Northwords Now Issue 34

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Unspoken

by Rachel Horsburgh

The bridge; twenty-five thousand tons of iron and steel held proud of the sea by vast columns. Two by two by two, tracing a crescent moon curve. It spans the estuary mouth, and has married this Scottish city to the south for more than a century. The minds that thought it, the hands that welded and pieced it together, are gone. They look out from sepia prints, men with handle-bar moustaches, dwarfed by concrete arches and metal lattice.

Tonight, perched on a tie-bar, she is there, waiting. Below, two hundred feet of space, open between her and the firth. The tracks keen an ultrasonic hum. A wall of air is pushed up ahead, metal on metal sparks and the monster she knows frees her. It casts her out across the water. Fan wings outstretched, the feathers across her pigeon chest ruffle, a slate grey melting into purple. Her small head shifts, her auburn eyes swivel, her body tilts to feel the transformation to warm land air on her skin. Warm air is rising from cafe ovens, bus exhausts, from human breath.  

Below her, the heart of the city pulses, this body breathing, a ceaseless expanding and subsiding. Inside the hard edges of concrete and stone, behind the metal and glass are lives, soft and fluid.  The blood of the city, pumping. Jealousy, love, yearning and hunger. Thousands of minds are sparking, those of the lost, the wanted, the coupling and the dying.  Amongst the sounds of clocks ticking and taps pouring, babies crying, and televisions blaring. Hear the silent voices, the unspoken mind sounds, sensed but not said.

The bird turns from the firth to fly the street-map west. Flanked by street lights, the Perth Road below is a vena cava pumping buses, bearing students, cleaners, the homeless.

Heading east a woman carrying a cello is walking, the thin heels of her shoes grazing the street. Her skin radiates lime and vanilla. She turns her head to loosen the muscles of her neck, tight from the effort of carrying. The lace on her white stockings is rubbing the black lining of her dress. She sidesteps to avoid Saturn reflected in a pool of water. Drive, fire and Bartok fill her head on the night street. Preparing to perform, she sees her hands grasp the bow and press the thick strings down on the wooden neck.  Muscle memory. Drawing the bow back to begin.

Through the backdoor of a restaurant, his eyes closed, a man leans against cool geometric tiles.  Spices; sumac, chilli and cumin flow, their aromas are a hot mist around his head. As perfect as a gazelle, exposed, out in the city forest, his eyelashes are two black crescents on an almond face. He raises his head to the sky and feels the city’s cool night kiss. He sees another kitchen; his mother with her back to him is sieving rice in a big blue colander. The window beyond her is open to the warm Tehrani night.  He hears his father in the back room, a newspaper hiding his face. He is scanning the print, stories of the wars, of the missing, and calling to his wife in Farsi. Two older brothers, together, on a different continent are engineers in LA. His heart beats a yearning for them, his family, far and so scattered. He is alone. Sweat holds the white cotton shirt to his back. His back; bearing a weight, hidden and smooth.

Above the inn door a golden phoenix rises up from a fire. Below its wings are carved the words ‘drink and be whole again beyond confusion’. Inside he sits in a stain-glass window booth and rubs a week’s blonde stubble on his chin. To no one he mouths the Dutch words he hears in his head. All around him, close, people in the haze, sweat and talk.  He feels a cold helplessness; in the draw of nicotine, in the whisky that wets his tired lips. Before his mind’s eye a reel of movie scenes flickers, replaying the past. His muscles respond in secret, as a dancer to their movement. He is searching the visions for meaning, a clue to now.