I’m not trying to elope. Could I? I thought about it, I’ll admit. It was the Back Bay jetty; Beacon Hill after a drizzly jog, and a sense, an overwhelming sense, of escape. Escape velocity. To be that something Other than yourself. No more baggage apart from an already scuffed Antler suitcase and some skinny ties. Rooftops in Manhattan with starry-eyed girls who have perfect teeth and Ralph Lauren breton stripes. But I see you, shimmering in the heat. Tarmac melting and people wheezing to the pub. It’s five thirty and this is how we live. The Docklands’ wide expanses of blue green water and no-one around but me and some lonely watercolour stick men. One Canada Square peeking at me via the gaps in a Bromley-by-Bow cityscape, through the scratched windows of a freshly upholstered District Line train. The Tube stops at midnight; so do I – I have work the next day. The pubs serve ales, at the bar: and that’s where I want to buy it. The girls with their diffident wit and porcelain skin, spotted with the spider kiss of cotton thin vermillion veins, crowded bottom teeth – lost somewhere in a Dickens novel and caught in Julian Barnes’s Metroland. That’s what I dream about in the gaps of my to-do lists. You’re clutching a freshly drunk mug of tea, warm still, to your cheeks. For warmth and comfort alone. I watch you do it and love you for it. You’re laughing at me and reading BBC News.
I’m running round Central Park, our Central Park, established 1899, on the grounds of the former Rancliffe House and the April showers start falling on me with that new rain smell and I remember how when you got nervous around me, that Dorset girl so long lost to me, you’d develop a speech impediment resembling a lisp and go red in the cheeks and to be quite honest, my heart was fit to burst. It still is when I recall. Waterloo Bridge reminds me of your curves and the tender, peaceful beauty of your studied English ways. The Thames has the curves of a woman.
I see the sun go down over East London and for better or worse, my heart is right here lost in an A-Z and the smoky alleyways behind Holborn; I’m snatching a half in The Ship, dragging myself drunk through Aldgate on the way to the N15 and I’m sat in a bar in Essex hearing people who talked just like you did. I’m wondering why I’ve ended up in The Pillars of Hercules, again.
The click-clack of the District Line motors my prose — you, labyrinth City of our deepest darkest fears and most sunlit dreams, You —