If broken hearts make it rain, imagine all the lost loves in London. A city of hollow chests that have forgotten how strong they can be. Un-kept promises splatter the train window as he stares out at the lonely masses. He knows the city is a wilful vampire sucking souls and hope and lifeblood but he ignores it because he is occupied and he is occupied so that he can ignore it.
The journey, from door to door, takes an hour and twenty three minutes and is meticulously portioned out so that, at no point, does he have to think about anything other than the task at hand.
The thirty-two minute to, and eight minute walk from, the station either end of the journey is easy. He can just put his headphones on, turn up the music and focus on where he is going, maintaining pace and avoiding other pedestrians and obstacles and on his first train of the journey he can just grab a seat and read or look over notes for the day for the twenty seven minutes it takes for him to get into his connecting station. From here it is just eight short minutes, standing all the way but he doesn’t mind because, for that amount of time, he can focus on work and what needs to be done when he gets in. He leaves one minute aside for alterations in pace or slight hold ups, and should delays any greater than this occur, and they quite regularly do, he spends that time fuming about the incident that led to his delay but it is the remaining two minutes that are perhaps the most important and must be dealt with in an incredibly delicate manner.
Although he doesn’t realise it, he’s trying to hide from his mind, he’s trying, he really is, but to let the thoughts breathe is to let the darkness in. The chaos of keeping busy puts him above those problems and he doesn’t want to come down from that cloud, it’s taken him so long to get this high. Some things you lose and some you give away.
On the platform where he changes trains is a tiny coffee shop, a miniature plastic sided unit not much more than a hut really, but it is enough to fill his mind with frothy thoughts and caffeine dreams for almost exactly two minutes. He becomes engrossed in the process of it all, like an ancient tea ceremony or a drug ritual he finds each step, from the order to the serve, as vital as the last. Grind, weigh, tamp, purge, lock, shot, unlock, purge, froth, bang, pour, serve, smile, sip, hallelujah!
He isn’t immediately disappointed when he realises the place is closed and the response is a rational acceptance of how these things happen and that he can always pick up a coffee on the walk up the hill to work or even save money and make one as soon as he gets in. But as he approaches the shuttered up shop he sees no reasoning behind its closure, no sign proclaiming sickness or a situation that might prevent anyone being there and this gnaws at him as he strides by and jostles for position on the platform. Irritated he can’t seem to buck the anxiousness from the back of his mind and he becomes very aware of his left hand, roughly stuffed in a pocket when it is used to clutching a cup. Fingers twitching for something to hold, he rummages around in the empty space in his coat and repeatedly rolling his hand over nothing as he tries to set his mind onto something else but he can’t because he is so exhausted. But this is not just drowsiness, he is tired, tired of everything, tired of the same old day time and time again and he feels like parts of his brain are flaking off like great chunks of tuna flesh being lifted apart and he can see the grey faces now, the lifeless, empty, sallow cheeks, bloated exteriors filled with nothing but mediocrity but fit to bursting point with it.
Is this what he looks like, is this what he has become? What were these people’s dreams, what did they want to do before the daily grind became their everything, opened up and swallowed them piece by piece in a process that was so slow they never saw it even happening. He can see them, the thoughts of joy and creativity floating above their heads, evaporating into the sky in great streams of hot steam, extinguished on the tepid air of reality and the necessities of survival. He can hear the screams, the roars of lives not lived and of potential unfulfilled and he wants to cry out too, he wants to shout out in pain and ask why he is here, why any of them are but he can’t and so has to stifle it all, packing it deep down into the bags under his eyes.
He had never paid attention to the importance of just two minutes before but now he realises how quickly the world could change in the time it takes to buy a hot drink and yet how long it had been, and always would be, exactly the same.
The train was pulling in now and he could just get on with his day, resume his schedule portioned out in unthinking globules of hope but he had seen it now and all the tea in China, or coffee beans in Colombia, weren’t going to change the fact. Just ten seconds of the two minutes left now and he takes a step forward, over the yellow line that separates the commuters from chaos. He steps into anarchy thinking, so this is how it ends, over an empty cup of coffee and with no caffeine in your blood stream.
Vincent Wood is a Creative Writing graduate from the University of Greenwich, London. He’s had short stories published by online magazine apeironreview.com as well as winning a special commendation from First Writer Magazine’s Eighth International Short Story competition for his A Tale of Two Heroin(e)s. In 2014 his story Splatter was shortlisted the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award.
Also a prolific blogger, he writes about his time living in London and his experiences and relationship to the city, as well as posting various bits of poetry, stories and whatever else takes his fancy.
Askance were pleased to have included Vincent’s Compatibility in the Positional Vertigo short story collection.
coffee photo credit – rawpixel
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