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Not Dead

by Paul Stephenson


You could have given me a heart attack. The lights came on,

a white blinding light, and the walls of the room fell like flaps.

Behind your body, the dark curtain was pulled back to reveal

a swell of people one hundred across and forty rows high

who clapped and cheered and stood up from their seats.

I could feel the heat of the spotlights on my neck and back.

Cameras on runners rushed in like medics and the boom

was lowered to catch the sound of me rasping, my trying

to catch my breath. The show host ran over, beckoning you

out from beneath your tightly tucked-in, crisp white sheet.

His shiny assistants whipped it back, carried you over so

he could show us off, his arms wrapped round our shoulders.

And when he let go and drew back, I wanted to thump you

but instead squeezed you so hard I could count your heart

and buried my head in your chest and wept, and the truth

crumbled onto the blue linoleum of the hangar-like studio

from where you were transmitting and I was broadcasting

to the whole nation. We were on air together, going live.


During the commercial break we sat in the green room

on an orange sofa and drank champagne, raising a toast

to artifice and then a toast to your impressive acting skills

and ability for deception and you set about telling me how

you’d been planning it all for weeks. You beamed and I

suggested we go celebrate with a slap-up meal in Soho.

Let’s go you said, drinking up, grabbing your usual khaki

rucksack and off we went, Piccadilly Line (the TV studio

was out in Zone 5). We queued for a while, got a corner table,

ate our fill. It was better than ever as you fed me every detail

from the books you’d borrowed from the London Library,

all you’d learnt about trickery, on stillness and mis-seeing.

It was chilly for June. We walked fast to Euston, ended up

up top of the 143 to Crouch End which was empty and slow,

us exhausted from excitement, but it didn’t matter because

you were you again and I was me. The next day was normal,

nothing special. We slept in late. Lazy day. Weather bleurgh.

You were a bit depressed as usual, and I popped out for milk.

PAUL STEPHENSON is currently based in Brussels. What do you mean, you've never heard of Victor Horta?!

Art by Chen Chen.


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