round the corner

Denise is down. Flat on the floor. A cop kneels near her head. Dee, can you hear me? Dee? I wonder if I know her. I’m local after all. Do I know her? I say to the cop. If you do, it would be great. We’ve got to lug her home otherwise. I reverse up a few paces and bend down over Denise’s head. I tip my own head to one side, like a dog trying to understand human language, but I don’t know Denise. Sorry, I tell the cop, she’s not one of my neighbours. A few feet away, another copper is leaning on a neighbour’s fence. As I pass him, he invites me to share in a joke. I turn left by the primary school. A group of nine or maybe ten teenagers is exhaling on the corner. The smell of weed is so strong, I wonder if there’s a fire. Beneath the street light on Cariscourt Street, a soldier is marching. One – two – three – four – five – six – and turn. He steps up and down on the spot, turning, knees high, and marches away. Six steps just as before. The soldier is dressed in combat gear. No weapons that I can see. He (possibly she) is marching up and down, up and down, beneath the street lamp. I stand and watch until my head starts to nod.

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at the Tate

Through the glass wall they step, one after another, until the six of them are on the other side. One looks back. The young woman. Oozing anxiety, she searches for the shape of her reflection, a need to check her size. She pulls a leather jacket from her shoulder and ties it around her waist, thinking, I need to cover my arse with cloth. She turns again, searches again, and seems slightly less dissatisfied with the image that meets her. It’s a testament to the discipline in her self-loathing that she doesn’t fall to the floor and scream. The young men, all five of them, are enjoying the view. One pulls out a packet of cigarettes, offering them among his friends. Two accept. They huddle together to light up. A rush of smoke appears over their silky heads and they pull back in one choreographed movement, inhaling and exhaling as if they have just completed a particularly taxing task. The woman pulls at the pony tail that follows her spine to the small of her back. She’s searching for an opportunity to look away from the view of the City to glance again (and again) at her shape, her form, this burden of flesh around her hips that is hers that she wishes to carve off now with a knife. What if I don’t have a child? she asks herself. What will be the point of all this? She lines up beside the men and for a few quiet seconds they stare together at St Paul’s. Then a camera comes out. One of the men reverses out of the line, warning his friends to prepare. The men laugh and one pulls out a pair of sunglasses, the sort Hutch used to wear, then undoes his top button, flicking at his fringe and manipulating his collar. He uses the glass wall to check it’s all just right, delighted at the youthful thing before him, within him, springing out of him. He sucks on the cigarette, then launches into a hug with the man beside him, and — snap — the photo is done. His friends laugh. But the young woman is still twitching, eating herself up, hating being here, hating this whole period of her life, wanting desperately to be a man, hating her female self even more than even she is able to recognise. And all the while, the names of the works she’s just seen keep running through her head, over and over. Vision of the Tomb. Self-Portrait of Suffering. Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams 1. The Last Sound. The words run over her like twists of rope and she stares at the rail upon which her friends are leaning. 

Call it an Event if you like

Actually, it’s not the brain. It can’t be. I fall asleep, or think I’ve fallen asleep, and when I wake up I can’t distinguish the dream from the text. I can’t remember whether I really was down on the tracks in blinding orange, shoulder to ankle, Bono specs and a blue plastic helmet. It was the helmet that knocked me off. I kept thinking of Patrice Lumumba, then the United Nations (remember?). Then Postman Pat, going on an anti-privatisation demonstration. Then I was back on the tracks, walking beside a female engineer, who knew everything about the railway network across the entire south-east. She spoke in language I half understood: spex and secs, four-metre and six-metre, up and down, f’wd f’wd f’wd f’wd. We walked together, the two of us, among men, like we were acting out our childhood fantasies and, in some extraordinary coincidence, had all managed to converge in Tottenham today, between vast tracts of water too still even for mosquitoes to breed. Then Anna comes back. I call her mad Anna because she reminds me of an Anna I know. I think she is that Anna. She’s looking into a glass room, where everyone is masturbating. And then my neighbour is there beside me. Again. “Come on,” he says, again, “come on, girl, be reasonable. It’s not right the way they put their ting in the other man’s batty hole.” I get angry. Again. We argue. I say things like, “What’s the difference between a man’s batty hole and a woman’s batty hole?” He looks at me, all stressy. “What d’ya mean by that?” I shake my head and wonder if Fat Antoyne couldn’t explain it better. And then I’m asleep again. The cat’s come back. I can hear loud noises coming from Lidl’s. Hooting and shouting, hours of it, on and on and on. A champagne cork fires from a bottle. A woman shrieks with laughter. I remember the other woman, the one who saw the killing. Then a Le Creuset frying-pan has filled my head, like it’s been wedged in, dripping in dripping. There’s a phone ringing in someone’s back-garden. The cock is crowing…