Saturday 18 June 2022

'Top Bell' by Victoria Stewart

I wonder what I’d find if I went back there now and followed the way marked by the dotted line on the map he sketched next to the neat indelible capital letters of his address, down the alley, through the yard, and rang the TOP BELL. He went to so much care to make sure I’d find the place that, even lifetimes later, living hundreds of miles from there, I feel bad for never having made the effort.

On the other side of the square of pale green card - it fell out from between the toasted-looking pages of a long-unread paperback - there’s a lopsided invitation to a graduation art show, printed with a John Bull printing set by the looks of it. That card must have been the only spare thing he had in his pocket. Or not his pocket: when I picture him now, I see him as one of those lads who carried a small canvas knapsack from the army surplus store. I associate him too with the shirts they sold there, the checked ones made from soft, brushed cotton, lumberjack shirts, they were called, though he didn’t strike me as an outdoorsy type.

It’s not true to say I’ve never thought about him since. I heard he got a job writing subtitles for the television news, and despite not needing them, I occasionally switch them on and, watching them stuttering along the bottom of the screen, I imagine him, shut in a dark room, typing furiously, the sleeves of his lumberjack shirt rolled up past his elbows, his brow knitted, awaiting anxiously the names of Icelandic footballers or towns in former Soviet Republics. If I do go and ring the TOP BELL, perhaps they’ll let him leave.

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