All that was needed were weeds and shattered glass. All that was needed was a few burnt out cars, a few forced shutters, the wail of an alarm like a tiny bird crying for dead parents. All that was needed was a flickering in the corner of my vision, a rustle, the whip crack of a broken twig and I'd be alert, alive to primal instinct and reaching for weapons or ready to flee.
The cat lounged on a wall, I swear it had an eyebrow raised. Quizzically. To where had they all gone?
Mile upon mile of silent engines, untouched toys behind garden fences. Bus stops just yawning empty spaces. The world like an unwound clock.
An old man sits on the lock gate and soaks in the quiet. He looks up as I approach, alerted by the crunch of rubber on the compacted gravel. He is one with the pitch painted wood, the moss and tiny, tumbling plants. He is clay and wool and red brickworks, coal smoke and infant mortality. Tin bath and demolition. Space race, Elvis new fangled, father in the trenches, November Sunday a silent day. He watches me and I feel like an interloper. Imperceptibly he nods and resumes staring out over the brackish water into the bramble and tangle beyond.
Her death was novelty. Fuck off no way, get to fuck, don't take the piss novelty. Her death was have you heard did you see I reckon it was currency. Traded snippets of gory details. Last words, tangled bloody photography. Her death was nothing to me.
The land beyond the cut is rugged and brutal. Shoved and smashed by digger and wrecking ball. A moonscape meteor site surrounded by forgotten fences, snipped and bent. From here belched smoke, here great long clanking, hissing, lurching trains were drawn in and repelled. A place of importance. Whistles and shift times, long standing union men and boys learning the ropes. Lines of bicycles, gas lamps and morning mist, evening rain, slippery cobbles. Spitting and swearing, the panic of an accident, the grim duty of informing the relatives. Underpay, malnutrition and vast profit. This was somewhere. A whole civilization buried under sickly turf.
Not even worth landscaping. Not even worth a plaque.
Tiny birds skim and take even tinier insects from the water. I drink from a plastic bottle. The sun is coming high and the stillness is such that the world seems to turn under my feet.
I do not see the brave faced child marching. His little world broken. The little child whose face says that he knows that no magic or money can turn things back. I do not see that for many years. I do not want to see that.
I see fields of rape stretching away, yellow blankets laid over the earth. I look for scrubland to savour the contrast. I pass the walls of sheet metal walls of scrap yards and hear the bark of dogs always on edge and always on chain. Waste guarded. I wonder who would want to steal a crushed car.
I head further, past sleepy coppices of shady trees, banks of ivy and back yards with rubbish tumbling down to the bank. Past the overgrown coal sidings, smashed lanterns atop listing wooden poles, a few marooned trucks from another time rot slowly on rails dull rust red. Look along them is to feel slightly sea sick, weaving slightly on woodworm eaten shifting sleepers. Twisted history next to the shining, straight to London, high speed electric pathway.
A business centre. Clean glass. Dark. Denying any vision of what's inside. Enterprise. Whatever that means. The corner of the building is cut to a sharp angle. It looks vaguely like a ship beached. This is not a land of ships. A land of barges and slow silent plodding, of dark tunnels and roof collapses. Of wheezing, hacking, blood and spittle death. This is not the land of ocean liners.
A red brick wall is bowed. It looks like it might slide down the bank at any time. Plants sprout from cracks and mortar. Woody stemmed, resistant to twisting and hacking. Minnows flickering. Herons watching.
I make for the town. I want to see the empty streets. I want roll slowly down the middle of the road in the full glare of the sun. I want to catch my own childish footsteps still echoing from 15 years before. This is a waking dream. A paradise.
I am too late. The roads are filling, the world is flooded. The dam has burst and the silence is drowned. Shutters raised, doors thrown open, useless fluorescence blinking into existence, barely seen in the sunlight.
A strange feeling of grief. Of indoor faces blinking into the light. I feel oddly out of step. I am smiling. I am the rhythm of pedals and the slow pace of thought. I am not sad. Every thing is a little distant.
The silence was fragile and so is life.
I do not remember any more.