I’m in Soho, London. The sun is bright but does nothing to mask the purgatory of the city’s coagulated humanity. I know that I must be seeing it like a Martian because I have been a mountain man for months. I have overwintered beside a wood burning stove as the snow piled ever higher on Mount Canigou above my house. I’ve shut the shutters each evening as the early dark approached, deep within the four walls in semi-hibernation. Today, the physicality of tending to flame has given way to the passivity of a hotel’s central heating, the shutters to double glazing, the vistas of successive ridges in their lines of ever-darkening blue to rearing concrete and brick cliffs pressing against my chest, blocking sight lines, cramping my breath. People sacrifice their bodies to be here. They relegate their needs. They promote their wants. Rats fight to the death when their living space edges towards point zero. It feels like that here. The oppressiveness is only driven back into the shadows by tantalising artificial rainbows with their lure of crocks of gold and better times ahead.
I sit on my bed and look out of the window but, as in the short tale Rupture on this website, I don’t see the street and the tops of determined human voyagers but a corner shop at the end of a village green, at a t-junction. I see through time’s window; scales fall from my eyes. There are no cars on the road. I swing round and round a lamppost and fall, breaking my arm, and sprawl on to the white-lined, gritted bitumen, perfectly safe, crying for my mother. I stumble into a bush of deadly nightshade and spend the night imagining I am going to die. I plodge in the stream knowing there is a troll under the bridge. I see ghosts dancing on my moonlit bedroom walls. I hack at a y-shaped branch, perfect for a catapult and gouge a hunk of flesh from my thumb.
But, counteracting all such traumas and fearful visions, I walk on my own to Cissie Joyce’s shop with a ration coupon in my hand, spectacles smeary, knees scraped as always. I buy a bulls-eye so big my cheeks ache accommodating the rough, sugar coated ball, tongue just free enough to lick its sweet surface, smoothing it and changing its colour and reducing its size. I hop and jig to the farm shop to buy home-made dandelion and burdock and to the house that, in autumn, sells bags of robin pears. At five years old I am free to do as I wish, go where I please, and like my hero William, be an incorrigible boy far away from his parents’ gaze.
The scene fades and now, below my London bed, I see uniformed children returning from school, hands firmly grasped in those of anxious adults; unseeing, deaf, marching parallel to the growling traffic and the horns, through the obstacle course of swinging briefcases, protruding umbrellas, puncturing stiletto heels and, finally, home to the sanctuary of bespoke bedrooms, televisions and games consoles. Far away from their parents’ gaze.