smiled faintly. “I don’t often feel the cold. I was hill and dew-drops dampened the corners of her deep never cold, when.…” She fell silent, and a shadow of blue eyes as she took in the spearing heights before her. melancholy twisted her smile. Coll shook his head, then Somewhere, nestled between those peaks, a home was bent to pull the boots from his feet. “What are you waiting in the arms of a man she had left, a man she had doing?” she asked him. thought of every moment since, just as, she hoped, he “Joining you.” had thought of her. “But….” She was cut off by his yelp as his toes Both the Christian winter festival and Winter’s touched the water. Night were long past before Coll saw the strange “Gods of Ases, it’s freezing!” woman again. As the sharp edges of ice dripped water “I would have warned you,” she observed, but her into the rising streams, he watched the forge and eyes danced with amusement. wondered, for Lí Súla made no mention of her, nor was “That’s an interesting necklace you wear,” he said, to she ever seen in the living garth. Yet by night, her eerie change the subject. It was true; he had never seen a voice could be heard in the village, and those who piece like it. Clear as glass, the stone hung from a silver listened soon turned their eyes away, stung by the sharp chain that glimmered like gossamer. She raised a hand piercing of tears. as if to cover it, but instead traced the single line slanting Even so, Coll found that he had little time for across its face. “The river’s rind is fey men’s foe,” she said concern. His winter stocks of seasoned wood were fast softly, glancing up from beneath thick lashes. “The ice being eaten away, and the new-gathered store dried defeats all in the end.” She studied him, measuring the slowly in air steeped with ice-water melt. He had too strength of his body and set of his shoulders. “You wear many orders. Even the priest praised his work and an interesting necklace yourself, man of the woods. The parted with copper to purchase a sturdy bowl of yew is a strong talisman.” smoothed ash, though his reedy tones more usually He laid a hand over the smooth oval at his throat. condemned those who had not yet converted and more “Who are you?” he asked hoarsely. 31 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates She kicked out, laughing in girlish delight as droplets of water sprayed before her, each drop a spectrum of translucent colour. “Are you such a warrior, Coll?” she asked teasingly. “I never told you my name.” The Ice Maiden She flicked her moonbeam hair behind an ear with a twist of her pale wrist. “The ice always triumphs, in the end. Though fire melts her, she chills its blaze. Though wood halts her descent, Jenny Neophytou she’ll freeze the sap within its flesh. When the air cuts her, the hail falls like glittering white rain. The ice is victorious against all, save herself.” “What do you mean?” She met his troubled gaze, azure melting into deep cerulean waters. “I scarcely know,” she admitted. “I have no answers. Not anymore.” “What is your name?” “You would take my true name from me?” Her tone warned him to weigh his answer. “Would you be bound by its gift?” he asked her seriously. She smiled faintly. “Another thing I don’t know.” She bent her head, staring at the rippling river. “Name me as you will.” Time passed quietly between them, as the sun deepened to fiery red. “Isa,” he said at last. She met his eyes. “Shall we meet again?” “You would wish to see me?” she asked in surprise. He smiled warmly. “I would.” A faint flush rose through her ice- pale cheeks. “I would like that.” The next evening, as Coll sat alone in the inn, she came to him. At the cool touch of her fingers on his arm, his heart thudded to his throat. When he looked up, she smiled. “You said you wished to see me again,” she teased gently. “I hope you don’t mind that it’s so soon.” 32 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates She sat beside him, and took a She frowned, trying to grabbing her arm. “Faelinn,” he sip of the mead he offered her. remember. “I don’t know, Coll,” she began. “Won’t your husband object?” he admitted. “Only that I thought you “So you remember me, do you?” asked carefully. different from other men - but I’m she stormed. “I would never have “Who?” not sure of that, either.” guessed.” She took a deep breath. “Your husband,” he repeated. “Lí He took a deep breath to chase “The innkeeper told me about her, Súla.” away apprehension. “Do you believe Coll. For the love of the Gods, she’s The Ice Maiden “Oh!” She laughed, but there was that I could have the power to bind married!” an oddly brittle undercurrent to her him?” he asked carefully. “I love her, Faelinn. We’re mirth. “Lí Súla is not my husband, “I have no way of knowing,” she leaving here tonight.” CoIl. What did you think? That I told him. “Do you believe it worth “And what about her husband? would meet with other men behind the attempt?” Does he not count in this?” his back?” She stared at him in disbelief. “If Coll glared. “He does not Jenny Neophytou “Well, but.…” He felt himself you failed, Coll, and he knew.…You deserve to keep her,” he said coldly. blushing, but she was more amused would risk that for me?” “No being should be bound against than insulted. The smoothest softwood felt like her will. You, of all people, should “I’ve heard what the man says sand compared to her moonlight know that.” Her eyes widened, and and, truly, we are bound.” Her voice hair as he touched its fine strands he saw the knife go deep. grew hard, “But no oaths were with calloused fingers. “I would,” he “I see,” she said flatly, and backed spoken, and it is no willing slavery.” said quietly. Then, even more softly, up a step. “Then, forgive me for She dropped her eyes and clasped “Meet with me tonight. We can wasting your time.” She turned on her hands together. “I shall not be leave Cymru, go to Alba, or the her heel, and left before he could so bound again.” Southlands. Go somewhere Lí Súla stop her. Sighing, he rubbed his For a moment, Coll merely would never find us. temples, already regretting his harsh looked at her, sitting so calmly, so Somewhere the minstrel’s fingers honesty, and returned to his bench. passively. Then, he shivered, ran over the chiming strings of his “Coll?” Isa was studying him recalling the raw power he had felt harp, the music plucking the strings warily. radiating from her, when she strode of his being to resonate in his “It’s nothing,” he replied quietly, from the snow-swept passes of trembling touch. He traced the line as the wind howled, lost and alone Cymru. “Is there no way to leave of her throat gently with the tips of outside the tavern door. “Just him’?” he asked. his fingers, then bent to kiss her, lips somebody I used to know.” He Isa shook her head minutely. “He meeting and parting so softly. Her stroked the fine gold of her hair, and is a wight of power,” she replied, eyes were dilated, their pupils kissed her brow. “Just someone “and he knows my name. growing into a dark vortex that tried from the past.” “But surely you know his,” Coll to draw in his soul, while the persisted. firelight played shadows upon the She smiled. “So I do,” she smooth skin of her face. Her hands conceded. “But I am bound. Only tightened on his shoulders, but from another wight could force him to somewhere, he heard the sound of a release me.” gasp, caught upon the edge of a sob. Coll drummed his fingers on the He looked up. Across the room the table, thinking hard. Somewhere, minstrel held her harp still and her he heard the innkeeper greeting a eyes were locked upon his. newcomer, and the sound of harp “Faelinn?” He asked the question strings as a minstrel tuned his softly, needing no answer, seeing instrument. “Isa,” he said at last, “you the shock of recognition in her eyes. said once that you didn’t know if I Suddenly, she pulled her gaze away, could bind you with your name.” He quickly wrapping her harp in its waited until she met his eyes. “What smooth folds of silk. Hurriedly, did you mean by that?” Coll stood and crossed the room, 33 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates pond’s edge, unawares of the situation and after a mild THE YOUNG! telling-off he would put the whole incident down to Title (2nd page and onwards) Luke Melia brief worry, her mother never finding out. There were six people standing at Kate’s favourite T o the ear she was harmony, to the eye beauty, to the part of the pond, a stone’s throw away from an old nose tenderness, to the skin velvet, and to the rowing boat, half sunk with a pair of yellow Wellington tongue sweetness; in all, an unbridled, out-of-reach boots still inside. Tommy was too far away to tell if any compliment to the soul. She had vanished. Tommy of them were Kate. Three of the body shapes looked stood breathlessly only because his right hand gripped small enough to be children. They were bunched the frame of the small roundabout, her favourite ride. together and difficult to distinguish. His pace His eyes had been closed for ten seconds and it was the quickened. He was looking forward to seeing the ducks game they were playing, Hide and Seek, a game they and making up another story about the rowing boat, had played countless times before. Fifteen minutes past, unaware of the feeling in his knees subtly expanding. Name fifteen minutes of his movements crescendoing from Faces became recognisable. Colours from clothes idyllic half- conscious circles of the playground’s fences, suddenly beamed, despite the grey clouds above. The casually watching out for her red coat, to exaggerated feeling grew and moved up into his stomach. No backtracking and frantic name-calling, Kate! His body familiar beauty or red coat with mittens, no final relief or broke down upon seeing the open gate. The empty reward for following her footsteps. Rising ever quicker, playground sighed, understanding all of Tommy’s the feeling spread and conquered more ground: his worse fears dawning in quick secession. His stomach chest, his neck. Nothing happened as he imagined. She caved in. He closed his eyes again to the tinted sounds was not there to bring the joy and elation he placed such of the park. great faith in. Finally, the feeling invaded his The ducks! Of course, the ducks! Kate loved the consciousness, breaking form and becoming a thorn ducks. It would have been their next stop and she had lodged deeply somewhere toward the back of his mind. gone on ahead, forgetting the game. Maybe they had Walking turned without any effort into running. flown over and distracted her while choosing a hiding Physically, he was unable to phone his wife or call the place. She would be there. He began his steps out the police. Where would he begin? How could he admit playground, the realisation of what must have happened such a mistake? He needed occupying, the change of stemming his worry. He relaxed slightly, trying to clear speed satisfying the need to feel like he was actually the dazed shot of anxiety that held pride of place in his doing something, his body keeping pace with his racing chest. An accelerated imagination, catching him with thoughts. He wished the small crowd would part and one glancing blow after another, slowly withdrew but reveal his daughter amongst them - safe and sound. did not disappear. Past the model rail-track his strides Given the chance, he never would have closed his eyes, grew. The track was hardly used and constantly never have played the stupid game. He prayed to turn overgrown with trees and bushes, shading large areas back time or for a miracle to change everything that had from the gravel path leading down to the miniature golf happened in the last twenty minutes of his life. course, just past the doll’s house-sized cricket pavilion. Desperation was inking and mixing into his blood. He He remembered the tiny steam engines his father had wished, he prayed, he ran. The crowd did part on his been so passionate about and looked forward to arrival, though his daughter was not there. Instead a embracing his daughter, picking her up in his arms and, dead duck lay at the feet of a man, who looked disgusted on the way back, stopping to tell her about the trains. with the corpse as if the duck had insulted him by He was happily caught numb to the conflict of her dropping dead. Equally blameworthy trousers were absence and, blindly believing his assumption of her wet. The three children, two girls and a boy, were in whereabouts, coaxed out of blind despair much like tears. A woman and a late-teenage boy stood above the children can be coaxed out of wanting a new toy or to be situation, not quite making a circle around the duck. let out of a pushchair. Simple reassurances and a They didn’t look like a family. The small boy held a complete inability to bring himself to believe the horror crumbled loaf and the two girls flanking him squeezed of what may have happened were lost to his hands, clumps of brown bead together, crumbs dropping from toying with Kate’s carton of orange juice, staying well the sides of their hands. Chunks of bread were caught clear of his mobile phone. She would be standing at the in the swirl of the shallow water’s edge. Tommy looked 34 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates at the duck, then at the man, trying to stay for the answer. He had to was by far the youngest of the in vain to catch his breath without keep looking. group. All six people looked at him Title (2nd page and onwards) bending over. “A Doberman, I think. It all wide-eyed and unsure. He ambled “A great oaf and his dog killed happened so quick I didn’t get a away, walking the first few paces the poor thing right in front of their chance to see it properly.” backward. Once a few metres away eyes,” the man said, not really Tommy nodded again and from the crowd and crime scene, he looking at Tommy. “Park keeper continued to look at the duck. He quickened his pace. She must have went after him and hasn’t come knew it was male from the shiny returned to the playground, scared back. Should be put down, dark green streaks, but there were of the dog and confused. She knew shouldn’t it?” other colours in the feathers. the park well enough to make her It was a statement rather than a Yellows and golds and whites way to the pond and back. Tommy question. Tommy nodded. periodically ran through in was running again. “What type of dog was it?” he brushstrokes. He wanted to ask The saxophone played lazy Name asked after a short pause, feeling it whether a young girl wearing a red blues, caught in the early spots of was the right thing to say. He hated coat was with them before the dog rain. At first Tommy missed the the etiquette of conversations with attacked, but felt circumstances music. He was by the pavilion and strangers. The man switched his failed to offer the chance. An almost at the model railway, Kate’s weight from one leg to the other and aversion to the answer he would red coat haunting every tree and the girl in front of him took his receive added weight to the silence. bush he passed. The change of key hand. She had stopped crying, Had Kate witnessed the duck being and sudden dynamics of a new piece distracted by Tommy’s presence. mauled? If she had, she would be made him slow down. George! Her eyes were bloodshot, staring scared, hiding now from the dog or She was with George. He turned without blinking, wide-eyed and at least looking for Tommy or before reaching the cluttered expectant. The other two children crying somewhere for her mother. greenery opposite the playground. kept their sulking chorus going, an “Well, a terrible shame!” he said He walked across the park, anti-rhythmic accompaniment to to no one in particular, his vision stepping on the Astroturf cricket the situation. Tommy didn’t want eventually resting on the boy who strip. The large man, surrounded by 35 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates bags, came into view with random arpeggios and scales. Darren the park keeper was otherwise engaged with His gangster-style hat was out of place amongst the the savage murder of the duck by the Doberman. Title (2nd page and onwards) supermarket food shopping. His saxophone was hidden Tommy handed George his stick. by his bulk. Tommy came from behind the bench “Can you grab my shopping?” George asked, putting George sat at and waited for a pause in the music. In the saxophone in a case and swinging it over his the few seconds he lost control of his imagination: shoulder. police interviews, pleas to faceless kidnappers, his wife’s Tommy looked at the bags: seven in all. He almost voice in broken grief. smiled, but the weight of his body prevented the “George,” he said quietly and waited. muscles obeying. George waited. A sudden sense of The music continued. urgency took over and Tommy grabbed at the bags, “George! It’s Tom.” placing Kate’s orange juice on the path. The urgency The music stopped coincided with a thought. While Tommy awkwardly “What?” George turned his head, so an ear faced gripped the seven plastic bags, he saw his marriage end. Name Tommy. The rims of his large black sunglasses came He was young for a father, twenty-two. His wife was into view. His beard was grizzled white. younger, two years his junior. Their marriage was the “George! It’s Tom.” Tommy moved round in front of result of an unplanned pregnancy and his father-in-law him. rushing them through an engagement. Fragile “Tom! And where’s my little precious girl?” he said foundations were propped up by Kate’s birth. Tommy with a smile, his arms opening to hug Kate as normal. had surprised himself and those around him at how he Tommy stepped back, his cheeks flushing. well he had taken to fatherhood. Soon, though, people “I’ve lost her,” he replied sheepishly. would know he should never have been trusted with “Lost her!” George shrieked almost dropping the such love. Kate was his life and he fought the losing saxophone and kicking two bags over. battle between optimism and despair, her red coat, her “Yeah, she hasn’t come to you, has she?” carton of orange juice on the ground in front of him. “Lost her! How did you lose her?” Anxiety shot a devilish strike. She was gone and he had “I don’t know. It just happened.” not been able to find her, there would be no second “Just happened, huh?” He paused to take a breath. chances. He almost dropped the bags to call the police. “Nope, she ain’t been this way. Course, I can’t say for He almost broke down with an overwhelming need to sure, but you know how she loves George’s music. She sit and not move. But George, upon hearing the would be trying to get to the saxophone if she’d been rustling bags, set off at pace, understanding Tommy’s this way.” need for someone to lead him. Tommy half-heartedly Crestfallen, Tommy’s body suddenly felt heavy. He followed George through the undergrowth after a gap had to get back to the playground, ring the police, in the model railway track. His white stick expertly organise search parties. Kate’s picture would be in the swatted the tall grasses. He swung the stick in varied papers by the morning. Unfortunately, he doubted the directions to cover more ground, his saxophone case ability of his legs. For the first time, he fought back tears rattling behind. The large man must have walked to and cursed the time he was wasting. The worst was wherever they were going before, memory guiding dawning. He was a no longer a father and his wife was every speedy step. Tommy fell into an uncomfortable no longer a mother. He had made them childless routine of balancing the heavy bags on his heavy body. parents, prized open a gap that would never seal Tinned meat, fish, vegetables, soups clinked and entirely. He fought with a sense of being incomplete. clanked in motion. George hummed whilst they moved Surely an arm or a leg was less of a burden, when lost. quickly along a disused path. The rain went through “George, can you help?” Tommy mumbled, simply the necessary stages of becoming a full shower. Any not wanting to be alone. chance of Tommy catching himself in the moment of a “Sure.” George replied quickly. “There’s one place in blind man leading him in his search for Kate was lost to this park that kid’s always end up in. Darren fishes them thousands of nightmarish images, breaking like angry out all the time. Kate’s probably ended up there. Now waves upon a shore. where’s my stick? I’ll show you.” “Just through here,” George called back. There was a small shed in a state of complete disrepair. The rain had grown in short minutes and 36 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • undergraduates pounded the flimsy roof. Tommy time his fingertips managed to press the muddy ground was soft from the overtook George in his excitement, a button. It was far too small for his rain. He paused, heart in his mouth, Title (2nd page and onwards) dropping the shopping bags. The hands and noise compounded this pulse racing, his clothes covered in shed was exactly the type of place frustration. He could no longer mud and sweat. There it was, just in Kate would end up in, her control his eyes for the less he tried front of him. He clambered over a imagination discovering a fortress, to cry the more tears welled. The small mound of earth. an ultimate hiding place. He broke words he would speak into the She was perched in a hole not through the door still in stride. It receiver were going to shatter his more than four feet deep, her hands was an abandoned workshop, an wife with every clumsy syllable. She grazed, mud covering her in patches undeniably empty abandoned would drop the phone, scream and and stains, her coat no longer red. workshop. Rotting wood gave off a cry and curse him for what he had Tom nearly collapsed in unyielding feral smell and pieces of model done. Lose their daughter, how had cumbersome relief at the sight of her trains were scattered on the floor he managed to lose their daughter? tiny body. The thorn in his mind Name and shelves, slowly ebbing away They were to be childless parents. dislodged and caught in his throat with rust. Tommy’s childhood Three digits away from completing with attacks of nausea. He flashed before him in edited the number, his mind began to play controlled the feeling after a short pictures. He could almost see his tricks. He heard a child crying, a struggle. Bending down, he picked father with the paintbrush posed to familiar sound, a reassuring sound. her up and her small frame folded make delicate tiny strokes. His own He rubbed his eyes and tried to into his as she spoke incoherent train set would have been on the ignore the intrusion, his words in exaggerated weeping. floor, made out of wood. The final concentration returning to the Tommy cried with his daughter in straw. phone, but it was there. He stood. far fewer tears that came and went “Is she there?” It might have been a cruel figment with his arms grasping and holding “No,” Tommy replied. “I have to of his imagination. He waited, the back of her head to his chest. call the police,” he added more to completely still. There it was. He “Alright, I’m here. Shush,” he himself, as if saying the words gave paced to the other end of the whispered, never wanting to let go. the action a physical form and made playground, stopping once when Emotion blurred his senses. The it easy to do. the noise returned. It was her, joy, the elation, the barrage of Together the men walked away unmistakably her. The sound grew shocks to make him feel more love from the shed, George not knowing louder. Out the gate he went, than he scarce trusted himself with. what to say, Tommy not feeling real. holding on to every vibration. He He was a father again. He called the police, returned double-backed to walk the way he The elderly lady smiled and took George and his shopping back to had come on the other side of the one of Kate’s hands, saying, “There, the bench and made his way back to fence. She was crying fully. There there, daddy’s here now.” But the playground. Park noises was an elderly woman following the Tommy was numb to all, except dominated, those dogs barking. All noise from the opposite direction. Kate’s touch. He smiled. He smiled that was left was ringing his wife. “Where’s it coming from’?” she and missed the small muffled voice The playground was still empty, asked when Tommy came into say, “I was hiding from you, Daddy. despite the rain stopping. He sat on view. I was hiding.” the same bench he’d sat on to do “Somewhere over there,” he Kate’s shoelace. His hands twitched replied, pointing toward a taped-off and disobeyed all attempts to press area around some diggers and the right buttons. He wished to mounds of earth. They met and somehow speak to himself, explain moved together towards her crying. to the shadow of his past he could “I think it’s my daughter,” lose the two people he cared for Tommy said. most in those brief ten seconds. The elderly lady nodded, but “Don’t close your eyes,” he said nothing in return. Tommy murmured to himself. “Don’t close sprinted airlessly under the tape and your eyes.” The phone bleeped every toward the sound. Beneath his feet 37 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty II THE HOTEL POOL, MOMBASA Starlight alters everything. Only the reef’s distant murmur (for Ally, more than muse) Brings rumour of the sea’s insomnia. Somewhere in the dark I Crickets shake their tambourines. The sea is a sauna, And there on the plaza terrace The beach a bleached desert The illuminated pool glimmers, With a mirage of dhows. Almost mystical, The jinns? An incandescent island, Jostling curio hawkers, A basket of light, Over-exposed, of course. Sapphire and turquoise, Equatorial white-out. Tranquil as a Zen garden, A think tank. But beyond the blistering flagstones A crystal ball with nothing to hide – An oasis of swimming pools No skulking stonefish, not urchin spines – Trimmed with bougainvillea’s gaudy confetti, Candid, Burgeoning coconuts, brash foliage. Its floor meticulously charted Acrylic arboreta. With tiles of radiant blue, Mondrian on mescalin. Each pool is awash With boisterous cries and thighs. The dramatis persona are departed The odd mountain of greased hair To their Quennelles of King Fish Slides supine, buoyant with beer. Or Karibu Cocktails. The submerged lamps Are footlights onto an empty stage, A tropical Noh drama. Awaiting…what? The ghost of a waterlogged Gatsby perhaps Or indolent shades of lounging Hockney youths. Bats flit over but dare not touch. Not a ripple troubles The lamps’ opalescent gaze. Only a floating frangipani bloom Presses its fragrant face Against the glowing pane. Time to slip in. The thrash of flesh, Cruising through stained glass, Then reclining Over luminous depths: An aquamarine mind In an aspic of azure. Rob Cook 38 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty awake, warm from their mouths out of bed on the mornings when BEDS down, the blankets pulled up to his (mock) Aunt Isobel was there, Bill Leahy their red, freezing noses. Then, when she would be able to see him peering through the frost, the sky in his underpants. How did that U p it goes. Rising above head seemed deformed. They would lie happen? His brother felt the same – height it billows out, sucking as flat and as still as possible so that at the same time. Is that when the in a sudden, impossible wind. Its the cold air could not run down the ideas of skin began? When notions ungrasped corners fly far, flicking lengths of their bodies, taking it in of flesh began? When ambivalence over on themselves before the turns to name football teams: Leeds began? whole, thin cover momentarily United, Bristol Rovers, Everton, freezes in motion like the sail of a coming muffled through the covers. And beds are always boats. capsized windsurf floating on an And players too. Sometimes he undisturbed sea. Or like a small faked sleep in the morning and As he holds this cover over this maritime slick. In that moment he could feel his brother propped up on bed, it becomes a sort of sail for this begins to measure his life by the his elbow and staring at him, boat. Just in that moment of release, beds in which he has lain. Can he do examining his face for any signs of of tossing the thin, flower-patterned that? life. Faking it and not knowing why. bedspread out towards the bed’s He would keep the rhythm of his headboard, all of his previous beds The first bed always seems the breathing, his chest rising and replace this one and begin to be best in his memory, an falling and try to prevent movement covered instead. It is a cover full of entanglement of little limbs with his of his eyes beneath their lids. But wind and memories. He stands brother, a remembrance of cold feet always, eventually, his brother there watching it begin to descend, on warm calves. There were giggles would lean close towards his ear realising that it will soon wrap itself and tears there, both often buried in and whisper, I know you’re awake. round a symbolic world. A world pillows that were dotted with I know you’re awake. But breathing filled with revelations of flesh, of dribble stains. It was the time before still, unbroken. skin, of bodies. he could not sleep on his back, when As far as he can remember they tiredness was a physical reality and never kissed. But then, in that time, And then they were separated, he not a mental exhaustion. He slept in the kiss was a kind of unknown and his brother, when they moved the smell of his brother’s hair and thing, something that adults into a house. For him their beds woke at the sound of sparrow’s feet sometimes demanded. Yet it was were two small boats on either side hopping across the caravan roof. He devoid of value or significance for of a huge river which was filled by could see the sky without moving, him. It was not a manifestation of snakes and alligators. He feared to looking up through the gap any kind of feeling or emotion. It put his hand outside of the bed between the drawn curtain and was a second level action, a sort of when it was dark, frightened that he small window just above his head. synthetic necessity for his mother would be dragged by sharp, jagged At that time he looked at the sky and mock aunts. Of course he never teeth into the abyss beneath the often, wondering at the sizes and kissed his brother – the kiss did not divan or injected with a vicious shapes of the clouds easing by. He exist. This was the time before lips, poison that would cause him to fall would listen to the rhythmic before bodies, before his body. Dirt into a nightmarish delirium. He breathing of his still sleeping between his toes and under his nails would lie there, his fingers poised brother lying next to him and – yes! And around his neck and in on the edge of the bed, daring sometimes wish that it would his ears – yes! And the brown himself to let them dart down into suddenly cease. But it never did. He reminder of an act not fully learned the murky unknown and touch the felt the warmth from his brother’s in the behind of his underpants. His carpet. When he first lay in that bed, body and wanted to be enclosed by small, white Y-fronts. Before he between its perfect sheets, he him, cushioned as he fell back into knew discretion. In the time before existed still in a world of simple sleep again. Often in winter there flesh. Before skin. He cannot meanings. When he threw back was frost on the insides of the remember how it happened that he those sheets and climbed out of the windows and they would lie there, began to feel embarrassed getting bed for the last time, almost ten 39 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty years later, he had entered a world of sliding and being forced to spend the rest of his life in a complexities. This bed was the site of fluctuation and wheelchair. Not even a hint of moisture formed in his of dreams that woke him, wet and confused. A boat eyes. Of gradual blindness, a wasting disease, leprosy. propelled by a wind of many colours, pushing him in Nothing. And he would often hold himself in the dark defined directions towards archetypes and the inability and think of forbidden cuddles – to smell his brother’s to feel as before. It began as a bed of easy sleep and hair again or feel his cold feet on his calves. But they simple waking and then became the bed of were becoming men. Now there was flesh. And skin. masturbation and of refuge from a world that cruelly And bodies. This was the bed of the making. focused upon the spots etched onto his chin and forehead. From this bed he could no longer stare at the The cover is falling now, descending slowly. He Beds sky between the curtain and the window; he had grips it tightly by the two bottom corners and his arms stopped looking at the sky anyway. Now, every spare follow the down-flight, a kind of slow motion, enough look was directed towards the mirror. This bed is time to reflect. He wants to think about his other beds Bill Leahy remembered for his left hand holding the covers high – in this act they become suddenly important. But it is while his right hand slid up and down his salivated not easy, because he is now in some way dislocated. His penis. For turning over and burying his face in the memory needs to be filled out, added to. In a way, pillow at the moment of orgasm so that his brother recreated. He has forgotten so much in the making of would not hear his whimpering release. It is a memory the bed. of moisture, of sweat and heat, of sperm and strange new odours. In this boat he navigated the stormy sea of Torn from that bed of memories he sailed to puberty and there, in thought, the reality of girls and independence, to lying in others’ beds of his own. The women became known to him. Or, began to be known squat in North London was the coldest bed of all. Cold, to him. Or, rather, began to be distant to him, kinds of lonely and, again, moist. There he travelled inside crazy constructions. He could not cuddle his brother himself and was not sure what he found; or, indeed, if he anymore. They never touched now. Posters began to found anything at all. But it felt like a plethora of appear on the wall against which his bed leaned, inadequacies. Pitch dark in the night without electricity, photographs of spotless people in strange poses. And he concentrated on his breathing as the air entered his the game began to change. The footballers listed in the nostrils or upon his sphincter muscle at the exit of his dark became replaced by pop stars, who in turn became body, attempting a strange kind of foreign knowledge. replaced by previously forbidden words: fuck, shit arse Breathing alone; no one to fake sleep for, no one to and wank. It felt great lying there, cursing into the maintain a rhythm for. He tried to focus on an inner darkness. And of course his brother told him all about light he had been told existed, on an inherent oneness girls – the slags, the tarts, the virgins and the lessies. But with the universe. His mind wandered, however, and he found himself saying fuck, shit, arse and wank into what could he tell his brother? For him, this became the the darkness and, eventually, Leeds United, Bristol revision boat, sailing to his exams, his sleeping head Rovers, Everton… He tried to cry here too, creating all lying for hours in the open mathematics exercise book, a forlorn attempt to absorb algebra by osmosis. manner of personal catastrophes. And still he could not. Sometimes, at night, he would pretend to be asleep, But, this bed existing in a kind of open squat, he often across the divide, safe from the snakes and alligators, found it occupied when he returned from work, but not from his brother’s whispers strangers snoozing and sometimes even fucking there. I know you’re awake. I know you’re awake. Afterwards, when the bed had been vacated once more, Occasionally, when his brother was asleep, or he would search for suspect stains and lost socks. If a perhaps only faking, he tried to cry in the night, not woman had been there he would look for stray hairs and really knowing why. He would imagine his parents lingering smells. Then, lying there, he journeyed back being tragically killed in a car crash and he left alone, to a previous bed and masturbated. Once, he came the unfortunate orphan. He thought of all the pity he home to find a woman asleep there, so he had would receive from neighbours and friends and from the undressed, lay down next to her and attempted to caress girls at school. But not even a single tear appeared. He her first into to waking and, subsequently, desire. He thought of his parents dead, of his brother gone forever, had cuddled into her S-position, his erection pressing of his dog run over. Of losing a leg in a terrible accident sweatily into the crack of her backside and breathing 40 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty hotly in her ear. At the precise Dying of shame because he came remembers talking and fucking, moment he had slid his thumb too quickly. He thinks. She is smoking and sleeping. It was good Title (2nd page and onwards) saying, It doesn’t matter. Really, it under the waist elastic of her to smell her hair as he fell asleep and doesn’t matter. But for him it causes knickers she had turned her head to to have her cold feet resting on his him and whispered deep anguish on this, their first time. calves. It is a boat of bodies in his Any fucking further and I am It was the beginning of what they memory, of flesh, of skin. A boat of going to tear your bollocks off and thought of as love. vomit too, it being the site of the shove them up your arse. He did not Je-sus, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. first time someone else had puked in It doesn’t matter. Really, it go any further. He had convinced his bed. She had come round late doesn’t matter. himself later that she must be a one evening, drunk as a fool after Je-sus, fucking Christ. I’m sorry. lesbian. The bed was really a fold- meeting friends for a chocolate I’m sorry. down sofa and, when alone, he fondue and red wine soiree. Later, It doesn’t matter. Really, it always tended to roll into the as she slept, the boat began to rock Bill Leahy doesn’t. And it did not matter for middle. There he felt safe, secure on an alcoholic sea and he woke up from the surrounding dead who had her. Only for him. The making to the sound of drowning. He had replaced the snakes and alligators, made it matter. But, despite that, it lifted her head and, then, there in lurking invisibly under the bed. The became a boat of discovery anyway, the dark, in the space of seconds, smell of his brother’s hair was gone this single bed in a South London she seemed to re-decorate the room. forever, though often, on the bed-sit. A room only big enough for The next morning, under clean precipice of sleep, he heard the the echoes of the bed itself. And for covers, they laughed about it so chimney whisper the bonsai tree she had bought him, much that she puked again, this I know you’re awake. I know a cherry blossom, which died a time over the side. It is a boat of you’re awake. miniature death so quickly, though laughter too. And of blood and This was the first truly loveless its skeleton lived on. Room too for sperm, of tongues and, too soon, her boat, the first that emitted no the other echoes, the voices which fears. And then, suddenly, they let it warmth, no feelings of certainty. A entered from adjoining lives, his sink. boat drifting in a drifter’s sea, a bed walls being easily breached. The that was not a bed at all and that human sources of these sounds It occurs to him that this cover could have been anywhere. The sky remained forever invisible and falling onto this bed has a symbolic was not visible as he laid there, only enigmatic, manifesting themselves as well as an obvious meaning – that the uniform fronts of the houses as steps on the stairs or as just there exist, in this act, two different across the street and the crumbling closing doors. Often he lay there at yet parallel, equally legitimate, garden wall out front, onto which night listening to the female voice equally transparent meanings. had been sprayed, in silver and blue from the next room, articulating I HATE PEOPLE. He used to lie dreams and nightmares, her voice They moved to their own flat and there and stare at it for ages. deep and sometimes frightened. bought a bed of their own. Or, Breathing – and concentrating on Frequently her words would meet rather, half a bed – a large, thick, his increasingly self-conscious the rhythms of a badly-played, hard futon mattress upon which, sphincter. badly-tuned guitar that entered almost immediately, their flesh from the room of his other withered. On the same day they Falling, falling. Like the world, neighbour and, there in the centre of bought two exotic lovebirds in a we are told. The cover falling like his territory, combine to form some church-like metal cage, which over the human race before the wrath or kind of mesmerising, rudimentary the next few months slowly pecked mercy of God. Soon, it shall be lament. These encroaching noises each other to death. This bed’s fallen. Its see-through, patterned had perhaps been responsible for memory now is of frigidity and fear, flowers are drifting down towards the bonzai’s agonising decision to of dark demands failing to be met. the mattress, a weird kind of ersatz metaphorically top itself. He and He can remember no cuddles there, fecundity. Ersatz and covering the she lay there often together, no closeness – merely, occasionally, bed. gradually filling the ashtray with a brief exchange of delusions. This sucked-flat dog-ends. He bed was only a piece of furniture to 41 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty lie upon. They became older there. He wanted everything possible to have in a bed at the beginning. Not just sleep and sex and tears and friendship. He demanded certain types of sex that any man, surely, can expect to demand and a river full of snakes and alligators suddenly appeared in the mattress between them. The bed became a site of silent, dual implosion, of swallowed shouts and simple sleep. Trees blocked out the sky and through the window only city leaves could be seen. She became frigid, he said. Frigid and fat, he Beds said. Unerotic, boring and materialistic. She had lost her desire, her flesh, her soul, he said. It was then that the ceiling was discovered as something to contemplate Bill Leahy and to glare at. It became a kind of hobby for him. His world began to close in on him, to form around the bed. This was to be the boat of friendship, but it soon began to sail to other countries. It became a boat of foreign fucks in her absence, justifiable, he said, because she had become sort of microscopic for him. She remains, even now, difficult to reanimate. The bed of their discovery became the boat of her tears. The flower patterns are touching the sides of this bed, as most of the air has been expelled. His arms are almost by his sides again, his hands still grasping the two bottom corners of the cover. He found another single bed, in another house, again in North London. He lay there alone, hating her. He resented her and blamed her. She remained in the old flat and still slept on the futon. He went back there once to pick up some clothes he left behind when he had moved out. She was not there but he still had a key and so had let himself in. On either side of the bed was an empty can of beer and a full ashtray. So, she had foreign fucks, too. In this moment of sudden realization she temporarily became, for the first time in a long while, a hard and clear reality for him. Fucking bitch, he spat, kicking one of the cans across the room. The thoughts of that after– bed are desolate and angry ones, sad and furious. She was frigid with him. He cannot make that out. He could not then and he cannot now. He had visitors in his new boat, short- stayers. Good, mediocre or bad fucks; that is how he measured them. Their bodies became his proxy revenge. And a river filled with snakes and alligators opened up in him. This was a boat of hangovers and bad breath, frustration and unnoticed orgasms. Sometimes he thought that he and his visitors could have been coming by themselves, or not bothering to 42 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty Suck me off, first, he answered. come at all. Yet in every drop of his suburb. For the whole of the first sperm bad faith was carried. The And then they did it together, an day a friend of his had slept alarm on his clock had unexpectedly entangling of limbs, thumping each wrapped around the base of the gone off one morning while one of others’ buttocks and thighs, trying toilet, waking up now and then to his visitors had his erect penis full in to hurt. It was a boat that rocked on vomit over himself and the floor. her mouth. The ringing had startled a wild sea, one that seemed to boil – This proved to be good news for the him and made him jump and he had not with passion as they sometimes dog which, having remained unfed, almost choked the girl where she thought, but with a palpable, excitedly lapped up the warm, knelt. That, for him, had been his unpredictable disappointment. complex mixture. Another friend You fuck like a teenager, she proudest moment there. He had had spent the day face-down on the Beds lost his own body. The only time he taunted. living room floor, buried in broken Your cunt is like a carrier bag, he truly noticed himself was through crisps, dog-ends and half-bitten, rage and the only time he noticed jeered. He had, when they first met, salty lemon slices. They had devoted Bill Leahy others was as they closed the door been kind of impressed by her. She the three days to smoking, singing, behind them. Then he would lie and fitted a stereotype he had eating, fighting and fucking. This stare at the window, framed by a somewhere acquired. But in the boat was one of animal actions, a dirty blind and through which light bed, the violence soon began. He curious kind of physical celebration, had to struggle to enter the room. punched her so hard in the solar- of few words and even less sense. It plexus during one fight that she had was a kind of doom. He had fallen Taking the form of the bed itself, fainted. While she was still out he into a river of snakes and alligators the cover comes to rest on the turned her over, unzipped his and they were eating him up from pillows. The descent is almost trousers and put his erect penis in the inside. And he had pulled her complete and his arms are her mouth. When she came round with him. The boat was always beginning to relax. He thinks he she bit him and then he smashed her headed for the edge of the world sees no symbolic meaning now. A with the palm of his hand on the and it reached its destination soon track of certainty. And then, in that side of her head. Later that evening, enough. He had called her a whore very moment the cover falls flatter while he was sleeping, she had too often for her liking and he had against the bed and suddenly new stubbed out a lit cigarette on his tried to live up to his perception of possibilities arise. cheek. Often they would stay in bed what her previous men had meant for the whole day, the curtains for his own. He had gone beyond From the virgin through the tarts drawn against the daylight, eating and this was the time after flesh, the to the out and out whore. That is chocolates and pizzas, smoking time after skin, the time after bodies. the journey he perceives himself as cigarettes and joints and watching He was practically made. Fuck me, one last time, she said. having made. The next was a boat action videos. This was the cruise of Yes, he replied. She opened her of cocks and cunts and, quite soon, philistines. Sometimes, of insults and punches. It was a unexpectedly, perhaps in the middle legs and, with him on top of her violence they both seemed to need of a film, lying there with her head between them, had placed his penis and the bed always drew it out of propped up by pillows, she would inside her. He let his body weigh them. Violence into sex and sex into begin belting out her favourite down on her then, leaving enough violence. The two often overlapped, Frank Sinatra songs. The dog, space between their faces to be able the one summoning the other. locked out in the hallway, would to look into each other’s eyes. And Open your legs, he demanded. howl like a John Wayne coyote, but then they had not moved. His penis Fuck my arse, she responded. she would proceed with the inside her, they lay as still as rocks And he did, pressing down on the massacre. It was like listening to and looked at each other. Tears back of her head, pushing her face Stockhausen with a hangover – a came into her eyes first. And then, into the pillow, which afterwards punishment for him and the dog. finally, into his. He cried. As one could be seen to have described the After his twenty-fifth birthday party tear fell along his cheek and onto sex in dribble stains. they stayed in bed for three whole hers, he placed his head on her Lick me out, she demanded. days, the curtains drawn, the flat shoulder and let his eyelids shut. around them resembling a Baghdad And then she had closed her eyes 43 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty too, the lids squeezing out a mucus-like liquid that Now it has fallen and covers the bed. This, he seemed to carry more than mere sadness. Lying there, realises finally, has been a wreathing. The painted feeling the rhythm of their breathing, he heard an old, flowers form a shroud that covers him. Fully-formed, distant voice, I know you’re awake. I know you’re fully-complete. Everything sort of fallen. His hands skim awake. A boat that had hosted such violent activity now across the cover, smoothing out the creases. Here is a bore a sonorous stillness. broken down boat on a dead sea. A Marie Celeste of Bye-bye, she breathed. male emotions. But there; in the centre. Now covered, Bye-bye, he answered. Both eaten alive by the snakes shrouded. A possibly female form. A female form and alligators. Both swallowed by the silence. He left. possibly. For which one has it been worse? Which one is wreathed? Beds And down. The air has escaped and the bed is The bed is made. covered. He releases the corners he has gripped and watches the cover crease. It is the end of the descent. Bill Leahy He knows that he must think about his pervious beds. Sometime. In this bed the meanings seem to have stopped shifting. They are stable now. Wherever he went now he would bring the damage with him. He sailed in many boats and never stayed long. The longest, though short, was in a real foreign country, across real water. There, he hurt like he had never done before. She thought she had grown to know him and the piece of him she did know she needed and relied on. Yet he only gave her one piece of himself, the piece this side of the river filled with snakes and alligators. A river she could never cross. Nor did she try, The Sea Wall as she did not even know that it existed. She got the piece of him that was manipulated from the other side You follow a line (it isn’t of the river. It seemed always polite, caring and possibly exactly a line of thought) in love. Her foreignness did not enable her to see the along the curve of the bay. man in pieces – a man like those she had known in her own language. Her bed was one of gentleness and Strung out under the bulbs simplicity, but was only ever occupied by one and a half that flicker jazzily between people. He was always only half there. She taught him life and death, your only prop’s to say I love you in her language, but he never said it the wall, the sheer, sharp jut with feeling. He could have been saying Leeds United of rock that holds you from your or Bristol Rovers or Everton. He kept it always in the black, seductive dreams. front of his mouth. When she said it in his language it reverberated with shattering convention. Often he lay It’s all whispers and lapses there, staring at the brick wall that faced the window and whispers: sounds sucked which, it being a basement flat, was encased in a large back into themselves and metal grill, thinking about his escape. And very soon he forever spooling. slipped over the side of the boat and swam away. The only piece of him she was left with was the piece she had You stop at the bay’s extremity, never known. A brief, unexplained message from where the spindrift comes up to jig beyond his river that sank through her skin and began to on the roof of the wall, spawning beat with her heart. A kind of pure mutilation. And for itself into arcs and beads, into the ones after her it could only be worse. wishbones, into tiny crystal balls. Stephen James 44 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty She puts one bare foot in its dirty trainer up her bare DOES MY BUM LOOK BIG? knee to scratch her ankle. Verena Adams –Everywhere. You can say that about me. He doesn’t encourage exaggeration. T he landscape is like the moon. –You mean you’ve travelled extensively? She leans out of the truck window. The sun He catches her shrug from the corner of his eye. splinters itself on her head. –I mean what I said. I’m from everywhere. –How do you know? His lips tighten. He won’t waste energy on her. Hamish makes a fetish of being rational. He doesn’t In his mind he returns to the project. The recent care for excessive statements. investigations are promising, according to Steve. He’ll -You’ve never been to the moon. have to see what he makes of it, on the spot. She isn’t fazed by him. A carapace of certainty covers –But, she’s saying, I was born in Greece. her like a shell. It would take more than Hamish to dent Greek? That explains the accent. The straight nose it. and olive tinge. And Australia was once upon a time –I’ve been there. considered a place of safety for refugees. Back at his Inside, he groans. Whimsy. university he’s encountered Polish Australians, Jewish And there’s the childish song suddenly in his head. Australians, Dutch and German Australians, whose Wimsywimsyspiderclimbingupthespout. Where did ancestors fled the wars of Europe. Why not Greek that come from? I haven’t thought of that in years. Australians? And she is retracting herself, drawing her upper –Greek, eh? body in, crushing those soft breasts in that thin tee– –Not exactly. shirt, closing the window with a slight pressure of her –Your family settled here? thumb. She’s rummaging behind, in her backpack. ZZZLLMP. –They are not. They prefer the old world. Are you The desert is locked out. The air conditioning takes hungry? over. Hungry? His stomach twists. God, he’s hungry. –Let’s go. –I am. Very. But we won’t get a meal till the next –Are you sure you’re quite ready? station. Which is one hundred and, let me see, (he reads She’s proof against his sarcasm as well. Stretches out the clock) –one hundred and thirteen miles away. her legs. Such smooth caramel legs in those short –And I know how many kilometres that is. You don’t shorts. have to tell me. Hamish can’t stop himself sliding a peek. Those –What makes you believe I was going to? shorts. Those legs. His reasons for picking her up. –You’re utterly predicable. Peeking her up. Meditating, he urges the burdened Hamish doesn’t encourage anger in himself. With Land Rover, tireless and donkey– patient, along the anger you lose control. He doesn’t reply. If she’s not shadeless and empty road toward the mountains. careful, the station will be where they part company. I was ready for company. –Here. She’s passing him an apple. It’s smooth and I’d had enough of my own. cool as a, as a, as a breast. It reminds him of a breast. Or I was sorry for her with that backpack. one of her buttocks. When I’ve had enough, I’ll set her down. –This will stop you being hungry for a while. She’s asking him a question. She frames it without He bites and his mouth is irrigated. The juiciest its punctuation mark, telling him that she already knows apple he’s ever put between his lips. the answer. Her voice is both rough and sweet, with an She’s biting too. Chewing the apple, humming. accent he cannot place. He says –There are provisions behind, in the back –You’re from London, aren’t you? there. –No, he says, not any more. Now I wouldn’t live in He won’t have her getting the idea he’s the kind of London if you paid me. fool, who sets off to drive across a desert without the And he’s drawn to ask a question of his own. proper preparations. –You? Where are you from? –All kinds of stuff. And water if you want it. –Do you? 45 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty –Not now. That apple of yours has done the trick. get a film out of it, and I get to know a new place, Hamish thinks he hears her say, Many tricks, but expenses paid. However it turns out, we all stand to isn’t sure. She presses her window down. Tosses away gain something. He wants to move the conversation Does My Bum Look Big? the apple core. And closes the heat out again. away from himself. –You’re going on a dig. –That’s enough about me. What brings you here? Again, she makes a statement, not a question. How You’re not a native Australian? does she know where he’s going? They haven’t spoken –Not a native Australian. I’m from the old world. of his destination. Nor of hers. A filament of unease Ausonia. tightens round his brow. He takes his eye off the road, –Ausonia? the drab-dun line of the road, shoots a glance her way. He can’t place it. One of the rearranged segments of He meets her eyes. They’re fixed on him. Brown or Yugoslavia? Bosnia? Ausonia? black with motes of gold, whites speckleless in spite of She goes on. the dust. Lengthy lashes. There’s a slight smile moving –I’m Venus. Not an aboriginal version. Not black. Verena Adams between eyes and mouth. He reassures himself. She’s The real thing. And I’ve come exploring. The tough noticed his equipment stacked in the back. She’d have leathery males here are legendary. I mean to study them put two and two together, made a guess. No worries. in their own habitat. His unease slackens off. She’s one of those alternative traveller types. –You’ve got it. An exploratory dig only. –Venus, are you? Right. I’m Hamish. –Tell me. –I know. –You don’t want to know. It’s not exciting. This time he refuses to be impressed. She knows his –I’d like you to tell me. name because it’s plastered all over the place. Hamish Generally, Hamish is reserved, locked inside the Grant. With care. Scientific instruments. This side up. confines of his own counsel. He’s surprised to find he’s If she’s looked in the back, which he knows she has, she doing as she requests. He’s telling her about his mate, could hardly miss it. Steve, and Cliff, their crazy scheme. That they’ve all –I have been known, she continues, as Venus three of them taken a year out of their work, careers, Callipyge. Tell me honestly, do you think that’s fair? families, just dropped the whole lot, turned their backs. –Venus Kallipiegy? It doesn’t say much to me, I’m Squeezed out grants and loans from various sources. afraid. Spent money. Steve’s got a TV channel interested, –It means, she snaps back, Venus with the beautiful means to sell the film of the expedition. buttocks. The subtext is I have a large behind. Do you –We call it Three Men in a Trench. agree? Is my bum too big? He gives his dry laugh, more a type of cough, harsh He thinks, but doesn’t say –In those shorts? I’d judge clearing of the throat. it just exactly right. –What do you hope to find? –No comment. She’s put her bare and dirty feet up on the dash. He He gives an embarrassed laugh. His bark of doesn’t like her doing it, but is prepared to overlook it. laughter. –Traces of the cult of the black Venus. It’s Cliff’s idea. –But I hope you won’t mind my saying that you He’s swept us along. Archaeological departments in shouldn’t try to hitch lifts like that. It isn’t safe. For a universities don’t offer much scope these days. We young woman on her own. couldn’t resist the chance for a bit of hands-on. Not dressed the way you are, he adds to himself. He pauses. Underdressed like that. –An adventure, you might say. Before it’s too late for Hamish peers, screwing up his eyes. Red-rimmed, adventures. his weary eyes. He’s becoming apologetic. He’s talked incautiously, –That’s the first traffic since I left this morning. You too fast, given too much away. His quick words slow. see what I mean? On a fainter breath he ends –or so it seemed to me. She’s digging in her backpack again. –Do you imagine you’ll turn anything up? –See what? –Probably not. Almost certainly not. Cliff has a bee He repeats, separating out the words in his bonnet about old gods in aboriginal forms. He –What I was trying to point out about hitching lifts. can test his theories. Write up the results. Steve should It’s unsafe. If you were picked up by the wrong type. It 46 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty happens. Two young women were murdered not long ago. –I’ll be okay. I’d like to see Does My Bum Look Big? anybody try murdering me. The truck that had been the distant tornado of dust roars by, lights flashing in salute. The road is empty again. Yellow as a viper under the raging sun. –Want a ciggy? –I don’t. She doesn’t ask if he minds her smoking, but lights up anyhow. Verena Adams Hamish has made up his mind to drop her off at the station, when they get there. Any company is not necessarily better than none. The air is polluted enough without While we sit here broiling, waiting suggestion with the classic woar- cigarette smoke. This smoke that to be run into by the first truck that hoar-hoar. has an unusual smell. A suspicion comes along. Brilliant. Got any –Anyhow, she or somebody strikes him. Is she smoking dope? more brilliant ideas? brought you here. She puts a hand on his knee. In reply she’s climbing on him, –But where is she? –You’re tired. Shall we pull in for swarming over him. Unfastening –Gone. Before we got up. Just a bit? buttons, slipping in her hands to the Land Rover and you in it A tart. Not one of those pull their clothes up. Or down. slumped like a sack of potatoes. alternative world traveller types like Hamish is glued to his seat, literally –I wish I could remember what she said. A bloody tart. He’s unable to make a move of his own happened. drawing in an outraged breath to volition. He can’t cry out: her mouth –Heat stroke, repeats Cliff. It reject the suggestion, when the land has closed his off. She’s hot, she’s can have that effect. Lucky you rover begins to lose power, to drag slippery, she’s cool, she’s weren’t taken worse. and fade. Swearing, he pumps. everywhere. Her perfume or the –Pity she didn’t wait to be God, oh god, that’s all I need. smell of the weed she was smoking thanked, says Steve. You say her Break down in the middle of the has filled his nostrils and his lungs. name was Venus? frigging desert. He passes out, only to come to at Hamish wasn’t even sure of that. Hamish pumps the pedals but the dig, dazed, vision blurred, –I think so. You know, it’s quite a the land rover has expired with a making explanations as best he can. coincidence. One objective of the sigh. Stopped right there in the –The land rover seized up. There dig being to investigate an middle of the road. was a girl. A Greek girl. A aboriginal Venus. –Shit. hitchhiker. I gave a lift. Venus, she He nods his agreement. His Peering at the instruments. was called. That’s all I remember. head’s still spinning. Learning nothing. –You’re not acclimatised. You –Yes. Quite a coincidence. –Shit. We’re okay for fuel. It must have got heat stroke, Cliff A fragment comes back. must be the fucking distributor. explains. –She said her bum was too big. Panic and sweat break out. –And she must have somehow –Unreal, says Cliff. She’s calm. fixed the engine and driven on, is –It probably got too hot. Poor Steve’s suggestion. old car. Leave it for a bit to cool –Probably hung out her boobs at down. It’ll be okay later. the next truck that passed. Signalled –Leave it to cool down. In the for help. And got it. Cliff closes his full sun. In the middle of the road. 47 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty taking much of the furniture, the dogs and the guns. His THE SOMERSET HOUSE wife had moved all the remaining furniture out of the Sean Gaston master bedroom, leaving it entirely empty, and moved downstairs into a small room looking onto the gardens. I t was a great old kitchen table with high sturdy legs From her window she could see the high green walls of and the grooves and scratches of generations. On the the overgrown hedges, peaked by small Christmas trees table there was a large earthenware bowl with a spoon that had broken out of the impossible rectangles and sticking out of it, some dried pomegranates, a plate of squares. Her children had soon left, fleeing what they walnuts that had been too hard to crack and in a low thought was the emptiness of the house, only to find white and blue china bowl unripe avocados mixed with that emptiness can furnish a room, fill a house and make small English apples. The four chairs around the table a marriage. They had both gone to America, not were empty and the door from the kitchen was open realising that in America there was an emptiness in the leading out into the rather dilapidated gardens at the very land, in the still naked and shallow buildings of the back of the house; gardens that were too big for one, Europeans that lived between the coasts. Venturing even for two people to manage. Like this Somerset beyond New England, lingering outside of New York, garden, this Somerset house had the unavoidable which was a country to itself, they had touched the uncared look of a family that has declined from its blank expanse and recoiled, only to hear the hollow ring Empire days, its butler, nanny, cook and chauffeur, and beneath the chatter of Boston and Philadelphia. come to rest on the modest nostalgia of an old pile, sans staff and sans money. Soon after her husband had left she had found a job and maintained herself and the house. In the evenings With only seven bedrooms the house was a small she painted small landscapes on bits of wood with thick building and its narrow Elizabethan windows, with brushes or sometimes with her fingers, dipping and strange visual distortions in every pane, and its old pale mixing the oils in a broken saucer. For a few weeks in stone covered in saffron were the only signs of its great the dark days of February she had kept a diary, but age. The last of the Empire money had been spent stopped after she could no longer think whom she was wisely in the early 1930s on the roof and, somehow, writing to when she wrote, “I am alone.” In the summer everything else stayed where it was, keeping to itself, she worked in the garden, staying out well after dark holding itself up, knowing its place after centuries. The when her eyes could see through the greys and blues of building knew who it was, and it was a testament to its evening and she felt more animal than human. She self-confidence that it remained indifferent to the would potter around the house, tending to the bare incremental emptying of the rooms, the slow rooms and every once in a while finding her way into the withdrawal of the Victorian bric-a-brac and the small rooms at the top of the house, built when people, eighteenth century furniture that had filled and shaped or at least servants, were shorter, filled with the debris, and curved the rooms. Now the rooms stood squarely, the archaeological curiosities, of four hundred years of floorboards and wall fixtures, far removed from the old, continuous human habitation. Each year she would dig discoloured bergère chair, the thinning, almost balding, through another layer of this Somerset Tell, sifting carpet, the makeshift bookshelf of bricks and planks, the through the past, lightening the load on the house, standing lamp with the torn lampshade. But what was letting most of it go in a garden bonfire: the photos, the perhaps most surprising was that these sparse, spacious letters, the abandoned and the broken. All these rooms had no nostalgia, no melancholy: there was no impossible archives that no one could read. She had a dust, no absent ache of the past. It was a house that W. deep respect for the past, for the ghostly whispers of the G. Sebald could have never visited. The rooms were unknown ancestors who lived lives much as ours, but clean, the windows were open and from the early dawn somehow knew that the house could only survive if it until the late dusk the summer light fell through the was relieved of the burden of memory. One day, she had house, circling from the back garden to the front taken all the paintings and driven to Taunton and courtyard. arranged for them to be auctioned in London. All the ancestors had looked at her as they sat in the back of the It had been five years since the man of the house had car, surprised to be speeding down the country lanes, moved out, leaving his wife and two daughters, while delighted to be free at last of the walls and halls that had 48 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty held them for centuries. How green the earth was, how chairs. She is there, sitting with her daughters who have blue the sky. returned from America, and sitting in the fourth chair is the man who surprised both her and himself by coming The four chairs around the table were empty and the to live in the Somerset house, to trim its hedges, cut its door from the kitchen was open leading out into the grass, fix its roof and to live with her in a house without The Somerset House rather dilapidated gardens at the back of the house. a past. Down the stone path, the low hedges on either side, around the circular pond with its pink and white lilies and out onto the lawn was another table and four more WELL NOW life Sean Gaston after all Funny that still has finding yourself cat’s eyes alone doesn’t it at night sparking the way in a car ahead you cannot drive driving but perhaps it can never odd be the same to discover yourself for see on roads how hands lips you’ve never ridden those touches riding you rely on seem to slide strange further how the gradually out of reach illuminated land as if a car composes itself in slow motion round your bumper should ricochet as you away bump through from all you had weird that creeping deadness wondering where along the limbs those are confusion who should be here through head and heart beside you then without reservation could it be from the dark that it’s a far verge already over and fields beyond you’ve already blurred engulfing crashed, odd though so imperceptibly you do not David Fulton know it 49 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty arrival, but at first he’d put them down to Cold War THE RIGHT CONNECTIONS paranoia and so been free to laugh them off. Recently, (A Tale of Old Yugoslavia) however, his phone had been acting strangely: David Fulton whenever he lifted the receiver, an odd sound –as if the call had thrown switches elsewhere –would start up and S he came to his door. What else could he do? You he’d sense a real lessening of signal strength. And then see he’d just finished covering forty-four essays on for no apparent reason –I mean he wasn’t calling from a My Worst Nightmare with red marks, when the bell box –his phone conversations would be cut off in mid- rang. I suppose he must by then have been brain dead, sentence. Surely an eavesdropping telephonist, no no longer able to make the simple connections. He matter how bored with the senseless babble in her ears, opened the door to a round shining face, framed by would have soon tired of the game of cutting his straw-coloured hair, and a raw voice from the prairies, connections. saying, “Hi! I’ve something real important to talk to you No, it seemed to suggest something more organised. about.” After each plug-pulling he’d rung back and joked with (Oh no!), he groaned inwardly, fearing his soul was his callers that it would be all right to start speaking in question, but threw the thought out as unlikely. (A again because the police must by then have found Bible-belter in Yugoslavia? Surely not!) Nevertheless another blank, but still a nagging unease remained. he did wedge a foot firmly behind the door –just in case. Suppose they were taping each call he made or got; “And what would that be?” suppose all the talk that took place in the ‘privacy’ of his “Right. My name’s Liza. Uh, Lisa Lutz” – they shook lounge was being monitored. And then earlier hands vigorously – “and I’m in Kosovo doing some work suspicions came back. He recalled that on entering his for Amnesty International. You’ve heard of it?” flat colleagues and students alike seemed to snaffle their He nodded, glancing past her broad frame to a tongues, became abnormally interested in work and corridor mercifully empty of colleagues. bland generalities, and what had been blurred doubt “Okay. We’re wanting to find this Albanian dissident” projected onto his mind focused into the belief they all – she held up the blurred copy of a black-and-white knew – or strongly suspected – his two cramped rooms photograph – “who, we reckon, is being held some place were under electronic surveillance. From that moment here in Pristina. We’ve gotten real worried about him. he’d begun to feel hemmed in, constantly monitored like You see he’s been gone these past three months and no some prisoner of conscience. Light thoughts –like the one – not his family, not anyone – has a notion where he probability S.U.P’s translators were ex-students and is. Naturally, there’s been no trial...or any talk of one.” would therefore hardly follow a word he said, if past This was, as she’d said, important, but the voice was experience was anything to go by – had failed to toss loud and assured, perhaps too loud and too assured; it this feeling off and so the back-pack of self- echoed confidently down the bare stone corridor, as if consciousness continued to weigh him down. never doubting its right to dominate that space, yet was –incredibly –answered by no doors inching open. AMNESTY NEWS IN BRIEF He should perhaps have brought matters to a head, –YUGOSLAVIA Adam Krashi, a human-rights asked for documentary proof or simply said he knew activist in the Serbian semi- nothing of the case and closed the door, but his brain autonomous province of Kosovo, has was gone and he did feel that to leave the matter there been reported missing. The would have been an insult to the missing man, so he authorities in Belgrade refuse to withdrew his foot and lamely let her in. Yet as soon as confirm or deny that he is under arrest, but it is understood they she was seated on his threadbare sofa, head inclined have been angered by some of his towards him in eager anticipation, plaits ready to dance activities on behalf of the again in sympathy with the cause and fingers poised to Albanian community, which they point new messages in the air, he began to have second consider ‘chauvinist’, thoughts. ‘separatist’ and ‘friendly to hegemonist powers’. After all, how could he be sure his room wasn’t bugged? Rumours of hidden devices had been ricocheting round the lector network ever since his 50 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty “I’ve got an idea: rather than just chat here where it’s that when the airborne duellists finally landed, their a bit spartan, why don’t we go to a restaurant? There’s swords would must fall not on each other, but the this interesting Albanian place just up the road.” hapless skullcap of the man who played –oblivious – “Why not?” between them? The Right Connections As they left the three-storey staff block, he looked And, leaning back in his chair, he chuckled once across the ill-lit street to the campus, followed the more at the scene’s comic confusion: rivals in snow- outline of grey concrete towers, straggling up the hill in white turbans and off-white jackets that wouldn’t have failed aspiration. There on the summit stood the main looked out of place in Ruritania; a girl in a loose, belted police station, its light bulbs blazing into the night, as smock and baggy Arabian trousers, topped by the tight though guiding late travellers through the city’s hidden headscarf of a Wigan housewife; and, above all, pairs of rocks. They turned to the left and bent into a sleety dancing warriors ranged behind, who studiously wind. ignored the rivals’ call to arms in their determination to “Not exactly what you’re used to, I suppose.” imitate the duck’s flatfooted waddle. This was what he David Fulton “Why, no! We get this and worse for our Midwestern liked about the Albanians, this rough-and-ready, winters and in Chicago, where I’m at school, the unselfconscious fun. January winds off Lake Michigan can freeze like death.” “Don’t worry, I think we’ll avoid that: there’s only 1 pallet, mattressless, no sheet. another couple of hundred yards to battle through.” 1 stinking, crawling blanket. And in no time, panting from the wind buffets and 1 slop bucket, putrid, at the far corner. the cold, they ducked off the deserted street and into the 1 bowl for washing, eating, cleaning teeth. Rugovo, where their nipped ears were warmed by 4 off-white walls, smeared with black ‘Shkon Skyferi’ and the earthy gutterals of Albanian discolouration. chatter. As their eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights, 1 door, no handle, locked from outside, its they realised they weren’t the only ones to have chosen spy-hole always gaping. this restaurant as refuge from the elements. In fact, the 1 high light-bulb, no shade, the switch place looked full, but they did eventually spot a couple outside. of free chairs at a table in one corner. 1 small window, out of reach, its screen of While he was ordering Turkish coffee for her and a sky, clouds, night not projected for him. Skanderbeg for himself, Lisa scrutinised the decor with evident satisfaction. And below 1 body, bruised and expertly shocked, his “Real ethnic!” strange groans sharing the moments with distant He nodded and looked dutifully at examples of local screams. handicraft, hanging from surrounding walls (exotic mats, long embroidered slippers, naive wood carvings “My! Just look at those rugs!” she exclaimed, and sophisticated gold filigree), but what finally caught pointing a broad finger, so he switched his gaze back to his eye, as it always did, was a large mounted photo of their bold saw-tooth patterns in red, black and white. the dance that gave the restaurant its name. “They’re mighty like Red Indian designs I’ve come Within a lush forest clearing two rival youths were across in the States.” shown leaping into the air, legs bent back, left arms “Yes, that’s it; that’s where I’ve seen them before: extended for balance, while the right brandished cowboy films! You know I’ve been destroying my brain, swords high above their heads. What might have been trying to make that connection ever since I came to frightening was completely defused by the broad grin Kosovo and you’ve done it at a stroke. Brilliant!” on the face of the teenage girl, over whom the rivals More serious matters were for the moment fought. She’d placed hands firmly on her plump hips as forgotten, but his companion was nothing if not if to contain the laughter exploding inside. Was she determined and, as soon as she saw her chance, dragged smiling in appreciation of the dance or at the sheer the talk back to Adam. absurdity of it all for how could she not notice a small “I’ve been here a day or so rooting around; like man, inserted between the suitors, kneeling on one leg, yesterday I went to the Rilindja offices.” while the other supported a huge drum, which he “Oh… but why?” struck, eyes closed in rapt concentration on the beat, so 51 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty “To find out if its people knew where the prisoner we said, ‘No problem, we’ll just carry on through to was, of course.” Yugoslavia.’ And here we are. Irvin’s out chasing leads “You didn’t!” tonight or he’d be with me. As both of us are working on “Sure. Why not?” this, we’re bound to get some place pretty fast!” The Right Connections He glanced at their immediate neighbours, but no “I wouldn’t doubt it,” he replied, surveying the room one seemed to be paying them any more attention than once more, yet thinking of others less convivial. the rare tourist passing through to Greece would have “But we do need your help.” got. “Look, I’m only a lector here. I walk into the “And I asked them other questions as well.” classroom eight times a week, try to coax a little “Oh yes… What?” communication from my students, then walk out again. “Okay: one was if they printed stories from the other I keep my eyes on the path ahead, my ears plugged, my side.” mouth taped shut.” “You mean ouija boards…astral projection?” “Still you sometimes hear things, surely.” David Fulton “Hell, no. Stories criticising the government, “Not really. Students... they only come to me to talk dissident stories –stuff like that”‘ about academic problems.” “I see. And what did they say?” “And yet you’ve been here one heck of a time now, “Just clammed up and stood around looking guilty. haven’t you?” So I fired them another question, asked if anti- “True, but no matter how long I stay, I’ll always communist candidates could run in local elections.” remain a stranger.” “You did?” “Well, you still might have heard talk of this guy,” “Sure, but was served the usual bull, you know the showing the photocopy once more. stuff they’re parrot-taught in school. I just couldn’t get a Though he’d only seen the man twice, he had no straight answer out of them.” difficulty in recognising him from his poorly reproduced He downed the cognac in one and waited for its features: the dark hair slicked back like an otter’s; the forgetful glow. She ignored her coffee, even though the high forehead; the moustache resting on either side of grounds must by then have settled, and continued an aquiline nose. All was as expected, except for a eagerly, “One way or another we’ve been pretty busy.” puzzled look on his normally intelligent face as if he “‘We’? So you’re not doing this by yourself?” couldn’t find a way of accounting for the camera’s “Why, no! I came over with Irvin – uh, my boyfriend. sudden flash. But what the picture could not register We’d already decided to do Europe through to was the absolute lack of restraint in his laugh or the Germany this summer, so when we heard Amnesty vigorous –almost violent –way his arms would needed to find out about this dissident guy in Kosovo, orchestrate an argument. “He’s called Krashi –uh, Adam Krashi. He used to be a student here, class of ‘74, but majored in Albanian, not English.” And there was more, much more. “No, sorry; before my time.” “But haven’t you heard anything? He’s real well-known.” “Not a thing, I’m afraid.” They stared into each other’s eyes till he had to look away. The dimly- lit room swung crazily to left and right before coming to rest at the picture on the wall. That was the Albanians for him and not Krashi and his allies. They had begun innocently enough with demonstrations in favour of the 52 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty Albanian language, but had recently, if rumours were wise to come down hard on anyone prepared to use true, smuggled arms and bomb-making equipment explosive tactics. But did this mean Krashi deserved Title (2nd page and onwards) across the border from Albania and were now busy prison? Perhaps, perhaps not drilling and practising firing in the hills above Urosevac. “You could have forgotten something, anything...a Of course, he knew all about the arrested man – who small – maybe you think – stupid detail?” didn’t? – but was Lisa the right person to talk to? He’d “No, I’m sure I haven’t.” always thought the naive American the deadest of The detail he knew – and she did not – hadn’t been clichés, but here was one, sitting opposite as alive as forgotten. How could it? Three weeks before a student Lady Lazarus, so sure all right-thinking people must friend had told him his sister, who worked as a nurse in share her views she scarcely saw those she came across, the local hospital, had seen Krashi brought in under so certain error had its centre outside her own country police guard for an emergency operation. His stomach and her self she failed to make the humbling had been cut open and two spoons found inside. connections. Apparently, he’d swallowed them as the only way to David Fulton Most of Lisa’s questions at Rilindja no doubt escape further beatings; better the lesser than the squeezed reluctant smiles from the faces of its party greater pain. journalists, but to ask about an arrested dissident was Did he condone this? Of course not, but would no smiling matter. Even though there didn’t seem to be talking to Lisa do any good? The story might eventually any police agent in the restaurant, it was still possible surface on the international pages of the Western press, she was being trailed and her contacts noted. If she and but would doubtless disappear as soon as the Yugoslav her friend were caught, that wouldn’t matter much to government denied the charges, and another story took them – they’d simply be deported – but what of him? its place. Its brief appearance would merely serve to He’d be asked to leave without even his plane fare being illustrate the moral inferiority of the Eastern bloc, as if paid – it was all down in the local contract – and what torture never occurred in Western gaols. Krashi’s would the British Council think? After years of trying, position would be unchanged. The only difference they’d only just managed to get a toehold in the province would be that if the story’s source were traced, the – he was the second lector there – and they’d repeatedly student would find himself without a future and he advised him to keep a low profile. If he were sent home, without a job. He could choose to inflict that on himself, spotlit by publicity, the university contract would but not on someone who, as he’d left his home, had probably be revoked and the British Council in its made me swear to tell no one of what he’d learnt. No, he pique make sure he never worked for them again. had to keep the information to himself. All right, losing your job, particularly for something “So no buzz in the brain, no off-the-wall, last-minute you believe in, is no great tragedy, but in this case did he connections?” believe? Not really. Though he knew only too well why “No, nothing, I’m afraid.” Krashi hated the Serbs and wanted greater distance They sat only a couple off feet apart, yet as they eyed from them, he couldn’t bear to watch the break-up of each other with growing distrust, ancient fault lines Yugoslavia, its network of republics prised apart by seemed to open at their feet, throwing them back to Western neighbours, its experiment in socialist co- right and left. There was clearly no more to be said, so operation between nationalities sabotaged by they rose, at the door pumped hands and parted, she to nationalism. True, the Albanians of Kosovo were battle on through sleety wind to a shared hotel room, ultimately controlled by the Serbs in Belgrade, had he to be blown back to an empty flat. And as he was Serb army units occupying strategic positions bowled along with leaves and scraps of litter, he throughout the province and a police force largely thought of the messenger who’d come to him out of the manned by Serbs, but, on the other hand, they ran their dark and whose distance from him was increasing with own parliament, disposed of its budget, and had their every step. In a few days she would put an ocean and own TV station, newspaper and an education system in two cultures between them. It was strange that even Albanian as well as Serbo-Croat. Things weren’t perfect though he knew he would not, did not really want to (they never are), but they could have been much worse. turn and catch her up, he could not blank the meeting Nationalism would, like a bomb, blow the federation from his mind. He kept returning to everything he apart; to prime it was at best an act of folly and at worst might have said, but did not, each new formula further a crime. So, on the whole, I therefore thought Belgrade complicating the effects till his brain began to spin. 53 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty He crossed at the junction on a red light, then let the big wet winds carry him down the last slope to his estate. Before taking the now-sticky dirt track to his block, he looked once again across the street and up to The Right Connections the police headquarters, placed like a fort on its hilltop. The work of law and order was continuing in all its many forms: not one light had been switched off, nor would be – he supposed – till dawn. The building established a zone of light against the encroaching dark; it illuminated the higher ground as wisdom is meant to, yet perhaps in its basement’s glare Krashi was at that moment being hit in all the unwise places, his cries and moans lost on deadened walls. He turned away in semi- David Fulton darkness, stumbled over waste ground to his entrance, trudged up three flights of steps and, after fumbling for the right key, entered his flat and switched on all the lights. AN OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT Amnesty International has recently received reports that Adam Krashi is being held at police headquarters in Pristina. After making repeated representations on his behalf, we have at last secured official confirmation of his imprisonment. Apparently, Krashi has been tried for counter- revolutionary activity and, having been found guilty, sentenced to three years’ hard labour; but we have been unable to ascertain whether the trial was held in public and whether the accused had the benefit of independent legal aid. We are proposing to make Adam Krashi our Prisoner of Conscience for Yugoslavia. What else could he do? 54 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
  • faculty EMPTY AND MARVELLOUS Tokyo University With sightseeing weariness Department Store I wander past another ancient pond And more high towers and arches Past the glitz of pearl earrings To be jerked aware by the passion And the neon glare of stiletto heels Of spirited female cries. With quickened pace I The lift arrow revolves scale the wall And out trips a flawless manikin – And there on the dojo veranda In black dress The White hat and white gloves. lady archers stand. With sweet mechanical bow One steps forward in the silence And impeccable smile And turns side-on. She declares in fluting Legs astride, she sinks into her hara, Little-girl voice, Eyes closed in meditation. She slowly lifts the great ‘Ue ni mairimasu!’ long bow She giggles at my request, High above her head And pulling down the drawn But seems eager to be snapped. arrow Turns her face to the garden beyond, Gazing at a distant circle of stuffed straw. Into the motionless tranquillity of her taut bow A strong voice intones a high continuum, While her friends vigorously shout, ‘Shakarri iko!’ (‘Go steadily!’), ‘Gambatte iko! ’ (‘Go strongly!’). Slowly the right hand relaxes And the arrow surges, Spinning in its long flight, Drawn by the fixed vortex Of the target’s patient heart. ‘Atari!’, ‘Atari!’, the archers exclaim. The great bow is lowered And now only the cicada can be heard. Awed and exhilarated, I seek entrance to that kyu dojo, But with a deep respectful bow I am firmly turned away. Rob Cook 55 Metropolitan Lines Volume 1, 2007
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