by Rocío Prieto Rodríguez
She got off at St Paul’s. She hadn’t been there since – how long? When she did the touristy bits? A smell of stale greasy food permeated the first landing. When she got to the lobby molecules of the Paris Metro vibrated in her nostrils.
She checked her watch. The plan was she would find somewhere to have lunch before the interview. The idea of food right now made her stomach clench and push out a bit of wind.
She looked in her A to Z. Little Britain –not too far. Better have a look before the developers had their way.
She noticed a secluded garden she never knew it was there. She walked around it looking at the headstones, the notice outside St Botolph’s Church and the coy carp in the pond.
It started spitting. She ran for shelter towards a structure at the other end of the gardens. It reminded her of a Wild West train station, or a rural bus shelter. The back wall was covered in blue tiles with names and dates on them. A few office workers were finishing their lunches and having furtive fags. She sat down. Gradually the other occupants left, returning to their busy lives.
She wished she’d brought a book or had bought a paper at the station. She checked for text messages or missed calls, nothing. She started humming to herself. The sky went very dark and a proper shower cascaded down.
She looked around. The park was empty apart from her.
“Behind you!” The same female voice, this time much louder.
She jumped up and looked at the windows of the buildings surrounding the park. All closed, all anonymous.
“She heard you”, a male voice said
“No, she didn’t”, a third voice joined in
“Oh, yes she did!” the male voice again
A very plural and raucous laughter followed.
The rain stopped her from running away. Her clothes would be ruined for the job interview.
“I like the rain”, the first voice said, “it calms the pain of the fire and the burns. The stage is all ablaze and Elsie is disappearing behind a wall of flames – can’t get to her, can’t get to her!”
Laments of different pitches and lengths came from all around her. They turned into wailings of horror. She could hear the crackling of flames and could smell burning cloth and flesh. She curled up in a ball and covered her ears. The rain turned into thick and acrid smoke forming words in front of her: Elizabeth Coghlam took the paraffin outside, Alice Ayres saved three children, Ellen Donovan got the neighbours out, Sarah Smith, Pantomime Artiste at the Prince’s Theatre died of horrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion. January 24 1863.
She opened her lungs and her wailing drowned all the others.
A voice whispered behind her ear: “just turn round and look at us”.