One Hyde Park

Second Home

Here’s a piece of flash fiction I wrote earlier in the year for The Londonist. They ran a competition on the theme of ‘London destroyed‘; I chose to interpret that in a slightly less post-apocalyptic way than most.

The Londonist didn’t run this story as it wasn’t up to scratch, but I’m moderately happy with it as the first fiction I’ve written in a few years.

Second Home

Stefan’s feet ache and his hands are damp with sweat. It’s not only that the formal leather gloves are too warm. The same accusation could be levelled at the rest of his uniform, from the heavy woollen red jacket to the low-crowned top hat and scarf.

No, Stefan’s hands are sweating because it is the evening of the first of May, he is alone in the resident’s lobby of One Hyde Park, and his smartphone has been vibrating all night.

After checking that no residents are present – fat chance, he thinks – he slips a hand out of a glove and the phone out of his pocket. His twitter app is set up to track the hashtag #takebackLondon. The latest updates around the protest movement include mention of actions within the city – graffiti, property damage, flash marches, occupations – although none specifically mention his place of employment. Stefan sighs in relief.

Overhead a chandelier glitters, thousands of glass shards slowly turning. Stefan has never made his mind up about it. Does it resemble the grand curling arms of a galaxy and the stars that compose it? Or the spiralling forces of a storm, each glass piece representing something insignificant caught up in its violence?

He crosses the lobby, the clacking of his footsteps on marble sounding starkly amid the sterile ostentation. Outside, the evening is darkening into the muddied glow of London twilight.

Nerves aside, he sees where the protest movement is coming from. Stefan couldn’t afford to live in one of the units here. Nor could anyone he knows. This is a home for the rich. No: a second home for the super rich. Or a third! No one else can afford to live in London any more.

At nights the centre becomes a ghost town, punctuated by enclaves of life where tourists congregate in restaurants and bars near historic museums, galleries and theatres. Elsewhere local businesses and residents are long gone, buildings converted or demolished to make way for more high-rise monuments to wealth.

Stefan came to London twenty years ago and remembers when the city hummed with life. The growl of engines thronging streets; taxis and delivery men the blood cells of London’s veins and capillaries. Tube stations overflowing with passengers and pubs you could barely cram yourself into. The sound of distant voices on the quietest roads. Even the stench of urine and rot suggested that life happened here.

Today, everything is like One Hyde Park.

He looks through the building’s glass doors, inspecting the streets outside. Everything looks quiet. Distantly he can hear the electric hum of a London bus, ferrying passengers from one island to another. Then he sees a group emerge from Knightsbridge station and begin to cross the road toward him.

Stefan is acutely aware of the unexpected weight against his hip where a newly allocated taser sits in its holster. He does not want to use it, or even draw it. His heart falls as the figures come closer and he sees the faces of five teenage boys.

He pushes open the doors and steps out. A gentle wave of heat hits him. He wishes once again that he was not wearing this uniform.

“Shit,” one of the teens says. “It’s Fasher Christmas.” A few of his friends laugh, hanging back from the entrance. Next to the speaker another teen dangles an old rucksack from one hand. Stefan guesses it contains paint and stencils.

The tallest of the group puts a hand on the speaker’s shoulder. He nods at the holster on Stefan’s hip. The teens look at the taser, then at Stefan. He doesn’t move or speak, just stares at them.

“All right, chief,” the speaker says at last. “Seckle. We’re gone.” Stefan nods slowly, and the group turns away. Once they’re halfway across the road Stefan pulls out his phone. Throughout the entire standoff it has buzzed incessantly.

Before he has even loaded the app a deafening clap splits the night. The yellow-blue lights of London are overwhelmed by bright reds and oranges. Stefan shouts and falls to his knees, reflexively flinging his arms over his head. He feels small objects strike his back and arms, bouncing off his clothing. Glass tinkles and shatters on the pavement around him. For the first time he is grateful of his uniform’s thickness.

Once the glass rain stops he stands and looks around. Three of the teenagers are stood in the street, pointing up and taking pictures with their phones. The fifth is halfway to Stefan, asking if he’s okay.

Stefan turns and looks up. Fire and smoke are belching from an apartment near the top floor. He dimly recognises it as belonging to a Russian man whom he has seen only once.

Further blasts rock the night. Stefan and the tall young man who showed concern for him look about, trying to trace the source: south-east, somewhere in Belgravia. Then there is another, this time from the north-east.

Stefan grabs the teenager by the arm, looks him in the eyes. They are wide and bright with fear and exhilaration.

“You should go,” he says. “All of you. Don’t get caught up in this.”

After a moment the teenager nods, slaps him on the arm and then is gone, his friends following in his wake. They vanish back into Knightsbridge station. Stefan stoops to retrieve his phone from amidst the glass that litters the pavement. Further booms penetrate the night and distant sirens begin to wail.

He scans through twitter, but is too dazed to take anything in. A few phrases make an impression, all derived from an article published that morning. It claims that foreign nationals are waging an economic proxy war via property damage.

Stefan looks away from the screen. None of this makes sense. But here he is: surrounded by broken glass, before a wounded and vacant tower. Further explosions cleave the night, a succession of blows struck at a city in which no one lives.

[‘Second Home’, Shaun Green, 2014. Image from E-Architect.]

One Response to “Second Home”
  1. Shaun CG says:

    Posting this at the bottom rather than the top: I think I tried to do too much in this story for 1,000 words. The whole proxy war idea doesn’t really work because there’s just not enough room to let the concept breathe.

    That’s my take, anyway… anyone else got thoughts?