A quart heavy, the slant of the staircase carried her stumbling onto the street where amber halos swayed and doubled and buoyed in the encircling sea of ghost and sable ribbon.
She felt for the rail and, with her palm chilled, pressed it to her swollen eyelid. Her head spun and she had to hold on again to steady herself.
She stood on a bridge. The arched depression provided an easy forward leaning. Boot drudge rung leaden reverberations between bars, and silhouettes passed in both directions. Never quite attaining concrete boundaries, before their forms steamed and dispersed in the frost-flecked fog of the night.
Lisps of melody feathered her ear: on the other side of the road a performer coated by frayed rags played the accordion. She slowed to listen. His fingers were stained and the pumping of the bellows cajoled with its pressure and release, lulling her in warm dusted breaths. The bitch by his heel looked up at her and growled, its jaws and eyes smoking in starved desperation. The player grinned: beetle-black teeth and brow cleaved in crisscrossed furrows of withering. She moved along. Under the bridge cracks in the ice ran in veins along the river.
Passing the gold-lit interiors of flats and apartments she looked down to study the doors of light cast across her feet. The pavement provided a surface for leering projections to greet her uprising among scuffed smears of rotting meat and cigarette ends. She bit her lip, stomach churning, and dug nails in the back of a numb hand.
A child sat on the edge of a guttered curb, digging into a dead frog with a broken radio antenna. After gouging the surface of a gelatin eye it grunted and impaled the torso. When lifted up on the end of the instrument, the frog’s entrails unravelled and she walked ten minutes before the sound of flesh being slapped against concrete became inaudible.
Signs were stencilled in unfamiliar names when she deduced that her dizzy navigation had been severely miscalculated. Most of the windows were foiled over or broken and her boots crushed underfoot discards with increasingly insistent regularity. Overhead electric lights rattled, each in turn blackening as she closed proximity with it. Her nerves tightened as she contemplated the ebon frontier, but the breeze scratched branches in dry rasps that seemed to hold some secret meaning to her and she continued.
At the turn of three corners, hinges groaned and a man emerged. Pustulating sores covered his neck and arms, and he slavered with a mouthful of sickly innuendo. She ran and he slipped in chase. While kicking him blisters of his face broke against the toe of her boot.
Her progression led her to an earth-floored lot. She sat her back against the wall. Papers had collected in the corners, and she pulled them onto herself. From some far pier a foghorn sounded.
Washed over and tumbling in the shadows of her eyes, tendon webs tighten themselves in ringlets around her limbs and, snapping from her jerks, spindle to unclenchable retreats. The wave about her breaks and she stands up. A rippling puddle by her feet carries the dispersing folded reflections of a pulsing arterial moon. The sky is rolling in perpetual effort of recollecting itself. She watches, still, as a woman crawls from a dark corner, thrashing under a naked light globe until all fight has ceased and the body moulders to a new state of decomposition with each moth-flitter. Rats pick pieces from puffing blue lips and pad their nests with tufts of lunatic hair.
Having felt for and struck a knocker she steps back to watch a lighted window. A presence is distinguished through the spreading and fading vapour on the yellow, grease-blurred glass.
'Who stands there?' it wheezes, 'I can’t make you out.'
She tells it who she is and asks if she can come in. One can hear cats giving birth somewhere close by.
'Ah. And you too need a roof I suppose? And I’m supposed to allow access with such passivity, to a stranger who could just as easily have designs to stab my wife as she sleeps, and tuck our newborn in a blanket of plastic wrap?'
She points out the unlikelihood of arriving with prior knowledge of the said wife and child.
'I am a high ranking official and recognisable public figure, who wouldn’t know of my wife and child?'
Drain pipes tear themselves from the walls, bending over to regurgitate throatfuls of algae clotted rust-water. She assures him that she had no idea of his position and asks if he may hasten to debar the entrance.
'And why must I be so rushed? You fear the landscape?' Leaning out his satin gown flutters in a poisonous wind. 'Then what makes you so trusting of a madman in a window?' Lights of other windows flare briefly and shapes whip past from swipe of flame. He steps away and then steps back. 'Please come in. I am alone here.' He and his light withdraw in defeat, and the door gives way to her turn.
A stairwell leads up with walls lined in monochrome photos of family picnics. Halfway up gaps in the brickwork bleed black blood that pools and boils at the foot. A crimson yoke rises and is perforated by the hanger hooks that kick from inside. She runs up and finds his back turned at the summit. His velvet tails stir and lumps scurry beneath his coat. Turning, a squeal is released at the sight of her and he strikes with a bottle raised above his shoulder.
When she shifted her sick body from underneath the packing, cold air bit at her head and she started back, navigating via the sounds of boat horns. On rising, she looked upon those stairs that had brought her onto the street. They were cracked at the mortar and loose to the tread. She climbed the first two then stopped. Through the window of their room there was a gap in the broken shutter. She stepped back down. Still staring at the window she nudged the loose brick with her boot and then knelt to dislodge one, shaking from it a writhing centipede that had nested at the soil of its base, and, having pulled away a second one, stood with one in each hand, swinging them and feeling their coarseness scratch at her fingertips. She turned and walked to the bridge. Cracks in the ice ran in veins along the river. She slid a brick into each pocket of her coat and knotted the belt that held it to her. The accordion heaved melody over the wind and she climbed onto the ledge of railing. Breeze blew by and her skull ached as if there was a fault for it to whine through. Leaves rolled along the pavement behind her and she leaned forward. Perhaps one of the passing people will catch hold, she mused. And her step went unhindered.