South Eastern Train, Somewhere Between Hastings and London, 06.45
Outside, everything white. Branches, grass, leaves: frozen hard and sharp, I know what it would sound like to stand on, the crunch and squeak of it under newly waxed boots, the cold creeping up my toes; sky white too, snow sky almost, the deepest frost I’ve seen in a long time. Air made visible and thick by freezing fog, enchanting now in the lifting dark but likely miserable later, through it, sheep, tinged pink still by the sunrise in the same way the sheep in the field in front of my grandmother’s house were on early winter’s mornings with that cold Scottish light, biting clear; and then, suddenly one shaft of light and everything is blue and white; the white edged blue and the blue edged white; a moment where everything feels true and good, and I would have missed this if plans had gone according to plan, if I’d travelled up to London the night before and not changed my mind to run the gauntlet with the early train and the thought now, of missing this, is enough to make me contemplate getting up early every morning for the rest of my life, while knowing at the same time, I won’t.
A morning so rare or at least so rarely seen, maybe the rest of the commuters are used to it. Certainly, none of them are looking out the window, most of them are eyes fixed to screens and I am full of admiration for this, the coordination it requires, to be typing before 7am. I tried getting to write early, but my brain won’t connect to my hands until at least after 8am, which is also untrue, since much of Ava Anna Ada was written between 5-7am but I’m also not sure I wrote it and that I wasn’t possessed of something else entirely. A hopeful excuse. Would like to be able to make things and then wash my hands of them entirely. Realise I need to learn to talk about this book in perhaps a more serious capacity and soon, interview season commencing now.
Stop. People lining the platform. Some in hats, some clutching cups. All exhale white breath. A struggle now to find seats. Next to me, a woman gets her laptop out. Catch a glimpse of her email signature. Say it like I didn’t look. Department for Levelling Up. I’m sure they’d have plenty to say about someone like me. Man opposite valiantly trying to read the FT, despite the lack of elbow room to accommodate a broadsheet. He holds it low. It’s ok, he’s used to looking down his nose. His whole face has a downwards look to it, now gravity’s taken over. Everyone largely smart, dressed for days in office captivity. Sometimes, I think how nice a monthly pay check must feel. A hat stands out by the crowd at the door, technicoloured bucket hat, looking like it’s on its way back from a festival. Hat connected to a large, red faced man, he’s not wearing a suit, is wearing a large backpack covered by a bright yellow tarpaulin. Around him, people shift a little. Not red faced, more purple, his cheeks swollen, look sore. Has the look of someone on their way home, swimming in the opposite direction to the fresh-faced and recently washed. Takes one to know one. In my imagination there’s a fish in his bag, a night of poaching adventures in his head, recall how many men in the village I grew up in were said to poach. Unsure if it’s true, although certainly, my father came home with a gift one day, telling my mother to look in the downstairs bathroom for it, where she found a brace of pheasants. Maybe similar is lodged now in the bucket hat’s backpack. He makes his way down the carriage, bodies separating and coalescing in his wake, in the same way the mercury from a broken thermometer used to when I shook the jar my mother stored it in. Likely unsafe, but magical to watch it separate before rolling itself back together in the way this morning is the same, even when I arrive at Euston, with my hands reddening outside in the coffee line, waiting for my train north, home, to show on the board.
Thanks for reading Ali Millar's 3am things! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.