I wrote this about 6 or 7 years ago for an example edition of a magazine someone was hoping to get published. Needless to say that the magazine never made it to production, like so many of this someone’s ideas. But I’ve always rather admired his dogged perserverance in pursuit of his ideas and I always rather liked my contribution to this particular idea. So I thought I would get it up here for others to see, if for no reason other than it means it feels like it got at least close to publication. I’ve edited it slightly before posting it, but only really for spelling, formatting and the removal of a trace reference to a character in the original draft, later removed, who somehow managed to still get their name in the story.
The drunken girls clattered down the stairs. Robb slipped.
Growing up in care wasn’t as bad as the look people gave him suggested. In fact it was fun. There were other kids about for starters, something Robb had wished for endlessly while he was at home. The only thing that wasn’t at the Upton Downes Care Facility was his family. His parents. Sometimes he couldn’t think of anything but Mum and Dad. But most of the time he just thought about one thing. No, not that. Robb never thought about that. As far as he was concerned, girls and boys just had different toilets. All Robb thought about was tubes.
When he was younger his father had tried to teach him about a process called mind mapping. His father had read a book about memory improvement which he saw advertised in the back of the Daily Mail. His father had struggled to explain the concept to Robb, so he dumbed it down for him.
“Imagine each idea like a station on the London Underground. Every idea is linked to another one. So if you ever need to remember something else you just travel along the line until you arrive at the next station.”
Robb’s first idea had been to memorise the tube map. Every station. Every line. Every junction. Even stations that had closed down, but because he couldn’t get to them, they became fleeting thoughts and brief moments of hazy genius. And right at the heart of his map was his complete knowledge of the Underground system.
When Robb was eighteen he left school with a D in Technology A level, having made an illuminated representation of the London Underground map. While at school Robb had made friends with Mr. Kenning, the school care taker. He used to do odd jobs for him and after leaving school became his assistant. Kenning used to pay him, rather than the school, out of his own pocket. Robb didn’t know it, but Kenning admired Robb for getting on with his life despite having Downe’s Syndrome.
Tonight had turned out to be one of Robb’s favourite nights of his life. He had been attending the annual general meeting of his local London Underground Society. That night, for the first time, Robb had found out that he was to become the general secretary for the next year. He couldn’t remember a time before when he had wanted to shout and tell every person he saw what had happened to him this evening. He was just itching to get home to tell Mr. Kenning his news.
Still recapping the can, leaving the indigo paint running down the walls in places, Jason sits himself down on an early morning tube. Pulling out a long thin black notebook from one of the numerous pockets on his outfit, he begins to jot down the details of his newest tag.
- STATION: Chancery Lane
- LOCATION: East bound Central Line platform, roof
- DESCRIPTION: NewMark
- DATE: 17.10.02
- TIME: 0612 hrs
Unusually Jason had been out tagging without his crew. It was one of those rare mornings when he had woken surprisingly early, first train of the day early, and hadn’t been able to get back to sleep. On mornings like this he had been known to get up, pull his shit together, and head out onto the tube. It was risky at this time of day. All the people on the tubes were suits or workers. They were all alert and crotchety. It was a crowd of people more likely to grass essentially.
The other downside was also that it meant he was less creative with his work. Not the location, but the art itself. Without Copycheck he was reluctant to be too creative, for fear of making a mistake. So it always felt less fruitful first thing in the morning. But today was looking up, literally. He had managed to get a roof. It had been tricky, but getting a tag on the ceiling always looked special. Jason definitely thought today was starting to look up.
As the tube pulled into St Paul’s station, a chubby guy in a suit boarded and sat opposite Jason. Still writing notes Jason didn’t really notice him. The two of them sat opposite each other, one jotting something down in a notepad, the other rocking gently with his hands clasped between his knees. He was starring at the line map above Jason’s head.
Jason, responding to this, looked up, but gave nothing away with his expression.
“Your Jason,” exactly the same matter-of-fact tone as before.
“Sorry, you must have me confused with someone else.”
Jason had been preparing to be defensive, his natural fear being that he was in trouble. But when he had looked at the swaying person in front of him and seen the almost universal image of a Downe’s victim he had realized he was OK.
“No, your Jason,” Robb repeated.
“And where exactly is it you think you know me from?”
“You’re the gay guy from school.”
Now Jason did become defensive. This sort of information was something virtually no one knew. It certainly wasn’t common knowledge when he was at school. In fact, it wasn’t even common knowledge now. Copycheck was his only friend who knew, and that was only due to a chance meeting when they were out “working” late one night in Farringdon Station.
“No, you really have got the wrong person.”
His tone more insistent and aggressive now as looked around to check no one else was on the carriage.
Robb started to give Jason a biography. Jason had heard this sort of thing before when he had been arrested for possession for the second time. Hearing a policeman read his bio had made him feel uneasy, but this was far worse. More personal…and accurate.
“Jason Neumark, age 27, Dr. Chaloners Boys School, studied art A-level…”
As Robb spoke, his eyes moved along the map above Jason’s head, each station revealing a new piece of information.
‘Yeah, yeah. Right, whatever. Who are you?”
Jason had blurted out an interruption. It was frankly a little freaky having someone you didn’t know spouting your juvenile life at you.
“And…” Jason finished.
“I was two years below you in school.”
“And how did you know I was…”
“Mark told me.”
Mark was Jason’s one and only regret. It was him that had confirmed Jason’s suspicions about himself. One night, working late in art class, just the two of them, Mark had quickly and briefly confirmed his suspicion right in front of his still life. And for that brief moment Jason’s life had stood still. It was only a kiss, but it was the kiss which had changed Jason.
As this memory flew through Jason’s mind, he recalled a handicapped kid, younger than him, being in Mark’s circle of mates. Robb seemed as likely a person as any to be that kid.
“…Jay the gay.” Robb broke Jason’s train of thought.
“That’s what we used to call you: Jay the gay.”
The tube pulled into the next station. Jason had no idea which station it was, but he got off. He needed to escape. As the doors starts to glide shut, he heard a farewell.
“Bye bye, Jay the gay.”
Alison was walking along a staff only section of the platform, towards the locker room. Her bag over her shoulder, more than just a handbag. It was a large record bag, with a Smirnoff Ice logo on the side. The kind given away in promotions in pubs. Inside were folders full of notes and books full of information to learn. She was, as usual, early.
Five eleven, slender and blonde. From behind a potential ten. Busty and above average from the front, a narrow thick rimmed glasses crossing her face like the arms of a letter “t.” She had the look of a secretary. Alison was a solid eight.
Due to her punctuality, she was ambling along reading the adverts that disappeared in an endless mural down the tunnels. Passing the gate and going under the platform cameras she headed for the locker room door. Then she heard that static crackling from the tracks. It was a sound she had grown to like. It meant she was on time. The last train was about to enter the station. It had four stops after this one, and then a quick shunt into its siding. Then the tracks would be switched off and her work would begin.
Alison loved to stand right by the wall at the start of the platform, her face flush to the walls of the blackened tunnel. Her eyes wide open and staring straight ahead, waiting. Anticipating the train rushing into the station inches from her face.
Then there was a different noise. Coming from the tunnel joining the platform from upstairs. It was a flat footed clapping of feet. Someone awkwardly running for the imminent tube. To her later surprise, she found herself distracted enough to look at the person entering the platform, crescendo-ing to a halt like horses hooves stopping on cobbled streets. The person stopped at the edge, still catching his balance from the momentum he had developed.
And another noise. The unmistakable sound of stilettos pinging off concrete. There was a girls’ night out trying desperately to catch the last train home. She looked at them. The man on the platform looked at them. The train exploded into the station and Alison jumped back. Natural reactions pulling her to safety.
Shepherds Bush platform 2 Westbound – the stage.
Robb (center stage), Alison (stage left), drunken girls (entering stage right), Jason and Copycheck (back centre stage) – the players.
One Split Second – the play.
There is a cacophony. The thunder of a man’s stamping feet. The lightening steps of heels on hard stairs. The buzz of the rails. The hyena laugh of drunken female voices. The frame-advance motion.
The girls spill onto the platform, drawing the attention of everyone. Robb looks right, his body still adjusting on the axis of his ankles. Alison looks right, steadying her balance with a hand on the wall beside her.
Fade up lights, center stage.
Copycheck kneeling, packing spray cans into a canvas bag, facing away towards Jason’s completed work. An explosion of reds and yellows surrounded by steel blue outlines spelling out the word “SLAM!” Jason is approaching Robb from behind. He is the only one not watching the girls entrance.
A train enters from stage left, in front of all the action. Alison is last seen jumping away from the entering carriages, turning her head in surprise to look at the tubes metal sides. Robb is confused. Distracted from his stopping by the girls’ noise, distracted from them by the noise of the tube, and distracted from both by his body’s continuing rotation. He is dangerously close to the point of no return, when he will need to take one more step. Something the platform’s edge will not allow.
Jason, behind Robb, is extending both his arms towards Robb’s back. Reaching, for one purpose or another, towards Robb. The pair silhouetted by Jason’s fresh work. Robb falls just as the train reaches him.
Fade to black. A scream is heard.