Second Delivery | Brian LewisPosted: January 5, 2021
Saturday 19 December, 1.05pm. I was born two weeks late. I don’t remember this, of course, it is not the sort of thing that you remember, yet I remember being told this, the first time I was told this. I have been late ever since. School, paper rounds, every job I ever had. Some years ago I resolved to correct this by setting my watch 13 minutes fast. The trick doesn’t work, it has never worked, the brain does the maths. I am still 13 minutes late for everything. I am late now, as I climb Walkley Lane, past the dead winter deck of La Plata Social Club, past R A Leggett Newsagents and its dark display, past Walkley Food & Wine, once Keliz off licence and convenience store, then Pops off licence and convenience store, then it closed, there was a rethink, a smart, aspirational refurbishment, tasteful grey tones and a minimal typeface, Walkley Wine, it seemed all set to go, but it never opened, it got stuck, now it is Walkley Food & Wine, in red and white, the main signage, yet still the grey frontage of Walkley Wine, WW on the small projecting corner sign. On a wall panel headed OPENING TIME the hours of the days. TUE is TEU. I was going to call at Fay’s with a card, this was going to be my first stop, I have to skip it, I will come back, it is local. I turn left up the hill and onto Walkley Road. It is mild. I felt it as I left the house, the first wave, it is too mild for December. All the lights strung up in windows and gardens seem out of place and out of season. I turn back uphill, a right turn on Freedom Road, I almost don’t see the household recycling site, it diminishes every few months. The bottle banks have gone. A complaint from a neighbour, perhaps, that would do it, the sound of breaking glass. Uphill, still, I remember the house number but not the house, here it is, not where I expected. I follow the path round and knock on the kitchen door. I hear Ruth’s voice, then a scramble for keys, I step back, she appears, then goes away, she returns with Matt. We spend a few minutes catching up. I seem to be apologising for various things, for the unscheduled visit, for missing a project deadline, for the little time that I am spending on their doorstep. We exchange gifts and good wishes. Uphill, the same hill, left onto South Road, the house that used to be a post office, the house that used to be a pub. All the pubs in Walkley seemed to disappear within the space of a few years, one by one, they were picked off by property developers. The only pub left standing was The Rose House. I went there once, with Andy, and Matt, we didn’t stay long. It is still here. Beeches is still here, now incorporating a post office, Gerry’s Bakery is still here. I take a right at Fir Street, this should lead me to Chris’s house, I said I’d be there at 1.30pm. It is 1.35pm. I tell myself that I will make time, I will make up the time. I scramble up the hill and turn left at the brickwork of the long-disused public convenience at the junction with Heavygate Road and scramble up another hill to my right and there is Chris, in the doorway of his house, the door wide open. It is 1.40pm. My breath is heavy so I take an extra step back. We talk of the days ahead, of Christmas, of plans rewritten, scaled back, abandoned. Chris is between appointments and so I leave him and turn back down the hill, the incline is sharp and I nearly slip on a clump of wet leaves stuck to the cobbled slope. I wonder how many walks I have taken along Northfield Road this year, errands, deliveries, collections, so many of them have led me to or through Crookes. At the turning for Cobden View Road I pass the site of a community garden torn up by developers, this happened without notice, the loss is still protested in graffiti on the hoardings. The shops seem to be thriving, there are short pavement queues here and there, then I remember that there is almost no-one inside the shops. Everyone is waiting their turn. I step into the road to avoid the pavement queues, the shops thin out and the queues recede. The Ball is still encouraging its patrons to book ahead for Christmas meals. It has been closed for weeks, all the pubs have been closed for weeks, the signs have been left up to show how it could have been. And here is Noah’s Ark, which has not been spared, and here is the Old Grindstone, always changing hands, I took my parents here in 1995, I was new to the city and I didn’t know where else to take them, I’ve not been back since. And here is the junction, the downward slope, the last of Crookes and its mile-long spine.
2.05pm. Every road leads down. Short, long, steep, curving. I take the turning that I always take, the turning for Taptonville Road, a long street, a long perspective that widens on the descent. There is a cottage on the nearside corner that I often stop or slow for, at the edge of what might have been spacious grounds, a large estate. I imagine it as a lodge, a gatehouse, I imagine its pent snugness. A wreath on the door. The pavements and gutters are thick with leaf-litter. The trees are not street trees, they are confined to private gardens, the trunks lean into the light and the branches overhang. I stray into the road, the traffic is light, intermittent. I pass Broomhill Community Library and the clinic that dealt with my dental emergency in late January. I don’t know what I expected from an emergency dentist, I hadn’t visited a dentist in more than 20 years, this was the reason for the dental emergency. It was much like any other dental appointment except that it was 9.30am on a Sunday and the atmosphere in the waiting room seemed heavier than usual. Two of the people in the waiting room were a couple, it was his appointment, she had been urging him for months, he wouldn’t make time, and now look at him. He seemed disinclined to speak, and I was disinclined to speak, as my mouth was numb with anaesthetic, so she spoke, and I nodded. As she spoke she knitted little blue gonks, they had a purpose, she did tell me, I don’t remember what it was. She said that he was a haulier and that for months he had been trying to manage the pain with anti-inflammatories. Sixty-hour weeks driving lorries on Nurofen Plus. She spoke of his shyness, this surprised me, the tenderness in her voice. I can never remember how to cross Fulwood Road so I wait until the cars have stopped and run. When I turn into Glossop Road, its glass-fronted boutiques and parlours opaque and indeterminate, I think about the soft industries, the small businesses, that there is still a demand for touch, the personal touch, in a time without touch. I can’t see how it can work, it doesn’t seem viable, it is a question of scale. I turn right onto Westbourne Road. At the first house on the left a group of five or six people stand around the open boot of a black Land Cruiser. There are gift bags on the ground and in the boot and it appears that some sort of exchange is taking place. I keep to the left, the pavement is narrow, it is studded with small black bollards that inhibit parking. The road curves and drops and widens and it is all downhill south. I think that the detached, regular houses on the right must have been part of a scheme, the contrast with the properties opposite is sharp, they are larger, the houses on the left, set back in dark gardens, screened by stone walls and hedgerows. Absently, I explore the back of my mouth with the tip of my tongue, until it finds a molar’s socket, empty since March. I come out at Brocco Bank and glimpse the western edge of the botanical gardens while hurrying past the roads for Endcliffe that have Endcliffe in their names. I think that I have passed the botanical gardens at least a dozen times this year, not once passing through them, it was not on the itinerary, and now the year has gone. I look up at the clock tower of St Augustine’s and wonder why the time is 13 minutes out and then realise that it isn’t. At the foot of Brocco Bank I step slowly around small clusters of pedestrians and pedestrian infrastructure. I forget to look out for the Porter Brook, flowing west to east, as it slips below me and behind me.
2.25pm. There used to be a toll gate at Hunter’s Bar. Today it is a roundabout with four exits, and, it seems, it is still customary to pay your way into or out of the area. Everything is moving slowly. I can’t tell if the lines ahead of me are queues for the shops or queues to get past the queues for the shops. Half a dozen people are waiting to be let into Sheffield Makers, they are patient and courteous, the shop has a system in place. I can’t see inside so I make a sketch of crafted decorations, handmade jewellery and recycled accessories and hold it in my mind for the few seconds that it takes for me to turn the corner into Sharrow Vale Road. There are queues in threes and fours at the artisanal takeaways, the deli, the cafe. Things are brought to the open doors, no-one goes in, no-one goes out. I cross the road but I don’t quite leave it, I stick to the broken white lines of the parking bays to avoid the pinch points on the pavement. I see groups of three and six and seven near the galleries and framing shops. The gatherings seem casual, close, uninhibited. I try to shut down the judgements before they start. I try to turn the judgements on myself. I start to turn south onto Cowlishaw Road, the long, low buildings of the Pine Works, it all sinks as I move up the slope, the Lescar is somewhere at the back, I can’t see it from here. It is always further off in my mind. There are blue and black bins spilling over the terrace boundaries and onto the pavement. It’s a Saturday, it isn’t a bin day, still I expect to see lorries. It is bin day somewhere. The road levels out at the intersection with Psalter Lane and I come to a halt at the pedestrian crossing. As I wait for the lights to change I take out a sheet of paper from the breast pocket of my fleece. The sheet is folded into eighths, half of them blank, half of them filled with small black script, some of the script is struck through. I take out a black Bic biro from the left pocket of my trousers and start to add something to one of the eighths but then think better of it and strike it out. The lights change. I cross into Kingfield Road, straight and long and secure, and let go of the thoughts I had thought my way through. At the end of Kingfield Road I turn right at the intersection and come out on Kingfield Road. I take off my rucksack and take out the map and try to work out where I have gone wrong. After a minute or so I realise that I have not gone wrong, I am meant to be on Kingfield Road and this is a continuation of Kingfield Road, although it bears little resemblance to the first Kingfield Road and is pointing in another direction. I don’t know who decides these things. Ahead of me, on the descent, a people carrier slowly reverses from a driveway to the street. There are people in the car and people on the pavement. I cross the road, a similar scene two doors down, I take myself into the gutter. A few of the large, detached houses are having work done to make them larger, skips and portakabins skewing the pathways and the driveways. A female blackbird at the edge of the gravel. A sudden sharp pain in my right temple. It will pass, I think, it is usual on these walks, it is expected, it passes. I look up and find that I am finished with Kingfield Road. I recognise the street opposite without knowing its name. It isn’t part of the route but I need to know more. The street sign tells me that Meadow Bank Avenue is a private road, that parking is for residents only, that there are speed ramps, that the road is slow. The road has prominent features, two fixtures at the top that mark it from the highway, stone gateposts without a gate. I can’t tell where it ends. The road is unadopted, there are others like it around here, there may or may not be a right of way.
2.50pm. I turn from Meadow Bank Avenue and realise that I am no longer running late as I no longer have a schedule. No one is expecting me. The signs of The Union remind me to turn left onto Machon Bank Road, the pub name is spelt out in capitals at the side, title case on the corner. It seems lonely. I walk alongside it for a few seconds, someone still cares, a smart, seasonal window display, someone has taken the trouble. The road drops, the roofs are staggered on the descent. Most of the properties are terraced, thin stone fronts, there is some divergence from this, you see this on Sheffield hill streets, subsidence, voids, some of the older houses will have had to be taken down. A few upstairs windows are open. I think of the heat and the heat escaping. Although I no longer have a schedule I still have deliveries to make, I won’t knock, the deliveries are silent. Machon Bank Road turns into Machon Bank Road. I don’t take out the map because I remember what happened with Kingfield Road and Kingfield Road, the road is the same yet not the same, I trust myself to follow this. I pass a postman stepping up to a house with a bay window and a red front door. This is not his first round of the day, I don’t know this for certain, it’s not as though I can ask him. The plain white backs of cards pressed against the glass. I am sending and receiving more cards this year, not all of them have got through, some are at the mail centres, some will be out for delivery. We want people to know that we are thinking of them. That we haven’t forgotten them. The houses give way to a Sainsbury’s Local and a Sainsbury’s Local car park. There are cards that I don’t send, I don’t have the addresses, I don’t know where the people are. There are cards that I don’t send because the people are no longer among us. I am thinking of them but the thoughts have nowhere to go. Machon Bank Road ends in a crossroads, Sheldon Road ahead, Moncrieffe Road to the left, Nether Edge Road to the right. I take a right. The small businesses are lined up opposite, Bombshell, a hairdresser, Edge, a dentist, Zeds, a grocer. The last shop on the block is Cafe #9. I came here with Rob Hindle ten years ago, there were eight of us, we had been walking for a few hours, we had been stopping on frozen ground and listening to the long wake of the Sheffield Blitz. This was a scheduled stop. Rob’s sequence, premiered in snowy woods and fields on the 70th anniversary of the Luftwaffe’s first bombing raid, drew on his earlier walks through the south-western edges of the city, and on the city archives: the contemporary reports, the eyewitness accounts, the testimonies. We heard more from these voices as the city drew closer, extracts from the memoirs of survivors, inventories of damage and loss. It is harder to imagine today. It is 10 years further off, it is 10 degrees warmer, and the gaps in the city have been filled in. I am still thinking about the closed cafe when I reach the closed pub, the Byron House, where I stop to see where I am on the map. After a short interval I hear raised voices from the pub, no, I hear one voice, there is a second interval. Here is the turning. I went through the addresses in my address book earlier and found that I hadn’t updated it in years. Or is it that I add addresses but do not take them away. I have six addresses for a friend who moved house six times in six years. I couldn’t bring myself to cross the old ones out. Or strike through the addresses of people who have died. Here is the house. It is a friend, not a close friend, but a friend whose year has ended in difficulty. It is a small thing and I don’t know if it will help but I have written a card. There are warm white lights in the window, there is someone at home. I hear the card land in the hallway and I turn back down the road.
3.10pm. I grew up without rivers. There were lakes, and a canal that didn’t work any more, but nothing flowed. Years later, I learned of the River Ray, a tributary of the Thames that passes to the west of my hometown. It runs in a northerly direction from Wroughton, on my father’s side, through Rodbourne, on my maternal grandparents’ side, to a mile east of Purton, on my mother’s grandmother’s side. I have glimpsed it only once or twice in adulthood and have never tried to follow it. It is a faint and minor constellation at 1:1 scale, an idea of navigation that is not for navigation, a pattern that I can read on the map but not on the ground. This is in my mind as I reach the top of Nether Edge Road and try to work out a way down. If I cut through the wood I might end up in the allotments, the terraced slope of Brincliffe Edge, I might lose the outline. I take a sharp right turn onto Archer Road that doubles back on the descent, the Scouts at the end of one driveway, a car park at the end of another, before levelling out at the junction with Edgedale Road and straightening to the east. The street is not familiar. I must have cut through Edgedale Road before, terraces to the north, semis to the south, nothing stands out apart from the sheltered or self-contained housing development, set back from the road in layered greenery, that stands out because it has been designed not to stand out. Although the street is not familiar, I remember how it ends, the junction with Abbeydale Road, the shops in both directions, the pedestrian crossing to the right. The signal is halfway to green and I step into the road. There is very little traffic, are the lights automatic, how do they know. I remember this, too, a left onto Langdale Road, it is short, the road that I need is at the bottom of this road. No right turns for vehicles, left at the corrugated autocentre, the same flagpole, a different flag. It used to be a chequered racing flag and now it is a union flag, or half of a union flag. The other half is missing, worn away by wind, nothing more than wind. I pass the autocentre and am at the end of Rydal Road and here, below the white railings, is the river. I turn right onto Little London Road and walk against the river which means that I am walking into the south. After a hundred feet the road and the river cram under a railway bridge and the pavement thins to almost nothing, I straighten my back and quicken my step, I am listening for oncoming traffic as the stonework darkens. On the other side I take a moment to look at the river before it turns away from the road. I have lived in the city for long enough to know that this is the Sheaf, the dark river, its course obscured by culverts or industry. It is hard to follow, it is never far from the railway, it is glimpsed in passing. I don’t know if anyone else calls it the dark river. Perhaps the Don is the dark river. Perhaps it’s the Porter, which meets the Sheaf underground, beneath the railway station. I started to think of the Sheaf as the dark river when Andy and I used to walk alongside it at night, the short stretch via Halfords and the car wash and the trading estate, under the railway bridge and over the footbridge, we’d end up at the Sheaf View, we’d walk back the same way. I remember the exposed bed and moonlight glinting off metal debris. I tried to record Andy reading some poems there, it wasn’t successful, he turned his back to the Edirol, still reading the poem, we tried again, voices and footsteps beneath the iron footbridge, we tried again, a southbound train overhead. I wanted to come back at 3am and record the poems but it didn’t happen. I turn from Little London Road to Aukley Road, a sharp fork uphill, I can’t quite remember how to get to Chesterfield Road from here. The hill is lightly wooded to my left and I see the shape of a hairpin at the top and I follow it into an unnamed road with a white rail running down the middle. At the end of the rail is Chesterfield Road. On the other side of the carriageway another white rail marks the foot of a steep, narrow passage, a short cut to Cliffefield Road. I climb the steps halfway and stop to take in the city below and find that I am out of shape. The next delivery is somewhere off this road, it is J.R. Carpenter’s This is a Picture of Wind, the order came through yesterday. The customer is going away for a few days, will it be delivered by Monday, of course, I reply, I will make sure of it.
3.30pm. I can’t even post something through a letterbox without asking myself if it might have been done better, the angle, the length of the drop, what to do when meeting resistance from brushes and springs. I let it go and I find the lane that leads from the corner of Cliffefield Road to a southwestern edge of Meersbrook Park. I know nothing about the park and I have never set foot in it. I enter under leafless winter canopy, not too heavy, the trees help with orientation, they are part of the design, the extended line, space enough to make sense of the branching paths. The path to my left is for the walled garden. I take the path straight ahead, a view of the park as it opens out from the hill, there are other paths criss-crossing the green slopes. I see people, sitting, strolling, singly or in pairs, children at a distance. A great sweep on the descent. I take a satsuma from my rucksack and peel and eat it as I walk. The descent is shorter than I’d expected. I leave the park through an open gate, I face the street, the streets leading off. I don’t know which side of the park I am on so I slip the rucksack from my shoulder and take out the map. I turn to page 133 and find that I am north-west when I should be north-east. I take a right and then tell myself to take another right on reaching the end of the first right, right right, Brook Road to Meersbrook Park Road. It is quiet. I pass a small white camper van, decorated with stickers or stencils, open the door and you’re home. A left onto Cross Park Road, a large detached property on the corner, an outbuilding that I mistake for a house. Something isn’t right, the windows whited out, is it done with, is it derelict, it doesn’t take long for a building to come apart. At the end of Cross Park Road I stop to look for Suzannah and Will’s card and then I look around for Suzannah and Will’s house. The street looks much the same as when I last visited except that it is in Christmas colours. It will be dark soon, I don’t have to read the sky, it only takes a few minutes. I post the card without fuss and turn right at the gate and right at the end of the street. Towards the bottom of the hill the terrace starts to break up, a flat-roofed, single-storey Unit 17 wedged between 63 and 69 Valley Road, number 67 is missing, it ends with Mastercast Fire Surrounds and a courtyard out back that I can’t make out. Ceiling Rose’s, Coving Plain & Ornate, DaDo Rail. I don’t know why I bother. A vast and empty car park and a nondescript building with numerous small windows, it all belongs to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is explained in a transparent panel attached to the car park gatepost. As I pass the Meersbrook Enterprise Centre, a range of modern office and business units from 200 sq ft to 2,000 sq ft, I am reminded of the financial advisers for whom I used to provide remote administrative services, many of them working out of buildings like this. The letters of authority, signed by their clients, photocopied or faxed or emailed, to be actioned with urgency. When the letters had been processed I would store them in a box and then the box would be sent to an off-site archive. All of my work from those years has been destroyed, long since, in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Bag supplies, roofing supplies, hand tools. The buildings get smaller and fewer and the numbers run out at the corner.
3.45pm. Valley Road meets Chesterfield Road at an obtuse angle, this isn’t obvious at the time, it’s only there when you look back. There is a large Lidl opposite with ground level parking and I wonder what was there before. You could ask that question anywhere. I used to ask it of myself as I walked the streets that I’d known for decades, I’d turn a corner and see a new hotel or a new showroom, what had it taken the place of, what had we lost, where did it go. Sometimes it would come to me, days or weeks later, there used to be a garage there, an old post office. As I take a right turn I glance at the wall that divides the far pavement from the Lidl car park. A section of the old wall has been integrated into the new wall, there is no plaque, no date, no foundation stone. It is hard to let go. I head north. Many of the businesses on this side of the road are closed, or appear to be closed, some are still trading, discreetly, warily. I am overtaken by a man who makes for the doorway of a coffee shop, he catches the eye of the proprietor, a transaction ensues, wordless and familiar. A grocer, a takeaway, a long-dead bakery. As I near the end of the block I pause at the windows of Rails, a store for model railway enthusiasts, also Dinky, Meccano, Scalextric, etc. It is spread over several units with matching panels of hand-painted signage above the shopfronts. A handful of customers are inside, at the counters, at the displays, at a distance. I am almost moved to join them but I don’t because it is not part of my world. It was part of my father’s world, I imagine him there, taking his time, a smile or a half-smile on his face. Some years after he died, my mother said that he had very few toys as a child, the late 1930s, the 1940s, and so he collected Matchbox cars later in life, Models of Yesteryear, they filled the little corners of the house he had built, the high shelves above the bookcase, the recesses in the attic. It had never occurred to me. It wasn’t nostalgia for a time that he had lost, or a time before his own time, but a space that he made for a time that he had never had. I cross the junction with Albert Road and notice the railway bridge opposite, the trains are running parallel, the Sheaf must be on the other side of the tracks. Chesterfield Road is now London Road though it still feels like Chesterfield Road. I pass The Red Lion, which is grey, and then, a minute or so later, The White Lion, which is green and black. A few more lights in the distance. Next to The White Lion is Ponsford, a furniture showroom, and Ponsford, a furniture showroom, and Ponsford, a furniture showroom, infinite recursion in black and white. The scale is not apparent from the south and the end is not the end. The terrace runs out but Ponsford runs on, via a covered walkway that lifts the business over Well Road, linking the second floor of the older premises to a new purpose-built showroom with parking at the rear. I have never bought any furniture in my life, apart from a secondhand desk which cost £20 in 1999, and which I still use today. A low bridge ahead, the railway turning right, the Sheaf following, running under light traffic on London Road, overtaking the mainline at Greyspace Flooring, meeting and parting in the blind spots of the city.
4.00pm. This is the eastern edge of the antique district, or the dead centre of the carpet district, or the outskirts of the fabric district. I can’t see any antique shops or carpet shops or fabric shops from here but the patterns were printed in my mind, some years ago, and I can’t edit them. I know that the patterns weren’t set down straight and that I could walk around for an hour without finding any carpets. I know that I could set off in any direction and be proved wrong. I know that the constellations will fall apart when I’m not looking. Here is an antique shop, the doors are closed and windowless, the paintwork a shade redder than the neighbouring Machine Mart. It is not clear if the antique shop is still trading in general antiques, the signs on the window glass encourage this idea. A newer sign, nailed to the brickwork above the shopfront, states that it is militaria, nothing more, JUST MILITARY in a military stencil typeface. There’s no point in arguing with a military stencil typeface. There is a lot of London Road to get through. Just ahead are the turnings for Queens Road and Wolseley Road, everything widens at the intersection, everything stops, the queueing traffic and the mounted lights. I am on the wrong side of London Road and I have to use three Pelican or Puffin crossings to get myself back on track. When I cross the last set of lights I am rewarded with the display window of GULL’S FABRICS, you see, I was right, I am always half right. Tool hire, a mini market, Asline Road branching off, to the E-Bike shop and the U-Mix Centre. London Road veers left. I pass Hearth and Home and Baitul Mukarram Jame Masjid mosque and then I realise that I should have taken Asline Road for the next delivery, the last delivery. It doesn’t matter, I can find my way back. Everything branches east. Royal Apartments at the corner, closed curtains, open windows, is the heating stuck, are the windows stuck. The light is starting to go and the landmark buildings come into their own. Highfield Trinity Church is first, stone stacks, the local vastness. I glimpse a similarly-sized ex-church opposite, set back on Highfield Place, skylights where the slates were. At Highfield Library, another Victorian corner building, I stop to read the words chiselled into the portico: THAT THERE SHOULD ONE MAN DIE IGNORANT WHO HAD CAPACITY FOR KNOWLEDGE, THIS I CALL A TRAGEDY, WERE IT TO HAPPEN MORE THAN TWENTY TIMES IN THE MINUTE, AS BY SOME COMPUTATIONS IT DOES. I cross the junction with St Barnabas Road to a furniture centre, which is called Furniture Centre, then cross to the west side of London Road to the half-open shops, Erbil Barber, Amigos Mexican Kitchen, closed or closing shops looking back from the other side, Jay Jay’s Army Surplus, Foam & Upholstery Supplies. On the corner with Grosvenor Square I nearly miss the window I was looking for because it’s not on the itinerary. I thought that it was done for when I passed it in late April, and again in late June, and it looks done for now, but it isn’t, not yet, not today. It’s a single unit, tucked between Chikoo’s Peri Peri and Treatz Dessert Parlour, SHEFFIELD TRANSPORT MODELS in the upper half of the sign, initial caps and petite caps, Model Railways & Transport Books centred in the lower half, dark blue text in an off-white field. The small display at the front of the window is gone. I try to remember how it looked in June, the remains of a tableau, a partial layout, one track, one tree, a few bushes, a church half-buried in sand. A paper background of hills, forests, lakes, the scenery bleached pale blue by sunlight. There is nothing in its place. I know that the shop is not done for because the man who stood behind the counter in April and June, sorting through paperwork, perhaps, or fulfilling online orders, is here today, in similar clothes, in a similar attitude. I step aside from the window as I don’t want him to see me looking in. The light is on inside the shop, it doesn’t reach much further than the counter, but I can make out the titles of the books and magazines stacked up behind the glass door. Waterways in Europe, Dictionary of Rail and Steam, The RAILWAY magazine. I see myself flicking through the books, not for the books themselves, but for the postcards, notes, and letters that might be tucked inside, accidentally, incidentally, or intentionally, then forgotten, unseen, unread, the letters to the future.
4.10pm. As a child, I would faint, now and then. It happened in school assemblies, scout parades, I didn’t make it out of the cubs, it wasn’t for me. The first time it happened, I was at a loss, the adults were at a loss, what happened, is he OK, is he going to be OK. I wasn’t hurt. The floor was hard but there wasn’t far to fall. I wanted to know how long I had been out. A few minutes, someone said. It became useful, for getting out of things, assemblies, parades, standing in silence for what seemed like hours, marking time. The uniforms were always too tight, the collars and the ties, it happened for a reason, it wasn’t a bluff, they would say that I changed colour in the last few moments. It’s also true that I didn’t want to be there. It was hard to fall in line. The last time it happened, I was at a temporary blood donation centre, this was a few decades later. I’d just given blood, but it wasn’t the blood, that part had gone well, I was resting, I decided it was time to leave, I gathered my things and stood up and I fell into a faint, a dead faint. I wanted to know how long I had been out. A few minutes, someone said. You should sit down and wait here, there’s tea and biscuits on the table. I’d tried to walk before I could stand. I keep going, north along London Road, towards The Moor, towards town, then stop, I am forgetting the delivery, the last delivery. I turn back at Clarke Square and cross to the junction with Alderson Road, there is a pharmacy on the corner, there are yellow metal signs, weighted down with sandbags, COVID Testing Centre in black with black arrows. The arrows are pointing south-east, the road is the same. I need to be south-east then north-east then east. The test site isn’t far, a minute or less, I hear the generator as the traffic falls back. I see the white tents and the white portakabins. The test site is in a car park, it is a walk-through centre, there is no parking in the car park. There are metal barriers, concrete blocks, traffic cones. The layout is similar to the walk-through centre that Emma and I visited in October, in Burngreave, a few miles to the north-east. Emma had made the appointments just a few hours before we set off. We didn’t know how long it would take on foot so we left as soon as we could and walked for an hour or two in steady drizzle and arrived half an hour early. No-one was going in or coming out. It was a few moments before we realised that the site was open but no-one was using it. A supervisor scanned our QR codes and another supervisor beckoned us into a portakabin. It didn’t seem to matter that we were half an hour early. We sat in our partitioned spaces and familiarised ourselves with the steps in the booklet and then we put ourselves through the procedure. The supervisor was on hand throughout, tactful, discreet, attentive. We put the swabs in the vials and the vials in the zip-lock bags and the zip-lock bags in the biohazard bags and then handed over the biohazard bags to another supervisor before leaving the site. Then we walked home. It rained on and off. I can’t remember what we talked about, were we anxious, relieved, reflective. Neither of us kept a record. I turn left onto Woodhead Road, terraces on one side, long low windowless walls on the other. I see the Copthorne Hotel in the middle distance and the Railway Hotel in the near distance. I’ve never set foot in the Railway Hotel, it’s opposite the United ground so I think of it as a match pub, United Fans Only. It must let people in at other times but I have never seen the doors open. When I pass the Railway the Copthorne comes back into view. I look left along Bramall Lane, losing the focus as the Copthorne meets the stadium, I think of the time when Andy and I were walking back from town. It was late, past midnight, a taxi pulled up in front of us, and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry got out of the back. Andy stepped over and embraced him like a long-lost cousin, though we had only seen him an hour before, onstage, at Plug. There was no hesitation in the embrace and I admired that. Funny. To think of Scratch at the Copthorne. To think of embracing anyone now. I look right and left and there is nothing coming so I cross straight into Cherry Street and look out at the empty Blades car park. I haven’t been here in two years or more. This is where so much of it started, this is where we sat and talked, mostly it was Andy who did the talking, I listened, I went away and came back with sketches, we worked on them together. This is why I can never throw anything away. It is dusk. It was always dusk. The poems were shaped at dusk, they were spoken at dusk. All the poems come back at once in his voice. The ginnel gate is unlocked, someone has nailed a mailbox to the slats, that wasn’t there the last time I was here. I could have sent letters. There are differences at the back, I can’t say for sure, a fence or a wall has come down or gone up. There is a light in the kitchen. I knock, and wait, then knock again. No sound, no shadow. Perhaps he’s gone to the off-licence. Perhaps he’s editing his photographs, the headphones on, a roll-up on the go. The letterbox is smaller than I remember but the parcel will get through. I wait until I hear it make contact with the kitchen floor. The chequered linoleum. Not here. Anywhere. Bills stacking up. A year in arrears.
Sheffield, 19 December 2020.
‘Second Delivery’ is a ‘winter postscript’ to Lockdown Walks, a series of posts that appeared on the Longbarrow Blog during April 2020; you can read the fifth instalment here.
Brian Lewis is the editor and publisher of Longbarrow Press. Longbarrow Press is continuing to fulfil book orders via its website during the COVID-19 pandemic; click here for a full list of our current hardbacks and to order titles.