On a stale summer evening, balancing on a single rail, I light a cigarette and let my eyes water over filthy cheeks as the smoke washes over me. I feel the dirt when I smile, and I feel the tears dancing through the grime when I cry, so I do neither. Kicking through the litter and detritus, I listen for the sharp warning blasts from the freight trains that steam and rumble past dragging waggons full of sulphur, or rattling past carrying nothing but dead air and waste.
I dream of climbing the trees I sometimes see on torn billboards, and on the faded juice bottle labels. Sometimes I’ll steal a fresh one from Frankie’s Shop – I go in with a piece of glass melted into a toothbrush handle and threaten his one remaining eye. The poor old bastard just nods and holds up money as I go for the broken freezer cabinet and brace for the flies that buzz around the milk. I run as fast as my panic will let me, even though I know he’ll never tell.
Around the corner, across the car park, behind the burger van and through the fence onto the railway that severs the town into two rotten apple halves, I sit on the floor and stare at the label. I dream of trees, and I dream of the day I can climb one just to be closer to the sky – the hazy blue I see beyond the veil of ochre. There are no real trees here; just cold lifeless and slippery searchlights, and the harsh pylons who guard like diseased and underfed sentinels, wrapped in sharp wire and frying all but the few coughing birds who pass through.
I’ve never wished for anything – just more colours than grey and the oxidised brown rust that gets under my fingernails and stains my hair.
As the amber evening turns into a dark brown night, I climb the disintergrating wooden steps up to the old signal box. The mattress is finally dry and the room is quiet and warm. I feel the glow from the remains of the day through the broken window panes and I know tonight I will sleep better than I have done in three months.
I go to a corner of the room and remove a pile of rags – inside is a box of dumped fireworks. I light one and send it up through the hole in the roof above my bed. With a whistle it flies, followed by blue lines like thin leaves, a loud pop, and then the dull purples as the colour mingles with the air, and the sparks descend like doomed paratroopers. I hope she has seen my signal, and I hope she will return soon.
I need my girl, and for those octopus arms to entwine me safe.