The plane descended below the clouds and the network of lights forming London emerged into view. Winter Wonderland burst with colour and light like a cluster of stars amid the night grid of yellow and white lining the city. Thames lay like a rift, opaque and obsidian. The lights inside the plane turned on and my reflection in the window grew clearer. I altered my focus back and forth between my translucent self floating in the air and the rising buildings appearing through it; the trance was broken by a sharp searing pain shooting through my ears - this always happened on landing.
On the train I took a seat next to a woman on the phone. Her voice was so hypnotically soft and calm that I couldn’t help listening to her. I pulled out my book and pretended to read as I eavesdropped in on her conversation.
“Yeah…well I’m glad it’s better now, I hadn’t heard from you for so long I was really worried.” A long pause. “You know, your situation reminds me of Brief Encounter, have you seen that movie? Oh, it's beautiful. It’s about a woman who’s in this very traditional marriage, you know, housewife, two kids, a very English middle-class husband. Anyway, then she meets this man at a train station and has an instant connection with him. And in the end she has to decide between him and her husband. Yeah, but she goes back to her husband who in the last scene sits next to her, holding her hand, and says, ‘You’ve been gone so far away, thank you for coming back to me.’ It’s so beautiful, you should really watch it.”
I will. I didn’t mind the spoilers, I smiled at the odds of hearing about the film from a woman on a train.
I got off at my stop and made my way to the hotel. The road stretched towards the murky horizon stamped with a full moon. Crowns of winter trees cocooned halos of white half-light gleaming from streetlamps; spirals of dewy, leafless branches glowed like silvery spider-webs. The streetlights bloomed a hazy barrier between myself and the sky. I couldn’t tell if the spare dots of light above were distant stars or just stationary planes; the sky I saw was just a pretence, moonlight didn’t reach me and my sight didn’t reach the world above. It was better to look at the sparkle of wet concrete, it showed me galaxies the sky couldn’t.
I checked into the hotel, ran the bath, and played A Musical Romance by Billie Holiday and Lester Young. I walked towards the window and gazed into the night, the music and the running water faded into white noise. The moon was directly opposite my window just as it was in Glasgow a few hours ago, relative to it it was as if I hadn’t moved at all. The spray of raindrops appeared as snow against the blur of streetlights; once again I was fooled by their illusions, it doesn’t snow in December anymore. My daydreams were interrupted by the guttering sound of the bath overflowing.
The water weighed down upon me and I sank into a stupor. My eyes fixed idly upon the kaleidoscope of shimmering gossamer ripples reflecting on the ceiling. Lady Day's languid voice blended with the steam.
I’ll see my dreams come true/Moments to spare…
Afterwards, I felt the sudden urge to watch Brief Encounter. I found it online and left the album playing softly on loop. The glare of the screen pressed my eyes into a drowse. Music and dialogue infused my dreams, dampening into a mundane mist barely distinguishable from the darkness of sleep. I was awoken by the sound of a train whistle blowing.
Oh, Alec. Alec, I must go home now. I really must go home
Now who’s to guide me/Because I’m lost at sea
I had already forgotten my dream but I was sure there were people in it. I turned off the movie and the music and set my alarm for work.