Flash 500: Whittington’s Ruin

A little 500 word flash fiction piece I wrote for a comp. It didn’t get anywhere, but I’m still rather proud of it nonetheless.

London unfolds like a canvas of possibility as I stand on the bridge, staring East. The busy lights of Temple and the City on one side, and the bustling promenade of art and culture that is the South Bank on the other, they make the Thames sparkle as if it were aflame with hundreds of tiny candles.

But all is not well. St. Paul’s Cathedral, all stately and majestic up close, looks almost drowned out by office towers, even as the Shard on the opposite side of the river claws at the blue sky of dimming dusk with its deliberately asymmetrical, unmanicured fingertips.

A sudden stab of biting winter wind carries with it the sounds of laughter from my right, not to mention an assortment of splendid scents. The German markets adorn the forecourts of the Royal Festival Hall, and cluster around the base of the city’s great Eye, dispensing hot spiced wine to red-nosed revellers. The city covers its warts well at this time of year, but it cannot fool me. A melancholic variation on Ellington’s ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ alerts me to the fact that a busking saxophonist has joined me on the bridge, but he is a faint blur to me, even if I squint. Certainly not within striking distance.

She used to love this city – its richness, its diversity. Whatever your tastes, she would tell me, London will find some way to hook you, and reel you in. We were young back then, of course. A hipster house night in Shoreditch one night would be followed by jaunt around Regent’s Park the next, or a weekend spent weaving in and out of the free museums in South Kensington before dinner and shisha just off the Edgware Road.

She loved the history. She told me once how a certain section of the Piccadilly Line near Knightsbridge twisted and turned to wind its way around a plague pit, which had been packed so densely with bodies that the Victorian engineers had been too afraid to tunnel through it. I remember that it was her who told me that when walking the city’s streets, or perhaps sipping a cocktail in one of Soho’s neon-flecked bars, you are never more than 5 metres away from a rat. Having spent ten years working in the City, I would have told her that her numbers were off were she here now. The rats evolved – now they wear suits and run banks.

Once, she led me on a journey back through time. These secret Music Hall-themed parties would pop up amongst the disused railway tunnels of London Bridge. Turn up in Victorian attire, whisper the magic word to the burly doorman, and your passage to a simpler, happier era would be complete. But you can’t go back; you can’t rewind. Cold water must suffice. The saxophone falters as I climb, and voices yell. A woman screams as I fall. The Thames shall feed the Styx and carry me back to her.