map of the hand Date: circa 1890

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“I write to prisoners” she says, trying to shock or intrigue me. She nods towards the letters, open and pinned, boring like butterflies, to a cork board near her odd little writing desk. I could have guessed this kind of self-made nuance about her, had I spent the time to think of her more than somewhere to sleep that wasn’t the sleepless train station. An air of deliberate living, of touristic risk seeking. Something to add colour at parties, perhaps. I wait for her to tell me how much her parents hate her doing it. My brain mocks but my feet and back and chest welcome the warmth. The last time I slept with a roof was Christmas Eve. It was now February.

I look around her room, and I take it all in; posters bought during Fresher’s week. Photos, printed from Facebook, of a party or bar somewhere, people and haircuts just like hers, a time that was had and then remembered through a prism. The obligatory stuffed toy, no doubt a story behind it, or at least, an excuse to strangers for its existence. Sketches. Some photos of her feet, taken by herself. I look through her to the door with three locks on it. “Don’t you mean they write to you?” I say. She laughs, unsure what my point was, and looks sad.

She makes drinks and I finger through her paperbacks, scattered over her writing desk. I stop at The Prince and the Pauper. You always find irony in a pile of paperbacks faster than solace or saudade.

I think of the train station platform, specifically of the benches there, and how they are designed to stop someone taking refuge on them at night. I think of the draftsman of those benches, his feet under an easel at some industrial furniture company, pen in hand, big ideas boiled down to what is cheapest to make. As I go down on her, holding a cold thigh in each of my hands, I imagine the wording of the design brief he was given. I consider the acceptable business euphemisms that told him to make sure nobody could sleep on the benches, veiled objectives that distilled somehow into what ended up at the train station. My tongue, earning its bed free of steel dividers, grows tired and I fuck her. As she bucks against me, I look at a Gustav Klimt poster on the wall behind her instead of the knape of her neck. Rivets and perforations. Sleepers and bolts. The last days of British Rail.

Later on, as I listen for the sound of her shower ending, I take a few pound coins I can see on the dresser, a Kinder Egg, and the Mark Twain book. As she returns, I look busy by reading her prison letters. A resident of Dartmoor Prison is telling her how special and amazing she is. I should like to trade places with him for tonight, as if we were Prince Edward and the pauper Tom Canty. I imagine he has had to do nothing to earn his bed, and I wonder if I am Edward or Tom as she talks to me about the other people who live in her building.

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