We are moving house in a couple of weeks time to a place just around the corner. I was looking through an old notebook today (actually my current notebook, which pitifully has taken almost five years to fill) and found a short story I started writing in January 2005 inspired by the front door of our new flat.
It is somehow ironic that what inspired me about the door was that it, and the doors of the flats around it, all have large metal bars in front of them. One day while walking past these, it struck me as awful that people living in a house should feel it necessary to protect themselves by building a cage around the entrance to their home.
It actually made me angry. I’m not sure if this is because I felt that people had an exagerated fear of modern life in London (which I still feel), or because perhaps the city is so messed up that people have to protect themselves in this way. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, but we had a look at the flat, and it is actually pretty nice. And the cage means we will be able to store a few things of small value outside the front of our house, with a reasonable barrier to prevent people making off with them.
So here is the fragment of the story:
She walked down the street with speed, keys in her hands all the way from the office, ready to unlock the steel cage then each of the locks and deadbolts on the door. Were she stopped by a miscreant, the keys would double as an improvised but effective weapon, stabbing at they eyes and face. Her other hand wrapped around a cigarette lighter in her pocket, loading her fist. She had stuck coins between her fingeers in that fist, forming an efffective knuckleduste, although she had no idea if she could punch someone if it actually came to that.
At this time of year the days ended early – she hated the darkness and the cold. So hard to see people, so many more shadows for lurking in. The cold brought hoods and hats, concealers of facial expressions and intent. Large coats hiding weapons more formidable than her own. Steam rising from mouths like dragon’s caves. The one solace of winter was that the young men didn’t congregate as much as in summer. The cold discouraged the threat from lingering outside.
The broad street was well lit with a soulless yellow glow that gave a papery sheen to the skin. Cars passed regularly. Shops provided refuge, although they were the most frequent starting points for being followed.
Were those steps behind her getting faster? Closer?
Her route was carefully selected not for speed but for defense. A faster route would have taken her through the housing estate. She had heard the police considered some estates “no go” areas. Drug dealers often fought there and it was only a matter of time before an innicent was caught in the cross-fire. She longed for the promotion that could take her far from the cul-de-sacs, broken front gates, motor cycles with rotting flat tyres, children of broken marriages.
For now she skirted the edges, for ever heading outwards, but with an eye to what might lie within. Worst of all were the underpasses, a network of tunnels linked to the centre of a roundabout, which the traffic whizzed around unaware of the no mans land within. Pedestrians were herded in by barriers at every point where crossing the road would be the path of least resistance. At each entry point were two paths leading down to the tunnels – one with steps, the other a long hairpinned ramp for wheelchairs and prams, and those who couldn’t handle the steps. This offered a choice, and she had often selected the least efficient on in order to establish if the person behind was tailing her.
That these tunnels were dangerous, threatening places was self evident. The architects and included fish eye mirrors at each bend so walkers could see if anyone was lurking around the corner.
Someone had somehow burnt the mirrors to a rusty brown colour. They no longer shed light on who was lying in wait.
Best to just walk calmly and confidently, with speed and certainty, past anyone that might be in there. They were cowards really unwilling to take a risk on those who seemed sure of themselves.
“He is so fucking sure of himself he deserves to be knocked down a notch or two” he thought to himself, standing under the lamp surveying the street. He nodded to a large shaven headed man taking his straining beast dog for a walk around the estate. More realistically out for a shit than a walk, marking territory and reenforcing the knowledge of his presence among other inhabitants. “Always important to be seen.”