Forgetfulness, in itself, can be a comforting thing. Life’s little awkwardnesses drift away as memories of them fade. Traumas, grievances and pain can all be ushered away by a simple act of forgetting, or at least they can be pushed to arms length by a convenient failure to remember. But forgetting does not erase. It defers, it avoids, it denies, but it does not destroy that which it seeks to push out of existence. Just look at the ghosts, for starters. They had taken angry exception to being told to gently into the good night. They had not so much raged against the dying of the light as told it in no uncertain terms to fuck right off. Telling Death to make himself scarce takes a certain amount of blunt, stupid courage, so the ghostly protests against the Municipal’s clearances of the city’s spirits can have come as little surprise. What was surprising was just how efficiently the Municipals cleared the streets of ghosts and just how quick people were to forget it all – not just the ghosts that had plagued the city, but also the lost demolished architecture that had once been a sad, noble home to the defiant undead. Most surprising of all, to the ghosts consigned to the tunnels’ dank confines, was that they simply could not escape. A being that walks through walls as a matter of course every day gets used to a certain amount of freedom. So imagine the surprise of the ghostly knights, dandies and Teds when they made to leave through the tunnel walls and received a sharp, stinging bump on the nose for their troubles. That sudden, confusing restriction was perhaps a sign for the imprisoned spirits that this, maybe, was the beginning of a long deferred end.
The end, however, was not quite nigh. Not yet, anyway, for in the tunnels, something stirs. At the centre of the rotting labyrinth runs a huge, cavernous shaft, its concave sides wide enough to once have accommodated the passage of the brilliant white seaplanes, their hull shaped undersides loaded with terrible ordinance. From this great central tunnel springs sister tunnels, sub-tunnels and tangents, decked in flaking wartime markings, damp gummy stalagmites dripping dissolved mortar to their floors. Down one of these tangents, from its flat walled end, comes a dull ochre glow. Closer inspection reveals the profile of a man and a woman taking tea at an occasional table, their dark sides picked out in an end of pier artist’s sharp-edged silhouette. They are locked in intense conversation. The man sits huge and swarthy, with heavy brows and a lantern jaw, his towering height folded awkwardly into the confines of a high armed Windsor chair. He wears a red guardsman’s tunic, whose brass buttons have turned verdigris green in the damp tunnel air. His female companion is a little younger than him, in her early twenties maybe. She has a girl’s face, pretty, yet touched by the marks of unwanted experience that age her features beyond her years. Her green eyes are a little dull, her red hair lank and the corners of her mouth are lined with the marks of false smiles and a lifetime of pouting. Her clothes are those of a street-walker, staid Victorian garb stripped down to a bare, suggestive minimum: ivory corset, tattered lace gloves and threadbare jade coloured skirts, finished off by ragged stockings and tarnished hobnail boots. Brandishing a bone china tea-cup, the woman fixes the guardsman’s gaze and speaks, with feeling: “That Brad, he’s not good enough for her. The poor cow deserves better’n him, the cheating bastard.” Opening his arms expansively and leaning back in his chair, the man replies: “Well, what can I say pet, men have needs and if them needs aren’t served at home, then of course his eyes are going to go a-wandering. If Jennifer ain’t providing for him, then fair enough, I say.” Chuckling, he throws a soggy edged gossip magazine, RAT BRAD CHEATS JEN emblazoned on its cover, across the drop sided table. “Maybe”, he continues, “if that Brad had a girl as fine as you, he’d never’ve had cause to stray.” The woman giggles : “Ooh, get you, you old charmer. You’re making me blush, you are. More tea Jack?” He nods and she fills his cup from a blue and white Willow teapot, then stirs in milk and three sugars. He lifts his cup in salute: “Cheers, Kate. You do make a good cuppa. Now…what’s for supper?”