A Tiding – Part VII

by Timothy J Jarvis

Part VII of ‘A Tiding’. The first part can be found here.

Soundtrack: Sophie Hutchings ‘Shadowed

...the Alexandra Palace mast ... bristled to the north, raising hairs on the nape of anyone taking in the view...

An answer phone message – a packet of cigarettes – an oneiric dipole – ‘Look up’ – a length of silver tinsel – a plastic spleen – a seven-inch single – a paperback crime novel – Marguerite

On being roused by his alarm clock the following day, he found he felt sluggish and gut-sore, as if he’d been binging.

His day was uneventful. He went out walking the streets of London, drifting, not caring where his feet took him. Returning home in the evening, he discovered a message on his answer machine from Natalie’s lawyers; she was taking out an injunction against him.

He went out to a local newsagent’s, bought a packet of cigarettes. As soon as he was out of the shop, he lit one, his first in nearly ten years. He choked, felt a little sick, but it calmed his roiling brain, and he smoked it to the filter, lit another right away. Then he wandered back to his flat. His way took him along a road that followed the spine of a ridge, a vantage offering a prospect, to the south, of the river basin, from the City to the Isle of Dogs, and, on a clear day, as far as the television transmitter at Crystal Palace – one half, with the Alexandra Palace mast that bristled to the north, raising hairs on the nape of anyone taking in the view, of an oneiric dipole that trammelled the city in a net of dreams.

The night was cold and misty, and the office towers were hazed, as if seen through a scrim. As Mark stood, smoking a third cigarette, he happened to glance down at the ground and read, chalked on the asphalt, the words, ‘Look up’. Reflexively, he did, and saw, twined around a tree branch overhanging the pavement, a length of silver tinsel.

So he ended up collecting for the old man after all.

The second object was a plastic spleen taken from an anatomical model in a public library. It was iridescent purple. He knew it was one of the city’s tributes for, on the table in front of the model, there was a children’s biology textbook with a magpie-shaped bookmark marking the page describing the functions of the organ.

The third object was a seven-inch single by a dull and short-lived indie band, which Mark came across in a charity shop. Its title, ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy’, indicated it might be one of the artefacts. When Mark got home and took the record from its sleeve, he had confirmation of his hunch – it was pressed in silver vinyl.

The fourth thing was a paperback crime novel he found in a second-hand bookshop on top of a stack waiting to be shelved. His notice was attracted by its cover – a pink sports car driving along a desert road beneath a lurid sky. The author’s name was emblazoned in blue foil embossed letters, but the title was in a more modest type, and it wasn’t until Mark got closer he made it out: ‘Jaybird’. He reached for it. Another customer made to grab it at the same time, and their hands struck, flinched away. Mark stammered apologies, looked up.

Stood before him, wincing, was a woman about his age.

‘Sorry,’ Mark said. ‘Wasn’t paying attention.’

The woman made no reply at first, but picked up the book, then, looking at Mark slightly askance, one eyebrow raised, read from its back cover. Her voice was lilting, gently accented.

‘“Things were not going well for Alex O’Malley, P.I. Her most recent client had lost his head – literally. His killers were hunting her down. And worst of all her new shoes were giving her blisters…” Blah, blah, blah. “A sexy thrill ride…” Blah, blah. I don’t think you’re the target audience for this, you know. What do you want with it? Are you making a collection of the most garish trash you can find?’

Mark paled.

She laid her hand on his shoulder. ‘You alright? Something I said?’

Mark collected himself, fixed his face in a grin. ‘Fine. Had you worried though, didn’t I?’

Bemused, she shook her head. Then smiled. She had a gap between her front teeth, a pretty flaw.

‘Really, what do you want with a book like that?’

‘Gift. Why do you want it?’

‘Actually, I don’t. I just wanted to skim a few pages. To sneer at it.’

Then she pinched her lower lip between her thumb and forefinger. ‘Gift for who?’

‘A friend who appreciates kitsch.’

Nodding, handed him the book. ‘Fine. Well, perhaps see you.’

‘Alright.’

She turned, walked towards the door of the shop. Mark gazed after her. Then she wheeled about, caught him, smiled. He grew red.

‘So,’ she said. ‘Drink?’

Mark peered at her, rubbed his eyes. ‘What?’

‘Drink?’

‘Oh. When?’

She shrugged, pursed her lips.

‘Now?’ Mark asked.

She laughed. ‘Fine. I’m Marguerite, by the way.’

‘Mark,’ Mark said.

‘Mark,’ she repeated. ‘Okay, buy your book and let’s go. There’s a nice pub just down the road.’

To be continued

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