I am the city. I live amongst you, around you, underneath you. My breath is imperceptible; it heaves beneath you nonetheless, twisting the tarmac of your roads and making the timbers of your house creak. Dotard. Not for one moment do you see yourself as anything less than master of your own destiny. You are as fleas upon my broad flank.
My days pass as yours do, but with a cognisance pushing past the furthest outreaches of your consciousness. I see you from dawn’s first stirrings – the lights blinking onto pasty faces, the paperboys rubbing their hands and the milk floats rumbling. My neuropathways are warmed by the rising sun. They are mapped by trunk roads, traffic lights, and no-parking zones. My residents begin to skitter across my surface in numbers. Your tiny, leather-clad feet tickle me as you rush oh-so-importantly to their meetings and coffee mornings.
As the day fades, I inevitably begin to tire of your self-importance. Often, I toy with you – a person burning ants underneath a magnifying glass. Pernicious, I might choke your lungs with traffic smog, or simply drag your grey, lifeless day out until all seems like drudgery to you. Conversely, I might take pity upon you and lift you up. I could fill your senses with music and commerce and culture…hmm.
At night, I struggle to sleep. Perhaps it is this wakefulness that is at the route of my irritability. Mine is the repose of the drunkard, that uneasy sleep that skims the surface of true respite. It is a slumber of gulls fighting over discarded kebabs, of girls sitting crying in shop doorways, of the homeless huddled against the wind whilst somewhere nearby, a bottle is smashed and a cry is muffled.
Your cries of pain and desperation do not make rest easy to come by.
Nevertheless, be wary city dweller. The space you take for granted belongs to me. Every discarded can cartwheeling down the road is an insult to me, every smashed bus stop a slur on what I have provided. Take care, for you are but a custodian of a space upon me. All I have to do is clench my fist, and the city streets will close around you.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is an absentee member of the Glasgow Writers Group, a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.
Not necessarily in that order