Fiona Parott (Creative Writing: University of Glasgow)

THE AIR COMING out of the tunnel was warm and stale. Frances could feel it wrapping around her cheeks then ears. It travelled down the back of her neck, up through her hair then down her forehead until it entered her nose with a nauseating rush. She closed her eyes to the air until she heard the train door before her separate from itself. Bodies pushed her forward, towards the opened doors. She could have kept her eyes closed. She could have moved with the tide of the crowd, stepping with them into the train until the doors shut again and the air settled down into silence. But she didn't. She opened her eyes and let the crowd pass her because of the woman on the other side of the platform. Frances stood absolutely still, watching this woman's hair move round and round. But how? Could they be snakes? Hundreds and thousands of thick, black snakes?

The key chain in Frances' hand cut her palm slightly, forcing her attention downward. It was the lightening bolt key chain her sister had given her for her twelfth birthday, now over twelve years ago. The lightening bolt was always getting in the way; snagging on stockings, catching on the sleeves of jumpers but it had never drawn blood. As the train pulled away, Frances remained on the platform and the woman with the moving hair had disappeared. Frances would wait, with a tissue soaked in blood, for the next train.

The underground had turned quiet as Frances moved to one of the worn, clean sections of the platform. By standing there she knew that the doors would open right in front of her and she wouldn't have to move any farther in order to board the carriage. She was alone as she stood and stared at the poster on the wall. It was a Dali poster, the one with the elephants walking through the desert with needle-thin legs. "They Drink Iron Bru Too" the poster read. Apollo Art, Frances thought and she slowly shook her head. She hated the way society commercialised art. What would Dali have thought if he could see his work casually advertising soda pop? What would his beloved Gala say about her genius of a husband, now well known for the sticky orange beverage that would rot generations of teeth?

The wind picked up again. That stale, cloudless air felt mouldy and grey. This time Frances would keep her eyes open. This time she would step onto the train. She looked down to her palm. The blood had hardened onto the lines of her hand forming what looked like the shape of an H. H for hand, heaven, hell, Hermes... Frances played this little game in her mind to distract her from what she saw on the other side of the platform, through the air that never seemed to settle.

"Help, help, Hara!" She heard the woman say "HELP" as she watched her and a large swan physically struggling in an awkward embrace. Feathers were flying and blood began to stain the far end of the platform. Surely the others now surrounding Frances saw this unusual sight. "Help Hara," the woman cried out. She pleaded, she moaned but no one helped. No one seemed to notice except Frances as the door to the train opened before her with a suction sound, like the seal on a jar of shelled oysters. S M A C K.

Frances closed her eyes to the speechless movement of the commuters, the swashing of trench coats, the rustling of wet, folded umbrellas. Frances could smell someone's hot chips, the vinegar mixing unwillingly with the salt, as the crowd brought her, with closed eyes, into the carriage. Passively, Frances moved until the door shut behind her. When she opened her eyes, the train was pulling away from the platform and the woman and the swan had vanished but blood continued to sit in perfect circle, beneath the Dali poster which began peeling from the wall.

eSharp issue: autumn 2003. © Fiona Parott. All rights reserved. ISSN 1742-4542.