26 January 2010

the day after

He blends with the London brick, grimy and rough by gaslight. Striding along Flower and Dean, barging shoulders with night people, his head buzzes with gin. Two half crowns and a florin chink solidly in his trouser pocket. This morning down by The Embankment he had threatened to slice a man's head off for those.

A pale face leers closely into his, a foul-smelling witch. He pushes her away hard, slamming her into a doorway. Her head smacks off the hard cobbles and he is dimly aware of shouts of protest coming from above. Even at this late hour there is an audience hanging from high windows and ledges. The woman was lucky if she but knew it.

Drunkenness is his crutch. It holds reality at bay. Rounding the corner into Brick Lane he lurches into the road. A horse-drawn cab is clipping toward him at a canter. The driver shouts a warning and he trips in the gutter, falling face-first into the evil-smelling waste of Spiatlfields' wretched poor. The cab clatters past. He lies there for a long time. A cold wind sweeps the clouds apart and a full moon floats high...

... by dawn he is lying numb in Thames mud by Wapping. Invisible barges honk in the fog and the rising tide washes blood and clay from his boots. As he stirs he begins to shake. Snatches of a dream come back, a willing whore, his strong hands, a soft neck, power, steel and stillness.

The frigid Thames hits his face. He gets unsteadily to his feet and stumbles from the sucking river clay. In twenty minutes he will be thawing over gin in familiar territory. He feels the coins in his pocket.