Urban Renewal

I’m answering an ad for a char in Shadwell. Bounding up the wrought iron stairs of a Peabody block of flats, I’m slammed hard into the clammy wall and pinned there. My chest poked rigid against my diaphragm like a sergeant-major’s baton. There is no breath there to release my imprisoned knot. Behind the retinas of my eyes I feel a thousand stabbing pricks, as if each one is a cajoling spur, towards what I know not. My legs feel like anchors, tugging on me as if to suck me back down towards the sweep of the stairwell. And yet I instinctively perceive they will not bear the weight of my trunk. I manage to sink to my knees, the instantaneous remonstration of abrading skin, being overriden by the inundation of all my mass centripetally flying into my stomach. I haul myself down the stairs as if on a sledge, only my frame is of flesh instead of wood and the surface I’m moving across is concrete, rather than compacted snow. I didn’t pursue the job that day.

I did return to the site however. The scene of my humbling. The locus of my felling. I had to find out what all that had been about. I was somewhat more circumspect this time, but the stairs still exuded threat. Bent over, I took them as a blind person, or a dog on the scent might, utilising my hands as buttress, arse the highest point of my skeleton thrust up in the air. My head was swimming in the sensation that I was being dragged down head-first, rather than ascending the stairs. I appear drawn to number 17, not the flat of the job interview, but one on the floor below. I convince the war-widowed mother  who answers my knock, to let me look inside. Spun her some guff about how I used to live here when I was young … Perhaps it’s not guff, only, nothing seems right about the place. How the hell would I know that then ? I thank her for her forebearance and leave her to her screeching bairn and milk boiling over. I feed my hands down on to the stair ahead of me and kedge the rest of my body over. Slow but sure progress as I steer into safe haven.

At the foot of the stairs, I am in a stance of having my nose pressed to the floor at the doorway and notice an outline of the original building imprinted on the pavement. Goddamnit ! This wasn’t the original edifice. Probably rebuilt after the Blitz. Now I just couldn’t help myself. The woman refuses to let me back into number 17, until I’m almost battering her door down. She’s screaming for me to get out and leave her alone as she hides the kid behind her legs. I smash her in the stomach and she crumples. God in Heaven ! Why did I do that ? Why have I done any of this ? Why am I here ?

The rozzers find me sitting on the stairs quietly weeping. I was only twenty-four months old for christsakes ! How the horrible man from the Council had punched me in the stomach to make me release my grip from around my mother’s legs. I think that gently squeezing the copper’s hand as I related this, pricked his sympathy (either that or he fancied me) and he let me off with a caution. It was then that I knew I had to hightail it out of lowend Britain.


~ by yearzerowriters on December 9, 2009.

21 Responses to “Urban Renewal”

  1. This is so, so sad. I hope it’s all fiction. Well-written, but sad.
    Anne LG

    • I wasn’t alive in the War or immediate post-war period!

      H I’m going to experiment at home and see if it’s frugal or petal. Thanks for the heads up.


      • H have decided you were right. Initially thought it was flying away from her body, so centrifugally would have been right. But I think it is centring on her solar plexus and therefore centripetal.



  2. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but should the “mass centrifugally flying” be “mass centripetally flying”, as -fugally implies moving away and -petally moves towards something? I had some problems visualizing this.

    I had to revert to my nitpicking mode because of the sheer energy of the story. Terrifying.

  3. Marc, this is a visceral, haunting, elegiac piece that is, as Anne says, deeply, deeply sad. My only edit would be “retinas of my eyes” “my retinas” would suffice – not sure where else retinas would be of, and the addition doesn’t, as far as I can see, aid the cadence of the sentence, but I may be wrong?

    • Good point well made. Thank you Dan (to wit, employment of the word ‘cadence’ will win any argument with me). Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the retinal images.


  4. Horrifically sad, beautifully written.

  5. Visceral and sad indeed, and not a little creepy.
    (And I’m now feeling rather horrified that despite being a maths graduate I can’t remember which is which between cenrifugal and centripetal…)

  6. Very sad, very creepy…and packed with energy! Good job!
    (Between you & me, I haven’t a clue about centrifugal or centripetal forces…my sciences of choice are social, and the people here are superbly represented!)

  7. Both equal measures of sad and creepy mixed well.

  8. Thank you very much Amy and David.


  9. Wow! I was imagining an older man, so sad and haunting. Very beautifully written.
    I only know that a centrifuge is that thing that spins vials of blood and separates it, so the other one must do the opposite.

  10. As others said, sad and creepy. Well done!

  11. Oh! This was a punch to my stomach!

    Hauntingly expresses the sorrow for something now past.

    Maybe, if you wanted to keep the sentence, you could say something like, “the retinas of my blue eyes..”

    But I do bow to Dan’s wisdom because he is a wonderful teacher.

    So, Marc, beautiful and sad. Sadly beautiful.

    • Marisa, I”ve just read it through again and I think I was wrong – the rhythm is just right – it would need some major adjustment to keep the sense and rhythm but with different words, and rhythm trumps tautology. Thank you for pointing out the sentence works as is, Marisa, and apologies to Marc.

  12. Thank you very much to marisa, Laura, Chance and Anne for your very kind words.

  13. Thank you for the well-written story. I enjoyed it very much.

  14. […] @agnieszkasshoes: more brilliant flash from @21stCScribe https://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/urban-renewal/ […]

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