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Turned Into Street

Gurdeep Mattu turned into the street. It was a late Autumn evening, the leaves were
thick on the ground. The temperature was low, perhaps five degrees Celsius. It didn’t
get too much colder than this in London, in the early 2000s. Sometimes there might
be a light dusting of frost; very rarely there might even be black ice on the roads. The
pretty weather girl would tell us all to drive carefully. The wind was cold on the nape
of the neck, all of that scene-setting extraneous stuff. There were redbrick terrace
houses and little postcodes in the bottom right hand corners of all of the road names.
Ethel Williams turned to her friend as he walked past and murmured, ‘Do you think
it’s a one way road, then?’ Estella, her friend in arms, looked around and gave Ethel a
vague stare.
‘No, no, you can see cars parked facing both ways.’
‘Sure, sure’ said Ethel. ‘Well, you’re the driver, you would know.’
Two old ladies were stood in a cold autumn or winter evening, the leaves
blowing around their ankles, pretending that they had a car, and asking whether the
street was one-way or two-way. What would happen if the road were three-way?
Gurdeep Mattu slowed his step. He looked down at shoes, Adidas Techsprint
editions. The soft white leather uppers were scuffed, the laces trodden on and not
fastened, the mesh looked grimy. The road was packed with parked cars, one for each
house almost. The roads had never been designed for this volume of parked cars.
‘Do you think we should turn the heating down?’ asked Estella.
‘Well, you’re the driver’ said Ethel. ‘You tell me: is it too hot in the car?’
‘I think so’.
‘I think, then, that we should turn the heating down a little.’
Occasionally a face would walk past and melt into a miasmic display of
unhappiness, face blurred, eyes a-bright and aglow with something of the remnant
force of whatever drove it on and out into the world. Those were the scary days when
Ethel was especially glad to have Estella around, her being the driver.
‘Are you sure we aren’t lost?’ asked Estella.
‘I’m the driver,’ said Ethel.
‘No, I’m the driver,’ said Estella.
‘Well then why are you asking these questions?’ said Ethel, fiddling with her
hem.
‘I’m not sure, my love.’
They carried on mumbling, becoming inaudible, and performing a vague
stomping dance played out in slow motion, rarely lifting their feet more than a few
centimetres above the ground. Ethel wore some battered flat black shoes, Estella
wore some Converses that she had found in the charity shop. They would have been
avant-garde in a slick London indie club, but here they were slightly sad and
mouldering, that’s the fine line we tread between fashion and pity, fashion and pure
pathos.
‘So, where are we going? Who’s got the map?’ asked Ethel.
‘I think I left the map with Alfred.’
‘But Alfred’s dead,’ protested Ethel. ‘He died years ago. Now where are we
going?’ There was vague confusion and consternation in her voice. It rose, and then
faded away again, just as quickly as it had arrived.
‘I don’t think we’ll need the map after all, I mean, the house is just up here on
the left.’ She motioned with a vague wave of a withered arm, once plump in its
heyday, matched with her pale skin and dark, lustrous hair. She’d been a sight to
behold, a sight that Alfred would gaze out in the night, and gently murmur to as they
fell into a comfortable and loved sleep. Gurdeep Mattu slowed his step once again,
now infinitesimally marching forward like some drunk on a homing mission. He
looked up the night sky and felt his pocket for his keys, grounded infinity with
something real.
Ethel let out a sigh, a long, belaboured sigh. ‘I really don’t think that we’ve
done this the right way at all, my dear Estella. I’m not sure that they’d agreed with us
at all, you know.’
Ethel had been flame haired and flame hearted, the capturer of men and their
love, the keeper of moaned adulations, they all came so easily. She straightened her
tweed pencil skirt and arched her back her little. There was lipstick on her lips,
applied too heavily, without due care, but it was dark enough not to really notice. I
saw them pad around in another short circle.
‘Slowly round the roundabout my dear!’ shrieked Ethel. Her voice was ruined
from too many cigarettes and too much gin. I saw them, that much, I kept to myself
that day.
‘We’ve only gone and missed our exit,’ laughed Estella. She kept laughing,
and laughing until her dried up voice echoed around the area, the street that I was on,
and the night.
Gurdeep Mattu put his head down and looked once more at the trainers he
wore. The boot cut jeans that hung idle and low, the t-shirt, the jumper, this coat, this
fabric. He pointed his head at some far off point in the horizon and carried on
walking towards it.
Back on the street, Estella shook her head in dismay.
‘No, it’s not working, this car. Well, I think it’s finally had it, Ethel.’
‘We could walk, it’s really not far, I guess.’
Estella thought hard, and then said, ‘Maybe we could catch the bus. We’ll
only have to pay for the one ticket.’
‘They’ve changed a lot, those red buses,’ mumbled Ethel.
‘I know, my love. We’ll get there, in the end, though.’ She put her hand on
Ethel’s hand. It was touching.
They slowly walked back to the bus stop from where they’d come, looking to
take it that further few stops. They raised their faces up to the wind, and looked down
the road, waiting expectantly and hopefully.

Gurdeep Mattu, East Ham, 2005-11-20

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