He’s up with the birds, usually. Before them, even. Reeling at the shock of cold water splashes on pasty skin. This is always where the day starts: staring out into the sky, into the depths of dark yard silence. Waiting for light to peel over the edges. In this way, he considers the things done the day before, and how these activities might easily become those for the day ahead. He could visit once again the strangers who live by the bridge. He could stare along the river’s reach, towards the lumbering shipyards, and at the fishermen dotting the rocks. Or instead he could sit home, thinking. All alone. Thinking forwards and backwards. Circling around all the things that have to be done, and then all the things that could be done, but in the end not doing any of them.
It was the Sunday of the long weekend. The meatless Friday had come and gone without note. Saturday had been spent down by the bridge. But today he played a song in his room. The same song over and over. ‘I’ll never tire of this,’ but knowing he probably would. Then knowing he definitely will, eventually. Because it usually happens that way. Maybe it’ll always happen the same way. Then, a shout from somewhere, to turn the music down. He turned it up. But the shout again, louder this time, and with an edge. He shut the music all the way off. The tune would be remembered outside his room, and the words too. He put on a heavy coat, went out, walked nowhere, walked everywhere, and the tune stayed with him, playing within; the lyrics too, but the words were becoming mixed up. Placed differently, and deliberately, maybe. Twisted to suit himself, maybe. Worked-over to fit his own rules of rhyme and rhythm. He enjoyed the playful arrangements he was crafting. This song, a new song, a fluid song, kept him company. The tune stayed the same, he thought.
He walked for hours. Walked in a certain way, without aim or need. Ambled, you might say. Through the greyest of the dreary streets, past rows of small damp houses with smells of stale margarine and old roasts and rubbish, feeling that he was completely safe, that he was alone in the entire place, the only one about in this daylight. Only him on this day, save for bored cats and curious dogs. The light had a dulled-metal cast to it, and he felt as if not just his but all life might go on forever like this; as if this were an eternal light, the light from the end of the world.
And then the solitude was disrupted. By a man, parading outside a ruined pub. The man, unable to walk properly, noticed the territorial intrusion and stopped shuffling. Stood, leaning on a dirty old crutch. Leaning, and peering along the street. Malevolence in the stare. Perhaps.
He slowed then halted at the man’s unwavering glare, at the frayed clothes weighted with a history of oily filth. He turned from the man and walked away, retracing, back the way he came, picking up the pace. No coward, but sensible. Radar attuned to possible threats. At the end of the street, he checked back over his shoulder. The man had shifted some way from his original position, and was crutching along the pavement. Advancing.
So he ran. He darted round many corners, sometimes into dank narrow alleys, losing himself inside an imagined spiral, and he didn’t recognise the place he ended up. Here were houses that looked neglected, even those that weren’t boarded-up. It was growing dark, and a light mist was falling in patches like fine rain. He hurried along, and came upon a bus stop with a cracked timetable, and sat inside the shelter. The night people would be out soon to claim the streets with painted hair and tight clothes and strange perfumes. Windows were lighting behind closed curtains. The sodium glow from cold street-lamps split the vaporous air. A car approached, slowed briefly as it passed, a passenger’s face pressed to the window. The music from earlier had left him, without his noticing its departure. He reached for it, but it was beyond him. He knew it would return, as soon as he played the song again, inside his room, and that when it did, the feelings would also come back, and especially the feeling that he was invincible. It would all come back.
Home now. It’s dark, and the window is propped open. It’s cold outside, but he likes to listen to the wind and the tap of the base of the blind against the frame. The door swings lightly, back and forth. The music has gone for the time being, but he doesn’t have a need for it. Not right now. He’s thinking about the man from earlier in the day. He’ll replay the song later. His eyes close. The house is settled. But something is ticking, apart from the blind, slow and even. Ticking, and maybe it’ll send him to sleep.