Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story

Clapham Fury

Alice Wooledge Salmon

I’m walking along the edge of The Common, early. Moving briskly, traffic derrière, exposed to dogged mothers propelling bombshell offspring. An aura of inner-suburb sunshine and impending leaf buds. I’m filled with rage; the grimace of a disintegrating corpse – shame it’s only road-kill fox – bared fangs, ripe incisors I would flash at the world.

How can this be me? The great ME, tethered to low-horizon South London. A great writer? Barely unfurling her stolen biros. A scrounging dealer, seller of the overlooked. A scrabbling ‘runner’, dangling from caprices of the Net.

Overtaken by joggers, I pound across The Common and out past requisite homeless to the querulous High Street. En route to pilates. Me, in a crowd of feather-brained S.L.oane Rangers, South London Clones sawing waxed legs through the blameless air.

Here’s a shred of comfort – that painted sign, charcoal on orange, nearly effaced across rear-wall stucco: ‘... ATTEN & DAVIES’, first capital obscured by the tree up-shooting from a drain. Traces of ‘Established’ and ‘Oldest’, slightest indication of a telephone: ‘Macaulay 2 ...’ Stranded but persistent in the current century. I won’t ever unfasten and drop this into my bag. Paint it out? Cover it? The marks creep back. So demolish the building? Go on; knock the creature flat! I’m from New York! That’s NEW YORK CITY. They tear things down.

There’s Emily, corporate wife, flawless polecat features. She’s tripping towards pilates, bouncing a glance off each commercial window; seeking bargain carpets? chicken wings to-go? One more clock at darling self. Then another; boom-booma-doom, booma-doom on her velveteen hooves. And dammit! Past goes my rival, bag yawning towards the pick of Heart-and-Hospice books. He’ll have the few while I’m stretching hamstrings, lying on my unambitious mat. KELL VEE, KELL VEE! cries the man in the bus to boundless shrilling mobiles. 

I’m gasping by the railway bridge. Quick! A draught of Music Roll Exchange: ‘GRAMO-PHONES, RECORDS, ETC. LARGEST STOCK – OF– SECONDHAND MUSIC ROLLS – IN – LONDON’ holding hard; faded characters gripping the dirty stock, beneath pediment, of an 1830s terrace – a protective code, a pun, a talisman hidden in plain sight? There used to be another, two doors along, wiped off now with a pitiless sponge admitting no ghostly returns. And I can’t remember what it said. Betrayal, negation, the amnesic clear-out.

If I was on a train from Waterloo, a train from Victoria passing over the High Street, looking down, glimpsing the Music Roll Exchange, I’d be heading for Lille, Paris – or Brixton, Herne Hill. Any comment? Contrast my consolation, on another southwest High: ‘WINDOVER PIANOS, STRINGS and SMALL GOODS on EASY TERMS’. My italics, emphatico; Health and Safety should for God’s sake intervene.

Worse than this? Worst of any fate? To live with your parents until they die. Worse – YES – than life past in the former Home, just there, ‘FOR DESTITUTE BOYS’ maturing in Georgian rooms, sliced across into stunted halves painted hospital pink, hospital green behind all the slammed doors. Preceding fireproofed Printers & Engravers of Ivorine, Metal, Glass & Perspex; Macaulay 4 ... succeeded by location scouts mad for the corrugated plastic and folding shutters make-do mended with flotsam wooden crates. Ahead of me, a white-haired minder, exhausted shoulders bowed, aches towards a motorised wheelchair propelled by her speeding, chuckling, escaping charge. 

I’ve missed getting the books. This week, none worthwhile. They’re any and all in that bastard’s sack, snatched away as I submitted to Spine Curls and The Diamond Press. Myra announced ‘We’re moving to Italy. I must have some beauty in my life!’ I sit in the homeward bus, staring out at The Common, pale green with spring. A black woman turns to give directions to a white man, and I do want to cry.