‘Elision’ – excerpt from Dysfunctional Males
By Fernando Sdrigotti.
And then he woke up somewhere near the Barbican. Not “he woke up somewhere near the Barbican,” or “then he woke up somewhere near the Barbican”. Actually “and then he woke up somewhere near the Barbican”. Or even better: “and then he was walking somewhere near the Barbican”. He didn’t really wake up — he wasn’t sleeping. And then he was walking somewhere near the Barbican. Or maybe even better in the present tense: “and then he’s walking somewhere near the Barbican”. More precisely, a tunnel underneath the Barbican Centre, walking in Zs towards Goswell Road.
You are not supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction, not to mention starting a paragraph like that, or even worse, a story. But there is no other way of conveying what happened to Adrian — or what he thought happened to him — than by saying “and then he woke up somewhere near the Barbican”. That’s what happened, or how he thinks things happened. And then he was walking near the Barbican. And then he’s walking somewhere near the Barbican: that’s it. Even if the events took place in the past, freeze that impression of a constant present.
It was a rainy night. February. A cold, rainy February night. Unusual rain for February. Almost tropical. It must have been around three o’clock in the morning, or even closer to four, when he found himself walking somewhere near the Barbican Centre, unaware of the rain. He didn’t know the rain, he wasn’t aware of it, even if he was soaked from head to toes.
Not until later; now he was walking in the tunnel below the Barbican Centre, temporarily sheltered from the rain, unaware of the rain, feeling cold, yes, but still unaware of being soaked from head to toe. Just like that. And then he was walking in the tunnel, below the Barbican Centre. Beech Street, it’s called. Walking towards Goswell Road, towards the bus stop; towards the 56 that would take him home. The 56 that actually didn’t take him anywhere at all. And then he was walking down Goswell Road.
Beech Street. Not the best place to come back from an elision. Beech Street: too much fluorescent light. Aluminium, pomo painting on the walls, mismatching, on the aluminium walls. Metallic walls? Futuristic walls. Futuristic walls in a futuristic film shot in the 1950s. Particularly on a night like this one. No cars, not a soul. Just Adrian coming back from an elision. And then he was walking down Beech Street and then he was walking down Beech Street, a cold night, zig-zagging, but he was walking towards the 56 bus that he thought would take him home. And then he was walking down Goswell Road. But that was later.
He could see the bus stop getting closer. He had the mandate in his head to reach the bus stop, get on the 56, and go home. He knew he had to get on that bus. No cars, no people. Just Adrian walking down Beech Street, slowly approaching Goswell Road. He got to the corner and stopped. Looked in both directions. Crossed the road slowly, stumbling.
And then he didn’t realise he was soaking wet. This would only happen later too. He didn’t realise he was soaking wet and didn’t mind that the rain was getting worse. His general dampness was getting worse as he was crossing the road, and he didn’t care. And his dampness reached a peak at the exact moment before he got under the roof of the bus stop. Rain. Almost like a tropical rain. And then he stood there waiting for the bus for a few minutes. Thumbs in pockets, balancing back and forth and back and forth on his heels. Two thoughts in his brain: 1) and now I’m waiting for the 56; 2) don’t fall asleep; almost like a mantra. 56; don’t fall asleep –– nothing more. The rest was looked after by causality, logic, itinerary and chance.
Goswell Road was as quiet as Beech Street. Perhaps the only difference was the rain wetting the pavement, flogging the acrylic bus stop. Only rain. Both roads were very quiet. He could see Beech Street disappearing towards Moorgate from where he was. The lack of rain in the tunnel facilitated a difficult act of viewing, just enough to be able to say that Beech Street was vanishing towards Moorgate. The Barbican towers disappearing in the rain too. He could also see the other side of Goswell Road. But he couldn’t see the right end of Goswell Road — he wouldn’t be able to see the bus — he needed to be extra careful and attentive. And then he swung back and forth on his heels a bit faster.
Two things, two thoughts, in his head, nothing more; the rest was looked after, logical, unclear but present somehow. Don’t fall asleep, take the 56 — easier said than done. Balancing, nodding off. And then he stood under the plastic roof of a bus stop, for a few seconds. And then he stood under the plastic roof of a bus stop, again. And then he saw that tunnel, off Beech Street, disappearing towards Moorgate. And then he had come walking from Beech Street, crossed the road, and had been waiting for a while for a 56 bus. Things became clearer to some extent. Things were clearer up to the first “And then,” the primordial, the first one after the elision. Before the elision it was all dark matter. Things had existed before the elision. He couldn’t remember them. Nor did he try to remember them.
Two thoughts; one stronger than the other: DON’T FALL ASLEEP. The other he kept losing. But at least he knew that he had to stay awake. Oh, yes, the 56. And then he lost it again. And it came back once more. And he lost it.
No panic. There was a certain coherence in this situation, that was clear. There was logic in him walking down Beech Street, with the idea of getting the 56 at the Goswell Road bus stop, crossing the road and waiting. He couldn’t remember the logic, but there was one. Maybe the logic was clearer exactly after the end of the elision. Or maybe the elision was a sort of giant cloud that kept expanding, like the Nothing in The Never Ending Story — that was a possibility. At least he knew this instinctively. He knew that if he gave up and nodded off again, the cloud would get bigger. Of course he knew it — he kept repeating to himself that he had to stay awake. In the negative: DON’T FALL ASLEEP. Some things you come to know theoretically, others empirically, others through acts of faith, other you don’t get to know.
“And then” moments are a regression to a primordial state. The cluttered mind reduces its activity to one or two basic instincts. If humans hadn’t succumbed to city life, this primordial state would probably resonate with reminders not to walk into that dark forest, or to keep track of the Night Star as a point of reference, or to store food or water for a season of hunger or thirst. Not the case with Adrian. His primordial voice was just interested with his staying awake after hopping on a 56. Of course this second knowledge — the bus — somehow betrayed a third knowledge: a place of residence. If he knew he had to take the 56 bus he knew where he had to go. He wasn’t pondering these things, he was using a superior mind, a temporary mind that makes sense under a certain logic and then vanishes leaving gaps. Who knows? Somebody does, we all do. But no one remembers.
He did know — and remembered at that moment — that he had to wait for that bus, and that in order to succeed he had to stay awake. Perhaps, in a moment of greater clarity he’d even said to himself, “if you fall asleep you’ll have another elision”. But if he had, he’d forgotten about it. Rain has always been a sedative for Adrian. So the fact that it was raining in a way hardly ever seen in London, that it was so late in the night, that the streets were so empty, plus the other conditions that had institutionalised the elision in the first place, made his struggle for consciousness very difficult. Perhaps his instinct once again detected this, told him to fight harder, to implement new measures. Perhaps it was the work of time acting in his mind and body. Whatever was going on, he made a superhuman effort and tried for a few seconds to concentrate on the signpost. He struggled, squeezed his eyes and focused and re-focused. And basically realised that the 56 didn’t run at that time of night. Fucking rain and fucking bus. He punched the bus stop’s acrylic glass and the lights went off, and on, and then off.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fernando Sdrigotti was born in Rosario (Argentina) and has lived in London since the early noughties. His fiction and critical writing has appeared widely online and in print. He is editor of Minor Literature[s], contributing editor at 3:AM Magazine, and senior editor at large at Numéro Cinq. Dysfunctional Males – published by La Casita Grande – is his first book in English.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, April 9th, 2017.