From Steel or Sedative

There was a rectangular puddle in the corner of the car park that had hardened into ice; two passing schoolboys approached and paused inquisitively, silent, they both edged closer, dipped their black shoe’d toes to the surface; they dented the ice and sent cracks outwards. The next day, the rectangle of ice was completely shattered, from translucent to white. There were dead leaves and litter in the shards.
    A cold snap, a dry tongue. Awake and still here, I spin my legs over the side of the bed and drink a large glass of water from beneath the brownleaved peace lily. Such a fool for going to bed late, when I lied there and revelled in my duvet, squealed, squeezed my nose, ruffled and delighted that my bed was mine and no one else’s! The room was cold. After a shower, I see that the skin on my face is still raw. No longer is it stress, but just my lot. There are large patches of red underneath my beard, around my chin and up my cheeks, there are splotches of red on my forehead. With my gaze close to the mirror, I ponder the business of blood and tissue that has cursed me so! What is it doing underneath there? It must be a commotion. No, I must ready myself for work, so I stand up and style my hair. My hair is thick; I am grateful.
    As though they were plasters, I quickly pull back the heavy red curtains from my living room windows. They natter on their hoops, gossiping between each other. The morning trails in, over my chest, my plants, my rooks & bishops, my coffee table and stiff rug, not sleepy, eager, yes, but with heavy limbs. In the east is the blue sky emerged in gradience. Orange, peach, cobalt, indigo, purple clouds are spread out by dawn’s croupier. The rooftops are, all of them, encased in a thick and brittle white frost. The neighbour’s dog barks at me as I pass by the balcony, and she calls—‘Good boy, good boy.’
    Out of the train’s window I cannot help but stare. The bridge over the river C——r mirrors still water. Central Park is dormant, empty, no joggers, some people dressed in black trundling towards the train station, the city centre, a lone mother pushing a pram, sunlight tickles the treetops, a cricket ground curls upwards in the faraway, the park’s café not yet open, its lake frozen with gulls and ducks circling in little pools. Meandering as we move, as we move in the unheated carriage towards London, I cannot help but stare. The frosted woods emerge and poof. Small, salted lanes trickle schoolwards. Hills roll on and outwards. Early morning flights leave scratchmarks across the firmament. In the distance, upon a crest, a tall thin church spire pricks the swollen belly. And, as though heaven’s perfume, a flock of birds erupts and silhouettes in unison from one place in the trees to another. Brown cows chew besides a trough. The fallow fields do not move in glitter. The sun tried to beat down, so far away, so like a spectator, not a warming body but still a star.
    I started to weep. My cheeks were still stiff from the cold, my cheeks still red from life, they hurt; they creaked and cracked. I started to weep and smiled. On public transport, as our vessel headed toward the city, I was so overcome that I wept. It is unfortunate to be in love with something so unloving as a winter morning.
    The week’s issue of The New Yorker was terrible, and I swiped its pages back & forth, curled it in my fists, slapped it against the chair in front of me. How, I thought, can one issue be filled with such nonsense! All of it! I became irate, too, at a pair of shoes in my periphery that were tapping under a seat. The owner of these shoes, who I could not see, twitched them without a care. There was not even a rhythm! How infuriating! I seethed. As much as I tried to focus on an article, the twitching wiggling shoes could neither be ignored nor forgotten! Summarily I decided that I must see the face of this stranger who angered me so. And would you believe it, but I recognised them!
    Sitting there, gawping at his phone and picking his nose with some voraciousness, was David Heron. I knew him, and his name. Yes, outstretched, his feet still tapping and twitching, was David Heron and he was unaware of my now incredulous gaze. He and I had studied at university together almost two decades ago, and his name came to me quickly as quite recently some friends and I had been discussing him. He was, without a doubt, an insufferable and unlikeable fellow, who had once threatened to punch a woman, and on another occasion ended his band’s matinee with a Jesus pose. I knew, from my inspired research, that he had gone on to reenroll and study law, which he was now practicing as a barrister. He prepared to alight – the same stop as me – and pulled on an offensively bright yellow and green bobble hat. If he even noticed my staring at him, he was undisturbed, paying me no mind. I queued behind him out of the sliding doors. With careful patience and unwavering attention, I followed him through the station and ticket gates.
    I watched David Heron vanish into the dark end of the street, as I went the other way, back alongside the rectangle of ice that was looking worse for wear, from translucent to white.