Monday, April 10, 2006
The car reeked of palm oil, hand lotion, something he couldn't quite place. The smell brought back the sick feeling that had started with his non existent breakfast, with the early morning hangover realisation that he was back in London against his will. He put it to the back of his mind. Sure, he didn't want to be here, but he felt he was close to some kind of truth. He had to find it, possess it, write it down, study it, pull it out of shape, stretch it, write it again until it fitted. That was the science: you started with a secret then you worried it until it became true. If the truth was there you found it in the end. Like finding the punchline to a joke.
Holloway Road. Upper Street. The Angel. Old Street undergound. Some back streets. Blank faces in doorways. Shuttered-up shop fronts. Bagel bakeries. Curry houses...
Back into traffic, turning into Whitechapel Road. Past the Blind Beggar, the Mosque on the right. History. A funeral cortege through Bethnal Green. It wasn't a good day; a day full of rain and guys waiting for money nobody could afford. There used to be a cinema on that vacant lot - Scarface. Al Pacino, romance memories, movie gangsters, fantasies in the dark on summer afternoons collapsing into reality like flowers on a bamboo blade. Celluloid bite-back.
He got out of the car outside Stepney Green underground. London is a city of stations.
Stepney Green. The Ocean Estate. Decay is everywhere. It's the air you breathe. Everything stinks. The Ocean begins on the eastern corner of the intersection of the Mile End Road and White Horse Lane. A wall of Phantom grey concrete blocks ten levels high, with windows so small you can't make them out, don't realise there are windows there at all until you cross the street. Latticed metal fencing protects the street from them. It's rusting: fifty years of keeping the dogs off the highway.
Jon Hilltown's father used to talk about the dogs, in the early hours when everything was still; in the monochrome moments, when there were no jokes left, when the only important thing was to keep life running away from the east end, from the past, from poverty, from crime. That was his motivation: not to be like the dogs. And he never quite lived up to it. The dogs could conceptualise. The dogs were instinctive. The dogs were responsive. The dogs were reactionary. He too was all those things and he felt what the dogs felt: comfort and warmth, pain and hunger, cold and fear...
He knew the night and the early mornings and he knew the city, never forgot its secrets, its unmentionable odours and its unpublished skin. Sometimes, years later, as he relaxed by the pool or gazed from the patio out across the bay, he imagined he could hear the dogs thinking.