:: Article

Alight at the next

By Eley Williams, art by Carrie Crow.

When the carriage doors
do their thing, it being after hours when my thinking has become unsavoury and also far from sweet, knowing we are at the stop nearest my house and I’m going to have to get the courage to ask you to come back with the whole cadence of my composed speech set to work in time with the slowing of the tube train, the slowing with a whinge of

not-hinges, but, a – kind of – mechanical sighing and
when the doors
Please mind
when the doors
when the doors

are opening and you are standing  closer to me than you ever have, and I have been counting, and measuring, and the doors have opened and

// A  man // pushes on // to get inside // the carriage before I’ve had time //  to step down


and, without thinking and certainly without hinges I am holding out my hand and placing a finger in the middle of his forehead.

He freezes. The carriage freezes, a carriage steamed-up and bulbous with umbrellas and the slapping batskin wings of waterproof jackets.

He doesn’t look in my eyes, because this is London, dammit, but he halts, there, one shoe up in the train –



I look like I’m blessing him.
I hope no-one thinks I’m blessing him.
I hope you don’t think I do this regularly, you standing so irregularly close to me like this –


The angle of the man’s nose is precisely forty-five degrees. This was distracting; I wish someone had a protractor so I could show you how precisely at forty-five degrees this man’s nose was, but who carries protractors on the District Line nowadays. And what kind of pervert even knew what a set-square was for in the school geometry set unless one is a naval architect or wanting to prove the angle of a man’s nose inches, Imperial inches, from one’s own –

I wish – not for the first time – that London had bars or, at a push, a wooden buffet carriage on the tube, because I would keep my finger there against his forehead, hold out my other hand, and perhaps you would slide a whisky down across the bar to me and I would drink it and I would pull my hat down as your arm came across my shoulder, to show you that we were a crack team at getting the tube to my stop, that we were as good as Bonny and Clyding this evening –

(this thought breaks down when I remember I don’t like whiskey, spelt with an ‘e’ or without)
(this Bonny and Clyde metaphor breaks down too when I remember that the real-life Clyde, in jail, in order to get out of breaking rocks, took a spade and cut-off some of his own toes)

(I would not want you to have a toeless lover)


(I want you to have a lover who can stop this man in his suit and tie)

(I want you to have a lover who is not embarrassed to say the word ‘lover’ in a carriage filled with tired, final-round West Londoners)

This man
this awful man in a tie that’s red
and if I squint down at it <<<
the tie {{{{
past his setsquare 45degrees nose >>>
the tie looks like a botched tracheotomy
dribbling past his –

No – that’s not fair, it’s a nice tie and he just has somewhere, someone to get to and I just want to seem like a person that can stand up for themselves on the tube let alone keep standing when you are really, you really are standing so close to me
It used to have ‘Mind The Gap’ written at this station in yellow on the platform edge but now it says ‘Mind the step’. The difference is crucial: even the platform is a coward and uses polite, shirking rhetoric now even as my finger is still on his forehead and the doors are shutting, and I will miss my —
we’ll both miss my stop
and I might lose a finger, but Clyde, of ‘Bonny and’ fame, lost some toes and I might be played by Warren Beatty some day so I give this man’s forehead a little jab, the smallest pressure

(He has not met my eyes this whole time

like someone has thrown the book at him before)

and I make a boiled sound, because I am the first to admit that my spirit animal is probably a buttered roll, that I create characters and situations where I am brave for the same reasons some people love the stuffing of caught birds. Pigeons get caught on the carriages sometimes: I’ve seen it, Oyster in my pocket, spring in my steptoes. I forget, sometimes, what ‘preclude’ and ‘nascent’ mean. It has been a long day for everybody, even for pigeons, and it is forgetfulness that makes me brave to the sound of this gamelan of joists and hot-steamed-grit-zoom pulling into stations, braver than before, when the pre-you afternoon got jumbled with you-evening at rush hour, where throats squirmed with the old smoke and stream of tunnels: a world pinstriped by eyelashes, uproarious with the need for a Friday, downroarius with lost cards –

there are earphones trailing from this man’s neck and they squeak
with chords that have the obtuse delicacy of a dove retching –

the thought of you unscrews my head

and if you record the rip of glacier through ice and modulate its frequency it sounds of whale-song, and we often have cause to think of glaciers and their place and pace on the District Line –

We are still here, my ET finger on his forehead.
He does not wear a wedding ring; I construct a reality for him wherein
he, after an argument with his wife, stamped out of the house,
tried to remove the ring, could not, had to buy a cheap bottle of salad cream at the corner-shop by the station to use as lubricant to loosen it from his hand.

I had one drink this evening, so it’s not the stout that makes me brave or foolhardy, stout that tasted feminine; of ashtrays, bran and old lipstick. You are so clever, I remember thinking, badly. You are so clever, you know so much, and I often think the only way I could protect you [if you ever asked (because, you know, you would never need to be protected, and would kick me for trying – you are certainly standing close enough)] would be to snap your head off and roll it out of harm’s way, for the nation’s sake.
I forgot. I simply forgot the way that love becomes a whimsy and the full-throttle of throats, the buzz of flightless eyelashes against pillowcases: the pigeons growing full-fat against the frost, the letter ‘p’ in the word ‘receipt’ ticking at the clocked teeth, the watched rim of a clock when I wake up to find the time, from being a cameo in my own dreams occasionally looking straight to camera and spoiling the shot, waking to dumb punk dawns, me, a hopeless sometimes-son-type whose act is hardly there delivering UNHEIMLICH MANOUEVRES like this finger on the centre of this man’s forehead.
Somewhere beyond us an escalator squeals, a pushchair squeals, the child in the pushchair squeals; I only did not squeal because you really are standing so very close.

Look how far my arms can go around things. I could hug a whole telephone box. I have had too much, perhaps, of the good stuff and lord knows there’s a lot of the world we’re missing as I do something important with this here man in this here tunnel:

for example, we’re missing an overly busy sky, with a warp and a weft to it. Like tweed. Starlings making a tweed of the sky.
For example: we’re missing a snail insisting that he’s in the haulage business
: We’re missing drinking hot chocolate in the continental way, kissing in a gorse bush
: we’re missing chewing gum until my jaw is black and blue and the world is tired mint, District-coloured, but
today, my eyes are chintz; today, my eyes are tigerskin; today, my eyes are traitors; today my eyes are delft-ware and he’s met them, finally

(is beneathe a verb?
I’m thinking of bequeath or breathe).


Each of his eyelashes is a candlewick: I can’t look at him full-on in case I press my heart out through my teeth

and time passes, in and out of consciousness
and the man steps back,
and the tube-doors doors shut

and you were, really, standing so very close to me as the train moved, itself,  beneatheing


A former recipient of the Christopher Tower poetry prize, Eley Williams has had work printed in The White ReviewAmbit and Night and Day journals and has a chapbook ‘Sketch’ available from Annexe. She is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. She lives and works in London.

Carrie Crow is a fine art, performance,and horse racing photographer, whose work has been exhibited internationally at the Queens Museuem of art, Newspace Center for Photography, Kunst Altonale,and Galleria Perela, during the 20011 Venice Biennale. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, The New York Post, Time Out New York, and North Sea Jazz Fest. Born and raised in Los Angeles and a long time resident of New York City, Carrie frequently travels and works in Paris, France.

Using pay-telescopes at tourist sites around the world  Observatorio isolates micro-landscapes within the vast panorama, creating a possibility for quiet observation in the midst of oftentimes dense congestion.  Typically positioned in the outdoors, the pay-telescopes have weathered the ravages of time and each lends its unique properties to the image—light leaks, vignetting, dust and scratches—which register not only the subject at hand, but the history of the device and the conditions at the moment of seeing.  By using a pay-per-use medium alongside a digital camera, Crow aims to slow down my own photographic process and arrive at a method that is both traditional and modern.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, November 17th, 2014.