She shook violently, having avoided the ferocious teeth of the thundering earthquake god, teetering on the edge of the step as the door slammed closed behind her. Tears gorging valleys and canyons down her face as she remain rooted to the spot for aeons, debating her own course to pursue, her own life to weather. Sometime after the dinosaurs died out, Sophie put a foot forward, let it hover in the air a moment, a time when ancient civilizations would rise and fall, and then returned it to whence it came. With her face still wet with lachrymation, she reached into her jeans pocket and took out her mobile. With the back of her hand, she wiped away some of the tears and the snot decorating her face, leaving a little for the light to shine on. Yet, she still had the countenance of a classic beauty. Her lips were full, and her mouth turned up at the ends, as if reaching for heaven, even in this, her deepest distress. Her cheek bones were round and delicious. Her long golden hair was tied in an unkempt knot at the back, and with a long straight fringe almost covering her arctic blue eyes. She could take away the collective breath of a nation, even now, on her doorstep, fumbling desperately with her phone, looking for solace in menus and radio waves. Her friend, Janey, would know what to do, how to heal her. Sophie flicked through the menus until she came across Janey’s number. Her mobile was functional, not trendy, and it usually stayed deep in its home; her jean pocket. Janey’s voicemail was on. Janey would have let her battery go again, as her life followed, blind and ornamental.
Sophie, now perched on her step, knees up to her strong chin, designed by the careful breeding of her ancestors. Sophie, now steadying her breathing, fitting a regulator to her battered heart. Sophie with a single thought in her mind, an electron in a hydrogen atom; leave.
The world behind her, her home that no longer existing behind the oak door that shook the universe, was part of a Victorian terrace in Crouch End. It was not a place she wanted to exist in right now. Something more earthy, something real, took her west towards Archway. Her face still damp, but no damper, she instructed her sat nav to guide her heavy feet through the streets and alleys, mountains and valleys of Upper Holloway. Meanwhile, she shut her emotional centers down, and stopped listening to her mind’s reasoned pleas. She was nothing but solid rock, heavy and still, allowing the earth, planets and stars to rush to their sightless destinies around her.
And onwards, as if the streets of London took on a downward slope, as if the gaping mouth of a giant was waiting for them to slip and slide to the west. The empty houses and transitory flats and uncared for trees, the belching rubbish bins and look-at-me cars, the stumpy bus that was and then was not, were all bathed in the cold sodium glory of the London street light. None of these realities took notice of Sophie as she battled against the madness inside her, fighting to tear her up and leave her dying, decaying, rotten.
A car alarm shattered her mind. Shards of her id flew over the capital. She came too, not understanding where she was. She remembered the knife in her heart. She remembered the earthquake as the door had slammed behind her. She remembered she wanted to be somewhere else, someone else. She looked around at the movie set surrounding her. Cardboard facades hiding bit part actors. Stunt men and make-up artists hovering just out of sight. A matte painted sky. She wondered if the set designer was drunk, or had suffered a family tragedy. She wondered when straight edges and right-angled corners had been outlawed. Sophie was at the junction of a road and an avenue. There was a gathering noise to her left, down the avenue; the approach of a tsunami, building, thundering. She counted seven or maybe eight boys and a solitary girl. None more than ten years old. All staring. At her. A metallic resonance echoed through her head, as a ball was bounced, slowly, by the lead boy. As if they were triggered by the same power lead, they all took a single step forward, towards Sophie. She closed her eyes, hiding from the world. I can’t see them, they can’t see me. I can’t see them, they can’t see me. She willed herself forward, rolling towards the gaping mouth, eyes shut tight, ears set on alert for another step from the gang.
Sophie was grounded now, standing outside of the Archway Tavern. She was studying the reference collection in her mind. She’d been in here before. A lock-in. She’d been drunk. Very. She was Googling her memory for evidence; was it friendly, welcoming, somewhere she could walk in alone and not be raped? She wanted salvation, emancipation. She took that giant step forward.
It was the sports fan’s delight. Pool tables and plasma screens and table football and slot machines; noise and distraction, escape. Why had she come here? Now? Before? She was no sports fan. Sport bored her. It had no purpose; the nation’s appendix.
The stale excuse for a carpet stuck to her shoes, remnants of exuberance and intoxication. At present, the facility’s occupants numbered five. Herself, a young couple playing pool – no doubt part of the modern teenage mating dance, an old boy sitting in the corner staring blindly into a desperate and lonely future, and a barman. The barman. The tag to her memory search. The reason why she is here. The barman.
He was polishing a pint glass, the way bored bartenders do, as she approached the bar. He had been watching her since she came into the lounge. He made no move to serve her as she perched herself on a tall barstool. He planned on completing the task in hand, keeping his grey eyes trained on her. He was a mountain of a creature, craggy in a handsome way. He was ageless, yet young. His hair was black, deep and eternal. She thought he might be smaller than he looked, but she couldn’t figure if the floor was lower on his side of the bar. Again, she took an axe to her mind, searching the forest of her brain, looking for clues of their previous encounter.
-Hi, she said, eventually, brutally cracking open the world.
-Hi, he replied, remaining a tree in the ground.
The moment lasted. The old man sitting in the corner moved his head slightly, like a ancient reptilain predator searching for soundwaves.
-Can I get you something? He had polished the glass back to sand, and was now ready to step forward to his calling, as a captain strides forward to take the last minute penalty.
More of those moments passed.
-Yes, she said, of course. A drink. Please.
His face took on pity as he gazed, his eyes dilating. Was it hunger? Anger? Fear?
-Oh. Sorry. She struggled to reboot. Remembering who she was, why she was here. She thought of her evolution, from the amoebic woman on the doorstep, to the fearful infant on the streets of the city, and now to the awkward teenager coming out of the ocean for the very first time.
-Wine, please. Red. Large.
-House ok? he asked.
-Sure. House. Whatever. Sophie was misplaced, her footing lost on the scree slopes which were giving way, the effort in simply being here having forced the angle of repose beyond its natural limits. She was balanced, upright, yet plummeting towards the valley floor.
-Denton, he said, as he reached above his head for a wine glass.
More dust in Sophie’s face.
-Its Susie? Right? I’m Denton. We’ve met before, haven’t we? He turned his impossibly broad back in order to reach for the already opened bottle of house wine.
-Sophie. Not Susie. Denton. Right. Sorry. I’d complete forgot. How long ago was it? Sophie was reaching into her back pocket looking for her purse. Horror smashed her to pieces. She had no purse with her. No money. Nothing but her mobile. Nothing real.
-Don’t worry. Without looking up, Denton poured the wine.
-You’re money’s no good here anyway.
-The drink. Denton nodded as he put the fishbowl of wine down on the bar top in front of her.
-Its on the house. My treat.
She looked at him full of shock and awe.
-You look like you need it, he added.
Global warming accelerated exponentially on her planet; there was nothing left to hold back the floods; meanwhile deserts swarmed across her landscapes – everything was washed away and left to rot, or laid bare.
Sophie cried, silently.
-The ladies is round the corner. Denton knew Sophie would hate herself in a moment when she caught her reflection in the mirrors behind the bar.
-I don’t need…I’m sorry, she replied in between tearful sniffles. She continued; I don’t need to use the loo.
-I though you might want a bit of privacy, and some time to pull yourself round, clean yourself up.
Sophie looked up, past Denton’s Herculean shoulder and into her private torment. Without creating any sound waves, she left her bar stool and headed off to use the facilities, each stride as shaky as the first tentative steps of a newborn foal.
The scene remained the same when Sophie returned from the toilet. She was steady now; a mighty oak in a summer’s breeze. Her face was dry, yet her puffed up eyes betrayed the past. She smiled as she approached the barman. Denton was engaged in his favourite task of polishing glasses.
-Thank you. She said, before taking a large unveiling gulp of the red.
-No probs. I hope you’re OK now.
-Not really, but I can pretend.
-You don’t have to, with me. Pretend. Denton’s voice was warm and sincere, as if he was the psychiatrist who had fallen in love with the patient.
Sophie took a smaller drink and ran her fingers through her hair.
-I don’t know what to say, she said.
-Stay, Denton replied. Have another drink, on me. I’m finished in half an hour. Boss comes in to close and cash up. I don’t have to stay. We could talk. If you like.
It was if the world had been shook apart, as a dusty rug is shook clean in a back yard. Sophie sneezed.
-Sure. Why not. This is, after all, my world tonight.
-Sorry? It was Denton’s turn to discover confusion.
-It’s nothing. I was just thinking out loud. Where else could I possibly go now? She took her wine glass by the stem and span it round between her thumb and forefinger, as if looking for the hidden clue within. She took another drink.
-Can I ask you something?
-Sure, Denton replied. He had finished with the glass cleaning part of his workload and was now straightening up the beer towels around the bar.
-Where is everyone?
-Oh, he said, laughing. Quiz night. It was in the lounge. Finished about ten minutes before you
arrived. Everyone then leaves right away, which I never quite understood.
-Is it good, the quiz? Sophie asked.
-No idea. I’m always in here. Popular though. Denton sensed that his miner was almost at the
diamond face, after months of scraping through meaningless rock. He knew he had her now.
-I’m glad you’re here, she said, by way of conformation.
The smile on Denton’s face had been building, flowing and cascading since the moment the first two
proteins were introduced to one another at the dawn of time. It beamed like the headlights on a
monster truck. Somewhere, the prodigious programmer keyed in the final lines of code and hit enter, allowing all things to become clear, to work smoothly, bug-free. Denton knew his purpose.
Denton didn’t have to do anything. He didn’t even have to say a word. Sophie poured forth for him.
-He’s lying and I know he is. Fucker!
-Boyfriend? Enquired the barman.
-Not any more. He says everything’s fine. But it’s not. I know. I really know. You wanna know how I know? Denton nodded, smiling sympathetically. ‘Cos it hurts. She tapped her confirming hand on the top of her jeans. It hurts here. It wouldn’t hurt if it wasn’t true. Would it?
-Don’t defend him, she snapped. You don’t know, do you?
-No, I don’t. I’m just saying. He’s a guy. A bloke. We don’t talk much. Do we? Maybe it’s nothing?
She paused a moment, picking up the wine glass, then returning it to whence it came.
-I thought you might be different. I thought you might understand, but no. It’s all men together isn’t it? Isn’t it? She was close to tears again. Denton had tossed the ball high into the air and it was now time to smash it out the park.
– Look, I’m a man. I know how men are. We can be friends for years, but put two of us alone in a room, and the only thing we can talk about is football. But with a woman, with you, we can be ourselves. With you, I can be myself. He paused, ready.
-I feel like myself now, talking to you. It feels good. I can’t speak for your boyfriend, or your problems, but soon, when I’ve finished, I can take you for a coffee and I can speak for myself. If you let me.
The pain had dissipated. Sophie washed up on Denton’s shore, ignorant of her past, her history. She didn’t know how, but he had taken the hurt away, dressed the wound and made her forget.
Sophie stood outside the pub. She had expected Denton to be out already. She suddenly felt nervous, unsure. She was bear cub, emerging from its den for the first time, cautious, unaware of the power that was yet to come. The night sky withdrew momentarily, holding its breath. Waiting. All the children of the world that slept woke up for a moment, suddenly realising that there was no bogeyman. All the people on their deathbeds smiled and closed their eyes.
Denton tapped her on the shoulder.
-Shall we? He asked.
-Shit. She said. You came out of nowhere!
-Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.
Denton thrust a hand in his pocket and stuck out his elbow, inviting Sophie to take his arm. She willingly obliged.
-Where to? Coffee shop or my place?
A moment’s hesitation washed over Sophie. Should she? Could she?
-Coffee, she accepted. Finally.
-No. She let it hang. I know somewhere close, should be still open, she continued.
They headed down Holloway Road, a Mecca for late night eateries and watering holes. They increased exponentially as you got closer to Highbury Corner where they reached critical mass on Upper Street. They walked in silence for a few minutes; Sophie wondering which path her future lay down. She had a choice.
Coffee then home. Back to the struggle she knew. It was an achievement. Every day, living her life with her job and her relationships. It was mundane, banal even. But it was hers. She was even proud of it. Sod the sin of it.
Or coffee then where-ever Denton could take her. A giant step on a new planet. No pre-conceived ideas of what could be around the corner. Nothing but a leap of faith on the invisible path to tomorrow.
She closed her eyes, preparing to take that leap…
Denton’s lips pressed firmly against her own. She was new-born. She was an exploding star; supernova. He was holding her against a shop window. She could feel it give a little. The kiss was astounding. Fireworks on Millennium Night astounding. It was everything a woman could want in a kiss; passion, honesty, sincerity and the understanding of the female need. She hoped it would continue all night.
The embrace continued. Denton’s hands caressed her back, heading south. At that moment, Sophie felt nothing other than his lips, tasted nothing but his tongue. She didn’t notice his hands creeping under the waistband of her jeans. She didn’t feel his wandering fingers, as they found a gap in her panties. He brought his left hand round to her hip. The planet juddered. For a microsecond she paused, unsure of herself, unsure of her place in the scene. Denton’s hand continued on its mission to the front of body. A comet smashed into her, ripping the planet apart, destroying billions of lives in the instant it takes to extinguish a candle flame. Sophie grabbed his arm and summoning the strength of a bear, threw him to the ground.
It was all she said before turning her back on him.
She shook violently, having avoided the ferocious teeth of the thundering earthquake god, teetering
on the edge of the step as the door slammed closed behind her. Tears gorging valleys and canyons
down her face as she remain rooted for aeons, debating her own course to pursue, her own life to
weather. Sometime after the dinosaurs died out, Sophie put a foot forward…