prose fails when
clouds mountains missiles
paper front pages
ice snow ruins
politics lies massacres
borders closed to colour
birth not birth
no men no flowers
no children no walls
no roofs craters
sunset and sunrise
on screams and sirens
cruelty from empathy
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 31
‘We’re going backwards,’ Zav says.
‘You have a sense of direction.’
‘Don’t sound so surprised.
‘Stop talking. You’ll get out of breath.’ She speeds up.
‘It makes no sense.’
He has to start running to keep up with her.
‘Do you want another lift.’
‘You shut up.’
She laughs, and speeds up again.
Minutes shrivel into meaningless slivers of time. Track lost.
Aggie’s feet clang up yet another set of metal steps. She stops. ‘The last door,’ she says, fiddles with the lock, pushes it open. Fresh air.
‘Stratford?’ he says.
She nods. ‘Stick to the wall. And be ready.’
She shakes her head. A rumbling approaches. A freight train, slow and lumbering snakes along the line. Some of its low beds are empty. Aggie looks left and right. The middle of the snake. She grabs Zav round the waist, steps, not jumps, onto the moving train, drags him low down with her, flat on the metal floor. ‘Keep your head down,’ she hisses, her arms still round him. ‘And don’t get the wrong idea.’ The wind catches her last words as the train speeds up out of the station. It’s fully light now, but the sun can’t warm them.
There’s no point talking now. The train has reached full speed. Aggie sees Zav’s white hands clutching at whatever he can reach to stop himself from being thrown from the carriage. ‘Stop worrying,’ she says, so close to his ear he can feel her hair against his skin. ‘I’ve got you.’
For over an hour, the countryside peels past their faces, the noise of motion all round them. Aggie doesn’t feel the cold. She hasn’t felt the cold since that day it almost consumed her and her blood. She doesn’t know when it was, where it was. Far away from here. Time and distance. She wants to go home. London wasn’t the right place to start, after all. She’ll dig the bullet out of the floor, and search the house better. The train slows. ‘Ipswich,’ she shouts. ‘Time to get off.’ Again, she grabs him, steps off the moving carriage and rolls them onto a soft embankment away from the approaching platform. ‘Don’t move.’ She crawls across to the fence, bends its uprights apart, still on her stomach, until the gap is wide enough to let them both through it. She’s about to gesture to him but he’s moving towards her already. She smiles. ‘You’re getting better,’ she says when he’s next to her, makes him crawl through the fence before her. The drop down onto the pavement together.
‘And now?’ he says, dusting himself off.
‘We get on the next train to Norwich.’
‘You really think Valentine’s lot will be able to monitor the trains’ CCTV? The only reason they were at Liverpool Street was because you led them to me.’
‘What if you’re wrong?’
‘I’m not wrong. Have you got cash?’
He shakes his head.
‘Poorly equipped as well.’ She sticks her hand in her pocket, hands him a couple of notes. ‘That’s enough. Let’s go.’
She strolls to the station entrance with him. ‘Mask?’ she says.
He pulls one out of his pocket, an anonymous white surgical mask.
The station is full of commuters waiting to go into London. The northbound platform is almost empty. ‘Ten minutes,’ she says. ‘Let’s just not take any chances.’ Her eyes don’t stop looking for possible treats in all directions. That was one of the lessons she learned early on. Stay still, breathe slowly, let your eyes fly for you, no unnecessary movement, stay loose, be natural, be invisible. How someone her size and colouring could ever be invisible, she’ll never understand, although the tactic seems to work. No-one sees her. Unless they’re looking for her. Like Zav was.
On the train, sitting down, opposite each other. Aggie puts her satchel, rummages around in it, careful not to let the guns into sight, makes sure everything is still in there. Closes it again. Looks out of the window, the sun behind her, no light in her eyes. Slows her breathing down even more.
‘How do you manage to look so unruffled?’ Zav says. ‘After all that jumping on and off trains, rolling around the ground.’
‘I’m a machine, obviously.’
‘It’s what maids do. Like swans. Lots of effort where no-one can see it. Unruffled on top.’
‘You’re a swan then?’
‘Oh, no,’ she says. ‘I’ll always be the ugly duck.’ Flash. You’re ordinary.