London Short Fiction: Stepping Stones

waterloo

Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week, Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.

Stepping Stones

I’m dancing alone down the Kingsway. I’ve lost my bag but I don’t really care. I’ve got my Oyster in the back pocket of my jeans, my house keys and my phone in the front. I’ll cancel the cards when I get home. Or maybe this time I won’t bother.

The tube has already stopped for the night; crazy old city dressed up as new. For all its flash glass and steel it was happier being Victorian. Stone and brass. Dark alleys. Proper bedtimes. But the lack of transport doesn’t bother me either. I’ll walk and I’ll dance and when I can’t walk and can’t dance any more I’ll sit on the kerb and watch the warm summer night in its navy blues and golds drift and melt into morning.

I need to get down to the river to get home. Cross the water. I wonder if he’s in bed yet. The late-night call-outs are getting more and more frequent. Funny how I’m caring less and less. I look down at my faithful trainers, the laces pulling each side flap together. It’s a long while since he’s wrapped himself around me, protected me from the weather. It’s a long time, thinking about it, since we’ve walked in the same direction.

Cross the road now, one side to the other. We all do this, dozens of times a day. Always assuming that if we want to, we can just cross back. I look down at the concrete. I imagine all the feet that have pressed down on this pavement today. Yesterday. Before there were paving stones. Before there was a road. I think of my bony toes pressing against the cow-skin wrapping my own flesh-covering. I wonder how it would feel to walk barefoot. I realize I’ve stopped breathing as I imagine standing on smashed glass. Foreign bodies interrupting my blood-flow. Injury, death, a random, absurd moment that welds itself to the life before, colouring and shaping the whole story.  I wonder where I will take my final step.

I don’t want to go to work tomorrow. I don’t want to pick myself up at the exit to our flats only to leave myself again outside the office revolving door, collecting what’s still loitering and taking it to the pub at five thirty. I want to be me all day, kicking my shoes off wherever I fancy without fear of laceration.

At last I see Waterloo Bridge; lights trailing from one side to the other, promising safe landing. What’s happened on the other side has already happened. All that’s left is for me to decide what or not to do about it.

There are moments now when it’s silent, almost. And then I tune in to the hum. I think it must be all the generators, all the power stations, all the energy dedicated to keeping the city alive while its inhabitants sleep. What if we woke and the city was dead? What, where then?

Automatically I check before crossing the road, just like I always tell the kids. I don’t expect to see anything, but I do. It’s a taxi, classic, black, the old kind, the kind you just know the suspension’s gone and the air con’s broken.

Its light is on but something’s weird. Instead of glowing orange it’s electric blue. No, not electric, gas. Blue as gas. Blue as a flame.

It slows as it sees me.

But I don’t want a cab. I don’t have any money. And I’m enjoying my walk, my dance. I wave it away with my hand. It slows further. I look directly at it, shaking my head. The glowing, iridescent blue makes it impossible to see the driver’s face.

It slows so much you can’t tell it’s moving unless you blink. It noses towards me. And then it turns, like it’s demonstrating its turning circle. Except it doesn’t look like a turning circle, it looks like a pirouette. When it’s finished the light gives a deep, satisfied glow.

I make a kind of curtsy in reply. It seems the right thing to do.

I look down at my feet again. They look back up at me. The toes and heels are rising in succession, in expectation. At first I’m not sure what they want; I think they might want to run away but then I realize they aren’t frightened, they are happy. They want to stay and play. And then I pirouette too. It’s exhilarating. I’m laughing.

The engine gives a little grrrr of appreciation.

And then we begin to dance together.

*

Dawn. The sky is cracking over the river beyond the skyscrapers, the sun singeing the eyes of the glass and steel it could melt any moment it feels like.

I’m lying on the taxi bonnet, curled, my head on my arm. The metal is warm. I feel it with the flat of my hand. I imagine I’m on the back of a giant reptile.

The sky is transparent.

I wonder when they’ll notice I’m not at my desk? The receptionist will pick up my email soon. I hope the picture makes her smile. Lying on my back, on the taxi, one leg over the other, my foot obliterating the entire City skyline.

I kick the heel of one shoe with the toe of the other. What makes us run away from our dreams as well as our nightmares? I imagine pouring paint across the pavement, everyone walking through, footprints, foot prints…

Something’s humming again. Those generators, perhaps. Or the engine I’m lying on, murmuring.

It’s all a game of self-dare. Of save a prayer. A step in the right direction and you’re nearly there.


Copyright, Alison Chandler, 2014. Image by Nyaheh, in the Londonist Flickr pool.


We’re still looking for London short fiction stories based on the theme ‘Summertime‘. Please continue to send submissions to fiction@londonist.com. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.

Previously in this series

Summertime

London razed

Transport tales

Future/History

  • Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
  • Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
  • Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.

Horror/Thriller

Fantasy

  • The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
  • The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.

Relationships/sex

  • Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
  • A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
  • Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
  • Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
  • The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
  • St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
  • First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
  • Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
  • NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.

Other tales

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