Henry Stokey

Everything feels later. It is dark. Have a look around, it is dark. When everything is this dark, it seems late, like the end is closer than the beginning. Someone has shattered a bottle in the middle of the pavement, perhaps a crime-of-passion the pieces so small, and a label of Henry’s Vodka rolling around like a fallen leaf, every shard glittery in the light of passing cars. Who is Henry that he makes vodka? The pavements seldom dry.
    All objects are covered in dust. The dust used to be buildings. I live in a building and I work in the building industry. Have you seen the colour of blood when it is mixed with dust from buildings? It is dark. Have a look around, it is dark. The people cry in photographs. They even kill the people who take photographs. The pavements seldom dry. The grief is such that I do not understand it, an extreme of humanity elusive to the written word.
    I watched Stoke Newington Rd, balanced on the kerb. It was Saturday night, half-eight, quite strange. Bustles, it does. Stranger, even more. Occasionally I moved to avoid someone or other. People sweetly on the pavement outside restaurants, the scent pouring out, glass ashtrays and dates, people at once oblivious and immersed in one another. Young waitress from a Turkish restaurant tending tables with the cloth, always a relative (daughter or niece) since fourteen, when the camaraderie of potwash & closing is a ship’s crew in the middle of an ocean. I watched the uncle (or father) squirt oil round a pan, chatting in silence, watched him cook, watched steam come out over the street. The commotion as two men came rushed out swinging doors with an oil fire between them, set it down on the pavement and another running behind them with a large pot of water; wet smoke bushed over everything; sour smell.
    People came towards me from out the oil smoke. Smoking no longer appeals to me. My risk of heart disease has decreased by ‘almost’ fifty percent over the past year. Almost. That is what I read. I wanted to read that it had decreased by exactly fifty percent, because I like a nice round number, right in two, down the middle, perfectly divided, separated more neatly than any pound of flesh. I do not miss smoking—the smell now is quite repulsive—but during the night my consciousness gives way to deeper desires and my dreams are plump with drags & plumes, with delightful exhalations traced in the air on buoyant manuscript. There is no coffee with cigarettes, which I maintain is the most heavenly pairing of any two things. I dream solely of the cigarette being smoked, and dazed disappointment upon waking.
    By this point, twelve months, I hoped my lungs would feel clean, like Sunday night bedsheets or fresh out the confession booth. I fantasise that my lungs look like candy floss, like a Mario princess. Short of breath, richer. My lungs do not feel cleaner. They are merely pockets for this world’s airy hands and loose change pollution.
    My personal space interrupted. A woman next to me on her laptop, wrist and fingers—I saw—neither summer nor pale; a synthetic shade. As she typed, her elbows stroked that excess between my ribs & hip. It was audacity and unpleasant. I attempted The Paris Review, dull, I sighed; little could I concentrate with this stranger’s pestering caress between my ribs & hip. Try as I might to retreat closer to the window, to breathe in, that she expanded like water, closer still. ‘You getting off?’ I read from underneath my headphones, and nodded please. A large inconvenience; she groaned, all swollen lips and burdened lashes.