Thursday, March 16, 2006



The long-faced ginger man opposite glances at my book title over his glasses.

I glance at his.

He's also reading Calvino.

We both glance up and glance hurriedly away.

We sit for ten minutes on the train absorbed in our separate worlds. The reader of Calvino does not communicate to the reader of Calvino, except in terms of admiration of their joint idol. There is no room for discussion. It's so rare to find a compatriot that criticism is restrained and smug warmth is silently shared.

That said, I felt the itch. I hadn't actually seen which book he was reading. Of course, it was immaterial, we shared the fraternity of Calvino. But still, not all Calvino was brilliant; I wanted to see which book he was reading. He might not be a Reader, a true Calvinist, but just have picked it up and not be enjoying it. He could even be, Italo forbid, hating it! He could be hating me! If I could see the book title, I could find out. He couldn't hate If On A Winter's Night but I could understand boredom segueing into loathing at The Baron in the trees. Finding out wouldn't necessarily alter my opinion of him one way or another, just give me more material for various hypotheseses. A quick glance should tell me.

But the train was pulling into Paddington. I duck and dived my head as much as I could, decorum willing, in a crowded train carriage. I couldn't catch the name, the angle and the font obscured it and his hands were all over the front of the book. He stood to go and I caught a glimpse of the colours of the cover; greens, browns or reds I thought, which narrowed it down not at all.

And then he was out, speed-strutting down the platform edge, teetering outside the yellow line. I grabbed my clutter and strode after him, down short platform 14, past the gradually accreting stalagmites, through the lengthy stumbling crowds on long platform 12, past the giant Paddington bear in the lost property office and the curious wailing shutters of the staff area, around the bollards and tape, slaloming columns. I lost him behind a wall of dark coats in the underground, and felt immediately ashamed for chasing him at all.

A man who I don't know, couldn't care about, who I would never talk to whatever the outcome, produced all this in me by a significant glance, which might even have been unintentional. Rather, I produced this in myself by caring about Calvino more than I should and falling into a world like his. If on a spring morning, a traveller…

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


A man reads a book about snow. He looks up at the bright wool sky and can feel Siberian breezes blowing through him. "Their fingers would never thaw," he thinks "never, with pain somewhere in the nerves, in the mind." The thought of ghost limbs haunts him, the grinding of mortar resonating with the creaking of the missing joints. As he walks down the steaming city streets, his feet clapping the bare flagstones, he sees the city under mounds of disparate snow, foggy imaginings he feet pass through. He almost kicks at a lump of nothingness, catching himself, performing a sort of half-hop/step as he restrains his jerking leg. A patina of frost feels like it's forming over his eyelids, crackling eyelashes as he blinks and blinks. Crazy traceries of cracked ice spread on his eyeballs, falling exactly between the hot blood vessels. His breath comes in straightened puffs, crystallising and floating away in frozen clouds. "Crazy", he thinks "This isn't a new ice-age, yet all I can think of looking at ruddy faces, is them unmoving, glazing snow settling, as they huddle against the rich winter and reach for vodka (they drink it to keep warm in Russia?), reach for vodka and splash it liberally, helping them liberate stored heat, and fool their clever life-preserving internal systems."
     Later, in bed, he dreams of an ancient university tutor, his rich brown hair turned steel white, his skin-encrusted eyes lost, as he endlessly mumbles "I've lost it, I've lost it" and rubs his wrinkled fingers