ILA COLLEY – NORTH WEST
cutting our symmetries
The station interior is white and seemingly endless in every dimension. There are few windows and only two pairs of tall doors through which passengers filter on arrival. Aside from this there is little movement, only the whispers of heat that roll in as doors are held open from passenger to passenger. Otherwise, the late July sun doesn’t penetrate the coolness of the space. Mostly the doors are closed and random staccato footfalls are contained and resound against the walls. They are the cautious movements within a museum, or the violent pacing of impatient art critics through their icy art citadels. In such confinement small sounds seem propelled by purpose and each movement symbolic; figures looping and grouping as if spurred by pheromone strings.
As she comes down the central stairway she senses the attention of a world and does not smile. She wears a huge grey rucksack and doesn’t take it off as she waits, though her spine curves unnaturally under it. She stands and looks back upwards.
‘Should we stop?’ he asks as he reaches her.
He puts down a suitcase. ‘We could always eat, you know.’
She begins to walk again and he follows. They reach a couple of seats at a counter selling coffee and cakes. As they order she holds the bag tight between her knees.
‘So, how are you feeling’? Behind them their order is called, the machine hums and coins grate into their shells.
The woman looks down at his thigh, laughs, then throws her head back and stares at the ceiling. ‘Come on,’ she says. ‘Not again.’
‘Alright. But you know… I just, I don’t know.’
Next to them a mother takes a child into her lap and begins to feed it. As she stares upwards, he stares cross-ways. They are both absent in their spotlights. They are silent for a while.
‘I want to write it out,’ she says.
‘That kind of sucks. But write it out. Please. Write it out.’
She stirs, retrieves the drinks. ‘There wouldn’t be enough time.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Please. Just give me something. I need something.’
‘That isn’t it, though, is it? This isn’t just a something. You can’t just make it something like that.’
In a pause in conversation the child begins to cry.’ I hate it when you talk like that.’ He frowns at her, is distracted by the noise. ‘It’s like you think it’s okay to assume that we’re assuming the same things. Just say it. Look at me.’
She looks. His eyes bulge. When she says nothing he sinks back into his chair and rubs his eyelids. She begins to cry softly.
‘I don’t understand. I’m sorry that I don’t understand, but it feels like every time you try to explain you’re explaining a different thing. Can’t you just talk about how you feel?’ He takes a drink, lowers his eyes.
‘That’s the truth. I don’t know what I’m explaining. I’m explaining a feeling, and that’s abstract. How can you explain something abstract without being wrong? I’m scared. Every time I get scared, that’s all.’
‘I get scared too, Fiona. You know that. That’s okay, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. I mean, yes, I know it should all be relative. But I’m not happy. A pause. I’m not happy because it doesn’t seem fair to me.’
‘Fair on who?’
I don’t know- both of us? Me? I don’t feel safe with you.
‘I know. But you know none of that… None of those things matter to me. It never mattered.’ She runs the teaspoon up her tongue slowly. ‘What’re you doing?’
‘I feel sick. How long now?’ She looks around.
‘I don’t want you to know. Hey, stay here a minute. Fee—’ But she’s already pacing towards the staircase. As she turns and looks up at the clock-face he puts his head into his hands. His body starts to tremor and the table shakes. The child stops crying and gapes at him.
‘Maybe I should go over to the platform,’ she says, returning.
He talks into his hands, ‘You can’t go back. I’ll never find you there.’
‘I think that’s supposed to be the idea.’
‘Not for us, we didn’t come from there. We can’t just go back to there, we’ll forget, it’ll fade completely.’
‘I know. It’s the most brutal way. Our only world is together and then we disappear.’ She almost smiles. ‘Maybe that’s why it can never work.’
‘Shut up. Just shut up. We could find a place.’ He looks up again, his cheeks raw. She spills coffee into her lap and curses. The two pairs of doors begin to swing open in a continuous stream. Instants of bright light strike their table. Shadows swim across the floor. They are caught in a surge of movement.
Irritated, she says, ‘I need out.’ She swings the bag over her shoulder and starts towards the doors.
He watches her go, then reaches for some change in his pocket and buys a sandwich from the counter. The mother and child have disappeared. An old man in uniform rubs powder into his teeth and watches him.
By the time he reaches the doors she’s already come back inside. Her skin shines, ‘Is this right? Am I doing it right?’
‘Not if you come back.’ He hands her the sandwich.
‘Is there really only us, though? How is that? Can you really believe we live in a world where such ideals can be achieved?’ Her pupils widen.
‘You mean just being happy?’
‘No, I mean when glaciers taste like peppermint and your hair will always smell like almond milk.’ He looks at her. Her eyes have re-adjusted but she still glows in some alien sweat. He frowns, ‘My hair will always smell that way. Just don’t imagine anything else.’
‘I try.’ She smiles. ‘But I don’t seem to be intelligent enough to believe my own stupidity.’
He reaches out and pulls a loose button from the top of her shirt. Silent, she stoops to pick the button up from the floor and ties it back on with the stray threads. They each look ashamed of their action.
‘We’re not obsessed with symmetries,’ she says. ‘This world is. But we didn’t come from here and so we can’t stay. I’ll see you again, if chance deals us what it did before.’
‘Then you’ll know it’s golden?’
‘I’ll know it.’
Behind them the doors open wide and their silhouettes stretch out into the hall. Heat laps against their ankles. They watch the distant fuzz of figures pace through the building. The pheromone strings are reeled in. The swarm’s pattern repeats; closure looms. She turns to go.
‘Wait, where’s your ticket to?’
‘Tomorrow,’ she says from through the doorway. ‘Don’t spoil the fun.’
‘Alright.’ He squints into the white light. ‘I’ll see you there.’