The dead watch you as you walk, lazing on the corners, slouched like slaves awaiting creaking ships. You’ve learnt to sniff out the cheap hotels, keeping your head bowed, the bundle of fingers inside your jacket, snug and secure; that same pocket where the desperate carry their jewellery.
After check in, you lie on the bed drinking Russian wine as milky as jet lag, staring blankly up at the fluorescent light until it grows whiskers. At least, you’re thinking again. Thinking about the others who lay here before you: shagging, dying, dreaming. All lost men prowl like illegal taxis – did you ever notice that?
You’re awaiting my words. Tonight, I’m afraid, they’ll be shapeless – wriggling out from the ceiling cracks, filling the room with the hiss of midnight radio static. To pass time, you take out one of my fingers and start painting a picture of our London. You begin with the Thames. I’m guessing here, but you want to capture one of our days: us, hand-in-hand, when I was sober, clean, making sense. Your river is too dirty; the page is smeared an autumn grey, the same grey as my comedowns. Another page screwed up, tossed like a black-market dentist ripping teeth.
When the wine’s done, you try and shower. You swear violently at the brown, freezing water, just another ice-tea shower in the Urals. Still, it’s pure compared with the bracken colouring my filthy skin would stain the bath. Remember those Sunday mornings when you’d haul me home from the shelter? Throwing me into the tub, you’d say, was to dunk a human teabag.
Slipping town on a sleeper train, bound southwest. The train clangs through the darkness with that tugging sound of hair violently being brushed.
At Irkutsk, the dinning car fills with young backpackers chasing the Trans-Siberian cliché. Something about their cringe worthy travel bragging brings you comfort. I see that American girl a mile off, shark circling, drawn to your scowl, giggling at your kiwi twang. When she leads you into her first class cabin, I shut my eyes tightly, but your wedding ring starts to make a clinking sound. Eyes tighter. It’s the same jingle as the bell we hung around the cat’s neck. Fingers in ears.
Sometime during the night, when both the American and I were sleeping, you must have snuck out, for you’re back in your shared carriage, slumped on your bunk, painting again. This time you’re drawing our old basement flat. Taking my thumb, you shade the shadow puppets on the kitchen’s wall. Next, with the faintest touch of my index finger, you create the mush of the bed. Finally, you sketch us: you, laughing, me, twirling in a summer dress. If only you’d fall through the train, through the tracks, fall home.
At the station you ignore the torch eyes of hotel hawkers. You slip out into the street, looking at your watch, figuring you’ve got a few hours yet, to buy your booze, find your bed. You keep your head down, but when the dead laugh it chases you like a zip.
Dave Fraundorfer’s writing has been published in a number of journals both in his native New Zealand and in more exciting places. Recent publications include Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Right Hand Pointing, JAAM and Blackmail Press. He lives in London.