Haunted By The Coffee From Platform 5

The last time we shared each other’s company, she was in the middle of a particularly messy break-up and arrived at my flat one evening in June—looking dishevelled from the toll of work and heartbreak. She took up a large amount of space on my landlord’s sofa, which I had dressed in various sheets and throws, chainsmoking through a lengthy monologue on her ex-boyfriend and how he would be alone forever, putting her wine glass down every time with such force that one was surprised it did not shatter into her hand.
  This time, she was unrecognisable; emerging—simultaneously upon my arrival—from the dimness of Barbican station with a fluorescence that was evident before she had even noticed my staring at her, breaking into a smile and throwing her arms around me. It had been five years. ‘You must walk slow. I still got long-covid.’ She carried a backpack that was bulging and soon to crush her. It had been five years, but the two of the pandemic had not really existed and could therefore be discounted. It was a sunny day next to the St Barts scars of London, and I suggested we go for a cold drink, passing underneath the wrought iron roofbrackets of Smithfields towards a public house pinched between two roads. ‘White or brown?’ the landlord enquired poshly through bad teeth, mostly missing, somewhat rotten. We on two stools, and how quickly I had comforted into her presence! as though I had not spent the previous ten days in an overwhelmingly anxious state.
    Previously, she harangued me for not writing enough, but I accepted the criticism, because it was true. On Tuesday, she harangued me for not publishing—or seeking to—publish my writing. I brushed her comments aside with a swipe of the hand. She was happy—‘So, you’re in love now?’ She was, she is. With audible trembles of affection, she relayed tales of when her partner had provided what her ex could not.

   The joy emanated, and I was glad for her. I often find it sickening to be beside people who are in love, but not right then.
    It was like that. It was like that with her, and it was like that with Ellen Rogers, too, who, after describing her loneliness to me over a Thai red curry, soon met someone she had not met before and fell in love. At first, she would message me with how it was going, how he and she were going, then the messages slowed, and things moved on. I sat up in the gods, looking on, a theatre happening there but not here.
    The next day I sat in a still carriage with an Irishman fresh off the plane who was living in a kettle-less flat in Bethnal Green, who took to me the differences between Dublin and London—‘I can’t believe it,’ he said—‘Everyone on the tube just looking at their phones… like, not saying a word or anything. No one says anything. Never says good morning! They’re just living in their own little worlds!’ he chuckled. I thought of Helsinki, but I did not want to think of Helsinki. The names of stations slowed and sped to the nose of our window; not one had I heard of. ‘Sometimes I’ll look up, like, and try to say hello, but they’re not having any of it! Just look at me like I’m going mad, yknow. Like I’mthe mad one!’ We were drilling southwest of London. A polystyrene heat pricked my fingertips, a plastic hole to my lips and I recoiled in disgust—‘This coffee tastes like arse.’ He agreed, too polite to say so before as I had bought it for him from a stall on platform five—‘It does.’

   We walked off away from the main road, entering the vineyard, the long lane that led towards its main building, stone showing through the trees on the other side of the carpark. Vines ran in rows off into the distance up the southfacing hills. A drop of ink had been dropped into the late morning sky; the air did not budge. All was motionless, the scent of soil and trees, of photosynthetic cleanliness, the quiver of small birds about the ear; a billet-doux from nature to an animal that strayed. ‘I haven’t been in a countryside like this in a long time,’ I said.
    My colleagues and directors were waiting for me at the main building. A man in blue leather shoes and dyed blonde hair hurried us into a string of coaches, then took us up the top of the hill to overlook the vineyard. The hills rolled; vines tied to wire; in the distance, at the bottom of this Anglian undulation, a group of people could be seen—‘As you can see, we have some workers down there, checking the flowers… They’re Romanian workers—many of them live in Capel and they take the A29 here.’
    I raised my hand briefly before asking without invitation—‘Sorry, what road did you say the Romanians take here?’
    ‘The A29.’
    He came round with bottles of wine, and filled our glasses, which read embossed—Aus plastik hergestellt. It was sparkling white wine, passing easily through my dry mouth still disturbed by the coffee from platform five. Back in the coach, I was sat beside the office manager and accountant; they talked about dogs. As I gazed outwards with placid appreciation at tilted trees, their simple conversation—dogs of friends and family, temperaments, big dogs not small dogs, small apartments not big dogs—I became entangled with the enchantment of nature, the knowledge that outside the churn of the Land Rover that pulled us forwards, all was calm, silent, and it was beyond the reach of my outstretched hand.

   After lunch, after another tour, after another tasting, everyone was quite drunk and did not keep it a secret.
    We caught the train back to Victoria. It was the first time I had been there since H—. Back then, I would say that I was happy, in the truest sense of the word, and the smell of her aeroplane breath before she embraced me was an interpretation of heaven. It is not foolish to wonder whether I will be that fortunate again. A colleague ran her hand down my back, and I decided that I could no longer bear to be a part of it, taking my exit, ignoring cries, thankful for the District Line. It was the noise of them, the braying, and it hurt the oily skin of my very bones.
    Despite my anxious intentions, I went out the next evening, desperate to enjoy myself. At first, I was decidedly reserved; even when Patrycja spoke to me, I became irritated at my surroundings, waved my hand in the most impolite of excuses, and walked away to collect myself. Three-deep at the cocktail bar during happy hour; dance music daggers of udtiss-udtiss-udtiss-udtiss. A couple of hours later, the familiarwah of Heard It All Before came through, and I began to dance on the spot, my body chimed into a longlost sound, as if from a grave. Beck was already drunk off wine and danced also, associating with young men outside our group, his mouth in a toothy smile. It was a goodness I had waited a long time for. Walking back, I stumbled, yes, but proudly and with the unfamiliar puff of delight filling my chest. My throat still felt fresh and its lining pink, quite wet, susceptible to infection.
    The lungs are a bellow and the mouth a minor cathedral in which the measured expulsions of breath are amplified. Around it an arrangement of teeth are seen from either above or below; the fillings and  sculpture of their terrain visible. The sounds come forth, tuneful and loud; I write them here for you.