Extract of Alysson's Shoes



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    I rang home and left a message on our answerphone. Hi, it's me. Mac, look, I've got caught up here, I'm having to work late; I should be back around seven, something like that. My voice brisk, matter-of-fact, as though it was a day like any other, an ordinary work problem.

I sat on the train to Wimbledon, looking down on the rooftops, the tenements, the windows with dirty net curtains, the hidden lives of Vauxhall and Clapham, and the cemetery at Earlsfield, bleak in the thin afternoon light: in the distance the colours of the flowers on the graves faded to grey. I had never in my life been so afraid.

At Wimbledon I changed, got on the blue and yellow train that goes south. It's crowded in the rush hour, you see it on the news sometimes, people pushed up against one another, jostling for seats: but that afternoon there was hardly anyone travelling that way, and the cold stations we passed through were empty except for the pigeons. The embankments were covered with brambles: you could see people's back gardens, their sheds and heaps of compost, the back ends of things, a football pitch with worn grass in front of the goal-posts. I sat there in the silent carriage, feeling unreal. And arrived and stepped down onto the platform, in this place where I'd never been. Only a girl with a buggy and a tired slow man got out as well as me. The platform was high above the houses on either side, looking down into the winter gardens.

Thinking back to that moment, I find it hard to recall what was going through my mind: some notion perhaps that I might be able to salvage something, to put my case, restore the balance of life. But this is pure supposition: I really can't remember, it's all been blotted out by what happened afterwards: it's hard to put myself back there and make any sense of it all. Yet the things I saw around me are all there in my memory, as clear almost as if I was standing there now: the feathery shapes of the bare trees, the colours of the gardens, brown and russet and sepia, warm like the hides of animals, the tangled banks that sloped down to the gardens and that at midsummer, I guessed, would be brimming over with flowers: the precise quality of the light - filmy, blueish already into evening. The train struck fabulous sparks from the track as it pulled away into the blue distance.
 
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