They Plan To Bury You
I was blanking on street names, watching the snow, the first snow to stick, fall around me. I had been in a cab, Happy Christmas, and all, said when given a chance, but I didn’t feel it. I was worried about the fare. Adam told me London cabs were the worst, the reason they looked like a hearse, they plan to bury you. Bare legs hanging out of skirts, connecting to brightly colored pumps, jutted out onto Regents’ waving down each shadowed fury. One had hair chopped, blond, with charcoal circled eyes, the other, Allison could stand still and stare at me flat footed. I tried to see the fare click by in digital red from my slouch but the seats in leather left my view obstructed, blurred blacks and greys, the street lamp passing by the window, backlighting the flash of skin moving to the sounds of their giggles coming from each side. Drunken eyes slowed in reaction. Where could you track down the twenty-one and prosperous? Boarding schools in Sweden, early admittance to Oxford with, oh, such dangerous eyes and perfected smiles, as much by them as the doctors who moved each tooth. I heard of them on my walk back, strutting in sun I would barely see. But these two couldn’t go wrong, throwing a handful of pounds at the driver, taking my wrist and shuffling into a warehouse, smoke filled and abandoned.
The air felt too cold and clean. Even Sinan, the great Iraqi-Swede said in big gruff Native American tone said, Let’s go smoke. I fumbled for my zipper, pulling it up and tucking my hood around my neck. He reached out his pack but I pushed away, electing, instead to look at my shoes. I remember him buying me steak in the West End, trying to confirm that we were friends as we walked in the gutter, hands in pockets, letting the rushed pass along the side. He turned his head around to make sure that I followed and laughed about big Texas steak and told me to get what I wanted. Saint Martin guided him there, given him a job with me, no, beneath me in the stockroom, swatting off the heat. You are all northerners, the beautiful ones. I told him it wasn’t so. We ate in silence, the cold kept wanderers off the streets and us inside. We sat and watched the last of the tables dissolve, patrons grabbing coats, arms lacing the backs of their loves, the tables clearing seemingly by themselves. Not all was noticed. I had hoped to save a slice, enough for another meal, but the initial flavor hit me as a lost love. It sat with me making me sick but kept me cutting off shape after shape, square after square, teaching myself to eat again. Learning traits my mother never taught me. He looked pleased, hands crossed, trading the steak for company, spilling out the woes of love and race, each one nagging and disappearing with each breath of confrontation. I spread a few words, enough to please him but not convince myself. He stretched the space between his fingers along the table and asked about people back home but the lights were getting brighter. He offered a beer but I swore I started to feel the sharp pain in the back of my neck, beneath my ears, and I could feel it coming on. The tears seemed to convince him. He hoped it wasn’t the steak but I assured him it I feel right long before that night.
Abandonment came and went with the glare. Music started and the light would follow, highlighting perfectly planned faces, shining off of bottles and moving along the colored sparks fading off. The shadowed blonde disappeared, her absence only noticed with a grasp for a hand but Allison’s would do. She led me on as Beatrice, not stopping for much, perhaps a drink or a smoke. I kept my eyes open for Katherine’s set of doe eyes staring up at me, long legs down to the floor. I could see them hanging out of bathtubs, stilettoed, half size too large, just hanging from arched heel. My eyes closed, scared of what she might do. They stung with each blink from the trapped smoke fogging up the lenses; stopping up my eyes forty-eight hours too long, two weeks too long. The right torn and itching in the corner, the left popping out due to its folds. I remember staring out of them through haze from sheets, the look of cigarettes still smoldering from her painting pallet, dried up and stuck to her stool. Canvasses cluttered the room, some covered, others backed into corners facing the wall, not yet reached by the morning sun. English light looked more kind to those of us still feeling the night before. I sat up in a shake to feel the paper crumpled in her grip lose its footing and roll down my chest. I am sorry. I am sorry because I am happy. There is tea in the drawer. I skipped on the tea, grabbing my slacks and heading out the door. I could feel the bus turning off Hammond. I peeled from the smoke.
I saw Allison follow through blinking lids after a push out the door from my stint in a fray. I could stand a bit of blood golden tint from streetlights, not sure if the drips were mine. All feeling was gone but the sting of a ringing brain wrapped up in my head and knocked loose. Allison looked at it for a minute, I tried to catch her eye but she pushed hair back and looked above my gaze. Our faces fell closer and I rested each arm across her shoulder. A few shrugs and I leaned against her chest, red filling in the white of her coat’s fabric, a hand ran fingers, brushing out the knots in my hair, pulling gently – her gloves stowed away in her bag. The wind dried my wound with paper napkins, greased by late night fish and chips wrapped in butcher paper, the fluorescents keeping our gaze down. I stared and her shoes and the legs that followed. She focused her eyes on uneaten bread, cursing Saint Martin for neglecting more fare for a cab, abandoning us in the last lights open on the street waiting for the brakes from the bus. Even they had passing brooms, sweeping us out to the bench cornered into two sheets of glass. We sat wrapped in each other, as much for the heat as the company, and the closeness warranted small pecks growing with each chilling minute. Her bus arrived first, heading north; it was too late to protest us parting, even if I thought I could make out the words. I looked for a face in a well lit window but saw nothing more that a head of brown hair leaned into the seat in front. I couldn’t even say it was her, no visible stain blotting up the coats corner.
She woke telling me of powered eggs, cheaper, the kind she grew up on in Sheffield, and stretched out in my army sack. She twisted, turned pushing down out onto the floor, feathers circling the couch and around her as I cracked real shells, chipped white falling and forked out of the yolk. She stretched her neck, still sleep-eyed and into a smile, arms stretched out above her head to the sound of sizzle – sausages steaming up the kitchen. I noticed the wind as it blew the few trees reaching with twigged limbs to the fourth floor as if I could almost see cold. She spoke of Saint Martin bringing her in, raincoat hood pulled up over her head, eyes sparkling when the lights from the store were overshadowed by the ongoing storm. How the rain hit softly when she asked to see him and I carried her up, limbs hanging outside of my arms, wrapped with fingers gently gripping my neck. He said she made eyes, and the eyes I made them back meant a hundred and fifty pounds wasn’t too much when it came to chemistry or a clothing limit. She buried her face in my pillow, never asking why I wouldn’t sleep in a bed or why the other two were gone for the weekend. I wouldn’t have known the answer. I left her laying there when the first light turned through white cotton curtains making no attempt to shield us. I laced up shoes and sipped up my hood, and faked a stretch before grabbing my keys from the wall and pushing them into my pouch. I stepped out into Sunday morning light, no noise but the sound of taxi’s driving in closing me off between the street and the river. Older women walked in herds silently with prayer books saving smiles for the savior, holding them behind closed doors. I couldn’t see The Eye moving, or was it, always moving to that slow? I picked up my pace on my way back, picking up the eggs, sausages and juice after staring down the cooler, the cranberry snapped up by the church, late night volunteers filling up bags minutes before close. I jogged back along the river in open wind. I took the stairs down to the water, house boats lining the dock, water washed painted bridges leading to land. Each had curtains up, if curtains at all, open to see the sea, itself curiously exploring the island, passing through on its way to something bigger. I could see it passing through both sets of windows, past the unlit rooms, a guitar in the corner, beds, sheets, tables stacked with open loaves of bread. People still sleeping, but living. One closer to Battersea Bridge looked empty, abandoned at least for the weekend. I squeezed past the gate and took a look closer, no movement at all, not even the dip from the crooked fan, and I wished I could settle up, content to stay still in transportation.
Anna tried on clothes she should have never tried on. She grabbed me by the wrist and brought me down the stairs, stripped down, curtain hanging loose as I stared off into lights, hoping to catch the lingering sparkle. Tags hung from her body, innocence in her eyes as I told her that she didn’t know what she was doing. You have Katherine and I have Paul, she said over and over, like it fixed the discomfort in my jeans and I could suddenly give opinion without bias to her lips and legs, braless chest stretched into thin cotton. I nodded to the floor. Each dress, each skirt almost too short, just pretending I didn’t have shifty eyes before I knew her, before Katherine packed up and headed North. I acted like flesh never affected me; I had never been out of breath before that moment.
I broke towards the door, arms slung to the side and my hood brushed up to my head. I mumbled something about lunch, then up the stairs and out into the light, real sunlight hidden by clouds instead of the fight between my eyes and the fluorescent in the shop. I passed the square, lads lined up, crippled beggars polite in tone but still bumming for a pound. I passed tumble after tumble, bit after bit but I paled in the shadow. Singers swindled songs ‘round the West End but I ran to the almighty, fries not crisps and fixings, an American diner. The closest I could get to home was a full stomach, ailing from the grease, heavy gut to push back the discomfort in my jeans. I ate through English eyes, 1950’s milkshakes, the juice squeezed out of burgers first bite, all a bit too clean to be truly from home. The place was a fork and I could see cars pass through the window behind the counter and I felt them rattle the glass along my back. I looked at my watch. The afternoon was ending, no dinner crowd, just the change into fresh aprons and the start of new songs, all from an era I didn’t grow up in who couldn’t get in touch with my memory. I stole words from jukebox songs on flip page inserts, as foreign to me as those I was surrounded by – recognizable from pictures our mother’s took us to and the ones that came on late at night, hours before the tests. I gathered these images up in my arms and claimed them as my own, holding them as tight as I clinched my eyes, trying to get back there.
I walked down the stairs with a gut full of whiskey to see St. Martin standing behind the till. His eyes shot up, How was it then? The light still shined in my eyes, Christmas lights dangling from the upper room ceiling, stuck with staples some places too few. The bottles lined the counter, emptying around the same speed. Jack Daniels wishes you a Happy Holidays, plastered on the side of cabs, a premonition, a neglected warning firing down painted blocks across from the buses I caught each morning. Morning buses ran all hours but I always caught them in my early mornings waking from sleep, no matter what time it really was. How could I answer him, innocent look of concern draped along his face? The browns of his shoes pointing up to Heaven. He saw my legs twitch on the dance floor, two drinks in my hand, trying to get rid of the first one. He saw me sitting on plastic, Katherine, newly chopped and died to taunt me, her legs tucked back behind the couch as I slurred on story after story. He hurried me over water in little plastic cup that I mistook for a shot and took in a gulp. He asked if I needed another. He witness countless one sided conversations with girls, too shy to speak to during the daylight, dolled up for holiday game and gift exchanges. I drew Katherine's name on accident but I stripped it from all sentimentality, card and wrapping clogged up the toilet, but she left before I could get it in her hands. Allison's drew me and handed over cowboy notes, for me to scribble in. I left both gifts behind me where St. Martin stood now, with no judgment on his face, hand pledged on top of my notebook and asked me for the truth as he handed it over to me. I pushed it away. She took my badge, she took my gun. I'm a civilian now.
I loaded the bus after Allison's, not worried with whether it was mine or if mine would come at all. I invited the grime, covering me in the warm seat and refused to look out my window. The bus rattled and shook with each turn, looking in no particular hurry to get me anywhere. After staring at the seat in front of me, I looked out into a London I didn’t recognize; open plots of land, not big enough for shops, more and more as the stops went by. The lights from the city got darker but the moon turned a black sky blue, as if I had entered the countryside, thatch cottages just out of sight. The bus stopped much longer than what my body found normal after all of my motion. To the right laid a dusty road, flats lining them just beyond the street lamps and unkempt lawns just in front of me. I could hear the steps making their way up the stairs before I saw him. Greys of his hairs and his whiskers brushed from the utensils he kept in his back pocket. Alright now, this is the end of my line. Another bus will be along to take you the other way. At first stern, ‘til he saw my torn hands and told me to stay, soon I’ll be headed back into town. I curled up, my hood shielding me from the chill from the window, but kept my eyes open for anything I recognized. I spotted the lions in Trafalgar and stumbled from my seat. The sun wasn’t lighting, just greying the sky, still dark enough for someone to get lost in the landscape. I passed shining windows, chipped with ice, coffee not yet made, the machines sitting idle. I sat on the steps watching for anything, a phantom cab, or, imagine: a soul walking towards me.