Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week’s story is by Clare Kane.
There is beauty in routine. I don't mean there is beauty in work, in clocking in your eight hours every day. There is beauty there sometimes, even in the most harshly-lit of office cubicles, but the beauty in personal routine has a different quality. Routine is the moments we think we are not living — brushing our teeth, loading the washing machine, feeling the hardness of plums at the supermarket — but it is in those careless minutes that we are most alive.
I had routines before I met you. Not stepping on the cracks on the way to the bus stop. A chocolate bar from my father every Saturday morning. Turning my pillow over in the night to feel the fresh side against my cheek. But then we came together and made our own routines and I stopped caring about cracks and chocolate and cheeks.
I cook, you wash up. You cook, I wash up. Going to Marine Ices and ordering two servings of pistachio on the first day of summer. Shopping at Borough market on Saturdays. Watching documentaries on Tuesday nights. You jogging while I clean the windows. Fitful sleep after too many beers on Friday night. Making the bed, you holding one side of the duvet and me the other. Not making the bed at all on weekends. Most of all, that blissful hour after you get up for work and I take one of your pillows, feeling the familiar trace of you against my face while I steal more sleep.
I thought life was the moments between routine. I thought it was spice, variety, excitement, all the big, swooping moments they show you in adverts and movies. Life was new jobs and apartments with skyscraper views and designer shoes. Life was men who told you they had never seen eyes like yours before. You saw my eyes every day, until the colour dimmed and the intensity faded and they were just part of the wallpaper of your life, and looking into them in the morning was just another routine before the usual kiss goodbye. So it was me. I did it. I plunged the knife through our routine, I shredded our rituals. I said goodbye to alternate cooking days and Italian ice cream and sleeping next to a shape so familiar it had left a groove in the bed. Things had gotten routine, I told you, and I needed excitement. I was too young and dewy to be sacrificed to the middle-aged altar of routine.
And now, here I am, every morning setting my alarm clock an hour early to press a fresh pillow against me, though it doesn't smell of you. I have the shoes and the apartment and men who tell me lies about my eyes but I don't have anyone to share the washing-up with. I have made new routines – turning on the espresso machine as soon as I wake up, doing Pilates on Wednesdays, meeting my friends for cocktails in Shoreditch on Fridays — but without a mirror they are empty. Routines are life — they have to be shared.
We’re still after your stories, which you should send to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
For children/by children
- The Lion: Something’s up in Trafalgar Square.
- Lyndon The Greatest Thief in London: A light fingered robber meets the Queen.
- Beyond the Central Line: Notting Hill Gate looks different today…
- The Makings of a Killer: A dark encounter in Southwark.
- Places to Hide a T-Rex in London: About time someone tackled this one.
- The Modern Fire of London: A sneezing dragon is a dangerous thing.
- The Let Down Competition: A mango has a fight with a pig.
General London fiction
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
- The Guardian of Travellers: Victoria Coach Station passengers take the advice of a sage.
- Graphic Novels: A celebrated novelist finds inspiration in Shoreditch Library.
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Station Clock: Peter Watson takes a slow walk to Euston.
- Asparagus and Syrian Gold: A guy on a blind date takes a risk… but will it pay off?
- The Race: Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
- Sirens of the Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
Christmas in London
- The Ghost of Christmas Replete: David Croser shares a Christmas tale set in the bleak midwinter.
- Keep the Change: Lee Hamblin takes a sneaky taxi ride.
- Night Bus Dreams: Michelle Surtees-Myers is picked up by an enchanted night bus.
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- 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.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- Sirens Of The Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- 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.
- 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.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.