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Mathew Allcock

Matthew Allcock is an English Literature graduate from Goldsmiths College, London (2009), and recipient of the Winifred Hyde Prize for highest mark in his session. A writer of literary prose and poetry for several years, Matthew was long-listed for the Cinnamon Debut Poetry Collection Prize in 2012. He wrote an article on the commercialisation of public space published in Replica magazine in 2009 and has had his short story 'Untitled' and poems 'On Leaving London' and 'Roll into the night' published by Octavius magazine in 2015. Most recently, Matthew's short story 'The Common Man' was published by Zero Flash in January this year. His story 'The Settlement' was published in the London Journal of Fiction in March. Further writing may be found at Matthew is originally from Whitstable, Kent but currently resides in south east London. He also makes music under the name Lipsis.


Further writing may be found at




“This can’t keep happening,” she said.


As I motioned at the door handle, I sensed in those seemingly innocuous words the disappearing substance of an ailing love.


My grip loosened.


“It doesn’t have to,” I replied, turning sideways, evidently lacking the kind of conviction necessary to force a response.


“We can work through this. Things can change.”


I was unsure if my words had even registered at all. They sounded weak and limp against the wall.


She dipped her wan face to the ground and disappeared from the mirror altogether. The lamp had caught her vivacious red hair moments before and struck me hard as her image occupied the room. Open make-up cases and dainty jewellery sets garlanded the dusty mantelpiece. Weak, plaintive light cried down from the high ceiling. Sparse muslin curtains hung heavy.


This wasn’t the first time I’d tried recklessly to recover our sinking ship of a relationship. I’d attempted several times before to shore it up when the whole thing was overburdened already. Uncertainty mixed with a flash of hope had pushed us through previous misgivings. But the sense of a hope dashed couldn’t be stronger than it was now. Even I had to acknowledge that.


“Can’t we talk about it? Properly, I mean. From the beginning.”


I reckoned if we took it from the start, we’d notice a narrative pattern that would offer a solution.


“We’ve said all there is to be said, James. It won’t do us any good to go over it again. I just don’t think this is going to work.”


I felt the collapsing force of the words inside me. Perhaps I’d phrased the question wrong, maybe my emphasis had fallen flat. My response was freighted with impossible significance.


“Should we go for a walk? Let’s go for a walk, eh? Come on, we haven’t been out at all today.”


Her silence indicated the futility of my proposition. Even the enlivening winter air was stricken when it came to fending off the inevitable acceptance of our failings.


I intimated at another suggestion. But the words seem to clot in my mouth, becoming dry and sticky. I stood there gasping like a lost child. She couldn’t bear to look around, remaining motionless as I left the room.




It’s funny how reminiscence strikes the minute there’s a serious change of direction in your life. It’s almost as if the notion of danger and threat of uncertainty cause you to grab at the most sure and concrete thing you have. The past is forgotten sometimes, but it often stays with you, yours to keep. You can do what you want with it in your mind, turn it over countless times, replay it, reform it. She always said her greatest fear was having this taken away.




Looking back, there had been extraordinary peace and loveliness in those first weeks together that I will always associate with high-ceilinged rooms. I will always remember how strange it was on those fresh-faced mornings, waking up next to a warm, pulsing body, faintly angling my eyes upward as they acclimatized to the glare, that I never once felt anxious or afraid. For the only time in my life I can remember, everything seemed friendly and calm.


As the light poured in through the spacious bay windows, fear was noticeable only for its absence. Faint melodies from the music we fell asleep too would mingle with the incense in the air. The white, crystal patterns on the ceiling would sing with joy. And the world was self-contained and perfect as we honoured each other through our strength. That we had leaned on each other too heavily, perhaps, was never a genuine concern.




I never wanted to leave the room on those happy occasions, but I’d always be the first to awake. I’d lie there watching her morning breath impress itself lightly on the duvet, her jaw slackened to allow flecks of moisture to settle on her perfectly formed mouth. Her red hair would spread itself winningly across the pillow, as determined and passionate as she’d ever been. Sometimes I’d stroke her back and shoulders or gently kiss her cheek and she’d roll over and smile. Mostly, I enjoyed examining her furled body with my own, nestled tenderly among the mattress and the bed sheets, content to let her sleep right through before we tackled the day together.




I’d often wander out of the house on those mornings, down the sloping road which seemed to usher you forward with something greater than the force of gravity, and onto the fields that rolled alongside the house. One could get an unrivalled, panoramic view of the city on these occasions with only the rare passer-by walking his dog and nodding expeditiously.


It was certainly rewarding when, after hacking through the undergrowth covering the alley, the sun broke out through the ruffled clouds and a golden haze unfurled itself over the cathedral spire and the roof tops. As the people merged consummately into one, millions of sparkles would burst effervescently on the water’s surface, standing on tiptoes like bright pins dropped from the sky.


The old house sat atop the hill above the city, demanding respect for the incomparable nature of its gaze. The bedroom I’d recently departed was right at the top of the building, commanding all those who had the good fortune to observe it.


Dragging my baggy jeans through the grassy verges of the alley, I’d often growl at the droplets of moisture that dabbled intrusively at my shins. It was only later that I’d recall these exact same sensations with faint, amused pleasure.


I believe the sense of freshness I noticed when breathing the supple, fleshy air combined with the biting chill about my ankles to summon shivers of delight. I have cause to reflect now that these were among my finest hours. I’d care less about getting my clothes dirty when I knew I’d come back to see her in the warm after-burn of a spring noon with a mug of hot tea and those open, loving arms.




I’d always have to make myself erect and squeeze through the rickety gate to prevent the household dog escaping when I returned home. Brushing up against the cold surface, I’d strike a button or a zip and make a pleasing sound. The commanding oak door was garlanded with creeping ivy and gnarled branches, something I’ve forever associated with the bottoms of gardens and the threads of country lanes, which seem so mysterious and wild in their quiet intensity.


On those occasions when we went out together, hand in hand, our steps were married and our movements shared. She’d always remind me to wrap up warm, generous in her supply of woolly hat and gloves. We’d walk down the hill past the boathouse on the bank, our footfall firm as the dog tailed off to paddle in the reeds, our happiness recognisable for all to see.


A few signs of the pleasure-seeking escapades of the night before would decorate the empty benches in cautiously hazardous ways. Early walkers would pass back over the steel bridge, placing a seal on the calm, unbroken morning. And the light would barely move as the sun rose, soaking up the mysterious, melancholy water below, absorbing our love in a breath.


There was always something wonderfully hopeful about her general air on those mornings; in every look and tone a sense of frankness and honesty. It was not because I could be relied upon in times of stress, but that she could, I thought, that I never ran away. She gave that impression instantly. That it has touched my soul in going by, I know full well.




Making up her hair in the bedroom, a crescent impress of human body on the sheets, I’d half-consciously savour the smell of incense as it filled up the air, forever mingling with memories of the morning.


The items in the room would rapidly take on a different aura from the day before. Slightly askew, they appeared poised to assume different shapes, shedding their solidity and formality. I’d stare at her longingly from the corner of the room, unable to overcome an aching desire to walk over and rub up next to her, touching her smooth skin and so reaching her soul. Her face was pale and soft, an elegant, precise oval, supple, and ever so slightly withdrawn.




One night in fulsome embrace, she’d managed to climax like never before, trembling as if she’d been shot. It had been the spur for a renewed sense of connection between us, one that demanded we have names for each other, songs to share, and memories of games, dreams and childhood to muse over.


On another occasion when I came to visit, my mind slightly subdued, she greeted me at the door with such innocence and enthusiasm that I thought I could spend my entire life there. Somehow the little niggles didn’t seem to matter.


The ghostly figures I passed on the metal bridge seemed to indicate that my happiness would continue, blessing me as if in a dream. I felt strangely light as I approached the house, aware of the sound of my shoes on the pavement going by.


“You couldn’t have come at a better time,” she said, beaming gregariously.


“But you should have called. We could have come and picked you up.”


As she remarked on the weather I’d hardly begun to notice, I entered into the old house once more, prepared to make a good and lasting impression. She always looked for an opportunity to celebrate, no matter how insignificant the occasion. It demonstrated, I thought, her stubborn desire to snatch from life more than it could give. And this time - like any other - the change I’d been expecting hadn’t come.


Long after, I still remember the times when I stood on the granite step and listened to the doorbell ring, smiling as I heard that gentle patter of footsteps in the hall. I’d always check my hair by running my fingers through it, turning the bottle of wine I held in my hands completely around. As I waited there eagerly, the promise of a pleasant, uncomplicated evening would fill up the air, dissolving any sadness I felt inside.


The dog would jump up erratically when I entered the hall, rallied by the striking smell of wholesome food from the kitchen. Warm pools of light would arrange themselves discreetly across the lounge and filter into the dining room, interrupted only on occasion by a weak blaze from the analogue television. Ancient breath from the coal fire would whine and hiss and crack through the evening, and ashen logs would fall like snow flakes through the iron bars of the grate.


I’d often wander about downstairs on these occasions, my steps timed to coincide with the free, gentle chimes of the radio. The whole effect of the house was one of nonchalant wildness. That this reflected on the people who lived there, I firmly believed. I constantly felt the need to secure the house from floating off the ground, to tame it, restrain it before it all got too much. These days I am sometimes caused to reflect that I may have been the one who needed tying down, my sense of vanity grounded too late.




I remember clearly to this day the first time I saw her - her soft, delicate face caught in a flash in the sky. The impression made an instant mark, enabling me to form an image of her I could love. It’s the first thing I think of when I look back at our time together. If I hadn’t turned around then at that particular moment, in that particular place, things might have been different. I may not have caught her staring at me when she thought I wasn’t looking. I may not have savoured that minute sparkle in her gently straining eye. Looking back, in fact, the whole course of events may never have happened were it not for that single selected, memorable day. For that much, the gods are to be thanked.




That night in the apartment, so invested with fortune, so complete with rich and teasing depths, we spent all night watching films in bed. It was an occasion we’d return to in our dual remembrance, sharing our mutual interests and goals. We’d spend hours re-imagining those happy moments when the birds began to sing in the rising light, their optimist’s cry filling up the morning emptiness.


Perhaps we’d repeat those memories too often, our appreciation of them becoming dim. If our thoughts were frequently elsewhere, perhaps we forgot to realise it. As chance dictated, so it would be. If it had been any other way, it would not have been as unforgettable.




The path seemed especially narrow and difficult that day as I wandered under the deep arch of the toll-bridge. I’d been down to the train station the day before, poised on the brink of returning to London. Sitting in the café at the station, I’d cried like a pathetic kid. We’d argued that day as well, you see, when the life had gone out of her eyes.


The night before had been a celebration of the New Year and some people had come over for drinks and games. That stolen night, drunken and illicit, seemed to hold the promise of a fresh start, an opportunity for congratulation and reflection. But we’d crashed before the engine started, filling up the empty building with our screams and cries, leaving so much mess and empty, overturned drawers on the floor. In stopping in our tracks, we’d allowed the flood to pour in, all our bitter enmities and irritations shooting to the surface.


She’d stumbled over the dog in the kitchen as we made our way to bed, huffing and all made up. If I could only have held off for one night, she’d shrieked. Why now, when forever after our memories would be shaped by it.




The building itself was owned by the school and rent was largely pre-paid. Having been occupants of the house for some years, there had been ample cause for alarm when the notion of proposed development was raised. Despite being able to be frugal and to economize in a number of ways, issues surrounding upkeep and maintenance, and concerns over who had ultimate rights to the residence, were hard to disguise.


Yet the house had always seemed to me to be natural where it was, to be timeless and true right now, instated magisterially and emphatically on the high ground.  It was symbolic of the kind of building that would always occupy a certain region in my heart; the kind that one could rely upon, no matter how turbulent circumstances were around you.



Even if it was only ever the background to a scene, that little bit hidden away that nobody really cared to notice, then it was nevertheless part of the underlying order of things, an order that would be irrevocably undermined should it ever have cause to be questioned.


I felt something sink in my heart when I heard that things could not go on as they were; the pain in an accident when she had to go away.




I should have figured out earlier that something was wrong, for they’d gone out shopping without me the morning before. I’d called to find out what had happened, but was met with what felt like a prepared statement, an obscurely frosty response, strangely flat and inaudible.


Waiting at the house, pondering my cumbersome dilemma, they couldn’t have arrived back soon enough. I’d offered to help with the housework to make up for my absence, glad of the distraction any activity could provide. But she kept undoing my work, putting things back differently, moving them around on the shelves. I felt like getting drunk because it wasn’t coming together, disproportionately aggrieved by her fiddling. Then I thought again, but I think I’d lost the enthusiasm to care.


When we had the row, I’d hit out at her lack of planning, her easy-going, loose nature that was making everything go to pot. In that moment, we were somehow closer than ever, even if our destinies were furthest apart. I sensed then an echo of a darker evening yet to come, a night to weigh intensely on my heart.




I wish now that I could have surveyed the disaster from a more detached position, but it’s hard to be detached about the human heart. Everything looks clearer from a distance. At the time, it all hung so heavy.


Back at the house, I found myself looking at her much as I would a bedroom mirror or glass cabinet, seeing myself reflected in it, stubborn, severe, the focus of animosity. I’d got the call only seconds before the train announcer dropped his flag and the train from Wrexham General trundled away.


For many hours afterwards, we tried to avoid the subject, both thinking of it but remaining silent. I must have been extremely worn out if my quarrelsome thoughts took pride of place above the wondrous beauty around me.


But neither of us would accept it all as their own fault. We’d exhausted such tribulations, and winced together as we sensed the pain. I refrained from pursuing the argument, anxious to turn away from confrontation. For too often I’ve despaired when my mind has lost its compass, tormented by frustration, only to worry moments later how I could possibly have been so unsympathetic.




Leaving the bedroom and wandering down the beige stairs towards the front door for the last time. The whole weight of loss presses upon me. It tears relentlessly at my gut like a coil unravelling, flooding like a dark stain across my face. What to do, what to do. Pressured to pressured action, welling up bitterly inside. I’m instantly sick and unhappy as I brush the wooden banister, grasping at the last morsels of her touch.


Any response I muster in that heated moment spells failure. If I feel the need to throw my words in quickly before they have the chance to perish and empty of all meaning, I equally sense how the kind of knee-jerk response offering itself to me invariably does more damage than good.


Questions continue to trouble me though. At what point does a solution arrive too late? Why is the force of time so debilitating in the most crucial moments? Why can’t I find the words to say what I need to say when I most need them?


A cruel notion of fate invades my mind. It’s as if the door has been bolted behind me, even though no sound comes from the house. I imagine her hearing me make quiet noises below. The stairs fail to creak as I cast a glance back at the dog lying thoughtlessly on the kitchen floor. Its eyes flicker up at me nonchalantly as I pull the front door to, wondering what it all means.


Gone. All gone.




I’d been meaning to call for a long time, but hadn’t the courage. Perhaps I’d wanted to preserve the feeling of excitement, of knowing that something beautiful and hugely important was around the corner. Still, I wondered desperately where she was, what she was doing, whether she thought of me.


We met in a local pub one evening after the break, the outmoded decorations at the bar sending a smattering of skeletal light across the floor. I laid my hands flat on the wooden tabletop; a gesture I imagined would demonstrate openness and honesty.


When we started talking, though, her thoughts were plainly elsewhere and I couldn’t catch her interest. She glanced around the room as though she were looking for someone who wasn’t me. It was the hopelessness of time past that lay between us. Small acts of politeness could sustain the conversation only so long. Everything seemed so fragile and indiscreet.


For a while I chatted to the barman as I got the drinks, trying to make up for her taciturn behaviour, her hardy indifference. It is a sign of unease to make a show of surprise when asked a question, to deliberately take the time to make up one’s mind. She hesitated twice as if she wanted to ask something but did not think it right.


“What are you doing later tonight?” I asked, not wanting to stem what flow we had.


“I’m seeing Melanie. She’s in town and we plan to catch up before she goes abroad.”


“Ah, I was thinking we could catch a film or something, just as friends.”


She paused.


“I don’t think that’s appropriate, James. We said we’d meet up and that’s it. If you were serious about staying out longer, you wouldn’t have left it so late.”


I felt the reply to be somewhat harsh, but probably right. My motivation was all wrong. I hadn’t planned anything, or at least, hadn’t discussed these plans, and I’d lazily assumed she’d drop everything just for me.


I whipped out some jewellery of hers I’d kept from a while back, a broken necklace I’d managed to have repaired. She was pleased to have it again, and I sensed how my efforts might signal something hopeful. But for that, I thought, the evening may have ended sooner.


I noticed a speck of white on the tip of her hand, and wondered if she’d started painting again. I felt, simultaneously, the same feeling I’d had when we first met, my mouth warming up in a sugary sensation.


“So you’re painting again…” I suggested, stamping out my melancholy.


“I did have a quick mess around before I came, yes. Must have forgotten to wash my hands properly.”


She laughed, as if pleased by my interest.


“I think it’s great that you’re getting back into something creative,” I said, my face straining at something like sympathy.


“Look, James.”


She paused, steadying her breath.


“I’m grateful for your interest, I truly am. But you must stop making me into something I’m not. I’ve said this before - you’ll only get hurt.”


We’d spoken of this dynamic previously, the way we imagined each other to be in our mind’s eye, how the reality sometimes isn’t adequate.


“I’m not sure this is a good idea after all,” she continued after a short lull.


I sensed hostility in her face. Rather irrationally, I began to imagine the worst.


“I can’t simply exist for you so that you don’t have to change. If I’m honest, James, I’ve always thought you condescend when you inquire about my interests. And I think you patronise – I hate that.”


A kind of iron had entered her soul, and she was set on letting it all out. It was perhaps true that I needed someone stable to secure my bearings, someone that wasn’t afraid or anxious every waking moment. I dropped my head to disown my embarrassment, forgetting to speak as I let out a breath.


I had been kind, friendly and sincere, I thought. But still in my attitude towards her, in my tone and caresses, there had remained a kind of arrogance, a sort of involuntary condescension that I’d never remedied.


“I don’t hold any grudges against you, James,” she said, tears pushing through her voice.


“It’s just I feel that we never really talked. I didn’t communicate everything because I was always occupied with something else. I didn’t talk to anybody about it, but I especially didn’t talk to you. I was sick and didn’t know what to do.”


Her tone had become more affectionate, if still essentially critical. But strangely, she spoke as if everything already belonged to the past, as if it all formed part of a previous and unreachable life.


I hadn’t figured on such weighty matters and stumbled pathetically over a response. Called to form an immediate answer, I was dejected by the inanity of what I had to say, as much as by the missed opportunity of what I did not. Perhaps I’d never been there for her truly when she needed it. I wasn’t a good listener. At this particular moment, I wasn’t even a good talker.


A sinking feeling of doing this for the last time poured over me. Nature had presented me with an opportunity that I’d failed to take. As silence began to fill the air, I let out a gasp and wondered why I’d even done this.




That night she slept over, but we went our separate ways. My night was dreamless and inconstant, and we never recovered from it. The following morning, what notion of freedom I had was quick to evaporate. I knew now how the best times had passed, how this once my release afforded no bouncing back. The reality was slow to strike, but it lingered painfully.


The train home across the meadows was destined for melancholy, imbued with a shade of sickly, decrepit green. The places I passed on the way were places of her. I couldn’t read my book so I put it down. It would be too easy to go back to her image, I thought, staring at me as if through a picture frame; easier, I thought, not to think about it.




When an image of her popped into my head thereafter, I’d have to start up a conversation or leave the room to stop myself from feeling glum. I still ache when I see the way the sun glints on the rippled sea, reviving memories of our time spent strolling lazily on the beach or by the river. At times like these, I can imagine her laugh, her face lighting up on everyone around.


Walking alongside her, I felt that that was where I was meant to be. Perhaps I suffered a lot during our time together. Yet I was all the while uplifted, in some strange way enriched. I don’t believe I ever told her this. That I forbore to write my message down on paper, neglecting to make it last and stick, leaves me wondering whether what I did say will ever be remembered.


If I could change anything, I would tell her that I had loved her deeply, and that, although I had lost her and we must live apart, whatever she wished for was more important to me than the sun.


Today, I gaze at women in the street to see if there is not one like her. Sometimes, I see an image of a beautiful girl standing in a garden, longing to hold her again to go back to the sea like we used to, to stop for a coffee on the front in mid-afternoon. And when I wish it, she remains as plainly as if she was always there.


It keeps me strong. Each creative thought brings about a hundred lost moments of love.


And I always ask myself whether the disappointment I felt after the first few dates was down to a failure on my part, a waning of my sensibility and an obstruction of my senses, rather than any major lack of hers.

The cold surrounds me in my room, but my love will never chill. I’m even a better person for it. And I would walk over that hill again and live with her, in the same circumstances, from beginning to end, if I could.

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