In the mid-nineteenth century, the terrace in Aspern Road was put up to take the workers on the railway that was cutting in across town at the top. The railway is still there – a quieter, commuter-driven line – but the road has grown in stature. Now, the terrace sits back and up from it, a decrepit, ad-hoc levee, the whole thing threatening at any moment to lose its foundation and pitch face first into the traffic. One more passing truck and the whole thing’ll go - the rubbish bags and buckled bikes, the dried out window boxes, the no hawkers or canvassers signs, the peeling railings and buddleia bushes – the whole, red-bricked ruin of it crashing down into the road. And as the last satellite dish disappears downstream, a metro supermarket will sprout in the gap.
Edward is lying in bed in his basement flat, pale and oversized, like a subterranean urban grub. The room is green, a cavern at low tide, its wallpaper bubbled and spotted with mould. There is a miniature set of three shelves on the wall above the headboard, holding a battered Bambi figurine, a discoloured photo in a pewter frame and a snowman cake ornament, its yellowing face turned inwards to smile at the portrait. The facing wall is a shrine to the Spice Girls, a spread of posters and photographs, the brash poses of the women eerily out of place in the gloom.
‘It hurts’ he says, then yawns, stump-toothed.
He pulls back his t-shirt.
Edward has a stoma. The plastic circular patch of it riding on a kind of gross abdominal hump that bulges out like the head of something pressing against the skin to listen. The stoma site looks infected.
‘We need to take you in, Edward,’ I say to him. ‘Can you walk?’
He nods and yawns again.
‘I’ll call my cousin about the budgie,’ he says. Then stares at me, awaiting direction.