Voices in the Tunnel

Voices in the Tunnel

From the Autumn 2001 issue


I hear voices. That’s what you find in this kind of tunnel, a collision of tenors, bass baritones, counter-tenors and contraltos, like the echoes up and down the sewer in The Third Man.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel but the tunnel is like the North Circular Road, winding pitilessly to the end of its tether, fading, retreating, suddenly booming, dazzling the eyeball with fractures of light. The voices come and go.

I think they are the voices of Uncle Sam and Aunty Dolly and the girl in the deckchair which collapsed under her bottom. As she slowly decanted the appalled family gathering stared right up – or down – her skirt – black stocking-tops, thighs like lilies. She cried out and was never seen again.

Where there was Aunty Dolly there was also Uncle Mick and where there was Aunt Bessie there was also Simey from Tottenham and of course Albert and Gertie and Phyllis and Bob and Hetty and Harry, Freeman, Hardy and, in this particular case, Willis.

They’re in the tunnel. Am I walking towards them or leaving them behind? Are they fading before me or falling in behind me? Are they coming or going?

I waited for Barbara whateverhernamewas for forty-five minutes under a tree in Springfield Park. When she slowly sauntered towards me, palpably bulging, she smiled and said: I knew you would wait.

She went to California.

When I bumped into Lilian whateverhernamewas in Piccadilly Circus, just behind the London Pavilion, I said: What are you doing here? I've just been with a Yank, she said. He gave me seven quid and he only went once.

She went to Australia.

Are these voices in the tunnel happening now or then?

Will they all know me when I burst out of the manhole and join them in the dark?