For reasons I don’t quite understand but am nonetheless grateful for, an interior design magazine called Tomorrow asked me to write a piece of flash fiction based on the London Underground tube station Notting Hill Gate. I believe it’s available from Harrods and such places, but you can read it below. It’s about feeling stuck. I was reading a lot of Miranda July at the time.
“Stuck” / “Notting Hill Gate”
No matter how hard I stare at my feet, I cannot will them to move. Trains shudder past every few minutes but my uneasiness prevents me from getting up, on, and away. I am a weird weight in a blur of strangers disappearing through automatic doors only to be replaced moments later by new strangers. Everything feels unfamiliar now. I only ever came here for her.
She laughed at me when I met her here for the first time. She thought it was hilarious how real my disappointment was that the rows of pastel-painted townhouses with quaint front gates I had come to expect to see were, instead, replaced by Boots, Pret a Manger, and a neglected Money Exchange. She said the movie with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant was misrepresentative of reality. In reply I mumbled something academic about Hugh Grant ruining normcore by selling it to the middle classes and she laughed at that, too, but it was a different kind of laugh. Later that night she suggested we climb over the fence of a gated community garden, like they do in the film, and we did. She was always doing things for other people, until the day I told her not to and that she should only do things for herself. That is why I am here, in the underground, with heavy feet. We had our first kiss in that garden, on someone’s memorial bench.
I wander around the station, which I decide I cannot leave. It is plastered with advertisements ranging from bikini bodies to outer space – both forms of exhibition – daring the individual to look both inward and outward simultaneously. “Yes, you are insignificant and transient,” the advertisement tells you, “Nobody knows you are here, and it will not make an iota of difference when you are gone. But in the meantime, would it kill you to put some fucking effort in?”
The levels of snaking escalators inside the station, which I cannot leave, remind me of her thighs and how managing them felt like how the moon must feel having to manage the world’s oceans. Her mother had warned her as a young girl that keeping her legs together was preventing earthquakes from happening. Now I am standing still on a moving staircase thinking that her mother was probably right.
I drift from platform to platform like a fraction of metal in a network of veins. Each tunnel is differently tiled and coloured, like her fingernails or the townhouses that weren’t there. She is probably still standing outside, I think to myself from inside the station, which I cannot leave. I can see her standing in the wind teasing strands of long brown hair from her lips, which are smothered in a layer of Vaseline at all times. She is probably feeling guiltier than she should.
It occurs to me that I could probably just stay here forever. Strangers will come, doors will close, and spikes will protrude from the rafters so the pigeon’s can’t get comfortable. How nice it would be to be the only constant in all the dizziness and delays and painful certainty – in this station, which I cannot leave.