Am I Awake?

“Come through!  Come through the door!”  I don’t know where the voice is coming from.   I think it’s my mother.  All I can see is the darkness.  Beneath my hands the glossy layers peel away, the grit of wood chip resolute against my forehead… “Open the door!  It’s okay!”  The yellow crack of the hall light below the door is not where it should be.  It’s in the wrong wall.  The door opens, the light comes flooding in.  I am not where I should be, sweating in pyjamas, Star Wars posters defeated on the carpet, folded over my bare feet.  I am at the wrong wall.  Am I awake?  I am awake?  I couldn’t find the door.  I have a nosebleed.  Red splashes against the hard, white sink.  Am I awake?  I am awake.


Diane leaned over the green baize, her chin approaching the cue, smiling as she lined up the shot.

“I can’t believe you would do this… it’s such a cliché… it’s as though you’ve scoured the texts of time and thought about how key ideas could be illustrated by analogy in the pub…”

She potted and lined up again, still smiling as though amazed by her own ability to play the game.

Dr Stephens set his Guinness down and removed his hat.

“All your courses are sponsored by breweries, isn’t that right?” Iwan looked away, as he always did when he cracked a joke.  Everyone laughed and the room was small: five philosophy students and their tutor in a vault behind the library on Devas Street.

“The scepticism of David Hume was directed towards the precise nature of causation – as to whether it possesses an inner logic, a necessity as opposed to, say, two events which are merely contiguously linked…”

“Shot?”  Diane offered him the cue.

Stephens arched over the table, the cue rubbing the divot in his chin.

“So when the cue ball makes contact with the red there is temporal priority: ball A moving first.”

He struck the cue ball and then halted the red with his hand.

“Then, there is spatial contiguity insofar as ball A and ball B share the same space…”

The red proceeded, accompanied by the philosopher’s hand, to click against another red.

“And then succession: ball B’s motion succeeding ball A’s motion.”

He rolled back the initial red and then pushed it into the second. Neither reached a pocket. Stephens straightened his back and leant against the upright cue.

“We can think of other instances where a different event would have caused B to happen, such as… an explosion nearby, a tremendous gust of wind, or maybe B was already occurring, unobserved or only known to a few for inconsequential or highly consequential reasons…. Maybe it was a minor event involving the same conclusion. Hume asks why we should connect A and B without empirical evidence explicitly linking them. You might argue that, scientifically, one could repeat the event and see if the same results occurred each time… but Hume would say repetition must occur an infinite number of times, which, of course, would be impossible… Diane: shot?”

Iwan took a drink and looked down at the floor. “Never play against an opponent who tells you anything is possible and uses his hands to move the balls… that’s what David Hume’s taught me. Going to put that in my dissertation.”

Diane took the cue and lined up her shot.

She struck the cue ball. Hard and loud.

“I think it’s just up here… I guess it’s been a while…” it hasn’t been any time at all. I keep on walking, I see the new bridge, I’m in the shadow of an enormous edifice with few discerning features, mannequins… mannequins in new poses, reassembled, undeterred, still life, everything is sterile, Corporation Street (still) closed to traffic… cranes hang motionlessly, bollards, tracks… “Spare any change, love?” coins against the cup, a hand held aloft, protruding through the blankets, “Spare any change? No? Have a good one.” It used to be here. Right here. You’re hanging back now, giving me some space. I appear agitated, confused. It was right here, I know it: ramp, walkway, Shambles Square, concrete flags. I run my hands across the glass window, they slide down the glacial wall, I can’t go back, I can’t go back, where am I now? You run to catch me before I hit the floor, I feel your hands catch my elbows, my skirt billows as I slump to the pavement. In the mirror of the shop window I see the your silhouette, behind mine – dark, indistinct reflections; between us the silken cream skinned mannequin staring out… staring in? Am I awake?  I am awake.

The cue ball connects with a red. 

I wait for some time. It’s gone 2pm. There were some characters downstairs. Is there a game on today? “Just 22 men chasing a ball.” No, I don’t want to watch “a proper game like rugby.” I take it easy on the ale. It’s still early. Don’t want another pint. Upstairs my signal is poor. I settle in, there’s nobody up here and then I get paranoid that you’ll be looking for me so I range from one little room to another. It’s a warren. I imagine it being rolled down the street, full of punters, the surface of our pints listing as we roll down Exchange Square, there’s something of a nautical feel about the place, the small windows… You arrive, we take our drinks then we leave.

“Beneath there, under the Mitre, there is a street, apparently… arches in the cellar… there must be a way in…”

We make several circuits around Cannon Street, Cateaton Street, Fennel Street, Victoria Street. There are errors on the mApps. Apple and Google differ in their choice of street names. The city itself takes issue, becomes obstreperous, wriggles away, evades capture. It creases my forehead. My mouth tastes of beer. Old beer. Old man’s beer.

We scan the base of the cathedral considering the crypt before looking across to Salford, imagining the old bridge crossing the Irwell. Beneath our feet there are dusty rooms, crumbling stairways, remnants of public toilets, storage chambers all swathed in the darkness of the past: a different city, another city, the same city, this city.

“I think it has to be there,” I say, looking towards the manhole cover. Squinting in the sunlight, you nod in acquiescence. People walk back and forth, some gathering in the entrance to the cathedral, others in and out of the café. Cars pour over the bridge and head along Deansgate, all moving in and out of the city. We are standing between the layers, a cross-section of the past, the present and the future stacked vertically, urban striations. We are up to our necks in it. In over our heads. The plates grind together, feel the vibrations, disorienting frequency. We stumble through Exchange Square. Am I awake?

 Another red ricochets off the first.

I saw it in the digger’s bucket. Distinct yet hard to define amongst the debris. There was something angular, a broken casket, the corner of it protruding out of the earth, a dark triangle against the white sky. Bones, rags, bundles enmeshed within the compacted soil. The site’s been cleared of tools now. We’ve got a week to make our report, officially. The contractors, the council… they want it yesterday.

I have a drink with the others at Sinclair’s. It’s been a long day. Everything hurts. It’s still light as I mount the steps up to New Cathedral Street, hanging high above the square, darkened in the shadows of the high-end stores now closed for the day. The street is deserted, empty and eerie, a space blown apart by the bomb all those years ago. I move through the gloom, the sound of my own footsteps echoing. I’m tired. I try to move faster but it’s that kind of street, the end seems no nearer, the walls loom high above, the bowling alley far, far below me, the rumble and the roar, the old market stalls, the knives, the fish, the meat, there are no markets here now, no skittles, I am awake..?

Late sunlight illuminates the final third. The shadows recede. I descend to Deansgate and take a bus from Blackfriars.


On Corporation Street




June 2016









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