Forbidden City

I wrote this one during a trip to Manchester.  Being in another city opens your eyes to people in a different way and I saw lots of folk who had probably come to Manchester as some sort of escape.  This woman has done that too.

The bus wheels are hissing on the tarmac.  She turns her collar and thinks, again, of her decent coat. But it is in the other city and, somehow, the being without it is strangely pleasant in spite of the rain.  The rain means ice-slow trickles over her shoulder blades and between her breasts and she lets it drive her towards that café there – towards that empty window seat.  She can sit with hot chocolate and lose the ticking in her head.  Lose the sense of what number the little hand is nudging now.  And she won’t even consider what she has to do tomorrow.  Now how’s that for fantasy, eh?  For a fabulous dream?  How’s that for a forbidden city?  What is the Forbidden City, anyway?  Somewhere in China.  She might go to China.  Or maybe get a takeaway later and eat it on the steps of the art gallery.  Imagine that.  No-one else will get any tea and hers will be picked out of foil with greasy fingers.

Once in the (slightly grubby but all the more appealing for it) bucket seat she can really let rip.  Break the thread with her teeth and spin off some life of living in that flat above the betting shop across the road.  With her hair a different colour and nails bitten to the quick.  A life half in shadow because of a bad decision made fifteen years ago…  But what?  Leaving a nursing course after an intense but disastrous relationship with her personal tutor?  No.  A thoughtless practical joke that led to an incident on a stairwell and the death of her…  No.  No death.  Enough with the fucking death.  Forget her.  Forget the life in shadow thing.

How about being that bloke there?  He’s got a ferocious quiff and an immaculate navy suit.  His shirt is reflected in a splash of white on the mirror pavement.  And that big silver car.  What sort’s that then?  No idea.  But look at the way he moves.  If he has that much confidence then things are good, yes?  Money.  A wallet of cards and fine socks in his shoes.  And freedom.  A lover he sees twice a week and no sense of his own mortality.  Fuck, there it is again.  Please side-step mortality…

The girl coming out of Primark is an employee.  She’s still got her name badge on and a big, blue plastic bag.  That’ll be the temptation of the staff discount.  She has a wardrobe at home that she can’t get shut anymore and her mum isn’t speaking to her because the money was all supposed to be put away for college.  She doesn’t want to go to college though.  She wants to stay working in Primark because she’s got so fast at the till and she’s having the best-ever sex of her young life in the loading bay on a Sunday morning.  And she has twenty-seven black tops and a sense of certainty.  She’s going nowhere.

But to go somewhere is better.  To head for the station.  Be someone with a cello.  No, not a cello, for God’s sake.  How ridiculous.  A bassoon in its case.  A bassoon fits in a sort of attaché case and is a warm, odd instrument.  A man with a bassoon and a light heart.  He has lots of amusing friends – all musicians and all like their instruments.  He’s never been in love and his mum sends him fruit cake in the post.  Yes, and he’s humming now, in an adjacent street.  He’s early for his train and he thinks he might buy some Murray mints at the station.  And he might just pop in the loo and have a quick wank, actually, because the rain makes him horny.

Well, and where did that come from?  It’s odd how the people are always doing one or the other.  It’s always sex or death.  If she tries to imagine something, anything, more prosaic a thin blade always separates the pages and works in something naked or bleeding.  Never mind.  It doesn’t matter.  The light is blue suddenly and she is aware of the café woman repeatedly wiping the table next to hers.  Maybe the café woman has a child to get home to.  Maybe the café woman has a whole house full of people waiting for her to come back and tell them every minute of her day.  Maybe the café woman should try just getting on the train and fucking off to another city and drinking hot chocolate in a café.

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