Bus stories: Purple nails on the 42

She got off just after Aldgate.

What a badass.
She’s got purple nails, not Prince-purple. A flat lilac.
In her 70s. I think.
Shades. Her silver hair pulled back and it looks so soft.

She stands up as we pass the Tower of London.
I look to see.
She’s watching people plant ceramic poppies in the dry moat.
The bus jolts ahead and she sways, looking out until we pass by.
I wonder if she does pilates.

I don’t see her walking stick until I hear it fall and the guy with Mick Hucknall hair bends to pick it up for her.
A swan’s head. Warm wood.
She smiles and presses the red bell with her thumb.
As she walks off in her flip-flops I search for walking sticks on eBay.

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You waited for it to rain, you waited for it to stop.

‘We waited and waited. All of us. Didn’t the shrink know that waiting was one of the things that drove people crazy? People waited all their lives. They waited to live, they waited to die. They waited in line to buy toilet paper. They waited in line for money. And if they didn’t have any money they waited in longer lines. You waited to go to sleep and then you waited to awaken. You waited to get married and you waited to get divorced. You waited for it to rain, you waited for it to stop. You waited to eat and then you waited to eat again. You waited in a shrink’s office with a bunch of psychos and you wondered if you were one.’

― Charles Bukowski, Pulp

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Bus stories: A girl on the 63

She got off at St George’s Circus.

A girl on the 63 is sitting directly in front of me.
Split ends.
2 little bumps high up on her right cheekbone.
Unblended cream blusher. Pinky blue.
Clumpy mascara on uncurled lashes.
Ear pierced twice.
Dogtooth coat.
Tights in August.

No headphones.
She just looks out the window.
I track her gaze as it rises and falls.
And I love her.

The bells da-ding-dings.
I watch her as she goes, clinging to the yellow rail at the top of the stairs.
Her orangey-red nail polish has flaked away but looks right. Essie’s Fifth Avenue?
She’s clomping on the descent and I wonder about her shoes.
I look down to see her step out onto the street
but she turns the other way and
I can’t see her shoes.

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Ruin Porn

‘I love ruin porn.’

I’m staring at a photograph of a load of chairs shoved into an Art Deco swimming pool and pins and needles have started in my hand. The pulsing works its way into my arm and I clench and unclench my fists, hoping it doesn’t spread. Once I felt it in my face; I thought it was the end. It was in my tongue. I imagined a robot virus from the future but it had passed by the time the bus got to Elephant & Castle roundabout. I turned up the music in my headphones and dreamt I was in a film about something.

‘Don’t you love it?’

Little flecks of spittle collecting at the corner of her mouth. She’s standing too close, expectantly swaying on maroon high heeled brogues with thin little laces. Red lipstick that’s a bit too orange. I remember The Simpsons: ‘Toreador, oh, don’t spit on the floor. Please use the cuspidor, that’s what it’s for.’

The tips of my fingers are buzzing and all I can think about is lifting that framed photo from the wall. I imagine smashing it into every other photo in the endless white room. I wouldn’t care if my hands got cut to ribbons. I wouldn’t care if the blood dripped from my fingers and seeped into my brand new white Vans. I wouldn’t care.

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I get headaches when it’s warm.
I get headaches when it rains.
I get them in spurts. A week at a time. I went years without but now they have come back.

I wonder if it’s because I smacked my head against the tarmac that time I jumped too high and was unable to successfully navigate my way back down. My brother laughed at me, more because I was wearing my mum’s culotte suit from Jaeger, and he thought I was weird. I was 11.

I remember when I had my first ocular migraine and it went black and I fell down the stairs. My boyfriend laughed at me, thinking I was stoned. I thought I was blind.

When it came again I was on the top deck of a bus that was taking me to a modern history seminar. The bus stopped and I sat there, in darkness with my eyes open. Once the professor kept me back and asked me if I was ok and I cried. He didn’t think I was reaching my potential. He told me I could tell him if something was wrong. I thought maybe the pain came because I was so sad.

I remember the time I angled myself down onto the cold concrete outside because it was the only place that could soothe the burning that was inside my head. My cheek and arm took on the patterns of the ground. The concrete was so beautiful. The greyness a solid comfort that I wanted to hold tight to.

Now I’m older I lie in bed with the blinds closed. I put sunglasses on and pull the covers over my head and my boyfriend tries not to laugh. I try not to breathe.

It’s hard to explain. The pain that finds a crack and works its way in. A warning sometimes comes but often it’s too late. It clambers around, tearing at the layers I pack around myself. It throws the duvet off and yanks the pillows from underneath my head. It picks and peels away until its fingernails are bleeding. It gets so close and I wait for its bloated, febrile hand to plunge further inside. To take it all. And then it stops and I want to be sick.

Afterwards I feel like a child with a fever. My eyes stick together. My skin feels worn and used up. Strange old memories poke at me, like a reminder of who I am. It’s as if I’m rebuilding and must gather all the pieces I can find. Memories of being precocious and booky. The names I gave the first litter of kittens our sweet cat gave birth to under the tumble dryer – Cinders, Midnight, Echo and Claus. The story I wrote about dinosaurs. Dreams about Zola Budd. The book we made about bears.

Sometimes I crave the fizz and smack of sugary orange liquid and dream of Orangina but it’s too hard to find so I settle for Fanta. And then I wait until enough time has passed that I feel the safety of myself again. Until I can take my body back. Until I can breathe out again.


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Impulse and action

A tattoo.

I got one because I wanted to. I had an urge and acted on it. So simple but rarely now do I have an impulse and act on it. Not questioning it. An impulse and an action. Without dismantling. Without wringing out meaning. Without worrying what anyone else might think. I did it because I wanted to and every time I look at it it reminds me that I should be impulsive. I shouldn’t wait.

It’s a triangle because I love triangles. I doodle them when I’m on the phone and in meetings when people are still talking but there’s nothing left to say. It’s what my hand and my brain conjure up when my mind is wandering.


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