So here we go, the first 15,000 words of my novel, How do you eat an Elephant? I do hope you find it enjoyable. This is a first draft so, when I finish, I will be dragging myself through lots of rewrites, possibly kicking and screaming unless I have lots of tea! But, here we go. Feedback welcome! (But be gentle.)
The Fall from Grace
Plugging my headphones deep into my ears and turning my iPod up loud I leave the house and start towards my sister’s flat. I thought the classical tunes of Einaudi’s album might perfectly fit my mood; defiance, brilliance, and feeling entirely on the edge of every possible emotion. In one moment, I feel like I could scream, laugh, cry, and punch a tree all at once. I would, however, probably regret doing any of those when weaving myself through a busy Kilburn High Road, so I keep my head down, songs on, and pound out my angst on the uneven and cracked paving slabs. I am careful to avoid the ones with the white spray paint dots. At some point those terminally broken ones will be replaced, but for now, some areas of the pavement are like elaborate games of hop-scotch.
I feel as though these songs were composed for me, each instrumental composition allows me to fill it with whatever emotional tale I decide to spin. I could be listening to some pop princess who has far too much attitude and probably far too few clothes; we would show solidarity in our battle against love and mankind and I could say how much the words speak to me… but no, I decide to be more poetic and attempt to walk the line of maturity. Still, I feel quite at liberty to insult mankind as I strut along. Man-unkind!
I reach the end of Victoria Street and turn onto the main road in Queen’s Park. It seems to have a much more comforting feel about it in comparison to only ten minutes walk away. The shops are not neon-flashing discount stores or knock-off electrical stalls but instead slightly overpriced yet charming cafes, estate agents and hair salons. The streets feel calmer as I notice a much higher proportion of mums with buggies than youths in tracksuits. Damn my sister for living in a much nicer part of Kilburn than me!
As I come up to her door I stand back and look up to the balcony, considering how I will handle myself when I enter. My initial reaction is that when I see my sister, who has seen me in numerous emotional states, I will break down and finally cry. I haven’t let it out yet. For the last couple of days I have felt this new weight within me. Occasionally it crawls up towards the surface but I cram it back down inside, take a few deep breaths, shake my head, plough on. Lily and I are very different. ‘She wears her heart on her sleeve,’ our mother often remarks. Instead, I’m secretive. If I could have carried on as normal and not told anyone about Ben and me then I probably would have done. But, thinking that wouldn’t be the most healthy life to live, I started the moving on process by telling Lily. Progress I think.
So here I am, still looking up towards the first floor windows, readying myself for the oncoming emotional onslaught. I can see the top tufts of some wind battered herbs in old planters. My sister always has good intentions, but sometimes things can get a little neglected. The balcony itself is no prettily kept, railed off area but instead a small space extending to meet the edge of the shop downstairs, with very little defence against a fall. It is covered in what looks like sheets of lead and, when up there, it is actually a lovely place to sit and people watch. On a particularly sunny day it would have the potential to be a great sunbathing spot on the raised lead outer structure, provided that you move carefully when turning to tan your other side, otherwise you’d roll off onto the street below!
It makes me quite gleeful that it wasn’t child-proofed, or idiotic-person-proofed. There are always signs around us, warning us not to step this way, or don’t touch this for fear of death or mutilation. Here, it’s as simple as, you fall; you break; your fault. I love it. On this rather grey day the similarly grey balcony doesn’t look that appealing. Gaps in the old lead sheets seem to bleed a dark substance which runs statically downwards and invades the otherwise immaculate paintwork of the ground floor shop. In the day’s gloomy light it feels as though the balcony is crying on my behalf.
Suddenly, as a pedestrian does an odd hop and jiggle around me, I am made very aware that I am standing still in the middle of the busy walkway. I must look very odd; maybe they think that I am scanning the property to find the best way to break in. Though, probably not, I hardly tick the boxes of your stereotypical thief or vandal, if there were such a thing.
I take the little iPod, in my favourite shade of blue, out of my pocket and pause the playlist. Turning it over slowly in my hand I indulge myself momentarily in the words that are printed on the back. Damn his sweet, eloquent words! Pulling myself away from considerations of the past, I wrap the headphone cable around my fingers, tuck in the ends to keep it from tangling itself, then slide the birthday present into the back pocket of my handbag. A quick-access distraction for my journey home. I reach confidently forwards and push the bell which is labelled violently in black marker pen with ‘BOTTOM FLAT’. This was one of my sister’s efforts to stop drunken visitors to the upstairs flat from buzzing her floor in the middle of the night. I think these charming neighbours were recently asked to leave which has, I expect, saved Lily a few grey hairs.
Deep breaths. A couple of deep breaths. If I burst into tears then that’s fine. It’s normal, needed really. This can be like a little therapy session; get it all out; release the tension and move on.
A muffled, broken voice calls out through the receiver.
‘Hi, it’s me.’ She knows I’m coming, I can’t be bothered to expand. Today I want to feel important. Today I need no name. Me is enough. There is only one Me.
The clanking of the phone being put down sends through an awkward crackling sound before the electric buzzing signifies that the door is unlocked. I push the heavy door open, which in itself is a huge effort as the wood has expanded in the wet weather, and continue down the dark corridor towards the stairs. The carpets have been replaced and the ground feels unusually, luxuriously, spongy beneath my firm steps. Light seeps into the cavernous hallway as Lily opens her own door.
‘Hellooo.’ This time, knowing it’s me, she has adopted her chirpy bunny-like tone. (At least, if bunnies could talk, I imagine they would sound a little like my sister sounds right now.) Her eyebrows are raised slightly, her small mouth pinned into a small toothy smile, her large blue eyes blink expectantly at me. We both have blue eyes. Lily’s are gorgeously big and round, dark blue, with long batting eyelashes. Though she is only four years older than myself, her carefree lack of a skin regime shows with the leftover mascara smudges around her eyelids and the numerous little ‘laughter lines’ at the corner of her eyes. My eyes are a lighter blue, a touch smaller, and of a more almond, elongated shape. Sharper I suppose. Lily’s are kind eyes, and it’s just the sort of familiar kindness that I am in need of as I stand, deflated, and probably a little sweaty, in front of her.
‘Hi,’ I say with a sigh and a smile, ‘how you doing?’
‘Fine, fine. Come in. Come on in.’ She gestures me into the flat and leads me up the uneven corridor and through to the kitchen. ‘Tea? I’ve got biscuits?’
‘Mmm, please! So, how was Finland?’ They had arrived back a few days ago and, having taken a glance into their bedroom on the way through and in typical Lily form, they hadn’t yet unpacked. Before Lily can answer, Josh slides tentatively into the kitchen with us. He is undoubtedly the sweetest man I know, and my sister completely adores him. We are all very aware of that. There is nothing at all offensive about Josh. He has a kind, almost mouse-like face, made masculine by an impressive amount of hair… and I mean chest hair which curls quietly over the top of his t-shirts as well as facial hair.
‘Hello.’ He says with a gentle head bob which says that he has been filled in on my situation. As long as he doesn’t pity me. I refuse to be pitied. But, he knows why I’m here, we all do. I can ask about their trip to Finland, I can put forward a plan to solve world poverty and work out how to touch my tongue to my elbow, but still there will be only one reason why I am here. I am alone. I no longer have the man I love. And I’m pretty sure my heart is breaking through my ribs. Yep, there’s definitely some creaking around the torso area.