Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From apartment to apartment they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure—a ghostly couple.
“Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s in the penthouse,” she murmured. “And in the basement,” he whispered “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.”
But it wasn’t that you woke us. Oh, no. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it,” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, The Denizen all empty, the doors locked shut, the owners’ keys never picked up from the vendor, only the pigeons bubbling with content on the roof and the hum of the back-up generator sounding from the Barbican Exhibition Halls. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps it’s on the third floor then?” The concierge was smoking crack in an empty apartment. And so down again, the private cinema as still as ever, only a book had slipped beneath a bean bag.
But they had found it in the games room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected social housing, reflected the schools on the other side of Golden Lane; Barbican Estate brutalism was grey in the glass. A dawn chorus of council tenants arguing with each other. In the lift an overpowering smell of bleach covered illicit odours that might have lingered otherwise. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling—what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a postman crossed the floor; from the deepest wells of silence the pigeons drew their bubble of sound. “Death, death, death,” the pulse of The Denizen beat softly. “The living dead alive and well…” the pulse stopped short. Was it invoking vampires or zombies, or both?
A moment later the light had faded. Out in the street then? But the over-scaled Denizen spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the apartment block, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen, found it dropped beneath the much taller Barbican Towers. “Death, death, death,” the pulse of The Denizen beat gladly. “Damnation is yours.”
The wind roars up Golden Lane. Trees in Fortune Street Park stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through The Denizen, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their prey.
“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the buildings —” “Penthouse—” “In the basement—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—” The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.
Nearer they come; cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken; we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. “Look,” he breathes. “Sound asleep. A nerve agent upon their lips.”
Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.
“Death, death, death,” the heart of The Denizen beats proudly. “Long years—” he sighs. “Again you found me.” “Here,” she murmurs, “sleeping; on a balcony reading; laughing, rolling marbles in the games room. Here we left our lives—” Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Death! Death! Death!” the pulse of The Denizen beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, so this your life within? It’s a living death.”