You enter the coins into the machine and a ticket is returned. Ham does likewise and grabs his ticket as soon as it comes. You lift yours up to your blue eyes and peer at it. Another ticket another day, you tell yourself, kissing the ticket, gripping it between forefinger and thumb.
"Where first?" says Ham, "Green Park? Charing Cross?"
He's excited, as if he'd never travelled by underground before, had never smelt that air, that whoosh of air about your face, you think, staring at him, watching his nervousness, his energy.
"You come most carefully upon your hour," you say. Ham smiles his smile. He takes your hand and drags you along amongst the crowds. His fingers, yellowing at the tips, hold yours that are white, white as fish, as bones are.
Leicester Square, it is then!" says Ham. There is a certain gentleness about him. He knows you well, or so he thinks. You sense his fingers, their warmth, their humanness, their fleshiness.
The crowds press their bodies against you, their smells, their sweet scents, their breath, their passions. Ham pushes through and pulls you after him, as though through a sea, wave after wave.
"Never thought death had undone so many," Ham says.
You enter the platform and look for the edge. You are drawn to and fear the edge of the platform. Some nights you dream it is sucked into the wall and you are left to fall on to the track as the train comes. Ham holds your hand, holds it tight, holds it close to his body, as if it were his, as if it were part of him and not of you.
"Leicester Square, here we come!” Ham shouts and laughs, kissing your hand, drawing you closer, pushing you both a space from the crowds.
"For this relief much thanks” you say. Ham smiles again. His smile has a way of warming you, as his frown has a way of hurting you and making you cold, as he did last night, when he entered you, so roughly, so roughly, so roughly.
When the train comes, Ham pulls you through the crowds by your thin arm, as if he’d caught you like a fish on a line and was drawing you in onto dry land. The crowd press against you as you move slowly through them, as if they resented your passing amongst them. Ham finds you both a seat and you love the way the faces of so many strangers look about themselves, as if death were seated about them.
"My father always brought me on the underground when I was a child," Ham says. "I love the sway of the train and the way you can see your face in the window opposite when the train's in the tunnel," he adds, smiling at you, then at himself in the window opposite. The people facing him are not impressed, they stare or look away uncomfortable with his loudness, with his openness. "Ophelia, didn't your parents bring you on the trains?" he asks, turning to you, taking your hand in his.
"It is bitter cold, and I am sick at heart," you say. Ham nods and smiles.
"Best warm you, then," Ham says, and rubs your hands in his quite roughly. You feel his hands, his skin on yours, the friction, the warmth. "Horace should be at Leicester Square," says Ham, "he’s always there.”
"If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, the rivals of my watch, bid them make haste," you whisper to Ham.
"Horace will be there," Ham says,"But Mark is usually at Piccadilly." He looks up at the advertisement boards and recites to himself the contents. You watch his lips move as if he spoke to ghosts, spoke to his father, no doubt, you think, lifting your hands to your lips and kissing them.
The train pulls into the Embankment. Bodies move out and others move in like a change of guard. Ham moves closer to you. "Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin," he whispers to you. "Whitman," he says. He takes your left hand, presses it against his cheek. "I love Walt Whitman,” he says.
You stare ahead of you, at the faces on the other side of the train, at their eyes, at their faces, at the size of their noses. You watch them, your eyes scanning over them, as if you were searching for one you once knew, but had lost.
"Frankie may be at Leicester Square," Ham says suddenly, as if thought had just entered his mind without knocking. "He’s often there, singing in the subway, those damned songs of his."
"It’s now struck twelve, get to bed, Francisco," you say abruptly.
"He seldom sleeps, seldom sleeps," Ham says. Those facing you stare in wonderment. Their eyes searching you and Ham as you sit close, his hand holding yours against him. They whisper, some of them, their words floating about the air like dark moths. They have no respect for their prince, you think, no respect. You can see it in their eyes, in the gestures of their mouths. Their deference has gone. They are lost subjects, rebels, rebels without causes, with no subject to subject them. Lost, you muse, lost, lost, lost.
When the train stops at Leicester Square, Ham grabs your hand and pulls you out of your seat and on to the platform. There he stands looking up and down, letting the crowds pass him, letting the great unwashed, as he calls them, pass on their way. He draws you to him and kisses your cheek. You bow your head, that your prince should kiss you so, while others he ignores. "Horace is here!" Ham says. And you watch as he leaves you and goes to his friend who is tall and dark-haired and has a scar over his left eye. "Horace, what are we doing today?" he asks.
"I barely manage to get out of bed," says Horace,” and you ask me what we're doing. I've no idea. What do you want to do?” He and Ham walk back to where you stand by the wall and he nods at you. "What does she want to do?"
"What shall we do?” Ham asks you.
"Have you had a quiet guard?" you say, looking at Horace.
"What did she say?" says Horace.
"Let’s go see what's above ground," says Ham. "She’ll be happy wherever we go." Horace stares at you, his eyes gazing at your pale features; your golden hair tied in bunches over your shoulders, your blue eyes.
"What do you see in her?” Horace asks.
"A lost soul," Ham replies. He puts his arm around Horace’ shoulder and you all climb the stairs slowly, as if time was your own, as if you had an eternity. And as you climb, you take a backward glance at the platform. Still the edge beckons you, frightens you. You hear a train coming; the whoosh of air, the smell of bodies and a bodiless voice like Ham's father, calling, calling, calling.
You sit between Ham and Horace on a bench in Leicester square. Ham has been talking non-stop for the last ten minutes and Horace has sat listening with that intentness in which he deals with most things. His black hair is straight and hangs untidy about his shoulders; his eyes are dark and slightly sunk into the sockets.
" And over there," says Ham, pointing," Is where my grandfather took my father to watch the Sand-dancers. There was a road there, then, and they danced on the edge of the road, three of them." Ham sits looking over at where he'd just pointed.
"My father and his brother saw Joe Frazier in that theatre," Horace says.
"The air bites shrewdly, it is very cold," you say.
"The sun's out," Horace says, " How can it be cold?”
"She feels the air," Ham says, she senses things we can't." Horace shrugs his shoulders. He takes a sideways glance at you and you sense a lostness about him.
"How’d you get to know what she thinks and feels?” Horace asks, turning his gaze away from you.
"I’ve known her for years. Knew her before her mind went," Ham says. "She was a drama student. Her parents have sort of abandoned her."
"Do they know what she's like?”
"Well they've not been looking for her," Ham says, glancing at you, taking your hand in his.
"Shouldn’t she be in hospital somewhere getting treatment?” Horace asks.
"We’ve been through this before, Horace. She's been in and out of places and nothing's changed," says Ham. "She’s with me, now, I'll take care of her."
"If thou hast any sound or use of voice, speak to me," you say.
"Well, Ophelia, are you happy with me?" says Ham.
"I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw," you whisper to Ham.
"What’d she say?” Horace asks.
"She means she's only mad at certain times, at other moments she's as sane as any other," Ham informs. "Come on, let's get some lunch," he adds, pulling you up from the bench. Horace follows, watching you and Ham, studying your slim figure through your light-green dress. He lets his eyes move up to your hair and your profile.
You let yourself be led across the Square, pulled by your hand. Your prince, you think, will let you be fed and watered. But none seems to show honour to him, none stands aside or bow, you muse sadly, as Ham enters a restaurant with Horace at his side and you drawn from behind like a reluctant child, a thin, pale reluctant child.
Back on the underground train, you travel to Piccadilly Circus. The crowds are about you all again. Horace sits opposite staring at you with those dark sunken eyes of his. Ham sits beside you swaying to the movement of the train like a young boy, like he use to when a child with his father. You lower your eyes from Horace's stare and search the feet of those around. Such styles, such sizes, small shoes, large shoes, strange shoes, sandals, boots and trainers, you study them all, you study them all.
"O day and night, but this is wondrous strange," you say suddenly, loudly, so that Horace looks away, blushing, and Ham taps your hand, hush hushing you.
Faces watch you, search you, strip you down and mentally finger you, want you, hate you and always the whispers, barely audible, always saying, always condemning. You know their hearts and minds. You sense their feelings, their fears and hates. Their eyes swim over you like waves. Their minds capture you and try to pin you down, as if you were some butterfly, rare and strange. You stare at your feet, at your dirty black shoes, at your stockings with ladders, at your slim legs that touch at the knees.
Piccadilly Circus shows on the platform wall. Ham and Horace jump up and leave you to follow, but you're trapped in the crowds. Panic grips you. Your thin hand reaches through the crowd like the arm of one drowning waves from the water. Your hand waves and waves. "No, not to stay the grinding of the axe," you say,” my head should be struck off." The crowds part at your words. Ham pulls you through on to the platform by your hand.
"You should stay close to us," Ham says crossly. "You’re more trouble than a child.”
"Should have left her to her devices," Horace says, glaring at you with sunken eyes.
"She has no devices," Ham retorts. "She’s like a lamb amongst wolves."
Ham and Horace stand each side of you, talking across you, their words polluting your air, entering your space. Ham lets go your hand and waves to another up on the stairs. "Mark, Mark!" Ham shouts. Mark waves and descends the stairs. He is short with brown curly hair, and eyes brown and large as a cow's.
" Thought it was you," Mark says," spotting Ophelia made me sure," he adds, giving you a smile and a nod of his head. "Are you coming for a drink?”
"Too right we are," says Horace. "Me mouth's as dry as a deadman's penis."
Ham hugs Mark and whispers words. Mark laughs in his deep baritone and shakes his head. Horace adds words and both the others laugh again. You are outcast, exiled. Your prince holds court and leaves you out. You are but woman. You are unfit to untie his sandals.
"If circumstances lead me, I will find where truth is hid," you say. Ham looks at you; his eyes watch your lips.
"We will follow," Ham says. "And help find this truth of yours." The others laugh. There is a certain cruelty in laughter, you think, looking away, letting your eyes fall to the floor like dead birds. Ham grabs your hand and leads you up the stairs. Your prince has you now. He has considered his handmaid and you are safe again. You are safe once again.
The bar in Piccadilly Circus is busy. You sit next to Ham, Mark and Horace sits opposite across a dark-brown table. Frankie sits at the end, his thin hands expressing, what his bright mind thinks.
"And my father came here way back in 1974, heart-broken and thinking of suicide," Frankie says. "Woman whom he loved, toured off to Italy. Nigh on broke him."
"Women are dangerous creatures," Mark says.
"The female of the species is more deadly than the male," Horace informs, "Or so Kipling tells us." He gives you a stern stare and a thin smile.
"We get over these things," Ham says. "So what happened to your father?”
"He married my mother," Frankie says. He pulls a face and the others laugh.
You sip your drink. Ham does not allow you to drink alcohol; he allows you only fruit juice. You sip quietly, watching Frankie, studying the gestures of his hands, the movement of his lips.
Then you sense a hand on your thigh. You cease sipping, your lips perch on the glass rim, as your eyes look at the hands visible over the table. The hand moves up your thigh slowly, the fingers walking. Ham's hands are visible, they hold his glass. Frankie is gesturing with his as he speaks. Mark's hands are before you on the table, tapping. Horace stares at you, his one hand holds his glass, his other is moving up your thigh.
"Do not as some ungracious pastors do, show me the steep and thorny way to heaven," you say firmly. Ham turns to you and follows your stare.
"Horace, what are you doing?” Ham asks. "Don’t get her uptight."
"Just being friendly," Horace says, removing his hand beneath the table.
"One can be too friendly," Mark says.
"The girl's taken a dislike to me," Horace suggests, wanting you, inwardly, secretly. "I’ve done her no wrong."
"Who knows what wrong we do unawares," Frankie says. You close your eyes. Ham puts his royal arm about you and you feel calm. My prince has come, my prince has come, you think, sipping your drink, enjoying your momentary blindness.
Mark talks of dance clubs. Ham interrupts and speaks of how his grandmother danced in Piccadilly Circus when V.E. day came, and how she knew girls who did things they ought not to have done with men they hardly knew. Frankie laughs and says he wished he were there. You enjoy your darkness; enjoy the peace of the numb blackness behind your closed eyes. If only you knew whom you searched for, whom your eyes sought in the day, and your dreams held in the night.
The underground train moves towards Regent's Park. Ham and Horace sit opposite you and Mark, while Frankie sits where only a last seat was vacant. You see Ham only now and then as standing bodies sway in between you both as if dancing to some secret rhythm. Mark sits back; his head tilted backwards gazing at the notices. His large brown eyes soak in all he sees, his hands rest in his lap.
"Have you been to Regent's Park before?” Mark asks, turning his cow eyes on you.
"A double blessing is a double grace; occasion smiles upon a second leave," you say. Mark frowns and lets his eyes slip away back to the notice boards above his head.
"My father took me there as a child," Mark says. "We played ball, I remember. He was not very good at it. But at least he tried. Trying is what counts."
"What have I done, that thou dar'st wag thy tongue in noise so rude against me?”
You whisper to him, your voice tense. Mark holds up his hands, gestures innocence, moves away from you, leaning to his right.
"Ophelia," Ham says through the bodies, "Calm yourself. Mark is only asking you simple questions."
"I shall my lord," you reply, lowering your head, letting your eyes fall to the legs of the swaying crowds. Eyes are upon you. Whispers, voices, smells surround you as if to condemn, as if to pin you down, to torment. You close your eyes. You prefer your darkness to their cold light. You hold your hands tight in your lap and your legs touch at your knees like lovers kissing. Kissing. Kissing.
You sit in Regent's Park, your chin resting on your knees. Ham is reclining, his head resting on his hand. Mark, Horace and Frankie are stretched out on the grass like dead men. You sense the smell of cut grass. You hear the birds. The noise of the traffic seems like a distant hum of bees.
"A man's fantasies should never be realised," says Mark.
"What good are fantasies if they're never to be realised,” Horace says.
"The fantasies of Hitler and Stalin proved disastrous when realised," Ham states.
"Depends on the fantasies involved," says Frankie. "My fantasies would harm no one. May even bring delight to a number of young ladies."
"What do you think, Ophelia?” Ham asks. You stare at the grass; your prince speaks to you.
"My lord, I have remembrances of yours that I have longed long to deliver," you say in a vague manner. Horace shakes his head. Mark turns towards you and gazes at you with a sorrowful expression. Frankie looks up at the blue sky and says nothing.
"What remembrances are these?” Ham asks. The others wait and listen.
You lift your head from your chin. "‘Tis in my memory locked, and you yourself shall keep the key of it, “ you say with emotion. Ham nods and smiles his smile.
Mark picks a daisy from the grass and twirls it between his fingers.
"I thought we were in for a treat, then," says Horace.
"Secrets are not secrets if revealed," Frankie informs.
"Secrets kept are like a miser's pence, no use to anyone," Mark says laughing. The others laugh too and mildness settles amongst them.
You gaze shyly at your prince as he holds court. No other ladies are here; you alone have his love amongst women. You watch the movement of his lips, the gesture of his hands, the way his head sways as he speaks. I love my lord, you think, sensing an ache in your breast, bringing your hands up. Then, suddenly, you stand and hold your hands down between your legs.
"What’s up with her?” Horace says.
"Call of nature," Ham says. He takes you by the arm and leads you across the grass in search of a Ladies WC. You hurry beside him, your legs stiff, your mind in a panic, your eyes peering over the horizon.
"Over there!" Ham says, "over by the railings." He drags you forward over the grass, lets you run the last few paces and watches as you disappear into the green door of the Ladies WC.
You twist the knob of the green lavatory door, hastily. The door will not open.
"You have to put a coin in the slot," the female lavatory attendant says.
"Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered," you say, still shaking the knob of the door.
"You need a coin," the woman says,” can't get in without a coin." You shake the doorknob with one hand, while your other hand sits between your thighs like a burrowing mole. The woman touches your arm. "You need a coin. Haven't you got a coin?" she says, her voice impatient.
"Hold off your hands!" you say, shaking the woman free.
"Are you on drugs?” the woman asks. You need a coin to get in."
"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” you shout. The woman backs off.
"Here, take this coin, do your business and go," the woman says angrily. She slips the coin in the slot and the door opens inwards. "Go on, don't be long." You enter the cubicle and lock the door. You sigh. You have entered. You have relief from pains, but your prince has gone, your prince has gone.
"Will she be all right, now?” Mark asks as Ham returns to his friends.
"Should be," Ham says.
"She doesn't improve," Horace says. "How would she manage without you?”
"She’d be locked away,” Ham says. "She’s escaped twice. I said I'd be responsible for her and so she's in my care."
"But why?” Horace asks.
"Compassion, love, who knows. I feel I can't let her down."
"She needs proper treatment," Mark says.
"She’s had all there is," says Ham. "They’ve tried all sorts, except taking her brain out and shaking it."
"How’d she get like that?” Frankie asks.
"Something happened which screwed her up," says Ham,” But I've no idea what it was."
Frankie sits up and points over the grass. The others turn to look where he's pointing.
You pace quickly over the grass your hands grabbing at your breasts.
"What’s up with her, now?” Ham asks standing up from the grass and moving towards you. He stops you and holds you out in front of him. "What’s up? Why are you running?” You stare back at the Ladies WC, but there's no one there.
"Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, that can denote me truly," you whisper to him. Ham shakes his head, turns you round and walks you to where the others stand watching, waiting, their eyes on you, judging, judging, judging.
On the underground train, you sit between Ham and Mark. Frankie and Horace sit facing you, their heads swaying side to side like puppets. Frankie sits back and studies the advertisements opposite him. Horace stares at you, thinking of what it would be like to have you in his bed, wishing he could, knowing he can't. His eyes float from your face downwards, settling on your legs, searching, studying. Mark looks at his face in the dark window facing, as if at another, as if at a stranger.
He wonders how Ham manages you, how he has the patience, wishes he had, wishes he knew you better, wishes he could say the right words to reach you. Ham watches Horace. He studies his gaze, his eyes, sees the thin smile. He reaches for your hand and finds it. He holds it, feels your warmth, senses your pulse.
"Oh woe is me to have seen what I have seen, see what I see," you whisper to Ham. You feel his hand touch yours and hold it. He turns and looks at you.
"Not now, Ophelia, not now," Ham says, gently.
"What I have seen," you repeat.
"Shhhh,” Ham says. He places his finger against your lips. You are silent.
My prince bids me be silent, you tell yourself, sitting back, staring at Horace, watching his eyes. My prince has come back, you think, smiling.
Horace turns his eyes away. He is thinking his thoughts, dipping his toe into the waters of his fantasies, wishing them real. Mark lowers his eyes and finds your smile. He wonders where it comes from and why, thinks you beautiful, but spoilt by madness. Frankie's eyes move to your face, searching your features, your nose, your lips. He muses on your golden hair like fields of corn and wishes he could lie innocently and sleep amongst the golden tresses, beneath the sun of your smile, and dream of the blue skies of your eyes as the train moves towards Charing Cross, stop-by-stop, swaying and swaying, swaying and swaying.
You follow the others up from Charing Cross underground station. Ham and Mark are talking in whispers, pointing across the road. Horace walks with Frankie who leads the group towards their destination. Your eyes are lowered, watching your feet move, watching the pavement move beneath your feet.
"My father took a woman to some cheap hotel down that road," Mark says suddenly, "They made love all night and hardly slept at all."
"How’d you know such things?" says Ham.
"My father told me," Mark replies, peering down the narrow road.
"Do fathers tell such things to their sons?” Horace asks, also staring down the road, trying to imagine, to fantasise the event, but failing.
"They tell their sons, but not their daughters," Frankie says, laughing. The others laugh too, a laughter of relief, letting-go laughter. You gaze at your prince, at his merriment and you are pleased. My lord is in good spirits, you muse, studying Ham, studying his laughter.
You follow the group towards Trafalgar square, lagging slightly behind, your pace slower, and your eyes on Ham's back. The noise of traffic, the smell of crowds, the pressing and passing of bodies, panics you. Ham's back disappears, is gone from sight. Other backs and bodies confuse your eyes.
You stop, cross your arms over your breasts. A wave of unknown faces pass you by, bodies, smells, scents surround you. Your eyes stare ahead, but see no prince. My prince has gone, you think, my prince has gone, my prince has gone.
"Whither wilt thou lead me?" you say, clutching at your breasts, peering into the passing crowd, sensing panic, fearing loss. "Whither wilt thou lead me?" you say louder. The crowd parts, opens like a sea, eyes float over you, peer at you. Ham moves through them, grabs your hand, leads you after him towards the others who wait patiently by the curbside.
"Stay with us!” Ham says crossly. "I can't watch you every moment."
"You should have her on a lead," Horace says, staring at you.
"She’s not a dog," Mark retorts, "she’s a human being. Compassion is all she needs."
"The crowds can confuse," Frankie says," It's like being lost on a sea of bodies."
Ham says nothing. He drags you after him, your hand tightly held in his. The others follow, each with their own thoughts. Horace gazes at your figure just ahead of him, fantasises on the sway of your hips, the move of your body. Mark wishes he knew what words to speak, what word to reach you, but knows none, only the way your head is held, the thinness of your left hand swinging behind you, the slight movement of your hair.
Frankie feels a pity for you, his eyes catching a glimpse of your profile, at the blueness of your eyes. And you held by Ham, think only of your prince, feel only his hand in yours, his fingers clutching your flesh and bones. My prince has me safe, you muse, he has me safe, has me safe.
You sit next to Ham on the underground train, his hand still holding yours. Mark sits opposite his eyes closed, dreaming of childhood, musing on lost chances. Horace stares at you from his seat facing you, his sunken eyes searching your eyes, seeking some chance, wanting you, wanting your body, to enter you. His hands sweat against each other like naked bodies, like hot lovers.
Frankie has gone, left in Trafalgar, a girl on his arm. Ham sways to the motion, thinking of later, easing his anger, sensing your body close to his own. He squeezes your hand with a gentleness, flesh on flesh, bone on bone. Another day ending, another day lost. He turns to catch your profile, your blue eyes, your nose, the slight movement of your lips. No words come. He looks away and watches the bodies swaying like hanged men to the motion of the train, their heads nodding like string puppets, their brains made of straw. We are stuffed men swinging together, swaying on ropes 'til our necks are broke, he muses, with a smile, with a lowering of eyes.
And you searching the faces, avoiding the eyes, watching the lips, avoiding the words, studying the hands, avoiding their touch. "Woe is me!" you say. "I have some rights of memory in this kingdom."
"Hush," Ham says.
"How if I answer no?" you whisper.
"Shush!" Ham says, pressing his finger to your lips.
You push his finger away. "Let me speak to the yet unknowing world how these things came about," you whisper emotionally. Ham shakes his head, taps his finger on your lips.
"Not now, Ophelia, not now."
"All this I can truly deliver," you say, leaning towards Ham.
"Just be silent," Ham says, "just be still."
"One fair daughter and no more, the he loved passing well," you say.
Their eyes are on you, passing over your head, over your body. Their words in whispers prick at your skin.
"Hush," says Ham, "be silent, be still." He pats your hands, in gentle taps. You hold your words, let silence come. You dreamt last night that somebody loved you. No panic. No harm. It was just another sad false alarm.