St Paul’s Cathedral gleams, Southwark Bridge looms, and a middle-aged man – grey suit, substantial build – unsteadily dribbles a small purple balloon with silver ribbons down the empty, moonlit, riverside walkway.
At Hampstead Heath station, Christmas bells are ringing – thin silver wind chimes, strung between the London planes. Lights appear from the west. Gusts, a chill, ghosts.
Again he thuds into Percy Ingle’s window; she sighs, scoops him up, tosses him back into Lewisham High Street, and tidies the London cheesecakes; tiny pigeon footsteps dent coconut strands.
As the one o’clock mums race their prams round Wandsworth Park, she suddenly falters, breathless, and – staring down at Archie’s gurgling face – thinks bleakly of sports days to come.
On the 17:10 to Crayford, she suddenly remembers Stockholm, and how he’d smiled when asking her name; and how she’d said “Madeleine”, because she’d known he’d never know it wasn’t.
“Is this London?” she pouts, pressing a chocolatey face to the tagged and leaking window as their train waits at Worcester Park. “Daddy, when is it going to be London?”
At Bow Church DLR, the bride boards, cream heels delicately minding the gap. Her right hand grips a posy, her left curls itself around a handrail, silver ring glittering.
Removing his coat, he breaks through the buses and levers himself over the railing that divides Upper Street. Dismounting, he smiles at me drunkenly, then jigs into Angel’s welcoming mouth.
In the tombless gloom of bombed St Mary’s churchyard, between the Elephant and the looming shell of a dead hotel, he carefully unfolds a music stand, and uncases his trombone.
Have you ever noticed, he suddenly said, almost as if he knew her, that the studs fixing these tube-seat covers in place all look like the faces of startled bears?