The rich and poor live side by side, shoulder to shoulder in the quaint winding streets of London. It is in the borderlands of this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city where the best stories grow.
A barge towing a string of skips glided under Battersea Bridge as we crossed under the yellow lights. The water was the colour of pus. We walked for miles through empty streets smelling of piss and Chinese food and I wondered if there had been a chemical attack south of the river and the government was keeping it from us. We saw a fox ripping into a garbage sack. It turned with silver eyes and slinked silently into the shadows. "You see that?" She grabbed my arm and I listened to her boots clacking over the paving stones. Buildings loomed up like tombstones. We climbed nine flights of concrete stairs to a flat where her two sons were sleeping the sodium pentothal rest of infants.
I want one. Why can't I have one? Just one. There's lots of them about. Clip-clopping along the street in big shoes, at bus stops, with mouths ajar in little gaggles of girlfriends. There's one opposite at 72. A tall one. A thin one. And I want her. Just her. Just as she is now, gliding across the room, lights on, nothing else. And I'm watching, quietly watching, nose and tongue pressed against the glass, my breath wrapping me in a sheath of vapour. "Didi, supper's ready." The name Mother calls ascending the stairwell could belong to someone else and I have no name. I am no one, invisible; an apparition fading like hope into the striped wallpaper. I wither and ebb, blending in; into the scuffed tiles and metal chairs at the cafÃ© where she serves bagels and cappuccino, smiling at strangers; into the trees in their spring costumes when she walks home through the park, in the pitted air suspended like old curses over the bridge. "Come along, Didi, don't think I don't know what you're doing."
We get one life, one chance. To go wrong and not change course can truly be described as going wrong. It would be madness. 'Forgive us Lord, for we know not what to do.'
The cafÃ© smells of cappuccino and hot bagels. The walls are decked out with film star prints in black-and-white, the non-colours I wear myself, as do those around me, a conformist army endeavouring to be individual while remaining anxious to belong to something and we're not sure what. I light up, a clone among clones full of little doubts, petty objectives, small rivalries, a zoo-born giraffe peering out from my cage with genetic memories of wide open spaces, a dazzling light. Waitresses and office girls move between the tables like dancers in an erotic ballet. I would take any one of them to bed, ignoring a flat chest here, plump thighs there, they are all the same, legs in black tights, condom pink lips, flowers in a field. What is it that makes you pick one, not another? How do we get picked? It's so imprecise, so enfeebling. And after all the picking's been done, it doesn't work. It never works.
SHE was glancing at the night's TV listings in the Standard when she became aware of the man staring at her. Studying her. It's something that just isn't done. Not on the tube.
Vicky is walking through a narrow mews she has taken quite by accident. She is only a few minutes from the club but feels lost; it is as if miles from anywhere. She comes to a stop outside a shop and gazes up at a little black dress that is short, sleeveless, unassuming. Like me, she thinks. The thought whisks away as her curiosity moves from the dress to the mannequin wearing it. She has long brown hair, brown eyes and sulky lips like she's been waiting for a boyfriend and has reached the moment when she knows he's not going to show up. The mannequin's head is turned to one side and she has one leg slightly raised, as if she has better things to do than just stand there.
We would all like to go back and change the errors of the past but the prospect of actually doing so only occurred to me when I reached the cave and gazed once more into its murky depths. I hadn't been conscious that each step had been taking me towards the headland although, subliminally perhaps, that's what we spend our entire lives doing, searching for a way back. The mouth of the cave was overhung with coarse grass and shrouded in shadow, something momentarily glimpsed like love, or good fortune. I went down on my knees and, once my eyes adjusted to the gloom, what I could see was a crypt of rough stones meshed in dead things and dust, a barrow of clues and antecedents.
My inlaws are waiting for us beneath the Gothic porch with mouths unfurling pennants of vapour. Dennis, ex-Squadron Leader, wears a grandiose moustache, tweeds, the pipe he carries a constant reminder of campaign rooms filled with pin-laden maps and old shag, the Battle of Britain, his finest hour. Diana, in plaid skirt and cashmere, kisses me on both cheeks, the consequence of a year at finishing school in Switzerland. Diana is the daughter of a Scottish baronet; Dennis is proud of his wife's pedigree, her imported ways. That good blood had pushed her up an inch more than Miriam could manage, sharpened her hipbones, deepened the blue in her eyes. I have often imagined seducing Diana, a key part of the fantasy being that she is a willing participant. I could bugger Dennis, kill my progeny, turn the humdrum into Oedipal drama.
Do you know how long it takes to dig a six foot hole? All day. And it wasn't even six foot by the time I'd done. Five, more like. It had already got dark so I took the bike and picked up a Chinese, a treat to end a hard day. Not like yesterday. Yesterday there was Carly. I had her before I got up and had her again before I went out. Sweet Little Sixteen. 38-24-34. I cut her out and stuck her in pride of place, right next to the bed.
He took a deep breath. The air tasted untamed and ancient, seafood baked in garlic, oven warm bread, bitter lemons. As the goats moved into the distance the sound of their bells grew sad and mournful, a death knell for some part of himself, an ideal, perhaps. He'd never killed anything bigger than an insect before. The cloying heat of the afternoon had waned to congenial warmth. Mosquitoes were waking famished from their slumber and hummed about his ears. He reached a junction where he was unable to read the signpost, but the turn promised a destination in two kilometres.