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He awoke and focussed, a dream or two waving from a couple of corners, quickly fading. Out of the crisp, clean sheets into the bathroom, quite blind (still on automatic), choose the clothes from the wardrobe - slacks with a crease, the brown shoes from Jugoslavia in a long gone style, the woollen shirt she bought to keep his heart warm.

Pleased with the reflection he passed into the living room, surfacing slowly all the time. Outside it was green June, and raining. Crowds of little leaves were adrip around the windows overlooking a garden ending in shared poplars, against a sky where jets glinted and sunsets sometimes roared, leaving with a long light.

Coffee and toast with marmalade, a brown egg in a blue willow pattern cup. Eat slowly. Now... sit down in the armchair facing the windows and let consciousness flow in naturally... digest the breakfast, allow the bowels room to move - before facing the big world. All around the denizens shifted in car, bus, tube, to do the daily. Office girls in fresh perfume and new styles, clerks in damp mackintoshes, all crushing into containers that zip off to long lifts, cool corridors, strip lighting and typewriters.

Little sandwich shops boomed around the bases of the buildings, showing piles of white and brown slices, contents peeping:- green lettuce, red tomato, cream cheese, banana, honey, pickle, egg - all under glass for the gaze. Smells of steam and coffee, gleaming pastries fresh from pre-dawn bakeries. Seated figures alone or achat over thick white plates behind the misty windows. A smell of rain on warm concrete coming in with each refugee rattling the open/closed sign.

And him off to his small job in the place he knew so well. He was content - an unusual state amidst all this rush and ambition. He didn't want to be boss or make pots of cash and big girls, but merely loved his routines, waking, the journey, the weather, a park lunch, shop window walks, working well, going home with satisfaction, getting on with his little projects in the evening. Saturday shopping, Sunday strolls, the change of a season, a new shirt.

Down Oxford Street the buildings were festooned with ivy and Virginia creeper. Trees grew from the windows of Selfridges, the pavements and Tarmac were split by plane trees spreading across Marble Arch from Hyde Park, purple loostrife waved in the breeze scattering its white, floating seeds, glowing in the late afternoon light.

He walked down fractured pavements smelling the recent rain. He wore, as usual, his grey suit, white shirt and dark tie. There were no other sounds but a breeze moving the trees, his own footsteps, and scattered birdsong from all over the empty city.

Above him the sky was bright blue now, and the light was going golden across the top edges of the crumbling buildings. At the bottom of Oxford Street stood the tall Centrepoint tower, its remaining upper windows glinting, while most of the base was covered in vines. (mile-a-minute vine especially had grown out from many of the gardens, and living up to its name, had swamped quite a number of roads and buildings in the city).

He often strolled through Hyde Park then on to Victoria station where thousands of birds had nested in its cast iron structure. The ammoniac stink of their droppings was choking, and the platforms and remaining carriages were covered in a greyish foot-thick crust of excrement.

Each year the city became more verdant, and each time he walked through the streets he noticed new erosions as front walls or roofs fell, revealing sections of rooms with different patterns of peeling wallpaper and furniture, often tangled with plants that had grown from seedlings blown through shattered windows.

Many of the bigger buildings were amazingly well preserved though, he especially liked to walk into the Lyceum Ballroom on The Strand. And the Royal Albert Hall, though Hyde Park now surrounded it, was almost perfect inside, as were the Victoria and Albert Museum and Natural History Museum, with all their dusty exhibits still intact.

He sat on one of the few uncovered benches in the woods that Hyde Park had become, reading the Daily Mail from June-July 1958, having found some library files in good condition. He read one each day - in order - carrying it with him on his daily walk around the city. He took lunch and tea breaks at the same times as he had always done, and always kept himself engaged in some project. Recently he'd been reading the criminal files at New Scotland Yard, but found most of the crimes depressingly unimaginative, so he hadn't been back.

After a while he folded his newspaper and started on the way back down Oxford Street.

The dried leaves of many Autumns had flown into the corners and doorways of all the shops, and some of the display mannequins were still standing in the dust and rain-streaked windows. He thought for a moment of going up to Harrods but decided against it for that day. There was a beautiful Bechstein grand upon which he would practice for hours on many a summer's evening. His playing was progressing very well he thought, and he was even originating some pieces of his own.

He reached Tottenham Court Road and turned left at centrepoint, walking to Islington where he lived.

He loved the city now that it was deserted. It was lonely and beautiful, especially in moonlight and on misty mornings. In springtime there were riots of blossom, in Summer a wonder of fern and leaf, in Autumn the mist and a spicy smell of falling leaves, red, gold, brown, gold.

In Winter the stillness and clear, biting frost and snow. He enjoyed walking out across the frozen Thames, one winter he'd walked right from the Tower Bridge to Richmond.

Every season, too, had its memories, and every street. The crowds down Oxford Street, Christmas windows in the big stores all aglow and glittering. Summer boating on the Serpentine, tea on the roof garden at Derry and Toms in South Kensington when he was a boy. Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, Cinemas in Leicester Square, Speakers' Corner on Sunday, Tube trains, taxis, traffic jams, Brick Lane market in the East End, political meetings, marches, police on Horseback, news vendors shouting out headlines, the hotels on Park Lane.

Now he could have a suite in all of them, the Dorchester was wonderful in summer, a pale green room overlooking the park, tattered curtains billowing from his balcony, thick carpets, drifts of leaves in the corners. At night he would watch the moon and listen to a whirr of wings. Sometimes he saw the hares dancing or a stalking fox in the clearings below.

The Ritz was lovely too, almost completely obscured by trees rampant from Green Park. He would wake up to a gently moving undersea light filtered through leaves and branches, and go down the long corridors, like the walkways of a submerged ship, strolling out through the woods and over the bridge to the Houses of Parliament in the early morning, his solitary whistling echoing across the stained glass windows and vaulted roof.

Occasionally he went to the BBC or N.F.T. archives to select a film, he'd seen hundreds in this way and was developing a filing system so he could relocate the ones he liked. There were thousands more to see yet, and he'd hardly started on the T.V. film and video material at Shepherds Bush and Teddington.

He would take his chosen film to a cinema in Leicester Square, set it in motion, then sit alone in the huge plush interior smoking a cigarette or two (purely for nostalgia's sake - to see the smoke rising through the film beam).

The old newscasts affected him greatly, the Kennedy Assassination, the images of Christine Keeler, early Beatles footage, all in a slightly worn Black and White. He edited together a film containing all these images and more, and played it constantly. He found it profoundly moving, the images gaining even more emotive power with each viewing. All these characters of his past moving in old daylight, waving and smiling and moving on.

One of his favourite films was The Swimmer starring Burt Lancaster, and he often played this without the soundtrack, drowning in the crude beauty of its early technicolour.

At home, too, he kept a small 8 mm projector for playing home movies that he came across in his exploration of the city's deserted apartments.

He was fascinated by all the tiny intimate details of these films, the jerky figures waving from seaside and garden at weddings and birthdays and baptisms, records of whole families and their pets growing and changing through the years.

In these endless empty apartments too, he read through letters, looked tenderly through photo albums, books, clothes in the wardrobes, opening dusty curtains to views of the wilderness outside. In some of them the greenery had invaded completely and he would find, for instance, in one flat near Holland Park, a sodden sofa tangled by the roots of a fig tree that must have formerly been a house-plant, but now had extended its green branches out through a shattered bay window as its roots drew nourishment from the decaying furniture.

In another apartment, not far away, in Kensington, he opened a wardrobe and found half a dozen pure silk Fortuny dresses that must have formerly been worth a few thousand pounds. They were not hung, but twisted and rolled into skeins to preserve their pleats. These were said to be so fine that one could pass them through a wedding ring, and as he lifted them, he marvelled at their lightness and the soft shining of their subtle colours in the dusty illumination from the windows.

In this same apartment he came across photographs of the woman who must have worn these dresses as a young girl. She was very slender and typically thirties in style - short hair, pale face, dark eyes and lips. The photo's showed her standing among her friends in the gardens and drawing rooms of the well-to-do through the years of changing fashions - the austerity of the forties, the grey fifties, and as a good-looking mature woman in the early sixties. After that there were no more photographs, though she must have lived in this apartment for long afterwards.

He stood in the soft beams of sunshine diffused by the curtains, caught for a moment in the stillness of the room, watching the dust swirling slowly golden through patches of light that fell across the carpets and furniture, feeling a strange closeness to the vanished woman. Being here and touching her possessions in the dusty intimacy of these rooms was like walking through her life, everything of her was here but for the physical presence, and in some ways that was the least important part of her for him.

As the light gradually faded into evening, he remained standing in semi-darkness, the foliage outside made dim slowly moving shadows on the walls. He was remembering distant sounds of passing cars and the way their headlights would sometimes flicker across the ceiling.

He felt as though there were someone standing next to him, a woman. He could feel her warmth through his shirt, seemed to catch a hint of perfume. He dared not turn to look because he felt that even a small movement would dispel the achingly beautiful sensation, and he did not want that. So he stood alone in that room in the deserted city as the warm darkness fell, remembering the faint rumble of underground trains passing beneath his feet, music from distant radios, voices, old conversations, feeling the radiant closeness of someone intangible and gone.

He watched as his reflection in a shop window passed behind a queue of people waiting for a bus. It was about four thirty in the afternoon in early summer. Long sunlight lit the suburban trees from behind, he felt happy and calm, comfortable inside himself.

He had hardly spoken to anyone for about a week - it was the way he chose to live. He took a bus to Leicester Square and went to see a film, he didn't bother to follow the story line, but sat enjoying the movement, the warm semi-darkness, the shifting colours. Afterwards he drank a glass of Guinness in a nearby pub then took the tube back to his flat. The moon was out, it was a cool, clear night. Some random lines of dialogue from the film recurred in his memory as he watered the plants in his living room, and he thought that he should tidy up in the spare room the following day. He read a book about the countryside of England, looking at photographs of Derbyshire's green fields and high moors. Then he put out the light and went to bed.
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