Toad Prince

The manager of the off-licence at Barons Court committed suicide today.

The owners had decided to sell the shop, after all these years. The manager is out of a job, and since he lives in the flat above the off licence he is also out of somewhere to live. He jumped from the roof of the building. Broke his bones and ended up in hospital where he died. It was a cry for help they say. No one helped.

……..

Elsie tried to laugh at my creation story, I watched her face grimace,  but she couldn’t quite manage it. Something in it was similar to her recent episodes. So I decided to take her down the tunnels to UnderLondon.

” You didn’t tell me you know the way down the tunnels” she complained.

“you never asked me” I replied.

It was the afternoon on a Wednesday in March. Cold but with bright sunshine bursting through clouds. We walked to Barons Court tube, down onto the west bound platform and then over the edge onto the side of the tracks. The tube trains were running fast and furious, too fast to notice us strays wondering along the sides. I took Elsie’s hand to keep her steady, I know it was the idea of seeing Abel again that kept her going.

Five minutes on and we are underground, marching down the sewer drains that lead to the Westbourne. I’ve got a hunch Abel will be around there. How long is it he’s been down there now, six months or so? He will smell different from the others, he will still have the tang of above-land to him.

We walk for a mile or so, we are by the altar room now, I can hear the spring running. I can smell Abel here. Perhaps the harmonica woman has been looking after him. I turn on Elsie, who jumps back and nearly falls into the dirty water.

“you can’t take him back out into your world again, you know that don’t you?”

“why not?” She says, but I can tell from the heartbroken look in her eyes that she already understands.

we turn a corner into a stinking but almost dry side tunnel and there’s Abel, sitting on a ledge. You can’t see much in this light, but I’m sure his skin is more green than flesh coloured. His clothes hang off him like pond weed. He has a shine about him, like an toad.

Elsie is in shock for a few moments, is this grotesque creature really Abel? Then she pulls herself together and walks over and sits next to him on the ledge.

He makes no sign that he even recognises her, but after a minute he curls up, his head on her lap. He can feel the warm dry softness of her lap, the smell of soap and ironed cotton, he remembers cleaness, he remembers fresh air, he remembers safety.

Elsie is brave, she sits there and let’s it all pour out of him. She strokes his head and listens to muddled words that fall from his mouth. He might be hallucinating, it is hard to tell. When he is done with the weeping and muttering they sit together holding each other for a very long time. A beam of light has broken through onto a puddle on the floor, highlighting a persistent drip that falls there. Elsie watches it and is overwhelmed at the beauty of it, in the stinking sewer under London, the pure beauty of life, there, for that moment.

 

 

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