Ouroboros by Owen Wynne Jones
Owen Wynne Jones
dream you watch yourself walking down the road leaving footprints visible to you but not to the you that you see. You walk unseen the streets of London. You see yourself walk through Kensington Gardens down the Broad Walk and you see you are alone. You leave the gardens and find you have also just left St. Paul’s Cathedral as you walk down the marble steps to the Millennium Bridge. You see Shakespeare’s Globe the London Eye and the Parliament Houses across the river. You follow yourself as you walk onto the bridge and are helpless as the world turns itself spinning around and shaking as the bridge twists and vibrates as you are shaken awake by your wife. She informs you that you are late. She watches as you go into the bathroom and lift the lid to the toilet. You urinate and feel her eyes on your back. You should have shut the door. You wash your hands then look at yourself in the mirror with tired eyes then wash your face roughly trying to erase the image of your eyes from your exhausted mind. Unsuccessful. You look out of the window. A coat or merely a jacket? There are two men across the street who stare at you in your undressed state. You note the grey clouds yonder. Definitely coat weather. You close the curtain and turn to your wife. She contemplates you as you choose the day’s garments and begin to dress. She follows you as you descend the stairs. Pleads with you to have breakfast. Asks you to have a drink. Resigns herself to watching you as you put on your coat and grab your suitcase. You give her a kiss and you leave. You see your neighbours and give them a wave while wondering if they still have that attractive young lodger staying with them. You make a mental note to ask them next time you see them. You cross the road and you are at the tube station. You pick up a newspaper and take your place on the platform. You feel the world is at the station that morning. It is not.
On the tube you look up from reading your paper and catch the eye of the woman opposite. She smiles. You try to return the smile but judging her to be an oppressive sort of woman only manage a half-baked twisted and mangled impression of a smile. The man standing next to you is looking at you while you try to hide behind the newspaper but there is no new news so you get bored and you fold the paper and put it on your lap. You look up and you see in the window the reflection of the woman sitting next to you. She is looking at you and you feel your heart speed up and you remind yourself that you are married and you look at her again and the woman opposite you looks around as though you are trying to tell her something and you merely throw her another feeble smile while leaving your morning mind to focus on the woman next to you but as the tube leaves the tunnel the reflection fades and you realise with perhaps a little too much shock that the next station is yours and you pick your suitcase up and stand but you stand too soon and find that you have to stand for a whole two minutes before the tube reaches the station but you cannot sit back down because the man who had caught you strangely smiling has taken your seat and you curse the woman who you had sat next to and you curse your wife for waking you and you curse your tiredness and your headache and your awkward fucking smile and you stand directly in front of the doors so that no one can see your face boiling hot bubbling with blood until the tube draws into the station and then you can walk and not see the people looking after you as you walk in front and as you leave the tube you hope no one is watching you but you know that everyone is noting the guard track you as you make a beeline for the ticket barriers and you try to get out of the station as quickly as you can and you start to wheeze as you make it out into the moderately fresh air of London.
You walk out of the station and make an immediate right. You walk past people tall small not noticed at all. But they notice you. You make another right and arrive at your office. You sigh before you open the door. Are you not looking forward to a day of arduous employment? Good for the soul. That is what your father would have said. Were he alive and with you at this moment. He is not. You curse your father as you walk to the lift. You nod awkwardly to the odd acquaintance. You forget why you nod at people and you decide instead to attempt to show acknowledgment of their existence some other way next time. You know that you will always nod but feel it is nice to contemplate some new ideas. Just not to act on them. That could only lead to insecurity and insecurity is something you can scarcely afford to feel. So you think. There is a slow murky stream of people on the stairs and you become one of them trudging up the steep steps as though climbing the sharpest mountain. You reach floor 5. This is the floor. You have forgotten the room you were to meet in so you search around lost with your head spinning in anxiety and you almost feel your propensity to scream come to the fore but you fight it and find yourself after only a mere minute opening the correct door to see eight faces look up at you each shining with an unpleasant oleaginous texture. You mumble a short excuse for an apology and sit where the man at the head of the table suggests. He is a rather large man with a moustache which is somewhat out of fashion nowadays—a shame but there it is—he has brilliant blue eyes and his mousy hair has receded so far back that if you look at him from the front you would not be quite aware that it was there at all. He is kindly and greets you in such a manner that becomes his kindly nature. You can only nod your thanks wipe the sweat from your forehead and settle yourself down to a tedious morning. You are not looking forward to what is to follow but you think to yourself I’ve only got to get through the day. You forget the night.
The meeting drags and you find your mind slipping. It ends abruptly and amicably and you are not entirely sure what has passed while you were in a haze but you try not to let anyone catch on and walk with them until you turn towards your office where your secretary is waiting for you. You lie. She is not yours. She is your floor’s but she is closest to your particular office and you think of her as yours as she likes you best but she is not yours. She is currently on the phone but motions a greeting which you are grateful for. She is a sweet woman. A simply wonderful secretary. Simple and sweet. You like her. She indicates that there is someone waiting for you in your office and you try your best to show your thanks without articulating and you enter the door with your name on it. A man spins on the spot to examine you. You are smaller than he would have liked. Your nose protrudes a bit much and your hair should be cut. Other than that he is impressed. You do not know this and greet him as robustly as you can. You do not manage to be as robust or rambunctious as you would wish. You make instead a rather awkward impression on your audience and their opinion of you decreases further. You do not know this. You try always to be rambunctious when you feel the need to impress. You always feel the need to impress. You sit at your desk and ask him if he has been waiting long and ignore the answer of no and proceed to apologise. He is a friend of an old client and wants you to print off a something you once did a while ago but you say you have to give it to the client in person so if it is okay could you ask him to come in personally? The man says he cannot ask that because the old client is dead and you say that you are sorry but you cannot really remember the old client and feel little in the way of sympathy—Why should you? People die—you rationalise but then you remember the old man and you liked him and all of a sudden you become overwhelmed with emotion and want to help this man opposite you who reveals himself to be the old man’s lawyer and you print it off even though you know you are going against policy and you hope no one will find you out but you think that if they do find out they will surely be understanding? As he walks away you panic. They won’t. This is a company. It is run by the head not the heart. You are the heart of the company. A component at least. You find you cannot work much with this thought running through your mind and you take yourself off for an early lunch telling the secretary on the way out that you feel a little ill and will be back in a bit. An hour. Maybe two.
You think you need to get away from the office. As far removed as possible. You remember your dream. You resolve to take the Circle Line to Gloucester Road and walk up to Kensington Gardens. You know the bodies bustle around you as people get on and off the tube but stand numb to their touch a world away. You stand numb but you could sit. You see some of those who are sitting wondering why you are not. There are enough seats and you look quite fragile. You stand. In defiance. In a world away. You find your feet taking you to the Gardens as far removed as you can be. But the people! How you abhor the people! You try to find some solitude just a little patch where there would be no one who could penetrate into your vision. You close your eyes trying to throw the outside away but too quickly you walk into another and they open in shock revealing a large brutish form who pushes you to the side. You fall to the ground and begin to feel as frail as you look. A fragile fool. You are not sure if you want to cry or urinate. You look frailly at a sitting woman who starts and is no longer sitting. You look fragilely at the world in its bosom and feel the desire rise within you to connect with the world. Failing that a book would suffice. A book would be more than sufficient. You want nothing more than to turn back and lose yourself in the warmth of the paper sheets full of ideas and wants and action and arguments and distress and people too! Too many people. Too many. You notice that you are staring at the obelisk dedicated to Speke. You shudder and blush. You feel a need for distraction. You walk on staring now into every face looking for a distraction. You are numb to their strange looks. You try to get yourself out of your mind. You leave the Gardens and decide that work is the only thing that can distract you sufficiently and so you go back the way you came. This time you sit on the tube but are still a magnet for funny looks from the other occupants of the carriage. You are anaesthetised and face forward looking at yourself in the window. You look yourself dead in the eye. Already a world away.
Your secretary is waiting for you with a few memos a few missed phone calls a few from the boss a few from a client a few that she forgot. You thank her as much as you feel you can. You merely tell her she is the best secretary known to man before turning to your door. You shut the door and sigh. You are alone at last. You sit at your desk and take a moment to settle. You straighten out your keyboard and tap it gently for the screen to light up. You look up above your door at the camera that looks imperiously down at you each day. You remember it was originally installed due to a staff member stealing equipment a few years back but the culprit was never caught and the cameras never uninstalled. You are not sure if it still works. You have to assume it does otherwise you suspect you will begin stealing again. You find work easier to endure now. You force it to be your distraction and are soon lost in a whirlwind of irrepressibly dull transactions that require your full attention.
You escape the building wondering what happened to time. It is now evening and you do not want to go home immediately so you decide to take a walk. Before long you find yourself people watching from a bench opposite the station. You haven’t walked far. A large man with a weatherworn nose approaches. You note his curly brown eyes and large forget-me-not hair and you follow him as he twists and turns through the throngs of people trying to get home and he is lost. You turn your attention instead to another man who has a ruddy complexion and almost clear eyes. His eyebrows are steeped in black colouring and his hair is as white as snow. You watch all you can until the crowds thin and you decide to resume your over-enthusiastically entitled walk. You begin slowly but speed up as you notice someone following you a man across the road tilts his head in your direction a woman walking her dog looks for too long at you a couple pause while embracing so the woman can get to note you carefully a child gazes at you out of a window a group of men stop their conversation to scrutinise you and you begin to run turning a corner to see a man with an overladen suitcase goggle you and another to see a teenage girl inspect you with too much attention and you run into an alley and—alone at last. You think. To your horror you see a dog at the end of the alley. An old dog with matted hair and a pug nose. You sigh. You think that it is probably blind. It is not. It watches as you smash your head against the wall and scream. You amuse it. Home. That is where you want to be. Home. The only comfort and privacy left to you.
You walk fast as you feel you can while retaining some modicum of dignity. You feel a throbbing on your head and become increasingly self-conscious as people turn to you questioning and coming to their own conclusions as to how you got such a mark. Your stomach kicks you as you realise you have not eaten today and are suddenly intolerably hungry. At the train station you buy a sandwich despite knowing that there will be a meal and questions waiting for you when you get home. It is your wife’s night to cook. That is if your wife is back from work. You take a minute to sympathise with her before a young girl walks into you and looks at you with angry eyes before moving on. You eat quickly before getting on the train home. Trapped on the tube with all the seats taken and opposite you is a young boy who looks like he is on a night out. You feel like letting him know that all looks are permanently temporary as you note his overlarge front teeth and slightly too-round face. You remember your forehead and feel better. It will fade. You turn your back and look out tracking the fading light and your attention is then taken by a tube coming alongside the one you are on and you look at the faces looking out. In every window is a different face looking out avoiding the others in the carriage perhaps looking your way but you do not notice them. It seems to you that a people is caught within these two tubes. A society all looking out. You smile to yourself.
You are home. Your wife greets you at the door. You know she wants to know where you have been but is perhaps scared of asking for you have been known to ask for a certain amount of privacy in unreasonable tones before now. To help her out you tell her you have been for a walk. And the head? A fall. That is all. She seems satisfied. Over the table there are more questions—how was work? How was the walk? How is the meal? You feel exhausted and put all your energy into eating rather than answering the questions with any elaboration. Silence descends and you welcome it. Your wife finds the silence awkward and looks up at you several times as though she is going to ask another question. You finish your meal and ask about her day. She tells you of her patient with oesophageal cancer who is finally losing his voice and a new patient—a child with leukaemia who came to her today—a sweet child—so brave—so beautiful—so alone in her struggle and you are moved by your wife’s emotion in telling the story and you embrace her and you do not want to lose her ever and you tell her you love her and you kiss her on the forehead and she smiles up at you her eyes radiating a warmth that carries deep into your body into your heart and you don’t ever want to let her go and you kiss her again before leaving her—temporarily—to put the kettle on as she watches you with sad sad eyes.
The evening passes fast—too fast for your liking. You and your wife cuddle on the sofa watching a film before yawning—each telling the other to go to bed before pushing each other up the stairs into the bedroom. Your wife asks if you have read the day’s paper to which you reply that you have skimmed through finding little of any value. She asks if you have read about the proposed cuts the government has put forward and you haven’t so she forces you to. You take the paper to the toilet—closing the door this time—and read while the large layered face of a suited man with dull eyes and greying hair looks out at you as you read the condensed print underneath. You wash your face and brush your teeth and enter the bedroom where your wife is already asleep. Her picture studies you from your bedside table as you tuck her in before getting changed for bed yourself. The day catches up with you and you feel weary and heavy you feel your eyes droop as you clamber under your soft sheets trying clumsily not to wake your wife and you lie for a minute trying to remember the day and all that passed your way and it seems a blur and you think of your wife and you think of tomorrow and you find that your and you lose your and you are alone at last you think but no the eyes and your and your and you look around before you close your and you begin but you turn on your away from your and you feel remorse for your and fight back against the oncoming trickle of tears and you close your again and you fight to keep your blank as you stutter unceremoniously to sleep and as you
© Owen Wynne Jones
Owen Wynne Jones is a student, living, writing and working in London. He has had several stories published online and in print as well as a play.
Join our community
Support the mission
Get the book
Writing That Risks: New Work from Beyond the Mainstream
The anthology that started it all. Available in trade paperback and ebook from most online retailers, including: