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Places To Go and People To Meet

by Lisa 

Posted: 31 August 2003
Word Count: 2177
Summary: First ever attempt at a short story - if it's pants and I should stick to my day job, do let me know.

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It is a little known fact that London is home to some unique species. The Lesser Gutter Snipe is most often found hiding in damp doorways or scavenging through the waste of day-to-day urban existence. Few commuters realise how their discarded KFC bones and the horrible green things they hide in your burgers, can actually support an entire genus. They say your never more that three feet away from a rat in London – so too with the Snipe. A master of camouflage, during the day they go barely noticed. The more astute among us may identify them from their unique odour – a cross between dirty nappies and salty anchovies, but more often than not, you could walk past one on the corner of Villiers Street and not even look at it. Their behavioural patterns, though more commonly subdued, can become erratic and occasionally aggressive. Though you may come across small groups dwelling in sheltered areas such as under railway arches or behind shops, the usual social inclination of these creatures is solitary. The species is becoming more and more common due to unstable domestic conditions.

Cassidy was one of the rare things that is a Londoner with a Glaswegian accent. Life back at home had been hard and London had beckoned; after all, it was the city of opportunity. He now lived – if living is the right term, in a side road just off Oxford Street. It was a nice home – lots of gold ornament and colourful photographs, sweeping marble stairs and he only had to vacate it between 7p.m. and 11p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Old Bob didn’t like it if he was around when there were visitors; “Brings down the tone of the place” he’d say. Cassidy didn’t really mind, after all, living on the steps of a London theatre, you could expect little else. And anyway, he had places to go and people to meet.

Leech was waiting in the rain at the corner of Tottenham Court Road, as always. Not much of a talker, he’d stand with his legs just far enough apart to make anyone else on his patch know that he, Leech, had the biggest tackle. He leaned up against the glass of a television shop. Behind him, a giant matrix of TV screens all showed the same program. ‘A wildlife documentary, probably,’ thought Cassidy as he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the rain spattered glass. Nestling among the pixelated foliage of a Borneo rainforest, Leech looked like a rare gorilla – the alpha male – about to scent his territory. It wasn’t often that Cassidy noticed these things – colour and texture and form. Usually the dull throb of day would stab into his chest and press into his eyes. The nausea would rise and sour bile burn his throat. The ache in his right leg would explode, dripping the sticky canker of pain into his mind until there was nothing more of him left. Now that the excitement of tonight helped to ease the pain, he barely limped. The wet chill of the grey London rain trickled down the back of his neck and made him long for the warmth of Jade.

Leech carried a tatty khaki rucksack full of loose change, which hung, lumpy and jingling over his right shoulder. No words were exchanged – there never were. Like so many theatre goers, night-clubbers and hen party chicks, Cassidy passed Leech with little more than a glance. In the second of time that shoulder brushed shoulder, a handful of heavy change dropped into Leech’s greasy fist, Leech spat out a small cellophane package and popped it into Cassidy’s mouth. Transaction complete.

Now Cassidy really had places to go.

Jade was having a party. Just a quiet affair – close family and friends, that kind of thing. Not far from the Waldorf, very nice. She’d thought about dressing up for the event: that shimmering silk strapless number in the window at Selfridges. Turquoise silk, sliding all over her like the cool rippling water of a Mediterranean beach. But she thought better of it; the three coins in the torn pocket of her dirty, stained jeans wouldn’t stretch to a Lacroix. A few drinkies, naturally, to get everyone in the mood. Start early, thought Jade as she swigged the sour metallic beer from the can, there might not be enough to go round.

“Hop-along!” she shouted, as the familiar frame of Cassidy limped into view. “Join the party!”

“Is there room enough for me?” he enquired sarcastically, miming pushing through throngs of guests as he approached her, tucked into a dark corner under the arches at the Embankment.

“Always room for you,” she gurgled, emerging from her blanket with her swollen belly peeking from beneath her jumper. She kissed him forcefully, the sour tang of beer wetting his lips and her warm round abdomen pressing against him. Her greasy tousled hair fell forwards over her face and he gently pulled back to look at her. He’d never seen anyone as beautiful as Jade – her name matched her green eyes which mischievously sparkled through the grime of years on the London streets.

“What’s this?” she coyly enquired, pulling out the cellophane package which had passed to her own mouth. “I think this party just got better! I’ll roll up.”

Cassidy sat down awkwardly and wiped the rain from his face. He felt his right leg pulsating just below the knee – a heavy, wet throb. But when he pulled up his blood and pus-stained jeans, the open, weeping sore looked just as it had done the night before. A little greener, perhaps. He picked at it. It bled a little, crimson mixing into black.

“Perhaps you should get that seen to down at the hostel?” Jade suggested, rolling a thin, limp cigarette. She carefully split the cellophane package and teased the sacred powder into the already laden cigarette paper.

“Don’t be silly,” Cassidy coughed through a chest full of painful black phlegm. “This is my livelihood” He took a long, slow drink from Jade’s beer can.

The sore gaped and oozed. Cassidy seemed satisfied with the result and displayed it proudly to Jade.

“This earned me a portion of chips, a coffee and that little bundle, today. There was one chap, bus driver or something, judging by his uniform, nearly passed out when I showed it t’ him. ‘Can ye lend me some change so I can get t’ the hospital?’ I said t’ him. He took one look at my leg and vomited all over his brogues. I walked him t’ the A and E and he slipped me a twenty for mah trouble.”

Foraging under a dirty grey blanket next to Jade, Cassidy pulled out a second beer can and drank from it greedily. “Slow down!” Jade chided, passing the cigarette creation to Cassidy. “I want some of it with this. Here, you light.”

A thin curlicue of smoke rose into the musty air and drew a hazy voile curtain across the cold, wet day.

‘She smells musky and animal-like,’ thought Cassidy – the vibrant images of lean, white antelope, pushing and nuzzling into him, filling his mind in a poetic fantasy. ‘I love you,’ he whispered in his mind. She wrapped her legs tighter round his waist in acknowledgement. ‘How did she hear me? How did she get into my mind?’ He decided to shout at the top of his voice: “I love you! I love your eyes! I love your mind! I love my child that is growing inside you!” As he shouted vivid colours flashed across the underside of the archway: vibrant green like her eyes followed by the shimmering blue of her mind, dissolving into the hot, effervescent red of life. The colours lit their black little corner of London like an aurora. It made him long to see the sky. He placed his hand across Jade’s belly – he could feel the warm shape beneath that was growing and moving. A balmy rush of ecstasy swam through his body, starting in his chest and spiralling out towards his fingertips and the top of his head. It felt so good to be alive. “Alive!” He shouted out, as if to check that the sensation was real.

Jade laughed out loud, and shouted “Alive!” The song of their echoing voices reverberated round the arches like a choral praise to God in an unlikely baroque cathedral. “Alive! Alive!”

Pure rapture coursed through his veins – his blood tingled with the tang of it. He stood up, his arms above his head, the mother of his unborn child by his side, and laughed. Every quick, shallow breath filled him with the sparkling fizz of what it means to be alive – ‘I can do anything,’ he thought. ‘Anything.’

He took Jade by the wrist and pulled her out into the rain – it no longer felt cold, it was warm, running over their bodies like molten gold. ‘Alive,’ he thought. He wanted to feel the canopy of the dense London sky over them, and they clambered up onto the bridge. Nothing could contain them but that sky – they had freedom and power over everything other than that omnipresent sky. The electric blue of the air sparkled all around him, cerise clouds exploding like fireworks overhead, streamers of orange and crimson flashing across the air and sending a rippling kaleidoscope into the river beneath their feet. The shimmering rosettes of pinks and yellows burst around their heads, surrounding Jade with exquisite array of tropical flowers and fluttering petals which seemed to fade and burn out as they tinkled to the concrete floor on which they stood. It seemed to push them aloft, higher into the cosmic celebration of life and power and ecstasy. Jade stood beside him on her pedestal, the magnificent Victorian architecture proudly displaying the only thing Cassidy had ever got right. Her porcelain pre-Raphaelite face reflected the myriad of changing colours – a celebration just for them.

“I can do anything!” Cassidy screamed and Jade laughed a full, beautiful laugh that penetrated the deepest parts of his mind with the metallic cacophony of an exquisite orchestra. He stood on the ledge to be nearer the sky and he felt the warm sparks singe his hair with hot excitement. The thick, mercurial river moved and pounded to a rhythm only Jade and Cassidy could feel. The broken shards of its mirrored surface vibrated and shot hot lasers of blue and white and red and yellow over the city, because he wanted it to. They shot down buildings indiscriminately – St. Paul’s exploded in a shower of grey and silver and pewter and gold. The spikey rubble spread through the air and rained down over London like an ancient confetti. ‘I can do anything.’

The thrill of the power and the pleasure filled his chest, almost choking him. It felt good to sweep his fingers through the glutinous plasma of the air leaving strobing comet trails in their wake. He watched their traces wrap themselves around Jade like a multitude of soft, caressing umbilical cords, protecting her and their child for always. Then Cassidy was conducting the symphony of colour and joy and life. The shimmering psycholdelia of the Thames accompanied him in a rousing crescendo, throwing delicate scrolling staves up at them. ‘Anything. I can do anything’

He breathed in the sky. The river swayed and shimmered and beckoned him to dance in a new, exciting place to go. ‘I can do anything.’ The water threw seductive tendrils of vapour and colour up towards him, twining him in sensuous fingers. He longed to touch it and show it his power. The ribbon-like fingers reached out, pulling him down. Elation filled his mind and he stepped off – time standing still and the air stroked his neck, upwards over his face and through his wet hair. He breathed in the magnificent hues of the playful, alluring river and it swelled in his lungs until he too was nothing but colour and light and sound.

Then it was dark. The only light was the repeated flashes of blue which bounced over the bridge and out across the black water. Urgent voices, uniforms and hissing radios and the silent numb stare of a pregnant homeless girl in the damp, dark corner, her knees tucked under her chest, a grey blanket around her shoulders.


Watching the circling swells of the Thames lapping at the foot of the bridge, as if Cassidy could still appear, laughing and calling up to her from the cold, steel water.

The Lesser Gutter Snipe is a hardy creature, able to withstand harsh climatic changes, extremes of temperature and psychological hardships. Though you may come across small groups dwelling in sheltered areas such as under railway arches or behind shops, the usual social inclination of these creatures is solitary.

Despite the high mortality rate, the species is becoming more and more common due to unstable domestic conditions.

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Comments by other Members

olebut at 16:32 on 31 August 2003  Report this post


dont give up writing but you could think about giving up the day job


Lisa at 16:40 on 31 August 2003  Report this post
Blimey! You're quick off the mark - I only uploaded that about two minuts ago!



Bobo at 16:59 on 31 August 2003  Report this post
WOW... no, make that DOUBLE WOW!!!

That is so very beautiful, so terribly sad, and so utterly a tale of our times. If this is your first short it should be the first of many ( I hope... ).

Lisa x

Lisa at 17:06 on 31 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks, fellow namesake. Perhaps I should stick at it after all... was concerned it might be OTT.

Thanks, Bobo.


Bobo at 17:09 on 31 August 2003  Report this post
Nothing OTT, but plenty of sheer brilliance. Your descriptive prose are just amazing, and the beauty of the language serves to make the story all the more sad.

Lisa x

Lisa at 17:11 on 31 August 2003  Report this post
From the author of the great: "Hysterical Love" that means a lot to me. Thanks.


Bobo at 17:23 on 31 August 2003  Report this post
Ooh - you've made me blush! Your tale is in a different ( superior ) league m' dear, but thanks anyway...my head is swelling!

If you get a chance I'd really value your opinion of Cheap Talk And Finger Buffet - it's a very short short story I rattled off a couple of days ago and was thinking of sending to a mag, but am not sure it's up to much...

Lisa x

Account Closed at 10:34 on 01 September 2003  Report this post
Hi Lisa,
I liked the Lesser Gutter Snipe image and all the jungle imagery. For me, if Cassidy was rougher, harder before he goes off on his poetic trip it would make the contrast more stark?
This would make a great short film.

danshaw at 11:46 on 01 September 2003  Report this post

I really enjoyed that. I like the way you bookended it with the documentary-stlyle paragraphs. As a Londoner it really made me think about the streets that i live in. As a reader i was hooked.

Half way through i was thinking 'this is a really great idea for a novel; the lives of guttersnipes in London interacting invisibly amidst the real city.' Then cassidy died and i was split. HAlf of me thought it was a shame because they characters seemed as if they had a lot more in them. But the other half of me - the half that i now agree with - thought that it was a great ending, and it could even be the ending to a novel. (No pressure then lol).

You write beautifully. It's not OTT.


Lisa at 13:42 on 01 September 2003  Report this post
Thanks all.


stephanieE at 10:41 on 03 September 2003  Report this post
Lisa, this is a great piece of work. The framing with the 'gutter snipe' description is marvellously done, a juxtaposition that makes us all think again about how we treat these invisible members of society.

I suppose that I think it could be even better. A little tightening up here and there would make the prose more direct.

For example, your opening:
Cassidy was one of the rare things that is a Londoner with a Glaswegian accent.

I would re-phrase as:
Cassidy was a rare breed: a Londoner with a Glaswegian accent.
This is shorter and punchier and avoids too many unnecessary short words. (And 'breed' echoes the wildlife imagery you've initiated in the opening).

The description of Cassidy's high was, I thought, just a tad over-long. I was seeing fireworks over London, and I thought your descriptions were vivid and evocative, but I thought that maybe it was one para too much. I, personally, tripped over the word 'cosmic' as it signals all sorts of irritating hippiness to me, but perhaps that's part of what you were aiming for.

Sorry, don't mean to be over-critical, but I think this is a really excellent piece (I can't believe it's your first short story!) that could be even better with a considered and thorough edit.

Oh, and in the first para, you have a couple of typos: They say your never more that three feet... you're and than

Good luck with it.

Nell at 08:11 on 07 October 2003  Report this post
Hi Lisa,

It's only ten past eight and already I've read at least three fantastic stories! This is marvellously modern and original - I can barely believe that it's your first short story, are you sure of that? One or two typos, I didn't note them as I was too taken up with the piece. You must submit this somewhere - Becca would know the best place. Great stuff, look forward to more,

Best, Nell.

Becca at 21:48 on 07 October 2003  Report this post
Yes. Hello Lisa, I thought this story had amazing energy in it, find somewhere like 'Absinthe Literary Review', I think it is, and send it to them. Personally I didn't think you needed the 'commentary bits' at start and finish because the characters are instantly likeable, sad, funny and vulnerable, and one dead. You write poetically, perfect for short stories. The character Leech, although I see why he has to be there, is lost very quickly and that I'd say needed some looking at. I love the passing from mouth to mouth, and I think that's essential in it, but could you get over to the reader all the information contained in the Leech section without even using a character perhaps, because his sudden uselessness to the point of the story jars in terms of balance, I felt. This could be a tall order, but do you see what I mean? There is a wonderful simplicity in this story and beautifully told. The other places to look for a home for it might be in some of the New York magazines, there's one called LURCH magazine. Otherwise Broken Pencil in Canada, and Sub Terrain magazine, and Front& Centre also in Canada, although I think they've a Scottish connection. Open City is another one, I think they're New Yorkers. But I definitely think for the American and Canadian mags they'd not want the commentary sections, if you like,that's the writer giving a kind of cynical lecture, and I think it doesn't serve the beautiful simple story that it is. The best to you.

Lisa at 22:15 on 07 October 2003  Report this post
Cheers Rebecca,

Your advice is hugely appreciated and I do take on board your thouhgts about Leech - I know what you mean - he's kind of a spare part. I might have to think about what to do with him!


I'll give it a reworking and try some of those publishers.


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