Saturday 15 June 2019

'Liverpool' by Emma Venables

She died today and you sit on a bus. You’re not really sure why you got on, where you’re going, but find yourself wondering: how many times have you taken this bus? How many times did she? She used to walk you to the bus stop, but in her later years you told her to stay indoors; your concern for her overwhelmed her concern for you. Call me when you’re home, she’d say. You look at your phone now, but your screensaver is a photograph of her and you cannot compute the stillness of the dead with the stillness of her face captured mid-laugh, cannot compute the fact she no longer waits for your call, fag in hand. You don’t know how you’re going to stand up, leave this bus, walk into a life in which her contours no longer cradle yours.

You slip your phone into your coat pocket, rest your forehead against the window, look at the landscape unfolding through the smears of commuters gone by. The industrial buildings standing watch over the rows and rows of terraced houses. She grew up somewhere around here. You can’t make out the street names, but when the bus stops you look for the brunette, with the smart coat and pin-straight legs, but only a mother with three unruly children and an old man, terrier in arms, take their seats. In another time she gets on, has a laugh with the bus driver as she hands over her change, takes her ticket, and sits at the front.

The streets of terraced houses seem endless, built to survive everything, like the families who have resided within their red-brick walls, but then the parks appear like commas in the city’s narrative and you find yourself taking a deep breath even though fresh air doesn’t exist in this crowded bus. You hadn’t noticed the increase in passengers, but now you experience the swell in volume, the bassline of a tune from someone’s phone. You look down, look for her tapping foot. There wasn’t a dancefloor her feet didn’t touch during the war; sometimes she danced her way home through these very streets. Sometimes she stared up at the bellies of the enemy planes and dared them to drop their bombs on her. You stared, open-mouthed, when she told you this tale. You were sat side-by-side on the bus and a man across the way nodded. You’re so brave, you said. No, this place is the brave one, she said, pointing at the houses, graveyards, offices, pedestrians, cars, flashing by. You find yourself sobbing at the memory of her voice, her words. Someone hands you a tissue, tells you to keep your chin up. You nod. Thank them.

The bell rings. The bus lurches to a halt. You realise you pressed the bell and you’re stepping out onto a crowded street, thanking the bus driver. The doors squeak shut. You look up, feel the contours of the city wrap around you.

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