My Vegetarian Desk

It has been a long time. I am not dead, I am merely living. There is a new desk now, not inscribed but my name is on it somewhere. My first since the small, simple wooden stool from before, its legs in the letter X. That was where I used to write, and slowly, over the years, it became covered in swipes of paint; now it holds a television set; that is only temporary. My new desk is beautiful. It is birch with a faux-leather tabletop. I put my fingers into the coffee rings that form on it beneath silver pots. The residue is reduced to brown powder. Now that the virus is taking hold once more, it is where I spend my days. The wall in front of me is bare, although soon I will decorate it with frames. One thing at a time. To my right is a radiator. To my left is a small industrial estate out the large window, a circle of workshops: some indeterminate, a windscreen fitter, a muslim community centre, a locksmiths, a cake maker. I lean to the side; a baker? Often when I am working there, something will catch my eye. It is a blackbird darting between one bush and another. It flies just above the ground, the carpark, in only a few swings of its rapid wings. I wonder what the blackbird is doing.

I wonder what the virus is doing. It has a new name now, and perhaps with a new name it is not quite so tiresome but rejuvenated with the hospital beds and positive numbers. It is the way now, a shifting statistic of doom projected across the consciousness until it catches one’s heel and possibly their breath! For three days I conduct tests on myself, each time hovering over the plastic stick, waiting for one line to appear but not both. When it forms, I sigh and walk away, giving it thirty minutes to itself. The uncertain situation manifests in three ways: the acute paranoia inflicted on sensitive souls by news reports, graphs, alerts and cabinet ministers; the smothering and unaffected bustle of December streets all tinted in red & gold with the tinsel of light blue masks; colleagues, friends, and family who gradually fall off, in either silence or mobile phone photographs of two-lines.

But I am not dead, I am not even ill. People who are ill put their tongues down my throat, still I am not ill.

I am not yet recognised at the coffeeshop because of the light blue mask, or maybe I am not yet recognised because I am unremarkable. Every day I visit, sometimes twice. Bending down to speak through the hole in the plastic screen—‘Medium cappuccino to take away, please.’ Once at nine and once at five. The women there are all young and Nordic. In the morning it is mothers with their children; in the evening it is men from the building site or old people. I take my coffee and I walk back home, my arms gaily by my side. I check my postbox. When I climb the stairs, I close my eyes and try to guess my floor by how tired my thighs are. ‘Have you played guitar yet?’ my brother asks. ‘No, there is always something to do.’ I settle into this new routine. After I finish work, I clean, I iron, I cook, I drink, I organise my belongings, I assemble furniture, I speak to my mother, I wash up. There is a moment after I have washed, dried and put everything away, when I have wiped over the surfaces, lit some candles, put on a record and rolled a cigarette that I laugh to myself – This feels so good, I think. Beyond my walls there is much to take in, to succumb to and be overwhelmed by, but within them I am magnificent, I am well, I am good. There is no one else around. I am happy.

The company Christmas party was on a Thursday, and it was almost cancelled as the virus made its way around one end of the office, ignoring departments and strips of salt. The reason I bought my dinner suit years ago could not be recalled, but it still fit, although the shirt had yellowed. The last time I wore my dinner suit I found blood in my semen, lending it a lovely shade of pink, until I confronted myself with the fact that such a contamination was not healthy. I did not wear my dinner suit because there was blood in my semen, nor was there blood in my semen because I was wearing my dinner suit. It was all coincidental.
‘One man said—“I bet you’re a size eight under that coat!” A size eight! ... I wish!’ She poured the steamed milk along the windy platform. I made my way into London for the party. I liked the way the shirt collar & bow tie gripped my throat. So rarely does anything have a grip on my throat. The office was excited and in tiny groups we made our way to the venue. It was just me and my boss, Beck, when it began to rain. He called his wife. I lead the way. ‘Slow down,’ he said—‘I think I’m going to die. Long-covid.’ I told him it was just around the corner. I drank and mingled with my new friends. More than satisfied to stand in the centre and observe everything, I grew more and more inebriated. People who said nothing in the office came alive when there was wine and music. ‘Everyone looks so beautiful,’ I said to Beck.

The last two hours of the night were lost to me. Fragments: Siobhan’s thighs in a green dress, whiskey, jaeger’, bourbon, red wine, Beck falling over, tequila, missing Milly, tequila, texting Milly after resisting so long, telling a man he was gorgeous, Vicenzo, poor excuses to leave conversations, dancing dancing dancing until the confusing autopilot floor of Liverpool St station brought me to the last train out the city.

It is possible there was a moment between, but otherwise I awoke on a static train. Where was my phone? I could not find it, and eventually, defeated, went outside to the moody blue rank to wait for a taxi. The driver stirred me as we arrived at my road. I was miserable. When usually I would have put on Duck Soupto fall asleep to, instead I just had to bed in silence. I am used to the pain of hanging mornings, but the loss of a dear possession affected me greatly. I threw the duvet off, spread my legs and stared at the ultramarine sky and coral on the wall. I fell up and went to the laptop, typing—Where is my phoneand a circle came to me over an unfamiliar train station. Some hours later, after consoling Beck, who had been robbed on his way home down Chancery Lane, I took the train there. ‘Hello,’ I said to a woman who waved the 13:07 off—‘has anyone handed in a phone this morning. Or last night. Might have been last night.’ ‘What phone is it?’ ‘A Samsung… something.’ ‘Can you describe it?’ ‘Not really… It has a case on it which is a picture of two men outside a butchers.’ ‘Hmm,’ she said, and we went in her office after she had screamed at a faraway man. ‘Never has a conductor spoken to me like that before!’  I was offended on her behalf because it may have helped my cause.

The office had yellow walls of peeling paint and sash windows which pissed cold wind that ripped down the tracks. There were schedules, safes, cabinets and computers all on screensaver. Her hand went into a drawer, retrieving an envelope with a heavy object within. ‘This got handed in at one-forty-five this morning.’ I told her that might be mine. ‘Can you describe it for me?’ ‘The case is light blue. It’s a picture of two men outside Satriale’s pork store, sitting on this little table, and one of the men is kinda gesturing at the other. It’s from Sopranos. It’s Tony and Paulie.’ She pulled it out and looked at it. ‘O yeah, it is Sopranos.’ She stared at it for a minute, then turned back to me—‘Have you got any ID?’ I thought to myself that if anyone came into my office and perfectly described a concealed object, I would give them anything they wished, as long as I escaped with my life. ‘No,’ I rubbed my hands together—‘Ah! I can call it with my work phone.’ When it buzzed, she gave it back to me. ‘You’re lucky someone handed it in.’ I told her I was very lucky. ‘It never happens,’ she said. ‘Must be Christmas!’ I said, laughing, and walked out of her office.

And, over it all, is the sound of freight trains. I cheer when I see one go past. As I hear them approach, I erect like a dog upon its owner’s return. Yes, now I am accustomed to their ricochet on the steel above passengers. In the night they pass me by, rupturing through the twilight, thundering in black blocks and haulage. If I should run, infatuated, to the open window, they disintegrate and the factory opposite the tracks belches out another plume of smoke running in the same direction. After it all stills, the birds sing, December birds, birds too stubborn to migrate, chained to their perch, singing exquisitely. They do not quiet. They sing and sing. Who knows what species they are, but it is not yet dawn.

Rare capture, photographer unknown