What a strange moment for you to join me. I can smell thick tar and diesel blowing down this green tunnel, accompanied by the faint, dismal clank of tired iron stumbling together. Inside this ripe cylinder, my eyes water. The ballast is sharp and hot, and a vengeful sun beams a massive hole into the tall wire fence above my head. How strange of you to join me, here and now. Nature coils and strangles the already dead railings, brown and clotted by weather and time. Pick a flake away. Look for the dull grey. It never shined even when it was alive.
Air as heavy as eyelids, post-coitus. When you walk, you can stream your fingers through the cool foliage either side. Arms outstretched, posture all nonsense now. Nothing has been placed here with any purpose. Junk lines our route like broken saw teeth. The ground intermittently grumbles. Everything is shaken a few inches in a new direction. Everything stumbles and dominos into each other. Barging is the new etiquette. We balance on old rails in our special shoes. No noise, no birds. Not even the snap of dead wood.
You pulled your jeans up past your ankles, forcing the gusset hem deep into your crotch and you told me the story of the man in the alleyway on that hot summer in July, bouncing between narrow walls in a tiny, but impenetrable labyrinth. Wading over puddles of stagnant water that had never seen the sun, chemically impossible to evaporate, the man had stopped before he’d seen you and pressed himself against a portion of wall, plunging his tongue into a scooped out cavity of brick with a lover’s animal frenzy. Lapping at the moisture. He stank and you winced at the soft pop of his teeth crashing against the solid mortar. The dark liquid dribbling from the corners of his mouth could’ve been blood but you didn’t stick around to find out. You hoped it was blood, but you feared it was something else.
We walk past a tall monolith of stone, like an Egyptian needle plucked out of the ground and casually tossed over the shoulder of a nonchalant god. None of the man-made architecture pays it any heed, but plants and shrubs compete to reach the top first, burrowing into every crack and fissure. I lied about climbing to the top of that, about ripping off my shirt and shouting aloud with veins bursting before losing my footing to a complete somersault and landing squarely on my feet. I’ll lie again about it today. It’s still unconquered by anything other than itself. Cold and black, I almost feel I could place my hand inside it, up to the elbow, and find some new element that could change the way we produce energy. But if I punched it now, my knuckles would splinter.
At Old Jack’s Crossing we pause for a moment. You’re trying to walk whilst holding onto your ankles. I remind you; it’s a strange time. The bamboo shoots are wild now, and the path nearly swallowed. Leviathans groan past in their wasp stripes, just as leviathans groan in their heavy boots leaving the footpath lumpy with thousands of hard luck stories and meaty, triangular shoulders carrying fuck knows what. Trapped between the fence and the rails, and a sweeping green field promising freedom but fringed by invisible barriers that gently steer the reckless and the romantic back; in the crook of a sympathetic but firm arm, shepherding you away. We’ll build a fort out of corrugated iron but you freak out at the pile of burnt spoons and needles. We’ll juggle old hand grenades. We’ll crane our necks up at the forbidding tripod, streaked with grime and faded beige by the sun.
Remorselessly we dig, looking for a hidden door or some purpose, some reason to be. In the end, all becomes a concrete echo – dull and barely audible. Concrete over the rust. The needle torn out, still unconquered. Bamboo strimmed to splinters.
Concrete over the viaduct, where we wondered who could spit the furthest. Those strange paintings of men with arms out and crosses over their faces obliterated. You said you’d swap a piece of the Berlin Wall for our souvenirs. The sun still beats down but now it is confused, trying to form shadows on a surface that only reflects.
Old Jack went off to fight and came back with memories and medals. I lost the medals, mere hours after he gave them to me. He kept the memories.
It was not an honourable trade.