Performance Art

The black suit lay in the aisle like a discarded shadow. The legs and arms were too long and it shifted and rippled as the train rattled on and on. People seemed to absent-mindedly avoid it as they got on and off the train, their eyes drawn to kindles and phones or, in one man’s case, an old and water-stained book of obscure magical lore.

This man – young and thin, dressed in baggy cords and a frayed fisherman’s jumper – put his book down after a few minutes and knelt down next to the suit. He produced a chipped shot glass from the back pocket of his trousers and plunged it deep into the liquid material. His arm was clean when he withdrew it, but the glass was full to the brim with a thick, dark substance.

He placed the glass on the floor next to him, dipped his finger into it and then paused, biting his lip.

He began to draw, crawling along the floor and up the walls and across the ceiling. He drew eyes and buildings and trees, he drew the sun and the moon, though they were both black and dripping. He drew wolves dressed up as little girls, and fat, toothy squids drinking tea with old ladies. He drew God, and death, and the sea and they all looked the same. He drew a spider that was also my grandfather, and a cat that was also a star. He drew a man in a dark suit holding an empty bird cage, and an aristocratic looking chimp drinking from the skull of a buffalo. He drew a bird of doom, and an owl, and the half-rotted carcass of an emu. He drew my face with black eyes.

And then he stopped. And, with tears in his eyes, he looked around at all of our blank, uncaring faces. He sat down, clutching his book to his chest, trying to make himself as small as possible, and hurried off at the next stop.

I leant forward and checked my reflection in my shoes. I could smell coffee and stale cigarette smoke. The man next to me was smacking his chewing gum, and I watched the woman opposite nibble around the blackened bits of a banana. Someone swore as the train sputtered to a stop just past New Cross Gate and I could hear distant thunder like the threat of a headache. The sky was the bruised and sickly purple of a rotten plum and somewhere, back along the carriage, a man screamed.

I turned and saw that the suit was still there, discarded on the floor. But now there was someone in it.




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