He’d been out across the Thames a couple of times, at night in his bare feet. Padding near-silently over the erratic wavelets, just to see if he could still do it. It came to him the second time that it might just be a dream; it was probably a dream, it was a dream when he was a child and he played out there, running under the bridges to hide, and wandering past the moored ships, touching their massive sides with his fingertips, wondering how they stayed afloat.
It had been cold for as long as any of us could remember, but memory is short when you’re a child. Four months of bitter winter felt like four years; imprisoned in duffle coats and bobble hats, playgrounds icy, gloomy battlegrounds where we fought with the very concept of fun.
It was 1986 and we were ten. Well, Martin and I were ten – Peter and his twin sister Dawn were both nine, and the distinction was powerful. They would be ten in the summer, but the summer was a lifetime away. Dawn was, as these things go, taller than all of us already so we grudgingly let her play in our gang. That, and Peter’s Mum said we had to.
Scream and leap on your desk
Thrash blindly at the cord
To the mouse that keeps you
Bought, brought close,
A wild thing
Dolled in toil.
the pine smell
on the edge of sense
in the dark mornings, stumbling
to catch the plug stuffed behind the bulk
of a tree
whose fate it was to stand
mute in gaiety
in our living room.
Of this fate
it did not know.
It is a tree, and it knows little
but the endless grip of roots in the soil
and the catch
of endless winds through evergreen,
Off to save
A lost parade
Down a silent street
As empty houses,
Eyes bulging with damp-fattened wood,
Drink its drying whistles.
London, potbound, winds its roots deeper into the clay soil of its basin and pushes upwards, questing for sunlight above its flyblown glass canopy. Fox Tower was one of three (Winslow and Pastor were its siblings), as rooted in the ground as it was possible to be with 22 floors sprouting from its grim, piss-soaked core. The stench of everything clung to it, a feast of human waste fertilising its foundations as, inside, people lived through a thousand lives every minute.
It was not the sort of place Michael would choose to live in. His life had been lived in nicer parts of London, save for his time at university in Staffordshire. He would not even visit somewhere like Fox Tower, given the option, but the option was not there. Pettigrew, his dog, had slipped the leash and made a run for the front entrance, flying past the barely there front door into the slate grey darkness inside.
Fox House reared into the flat sky above him, encircled by a sparse vortex of dry, joyless snowflakes. Every floor was wrapped in balconies, and every balcony was a riot of bric-a-brac; broken bicycles, hard plastic rocking horses, laundry airers, half-inflated plastic footballs. They were not used to admire the view, even if there was anything worth seeing. Michael wondered if Pettigrew was even now sniffing at the doors to those flats, and how far up she might have got. ‘Petty?’ he called, tentatively. ‘Petty! Here girl, back here!’ It was pointless – he was going to have to go in.
Will the NHS be there for you?
It always was for me
(though my Mum took care of minor things,
Headaches or scraped-up knees).