I Am Blue
I tie my shoes outside under the street light. The light is orange and warm to settle the receding night and encourage the unsure day, white and weary, like me. I swing my bag on to my shoulder and step out from under the light. The air is mild, smells sweet for a moment. I close my eyes and think about being somewhere else. Like in my dream, in a forest with a lake in the clearing, the wind light and warm and blowing and sending me gifts of petals and green leaves, my hair shifting gently, drawing in breaths of blossom and grass. I feel tranquil and light like the air.
And then a car screeches past, a siren followed by an ambulance, motorbikes, more cars, smoke grease grit and growls erupting in the street. I open my eyes and start to walk into the growing day, the sky going from white to grey, bleeding pink from the rays of sunlight reaching up to make room in the sky for the sun to sit on a shelf of cloud. I try to love this part of the day because I won’t see daylight for the next twelve hours. I try to love London but London doesn’t love me, doesn’t love itself. I love this morning light but I can’t love the grime, the concrete, the dead pigeon. Pigeon, poor wings, what wings, detached, feathers clumped and matted, parting to let white bones protrude. Sickly white and shiny, they have been licked clean. The beak lies further along the street. Strangely, no blood on the concrete but sad feathers, scattered, stuck in litter. I look down for too long, looking for the other missing parts of the pigeon. I feel sad. Where are his gnarled feet? Poor Pigeon does get a little bit of my love, but I must keep some in reserve.
I walk down the steps into the station. The darkness inside is split with yellow strip lights. The man in the big coat and hat stands by the ticket machine. He is rubbing his hands together and shifting his weight from foot to foot, stamping on the dirty tiles. Over time, his stamping has caused cracks in the tiles and when he retires from his post or dies, there will be two big boot prints, two inches deep from where he has stood and stamped for so many years.
He smiles and nods when he sees me. I smile and nod back. He is the ticket-hall attendant but I have never seen him attend to anything other than trying to keep himself warm. I have never heard him speak, I have never seen him move, other than to rub his hands and stamp and shuffle. Even in the summer, he stands in his big coat, rubbing his hands together whilst people walk down into the darkness of the station hoping for relief from the singeing summer sun and sighing miserably when they hit a new wave, a new wall of stinking hot air from the trains and the tunnels below. He hasn’t ever felt warm. His nose is long and blue.
I pass through the gate and step on to the escalator, I let it carry me down. The motion is smooth, a wind whips above me, the top of my head is blown, my fringe flies. I resist the urge to throw my arms out like wings. I think of Pigeon. If I fell from this height my bones would break, my wings would crumple. I watch the ground swallow the steps, one by one, as I glide closer. It would swallow me but I step off just in time and turn to the dismal platform. I walk to the place where I wait every day, opposite the flaking poster advertising breakfast cereal.
I am far away from everyone down here. I am far away from you. There is one other person down here, a figure at the end of the platform who waits. A face, white and drawn, eyes in shadow, indistinguishable. Dark clothes blending into the blackness of the tunnel. From this far away, just a face, but a tired folding body, just like mine.
I used to be afraid to take the train. So small, cramped, dirty, suffocating. I used to breathe in every time the train sped through a tunnel. Would we make it through the tiny opening, would the metal scrape the concrete, cut off the roof, cut off our heads? But the trains fit perfectly like banana skins or cotton socks. And now the vastness of the tunnels scares me. Huge, gaping black holes, rumbling pit-belly sounds that shake the ground, shake the lights hanging from chains. Tunnels connecting nothing but miles and miles of darkness. The figure at the edge is a speck and the tunnel is an open mouth, screaming or swallowing.
Grumbling sounds. Could be my empty stomach but then the screech of metal on metal signals a train speeding on the tracks. I take a step forward and watch the peeling corners of the poster flutter. The track is lit by the headlights of the train, I watch a little brown mouse clamber and clatter over the dirt-crusted metal and take cover as the train rattles closer. The train thrashes past me, I turn my head to see the figure with the white face, the white face, the white face with black eyes wide, and I watch as they step off the edge.
Excerpted from Rest and Be Thankful by Emma Glass. Excerpted with the permission of Bloomsbury. Copyright © 2020 by Emma Glass.