It’s All OK
by GJ Hart
Posturing between stations, the train snorts and paws the track but does not move. Heaton checks his watch and punches the seat in front, then, further incensed by his own folly, deletes the picture he’d taken of the departure board – replete with its warnings of wet leaves and fallen trees – knowing his apologia will be ridiculed, or worse, twisted to corroborate whatever baleful opinion of him they’ve conjured that day.
Every New Year’s Eve, he packs a small lunch and heads off to Hampstead Heath. He used to wonder why he bothered: they didn’t care and never listened and he’d demanded more. But not now, now their ignorance is bliss. They have no idea how he transforms himself before they meet; cramming his face with chips and choking down jugs of melted ice-cream. Fatty Heaton keeps him safe; continuity keeps him safe.
It’s still early and the carriage is empty except for a guy sitting to his left. He looks drunk and opening his legs, plucks at his crotch like he’s trying to remove a stubborn cat hair.
“You ok?” He slurs, stopping suddenly and looking straight at Heaton.
“Yes Of course,” exclaims Heaton, confounded that someone so wasted is concerned for his well-being.
“Are you sure?”
Heaton mouths a ‘one minute’ and pulls out his phone. He walks away up the carriage pretending to argue with his accountant. Once out of sight, he locks himself in the toilet and stays there until the train rolls into Hampstead Heath station.
As he steps out the station door, a sudden gust whips his face with all the avidity of a guilt ridden lover recently informed of their partner’s own infidelities. I remember nothing, he tells himself and hurries on, through the west gate and down to the paddock that sprawls in the shadow of the big house.
Passing beneath a bamboo archway, he enters the clearing.
It is empty. Heaton spins in confusion until he recognises the great oak. It is so broken now it appears almost human and two boughs – planted like withered arms – are all that support its weight. Heaton runs to it and whilst embracing it tightly sees the heart carved into the trunk and beneath it a date: Dec 31st 1969.
Heaton waits and paces, but no one comes. He finds a wire waste bin and in anger, tears it from its housing. He upends it and sifts through the filth; picking apart cigarette butts and wiping the congealed slime from polystyrene containers. He finds Nothing
He runs from clearing and stumbles back toward the house. As he nears the west gate, he sees an elderly man approaching. He seems friendly and has the well-worn look of someone who once had money, or perhaps has always had far too much. As he passes, he places a hand on Heaton’s shoulder
“You ok son?”
“Sorry?” says Heaton, too surprised to recoil.
“I said, are you ok?”
“I’m meeting someone, some people.”
“But are you ok?”
“I can turn spaghetti sauce into a curry using only three ingredients.”
“Perhaps it’s time you got yourself home, ay son.”
Heaton watches him disappear between topiary and falls to his knees. As he pushes his face into the cool grass, he formulates a plan. First, he will travel to Postman’s Park to study and decode its ceramic tragedies. Then he will climb into the tunnel that dives beneath St Brides church and knock gently at the mastaba’s door. Next he will creep beneath the Hammersmith flyover and listen to the silences between sirens. Then, if still unsuccessful, he will trawl the eastern high-streets, placing cards in filthy shop windows.
As the light fades, he will turn his shirt inside out and befriend a stranger he finds in the last bar by the river. When they excuse themselves, he will steal their car keys and hurtle across town, running every red light until he bursts into a different city; the city everyone sees but doesn’t.
Finally, he will return home, back to the crumbling house hidden behind wires and warning signs and he will wait. Wait until next year.
GJ Hart currently lives and works in Brixton, London and has had pieces published in The Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review, 99 Pine Street, The Jellyfish Review, Foliate Oak, The Eunoia Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.