For a few moments, the shop is empty and the street outside falls silent – uncharacteristically so for this hot and hectic, moiling corner of the city. There is no traffic. No parked cars reverberating with the sound of bass from oversized customised speakers.
‘Soppy’, she said, teasing me about the mother of pearl box filled with baby teeth, the lacy blanket we wrapped her in to bring her home from the hospital, her school reports, her first shoes, her favourite doll – all safe and sound in a trunk in the spare room.
Some years ago, I took a train and somebody jumped in front of it. It was a hot summer morning, a beautiful morning, in the south of England and I was taking a train from London to the coast, rushing through the best kind of countryside: rolling hills and shimmering crops, giant white horses etched in chalk onto hillsides, stone circles rotating through glades of bluebells, gangs of young men growing hot and overexcited, bake offs.
Fallible flew above the wing. Midday direct: JFK to LAX. Leave at noon, fly for six, land round three. To Fallible’s left, two men streamed reality TV as she watched her only fathom-able in-flight entertainment, the sky. Once she too was so spoiled she’d forget. I’m flying, Jack! The wing outside was pigeon grey.
The average 20-year-old checks their phone 90 times a day. But Layla was not average. She posted the video as she waited for the toaster to ping and checked the view-count three times in the two minutes it took her to finish breakfast. The internet replied with silence and that stung a little, as it always did.
The ground is torn up and black with soot and blood. Bodies, male and female, are piled in great heaps. A lone figure stands amongst it all, his aged face flecked with earth. Spools of smoke gather behind him, then unfurl into the wind.
I wake up, uncertain how many people are asleep around me. Sometimes it’s just Jacques, at other times indeterminate snores ping pong over the fold-down sofa, into the shower unit and across the kitchenette. I slip into my trunks, part the patterned curtains and fall into the pool. At first, we all went over-ripe, our skin blistering tomato red.