Fog creeps over the railing from the river below, up my legs and through the gaps in my jacket. Shivering, I scurry across the bridge, toking a joint, wearing my bass guitar like an anchor. I’ve heard about this pea-soup shit and it doesn’t help, the outline of the wheel still visible when I glance behind me, its unforgiving red hot iris pinned to my back.
People insist the London Eye is nothing more than a tourist attraction, a Ferris wheel on steroids, a piece of machinery designed to be deconstructed for public consumption on the Discovery channel back home in the States, but I don’t believe it. I’m no fool. No one’s pulling the wool over my eyes. The Eye is stalking me.
I have to do something about this and soon. It keeps me awake at night, steals my appetite, haunts the corners behind my bed, lurks in the shadows below my toilet.
The Eye’s dark heat nips at my neck. I whip around — hoping to catch it before it retracts, before it rotates back to its original position — but I’m not fast enough. Never am. I shove my big hands into my jean pockets and get the lead out, my bass banging against my back. By the time I make it to Club 66, I’m out of breath and wired on adrenaline.
Even in a thick brick building like the club, I feel The Eye. As if it can distinguish my body from the bodies of others, as if its spindle contains a sensor to find me in any crowd.
Hunched over, I pass the stage where the guys are setting up, ignoring Chas’s hallo, Yank, and head for the john. I twist around to check the mirror for blisters or charring on my neck, my shoulders, but the evidence doesn’t show. Never does.
The damage is deeper than skin, at the molecular level, atoms splintering apart. Splintering me apart. In the mirror, my eyes are blue-bruised, my cheeks hollowed out. This is crazy. Crazy. It’s a machine, for chrissakes. A fucking optical illusion. I’ll confront it, buy a ticket into the belly of the beast. Then I’ll see. Then I’ll know what it knows.
The club is smoky and loud with people, yet The Eye still has me in its sights. On stage I snap open the latches on my bass case, tell the guys we should go to Germany. Soon. On tour like the Beatles.
Chas hoots. “Like the fucking Beatles?” They laugh.
Pete says, “Okay, mate. You set it up, we’ll go. I’d fancy being called Sir Peter.”
I look from one to the other, and tell them how the cables form the iris of the giant Eye. How the hub is the window to its soul. They’ve heard it all before. Chas says we yanks are losing our grip on reality. Look at Iraq. He calls me a bloody arse.
I mutter “I need a pint” and jump from the stage. My tab is more than my share of the house, but I don’t care. I gulp down ale, the tuning notes from Chas’s guitar as jagged as the shaft of The Eye. I flick my fingers across the back of my neck. Shudder. I need to go home and I don’t mean to my ratty old flat. I mean to Texas. But I can never go back. My hands begin to sweat.
You hear the story all the time. How some guys get carried away with sex. How they think doing things a different way will make it better. Like in an elevator or cuffing the girl to the bed. Tightening a scarf around her neck. That kind of thing. I order another pint.
The bartender leaves the money drawer open and I spot the bills sitting there.
“Hey, Yank, get over here.” Chas is lead guitar. Acts like it too.
At the far end of the counter, the bartender’s hitting on some chick. The birds next to me are flirting with each other. I shove out my chair, wooden legs scraping cement, and no one looks around, so I reach in and take a wad. Stow the dough in my shirt.
I’m muscling my way through the mob toward the stage when I begin to feel a smoldering sensation at the back of my neck. A slow heat at first, almost pleasantly warm, my hand reaching back, trying to brush it away. Then halfway across the dance floor, I’m gripped by searing pain.
I lurch back and throw myself to the ground. The crowd moves aside. Chas and the guys gawp from the stage. “What the hell?” But my neck is scalding, my shoulders, my arms, my hands. My hands on fire. I grab a chair to haul myself up, the burning of wood and my own flesh in my nose, and stumble from the club into the darkness.
I can feel the anger of The Eye. Its heat cuts through the black of the city. It follows me into an alley, down a damp street, along the river’s embankment. The stench of skin, the scorching recrimination, I’ve got to get away.
I stagger down to the water, splash in, and dive deep, deep, deep.
The Eye sweeps its deadly beam across the river’s surface, seeking, seeking.
The burn begins to dissipate as I settle onto the bottom. Grasp the doorframe of a drowned car to keep me down. Watch the silt ripple like ribbons of silk in the red glare of the stalking Eye.
If I only can stay hidden long enough, it will give up. Won’t it?
The five-pound notes float out from my shirt and I let them go.
Gay Degani‘s story ‘Spring Melt’ has been nominated by EDF for a Pushcart prize. She’s published on-line at EDF, Flash Fiction Online, and Salt River Review and in print by THEMA, Quality Women’s Fiction, Landmarked for Murder, Little Sisters, Vol. 1, and in the Best of Every Day Fiction. Her blog can be found at http://wordsinplace.blogspot.com/.
[12-Jan-2010] Podcast: “The London Eye” by Gay Degani, read by M.Sherlock