The Intrepid

A man sits on a single-decker bus-
His gratitude for the mundane,
Even the unpleasant, surprizes him.
What is that cheap aftershave?
Behind it is the odour of a fattish man.
A black woman’s long braided hair-
Where do the extensions begin?
The plastic handrails swing softly…
He is even grafteful for the travel sickness.

He leaves the bus, the sky is thickly blue,
A new denim blue scratched at
By whisps of cloud.
Sun brilliantines the upper floors
Of the buildings opposite him.
Careful!
Anxiety begins to gnaw at the man’s gratitude.
He checks his breathing-
Is it clear? Is it?
While he flicks through second hand books,
A woman begins to hoover,
The dust scares him,
The hoover scares him.
He worries about his breathing, hesitates,
Then leaves.

He turns the keys quickly in the lock
They sway, ringing unprettily…
Back at home, the gratitude reappears.
He has seen heat shimmer above the railway bridge,
Making liquid the view of houses beyond it,
Like the lines that distort his view
Of the dried flowers on the windowsill above the heater,
Like these lines, like this distortion
But not hopelessly familiar.

Picturesque

There was a bay below them and Caitlin wanted to photograph it. Euin did not want her to.
‘Come on, babe, do that later. Let’s walk.’ Euin said.
‘O.K. Just one?’
‘Very quickly, come on. I want to get down there.’
Caitlin raised her camera to her right eye, and shutting her left, took the picture. While she did this, he looked down, seeing the bay speckled with tourists and cameras.
‘Sorry, it didn’t come out great,’ she said.
Euin blinked quickly and tensed his jaw a little. He breathed in through his nose, then out, slowly but not patient.
‘O.K.’ said Caitlin, after taking another photograph.
‘Good.’
‘Do you want to see?’
‘No. Not now, maybe later.’ Euin said, impatient.
From Caitlin, silence.
‘I’m sorry babe, I just feel like you are obsessed not with having a good time but with recording us having a good time which, conversely, takes away from the good time we’re having!’
‘I know. I just wanted to take a picture because it looks so nice and it’s the first time I’ve been here.’
‘I know, darling, but can’t you take them at the end, after we’ve had a walk?’
‘But it might not be so bright then, Euin.’
‘It’ll be fine. Look, let’s walk and we can figure it out later,’ he said, taking her right hand in his left and walking quickly.
From Caitlin, more silence.

They reached the bottom of the bay. There there was a cluster of rocks which formed a natural pier, extending upwards four metres and outwards into the sea, perhaps ten. On it were gulls.
‘Look at those gulls, they’re huge!’
‘God they’d take your eye out, easy.’
‘I think they look majestic, somehow.’
‘More like bouncers, looking at their eyes they’re completely dead.’
‘Shall we go up on the rocks?’
‘All right.’
‘Do you want to go up first?’
‘Fine.’
Euin lifted his left arm and right foot onto the rocks and began his ascent. He stayed mainly on his feet, using his arms as light support. Towards the top he went briefly onto all fours. He reached the top and sat, then she.
‘Look at that: what a view!’ she said, out of breath and excited.
‘Yeah.’
‘What’s that?’
‘What?’
‘That. That island?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I thought you’d been here a million times?’ she said, then jabbed him lightly in ribs with bony elbow.
‘I still don’t know and can you not jab me please.’
Caitlin went into her left hand coat pocket and removed from its’ case, her camera. She lifted it to her right eye and shut left then drank in the view through the lens. Turquoise sea crashed onto black volcanic rocks. Sea spray flecked Euin’s angry face. Euin looked Caitlin, reached his lower lip over his lower teeth and rested his upper front teeth there. He shook his head and said.

‘Are you serious? I thought you must be joking when you took that out.’
‘What? It’s a beautiful view.’
‘Why isn’t spending time with me here enough? It’s like you are looking back on this now as you’re living it.’
‘I didn’t ask you to be in the picture did I?’
‘No, I didn’t say you did.’
‘Come on, Euin.’ She said and reached her right hand to meet his left. In her left the camera remained.
‘No, you come on. You never listen to anything I say.’
‘Fine. O.K. I’m sorry I took a picture.’ She said, flat.
‘Right- If you’re going to be like that then I’m off. See you later.’

Euin climbed down the rocks carefully. He walked further around the bay on a path that wound upwards towards cliffs. He stopped when he reached some rocks that they call ‘the organ’. He looked at the long, thin, volcanic rocks but did not take them in, feeling only irritation, this caused by French tourists blocking his path and, worse still, taking photographs. Then, as the tourists left and he stood alone, his perspective changed.

He became aware of his long, thin, hexagonal bodies, each cold and nude and old as time. He could see the bay below and the sea beyond that. He looked hard.

The bay’s curve was hesitant and weathered, an old, arthritic claw. Rocks that comprised it were ink black, hexagonal columns, like him. One million perfect rocks, fifteen million years old. Turquoise sea crashed into them, starting as a line of dolphins slowly rising from water then crashing, icing-sugar white foam, thick as meringue peaks. Beyond the bay was the pewter sea, veined with failed waves, smothered by tides, petering into nothing like whispers of a palace coup. Above, sky offered opalescence and, in doughy patches of cloud, more water. Sun cracked through, hitting foam hemming and dying and hitting sea and glinting glinting glinting.

And Euin thought, as he felt gulls nesting above him and lichen living on him, that this was a nice place to take photographs of, after all.

Bicycles

We did not start well with the neighbours.
When we moved in
We bought them a bottle of Prosecco
To try to make up for any inconvenience we might have caused-
Or at least that’s what we said on the card,
Really we meant:
‘Please like us, and be quiet at night so that we can sleep.’
But the gesture wasn’t reciprocated (as we’d hoped)
Or acknowledged (as we’d expected).
Instead, the offered hand hangs between us,
An embarassment to all parties.

*

The neighbours are both overweight,
He moreso than her.
She sometimes acknowledges us,
He never does, although once
When I was walking out of the front door
He prompted her to hold the door open for me
And another time,
When I was trying to work out where our fuse box was,
I knocked on their door,
And he answered…
He was shirtless and his huge naked torso
Sagged between us, utterly hairless.
He told me that theirs was above their door
And I said thanks and that I’d try there.

*

I thought at first that they were our age
But looking closer they are probably only
Twenty five or twenty six.
They have a daughter who is four or five
And a new baby.
Their old car, a small car, is
Filled up with rubbish,
Food packaging, mainly.
I can see how it happens-
‘Leave it, I’ll sort it tomorrow…’

They’ve got a new car, it’s much bigger
And it was clean for a while
But now it’s going the same way.
We were walking on the path once
And he reversed powerfully only inches
From our feet.
I am nearly sure he didn’t see us.

*

Our flats share a small hallway
Which is entered through a heavy fire door,
The door is self-closing.
When it slams shut it is loud and it makes
The plasterboard walls shudder.
Between them, they must go in and out
Fifteen or twenty times a day.
Mainly, I think, it’s her going outside to smoke.
She stands just outside the front door,
Under the shallow porch
And stares down at her mobile phone,
Smoking, seemingly without relish.
He comes back late, usually
Around eleven, often with the five year old.
I guess they spend the evenings at his mother’s house.

*

In our shared hallway are their bikes,
Both fairly new. They look unridden.
They don’t dominate the space
But they are impossible to ignore.
They haven’t moved during the two years we’ve lived here,
But last week we heard him pumping up the tires.
I imagine them riding in opposite directions
Until they’re thin and as far apart as possible.