This train is bound for London, an uninspiring, soulless city, where the sun drags itself along the crumbling pavement in a top hat and gloves. What people are is where they are. I must be London through and through. My lungs are infiltrated with smog. I am circling, forever circling, myself.
‘Why don’t you leave, then?’ Douglas had asked me some time ago now.
I can’t remember what I replied with, but it must have been good because he shut up right away. I’m a magnificent deflector; I guess I have London to thank for that. In case you’re wondering, old Doug’s shovelling earth and herding sheep now, not because he got demoted or anything, but because he left when he wanted to. His stupid corporate mugs are still in our apartment, taking up space where mine should be.
I come up out of the ground just as a lady passes by, she is forty, fifty, maybe? It gets hard to tell after thirty-five and most people will lie if you ask them. Anyway, she looks like a splendid story, with enough creases and ironed out edges to be a long and meaty one too, but the swarming horde smuggles her away before I catch up with her. I would have treated her real nice too, been a proper gentleman and taken her back to a time when scotch was classy and dancing was friendly, nothing more.
The steakhouse I passed two minutes ago is coming up again, and the rain washed awning is gone this time around. What could it take to get it back? Would a twenty do the job, sir? Fifty? I’m a vegetarian, but even an old steakhouse deserves to stay dry, don’t you think?
Things are always disappearing in this city, purses, cheques, people, and no one seems to know or care where they go, they just become sucked into this invisible vortex. If I wasn’t currently occupied with this terrific job, I would do it, I really would. I would stick on a deer-stalker and find a Watson to help me and hunt down the lost pieces of London.
There was a man who used to scowl at me from the coffee house doorway, and I’d kill to have him back too. Which is quite ironic, don’t you think? My morning latte and muffin would have done the job. There was no need for homicide back then. We’re suckers for making life harder for ourselves, we really are.
This train is bound for Paris, where my sixteen-year-old heart lies. My silhouette has faded into the seat of this carriage, but people stopped noticing years ago. Let me tell you something about Paris. Doug would have hated it, hated it with all his muddy heart.
But to me, Paris was the dream, the city of the Great Manifesto, with its eternal firefly lights and the scent of decency, on its glitter dusted pavements one could never truly die. I was going to speak French like a real Frenchman and live in an apartment near the Champs Elysees with a coffee machine. I had plans to marry a Marie or Jaquez with a bob.
Paris was flames and dancers and evening walks on the promenade, a dream for shallow hearts.
This train is bound for Italy. I’m sat here on the cold metal bench on the platform, gulping down scalding coffee from a cup that feels like sawdust, and trying to stay awake. I was saving Italy for when I got tired, tired of swirling crowds and hotdogs, for when I was old and travelled and smiling.
I would find some faded little diner and know the owner by his first name. I’d tell locals about the time I ran a circus in Brazil and the phantom girl who kissed me at the New York cocktail bar I liked at twenty-two. I would eat olives, garlic and sun-dried vegetables until I was a hundred-and-two then die in a striped deck chair, drenched in sun and ready for the moon.
This train feels as if it’s been delayed for light years. You must remind me to file a complaint.
RAILWAY CITIES BY VIVIEN LIN