Fiction · 09/25/2013

And after...

Excerpted from the newly published collection Fractals

For Emily Dickinson


Let it be another town. Let the houses be lowrise, undistinguished, a mix of old and new. Let the doctor’s surgery in a terraced sidestreet be new sandbrick with a porthole window and double doors, and thick brightly-coloured metal bars at waist height to steady the entering infirm.

Let the branches of chain stores in the high street be too small to carry the full range. Let their sales be undermined by charity shops selling just as good as new. Let there be other shops stocking nothing useful: handicrafts; overpriced children’s clothes; holidays on window cards, faded; homemade homewares. Let these shops be unvisited and kept by old women still peering from doorways expecting their ideal customer. Let fashion be something heard of somewhere else.

Let there be backalleys for cycles hungover with brambles, with cidercans in ditches. Let these backways be quicker ways but let no one question the cars. Let these ways snake along the back of allotments and supermarkets and h-block schools on the ring road. Let the ways snake under the ring road. Let dogwalkers use them: let anglers use them, and junkies. Let these ways be deserted when the children are in school, except for the odd dogwalker or angler or junkie. Let each wear his particular uniform. Let no angler or dogwalker be mistaken for a junkie: let no junkie be mistaken for a dogwalker or angler. Let anglers only occasionally walk dogs.

Let there be children and old people but few whose occupation is neither hope nor memory. Let there have been immigration at some point: enough to fill the convenience stores, the foreign restaurants, but let it be forgotten. Let the children be all in school, a breath held in, released at 3 o’ clock across the park. Let the town’s rhythm be unquestioned. Let me be single: no children, no family. Let me not fit in.

Let there be a college where art students dream of cities they do not leave for.

Let art for the old people be something colourful and, for the young people, something black. Let their art be always things. Let the colourful things appear sometimes in the windows of the shops that sell homemade homewares. Let the art students sometimes fill an empty shop lot with black things. Let the old people go right up to the windows of the empty shop lot and squint and frown.

Let there be a coffee shop next to a head shop where the art students hang out, and let me buy a gypsy scarf with tassels there. Let my purchase mean I am considered arty.

Let the coffee shop serve bad coffee. Let it have only yesterday’s news and the local papers (let small crimes occur, and let occasional larger crimes, on the outskirts of town beyond the ring road, be personally motivated, down to nothing more than bad marriages, bad upbringings). Let me sit in the coffee shop and, while drinking bad coffee, hear the rumour that someone famous was to come to town but that their visit was cancelled. Let the woman behind the counter shake her head, her towelled hand continuing to spiral in the persistently streaked glass.


Joanna Walsh is a writer and illustrator. Her work has been published by Tate, Granta, The Guardian, The White Review, and others. She has created large-scale art pieces for Tate Modern and the Wellcome Institute. She has forthcoming work with Union Books, The European Short Story Network, and Routledge Porn Studies. Fractals is published by 3:AM Press and is available here.