I Have a Gzhelian Age Heart in Me

I Have a Gzhelian Age Heart in Me

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I have a Gzhelian Age heart in me and it is shaped like the fossil of an ammonite and it has the words inscribed in it, everything is OK, everything is OK, everything is OK, and sometimes it is a statement and sometimes it is a question.

And when I finish work, I walk home along the brewery and mattress factory roads, following the train line from Bermondsey to Denmark Hill, weaving in and out of the railway arches, walking along the bollards and through the underpasses and car parks and industrial estates.

Because I have all of these Gzhelian Age bones in me, bundled up like dry grass and strips of leather and they ache when it gets overcast and when I stand up suddenly and when I roll cigarettes and when I loiter around Camberwell trying to remember where I am.

Then one weekend, I wake up early, dressing in gloves and high visibility synthetic fibre, running towards Crystal Palace, under the plum trees in Camberwell Old Cemetery, and through the folded oaks at Sydenham Hill Wood, clambering over the fake ruins and along the dismantled steam track.

Also there are two Gzhelian Age ear drums in me, coloured like camellia flowers, and I can hear the green parakeets quarrelling above Butterfly Walk, and I can hear them pruning at their toeless feet whilst peering down at the shoppers and then turning their heads uncertainly towards the sky.

And when it’s raining I drive along Cold Harbour Lane and Milkwood Road, parking by the houses behind Brockwell Park, reading by the dim driver’s light and listening to the rain landing precariously on the roof, watching the water trickle down the windshield towards the bonnet.

Because I have a Gzhelian Age voice box in me and when I speak it sounds like wentletrap shells being stirred around a glass of steaming salt water and like boring secrets being whispered under a pub table or into a microphone or at a loved one who is holding fighting conch shells over both of their ears.

Then in the summer, I roll the television and the leather chair out onto the extension roof, and relax in the wide daylight, under the high altitude clouds and the aeroplanes descending west towards Heathrow.

Also there is this Gzhelian Age stomach in me, and it is always empty and growling with emptiness and its emptiness can feel miraculous and exhausting and instinctive and its emptiness can migrate thoughtlessly around my body.

And most evenings, I spend training, and if the telephone rings I refuse to answer it, lunging and lifting on the wrinkling living room carpet, with the shadows fidgeting on the shuttered blinds, and the draw chain bolted over the front door.

And I have so much Gzhelian Age blood in me, and it is thick as tar pits and if I cut myself shaving the sink looks swilled with oil and if I lean in close enough I can see little skeletons arranged in layers inside and some are like the skeletons of conodonts and coelacanths and some are like the skeletons of human beings holding each others hands.

But one afternoon I will start growing plants, plunging the seeds into the potting soil with a long dowel of rounded wood, and waiting for clematis flowers and barberry flowers and marsh marigold flowers to appear in the garden like quiet, coloured birds.

Because before I moved to Camberwell, I lived in Purbeck, in a hotel room overlooking the sea, and I remember waking once at sunrise to the walls glowing red, and to the sound of crowds of gulls and gannets stood outside the windows and knocking their beaks against the glass.

Tom Offland lives in London. His work has recently appeared in theNewerYork, Corium Magazine and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He is currently working on his first collection of short stories.

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