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Circle/Line Alexander J Allison

The Red Ceilings Press

MMXII [rcp 41]

Circle/Line Alexander J Allison

The Woman The Woman came close. For a week, bombs gushed the news. The air rang, SIRENS - fretted through screams caught looping. Alert was high and mighty. As fresh rubble gleamed, the city bore teeth: and they chipped and charred and would grind and gnash whilst still so,

so very sore.

Summer burned under every nose. On no therapy, without a battle cry or space to grieve, London promised a rise, and stubbornly we stumbled back up:

broke into a run on bowed legs and high eyes.

As repairs settled in, temperatures flaked to summer lulls. The stench of flesh began to wane. Broadcasts polished new threats back to glory: - stressed buffing up heroes / the summoning of prayer. Stories lurched, became turbulent. The Woman went dumb.

/// Six years past, explosions still pierce her ears. She tastes smoke and steel. Now, every return is more than a torture. - This place is pilgrimage. Her duty is the return. Her charge to remember, or not to forget. She is their absence incarnate, a fleshed out g





living between moments. Moments that might have been theirs.

Cooled off and burning, The Woman worries out possibilities. Amongst this sluice of companies, there must be one soliciting harm. An idle threat s









its neck up through buttressing folds, protruding like a tumour. A lump: it smothers up against her periphery, just unacknowledged. It has the worst of intentions and the grace of fine dance.

One sinister, hummed word is etched into The Woman’s enamel, triple filtered from incisor to lip and back again. She drools a putrid anxiety; it trickles out her flaws, balloons her cheeks to an empty


and rolls nails under her palms. The Woman had once loved this place. - a magical magnetism had swarmed about, running up her skin and back again. She knew here well: The pattern of tartan-puzzled seats: a desktop for her eyelids. Tinny strings of announcements : a chorus to her thoughts. That all is unknowable now. - Now, she keeps each eye spun against the malicious intent that surrounds her. The Woman keeps guard against hooded gestures / civilian sensibilities. She is the protector, the guardian of this corrupted sanctuary. Orbiting the city from a single spot, The Woman does what she can. - Now, she sits dormant, here amongst a party of potential assailants. Her throat creaks and her stomach crackles. The Woman bastes herself in primal drives and ice



Breaking at scheduled halts, sparks graze the buried passage. About her, erect fleshy statues jar like ragdolls: a sublime display of physics. The Woman braces,

facing away and out of herself.

Her teeth tense to a jaw, sweating dead cells through a churning tongue. At each stop, the doors hustle





the ooze of bodies to evacuate, only to be replaced by some substitute destitutes. New batches sparkle in foreign voice. They are foot soldiers on patrol, exchanging limp apologies on chance collisions. These faceless new patrons swing from floor to seat and back again. Dressed to colonial standards, they conspire, hissing out secrets in exotic tongues. The Woman imagines queues of them, longer than string, weaving out a pecking order. They jostle in contest for who shall harm her first. With fists anchored over her empty womb, TheWomanclenchesontothisnervousness. Though her fears remain unrequited, terror busies itself into the space, rooted by some withering truth.

John The evening crowd descend, worn and wrung. Moving in corporal aches, they rally round this space before settling into work-dazed stupors. As the tube heaves them home, they respite and breathe, cooled by its halcyon racket. - Here is John, one of their sameness. Scaled up from human proportions, he almost tilts the carriage mass. A flickering video, John could be any man: he lives as a method for shredding time. John is any worker, grating through each day like crunching sand. Stripped of any notable opinion, drive or dream, he is dumb, numbed and hopeless. In this space, John brandishes his suit like a threat. His tie is a symphony of beige. As bodies make way for him, John works the floor with a gummy grin. His teeth are small tombstones. John braids discomfort through the captive carriage. Build massive




he is beyond subtlety. A slicked hairline shows signs of retreat up his broad scalp. His jaw is serrated with a day’s stubble. Pitchforked veins lace his sturdy wrists, his blood thumping like dry percussion.

John is within tasting distance of three people. Sat backstraight and fierce, he performs a series of gentleslams to his lap, bones rapping like hollowed wood. Under his company, women sag inwards, cradling their breasts in limp defence. John consumes the atmosphere. His insides may be grey. His body is beaten. John aches in places that pain won’t reach. /// Once, he was a child, -

Looming, great and heavy. In the habit of breaking chairs, outrunning clothes.

Built for authority, he spoke through motions. (The elected peacemaker in every squabbled conflict: John. A coercive judge.) One month, John’s voice rusted over. -

He became a creature of total gesture.

They bought him a puppet, foot long and wooden, the gloss long parched. Through it, John whispered, shrill and dry, -

smiled through furry teeth.

A love festered. He wore it sleeping. They spoke telepathic,

decoding conspiracies against them.

The puppet grew moss,

stank of rot.

It splintered under John’s nails,

his hand enamel pale.

The puppet claimed him, plucked John’s spine like an elastic band,

thrashed him like a broken woman. In time, they called for three officers and a hacksaw. John mourned.

/// Voices modulate over the rumbling of iron. Occasionally, passengers are caught for a syllable, blurting something private enough to flush both cheeks. John makes the effort to be as little as possible. He sinks into thick and heavy thought, allowing himself to be consumed. John is a feast. - He is a feast, going untouched. His flavours, rich - turned in the heat, stale and sickly,

spotted by flies.

John is split between rotting and digestion. He imagines a desperate host, auctioning off his remnants, encouraging the recollection of happier memories. When John leaves the carriage, the air seems to ex


Tomorrow, every worker will return, punctual to the minute of their pay.

The Woman The Woman feels an imminence hanging against her. brushing up


It is coal on her throat. The threat is growing braver, more potent. She feels it tickling at the base of her gums, seeping from curved corners, dripping like a baseline. The leak is weak but GROWING. Through fractures, The Woman spots it blagging into the open. Though only in glimpses, it promises something awful. - Something is coming, worse than before. Gathering itself up into something magnificent, something worthy. The Woman can feel it bubbling and rumbling under her surface tensions. Around her, gears whir, men bleat out aspirations, fizzed to the brim with work and degrees of living. Opposite, a child’s eyes wilt against waking as its mother toys with smokes. A lost moth makes neon collisions.

Fresh batches of flesh traipse soggy reality into the carriage, washing grey into every space. Amongst these bodies, an aura of weariness disseminates from limbs to sinew Voices grind for supremacy,

and back again.








off like phonic jigsaws.


Pulling out a plaintive gaze, The Woman attempts to examine an indistinct middle distance. She trundles stoptostoptostoptostoptostoptostop between copy-pasted streams of company. The corpse pride maroon over themselves, hunting in satchels, nibbling at contraband rations, dazzling at the evening’s onset and their inevitable returns. Rushing against one another in rustled flurries, they caw and swoon into seats around The Woman. Clamping up her legslikelovers, she huddles into herself, keeping her jewelled fingers pouched like buried treasures. The tube thrusts onwards, zipping with mechanical purpose. The Woman is comfortably encompassed on all sides, keeping vigil in that middle distance from stoptostoptostoptostop. Light glows coldly, stuttering at juddered track flaws. Reflections arch backwards over the curved walls, shallow like slander and twice as fine. Over The Woman, danger sharpens to a string

of white


They dangle festively, spun at her centre. More than a victim, she aches fear from her palms. The threat is








and cracks are craters.


Evening Drinkers come swathe on swathe. Light footed and bow legged, they //josh// and //jerk// jimmying doors for yet another comrade. This crew of fools spread themselves over the city’s hollowed reprieve; swill filth about in an absent dilemma, barking triumphs and soliciting conquests. These drunkards paint from a jovial palette. Every surface and sense paved with their detritus and abuse. Tipping and swaying, the vice brigade keep poor balance and worse judgements. Priding and falling, they wreak and rack from stoptostop, willing forwards, onwards,

upwards! Their pockets are clugged with change and freshly acquired phone numbers. Unfolding, they barge about the cage, parading their tarnished faculties into every other neutral face. Their shrapnelled spittle flecks the walls, rich with bile. Deep into London, the vulnerable ripen under their hungry eyes. These unfortunate innocents, victims to liquor, must coiluptheirlimbs, wary of becoming a focus. Their faces leak all expression and lights

stammer. Around them, the wasted hiss about in sudden deflations, liberated by the anonymity of this s









They are determined to CRAMPLIFE up to the limits of their fleshy receptacles. A team of parts, they lockarmstokeepbalance. /// Only one sits alone,

beside himself.

He emanates deep loss; weighs the atmosphere’s scales. Cushioned between work-calloused palms, he wears his fatigue like chainmail. Mumbling fuckandshit, he rides an internal beast and groans like a well-oiled fool. The tube sways, slurring its efforts, restless for rest. When the lone man is reared up by Temple, he wakes in a gaudy haze, his mouth thick with spit. By close, the less fortunate vow another never again. Outside, the clay sky is lashed with saffron electrics.

The Living and The Dying Worries feather over The Dying’s scalp. Concerns shuffleclosetogether, cramping up into flesh-charted territories. All confidence folds up under The Dying’s tongue. Rain spattered seat-surfaces squelch and flush, allergic to life. The Living, whose crotches are overrun with sweat. The Living, whose clowned smiles drown down opinion to dust. The Living, who pay their fares with worked coins, drilled in habit. The Dying’s hands butcher w



each digit splayed like a tender treat for suckling. Movements are but downward twinges. There’s a resonant mumbling of ill fitted windows and an ache like withdrawal. Headphoned ears buzz with kitsch hymns. They mouth out dentisted vowels, loyal to dumb lyrics. Only sometimes will deploy a hand choke back their yawns. Every movement is shameful and parched. Skin prickles, the air like sandpaper. The Dying wear masks of chagrined brows and ingrown lips. At one stop, the cry of a busker chimes over falsetto hums of escalation. The Living look deep into their laps, tracking the progress paper thin lines. Soon, nothing will begin again. Thegaps are fading vague.


Maintenance Before the final train, they huddle in packs, billowing fumes. The city shivers, on guard and prone. Their race to squeeze in the last three cigarettes comes with fierce tradition. They splutter then spit, curse and shake. Fingers mesh-into-each-other, creating cups for warm breath. Upon entry, the men process in a silent,




They city’s belly is going rotten, older than it was ever meant for. Its shame is exposed to those working in the darkness. Only these men will hear the tracks tremor, exposing their age. They work to preserve an unbroken progress. Through the night, warning sirens wail out some vague premonition. High voltages crackle under their rubber boots. These workers ply out the last vestiges of energy from their limbs, sacrificed over to the tracks. These are repairs for an age they’ll never love in. /// Rats scurry past, disdainful of their efforts. Occasionally, flushes of rancid wind burp down the tunnels, whistling sharply. Deep in the city, vacant trains keep a patient wake. Their rest is tense, prone-with-anticipation.

Long accrued filth plaques their two-ply windows. /// The men work hungrily, in grand, precise gestures. They crank and heave by torchlit flourishes. Their faces gurn, their fingers numb. Dirt scores under their nails, an ornament of true labour. Their collars are wreathed by grey sweat. /// In the early hours, they button up the city’s crust. Tube mechanics hiccup back into gear, preparing to fuck the tunnel. Outside, sunbeams stain through the air. The tube begins moving like a drought, then quickens to a river.

The Pupil In hurtling isolation, The Pupil indulges in a newspaper. He has prematurely perfected an expression of gauzed concern. (the kind to be found nestling deep in the eyes of responsible adults.) He reads in a youthful distraction, drawn to vulgarity. The Pupil is at an age to breathe through






Here is a safe place. The Pupil feels stress thaw; he settles into the looping journey: - chomps at motes of dust freckling the air, passed about between lungs. With importance still very much weighted to his genitals, The Pupil is downward inclined. His shoulders roll protectively


Alone, he’s devoid of the bravado suspected of his age, his swagger. To every sorrypardon, he issues a caveman grunt of response. Bursts of musty wind rattle through his heavy gelled hair, resettling it in new, obtuse cohorts. He runs two fingers through the curtain of his fringe, catching at braille-like skin imperfections. Beside The Pupil, his umbrella is a bouquet, stood in wanted of blooming. Turning the page, his tongue migrates out to the world in a measured ceremony. The carriage tastes off, loamy. The air seems to blister. The Pupil purses his lips together, puckering them into sloppy notions like ‘change’ and ‘hope’. The Sports section is always at the back.

John In the mirrored plastic, John voyeurs his peers. They pale and arch under inspection, failing in some vital quality. (They are workers in a hive.)


Their faces, pollinated with sour smiles,

as if caught nearly sneezing.

John lets a finger float to his empty arm, inspects a lack,

an absence.

He tickles over the holes where hair won’t grow. /// To his right, a man sprouts earphones. He is coated in a skin of ink. The man hums a constant pitch, jiggling the assets of his buxom body-art. John prepares to leave. He rises mechanically, clearing a path with his blank frown. His volume moves in sections,

notably large. John spans the doorway. On steady land, he rips through a gaggle of limbs,

thundering like a purpose. He is first to the platform’s mouth, - An escalator regurgitates metal plates. Their teeth are plated with the grime of a million riders. In ascent, John’s soles spill over the back edge of his step. The rubber handrail cups into his palm like a plaything. John feels damp smiles forming under his armpits, - probes the shirt in at his waistband. As the escalator climaxes, he feels more giddy than sane. /// In the murky mezzanine, announcements are smothered before they can come close to an e




John digs his pocket for the latest form of a ticket, fumbling through the crumbs of his life. At the exit, barriers butcher the loose coat tails of all reasonably sized humans, -

snapping out order.

John files himself behind those bearing cases, in need of a door to doctor his bulk. His sigh could fill three sails.

The Pupil The Pupil can feel something thickening within him. It is massing together, solidifying, dense-coarse and heavy: a jumbled form is suspended within somewhere vital. Pulsing hollowness surrounds it. It is as though he is frothing up, being consumed, at the point of imploding. In full throttled anguish, The Pupil feels himself breaking. He is strung up by taut chords and nooses. The pain is clogging, sweet with the pace of honey. The Pupil is spread over the floor, flat enough to cherish his shadow. Around him, the carriage applauds, whooping and wailing, their throats red-sore with effort. One brave fucker makes a vague prod at his exposed skin, swabbing away at the rotting flesh. This is a tragedy outside of their vocabulary. -

This is entertainment.

The air is gargling. Trauma balloons under The Pupil’s fingertips. His innards crackle and fizz.

Bones snap along ironed seams. He contorts, folding and buckling into a swastika of limbs. The Pupil is the size of a square. His organs decorate the floor, still pulsing. The crowd begins to feast on The Pupil. He is consumed raw: -

blackening their teeth, lining their jaws,

meshing into their throats and stomachs and asses. The Pupil feels himself cloyed into the carriage’s biology. He is pulped and pitted, ready to be born.

The Tramp He is invisible, volatile. Sat disgusting and small, The Tramp is coloured by grime, patched up in discards. The Tramp knows the poison of hope and the labour of living. He is featureless: a common breed; son only by fact. His wisdom is of survival and hunger, things they could not possibly know of. Crumpled and tatty, he moves in limits. Tortured by stillness, he crumple-tears on brambling memories. (he prays

for rest.)

The Tramp is forced to the corner of their eyes. suspect to every crime they have ever encountered: a well of blame; their eyes wash through him. The Tramp: he is absent anywhere. They bait him with pennies of dignity, and he groans. Broken. Shatter-battered and totally ruined.


he will never come close to forgetting.

The Tramp can’t be fixed. His faith has been sheared


He is resigned to wearing out his existence. Spread for the kill shot.

Paraded in shame.

The Woman From the depths of cool slumber, The Woman comes round to Liverpool Street. Under the harsh lights of life, she feels corroded, rust-flaking and dim. Her vision is corrugated, tight. Two strips of neon gash over her eyes. In blind recollection, The Woman feels out each surface by sense: - the floor, Pollocked with chewing gum spectrums; - the rind of filth that skirts her feet; - the worried tutts of hurried workers. The Woman squeezes round this space, fingerprinting the armrests, kneading her fists into the tartan seat. Between her eyes, the world’s surface seems to dimple. Carriage occupants busy themselves, menace-fiddling at halted technologies. Their fingers gag over buttons, screens. The Woman feels herself exploding in fluorescent streams. Her lips are a vile, rouge butterfly. Her face, thick dusted with impressionist bursts of cosmetics. She flows green and blue in every direction, staining // shining. Around her run rumours. (She feeds on time itself, and lives in the heart of a giant.) (She is made of wax, smacked flesh and chipped bone)

The Woman feels more brittle than hope.

Things wane,

go pale,

and sleep has come again.

The Ghost The Ghost presides. She has suffered a six-decade vigil. /// 11 January, 1941: 111 Killed It hit Bank as they slept, (she was buried alive.) Through the night, rescue teams bore light into the rubble, screamed for survivors, craned voices into every gap. The Ghost laid flat, nursing her son’s corpse. She lay there until the air ran out. /// The Ghost is a fleshless depth charge,

mangled, nameless.

Blitz ridden and cowering, she knots and frays, all fear repressed by national pride. She is the British Spirit: spectre of raid sirens, the wailing echoes of hushed mourning. preserver of long above bombs drumming London, razing ancient lives. She cries for a name longs for front line gossip;

the whispers of retreat.

The Ghost feels her memories are tapering off, softly eroding. She’s a shadow on the tracks: trains rush smooth through her. This incomplete death beats overandover. The Ghost screams voiceless, cupping her lips over living ears. (All are deaf to her pain.) In false sleep, she gabbles thick penitence, pleading for rest, -

arms twined around her child’s lost body.

so careful not to crush him, so desperate just to know him,

she promised not to leave him.

The Driver A threat clots up The Driver’s ears, ringing like a haemorrhage. Shearing the midday, it bawls and brays - cooped up and down and back again. Pieces of sense string themselves back together, hanging slack and shameless. The Driver grumbles deeply. She layers teeth over her bottom lip and whistles at a dog’s pitch. Fondling her dead man’s level, she gropes round for life, eyes fixed into the abyss. The tunnel looms, murky as a swollen pupil. Her train leans round bends, breaknecking the angles, beating the signals, managing to pepper some mischievousness into the task. In gentler interludes, she makes room for a fresh breath: inhales thickly, savouring the air. It cascades over her lungs like crushed oil, smearing its trace. The Driver’s throat burns; her teeth feel chipped and swollen. Her hands dawdle through motions and her head clamber-fumbles to stay upright. For just a second, she closes

her eyes.

Alexander Allison (b. 1991) is from London. In 2012, he will graduate from the University of York and begin an MA in Fiction Writing at Manchester University. His first novel, The Prodigal will be published by Civil Coping Mechanisms in January 2013. Recent poems and stories appear in: [PANK], >kill author, Popshot, Metazen and Willow Springs. He can be contacted through Facebook.

The Red Ceilings Press

MMXII [rcp 41]


by Alexander Allison