by Peter C Cullier
When the train stops I always look at the same place. My eyes scan over the hungover, the scared, the lost. I flick right to the window, up the crumbling brickwork of industrial era housing. I lived in a house like that; there were white paint flakes on the window ledge and damp and an awful, awful avocado bathroom. The fence was always loose, the gate always open. It was home.
A child runs the length of the carriage and I shrink. You are sat opposite me but we do not talk. You know my ritual, my love affair. This house has the same white paint under the rim of the loft, holding precious artefacts and dust from the grip of the street. A young woman pushes a rattling trolley of overpriced coffee and cider into my bag. I lift it and she smiles, offering me something. I take the darkest coffee they have and stare into it. I wonder if it is darker than the loft of the house.
When I lived in my old house we only went into the loft twice. My Dad stuck his head up there once evening after we moved in, but never bothered to do anything with it. We lived in East Didsbury and had more than enough room. It was one of those big ones with too many bedrooms, Dad used to say to Mum they should make more babies, but she never wanted another after me. I had a house party there once when I was eighteen and half of the people dissipated into the empty spaces and spare rooms. There was a small bar built into the cellar, accessible from outside. That was the hardest room to clean and I didn’t even meet any nice girls. You don’t want to know that anyway, so I just tell you under my breath as the music blasts out from your headphones. I keep picking at the black rubber that holds the window in. Someone has written “DEV” in scratches in the wall. When we get out of the tunnel the lights turn off and somehow it becomes darker and harder to see the scratches.
The train begins to move, and you shuffle yourself as it trundles along. The red brickwork is replaced with granite, steel, granite again. We enter the tunnel. I compare the coffee to the tunnel, or space. You bop up and down subtly in your seat, showing me the music is still playing in your ears. It is moments like this that bring the house back to me. Each patch of bald wood under the skirt of the loft returns like a photographic memory. Often I wonder if anyone ever saw the flakes fall, or if they waited for a quiet and lonely winter night to descend. Surely a decorator or an exceptionally bored or observant child would have noticed the change in pattern.
We checked the loft once more when we left, as if we could psychically move objects up there if we wanted to hide them. There was a cardboard cut-out of John Travolta (with a handlebar moustache drawn on) propped up against the far wall and dad screamed and fell off the ladder. When he got back up he found a shoebox with nothing in it. I wonder if the people before us left them behind to put humour in our aching lives, or if they knew that one day a man with arthritis would scale a ladder above the landing and fall to his death in fright (he didn’t). I’m not sure what those people are called, delay murderers? I’ve not been in a loft since and it got me thinking. We build so many unexplored spaces, in our minds, in our houses. I used to be scared of falling into them before I found you.
The train stops. The coffee didn’t last nearly as long as I wanted it to and the train journey was too short. You get off three stops before me as usual. I think hard about you and hope the thoughts are louder than your music. The doors close and I slide away for another week. I think of the loft and the empty box. All the moments that it had, all the things it carried. A lot of things could have happened. My mind is lazy and often droops back to those moments, the elasticity of time only snapping me back when I try to edit the memory. Time is behind me, and so is John Travolta, his moustache and the empty box. I wish I knew your name.
Peter C Cullier is a writer and student based in Merseyside.