Summary: Mulder lays eyes on the woman of his dreams.
Title: London is Drowning
Key Words: Pre-XF, Mulder POV
Disclaimer: So sue me.
Archive: Gossamer, please. Email me before archiving
elsewhere. I don’t see why I’d refuse.
Notes: The title comes from a song called ‘London Calling’, by the Clash, and I use themes and lyrics in the story. If anyone’s interested, the lyrics are here:
Joe grins at me, raises his drink. “Cheers.”
We clink glasses and sit silent, drinking, listening to the Clash. I don’t know any of the lyrics except, ‘London is drowning and I live by the river’.
I don’t live in London, never have, but when I listen to this song it’s like I’ve been in London all my life.
“You know what this song’s about?” Joe asks. I can tell he already knows the answer.
“The end of the world, mate. End of it bloody all.”
I finish my beer and he opens another.
Sometimes I feel like walking out of here. Getting up from a lecture one day and walking out of the campus, the town. Walking over moors and redbrick villages and factories and mills, over the cliffs and across the Atlantic.
Once, drunk, I told Joe about these plans. He said only Jesus bloody Christ could do that. Walk on water like that.
I said sure, Christ was the only living man who ever walked on water. But who knows what a dead man can do?
The thing is, even if I could walk on water, I wouldn’t go home. At the moment, home is anywhere and nowhere. London might as well be home, and I’ve only been there a few times, on day trips. Once I went with Phoebe. We stayed a night in a nice hotel, all expenses paid by her Daddy.
It rained that night. But it rains every night. It rains every day. I sat by the window and kept thinking, over and over, London is drowning.
I don’t sleep. I smoke, I talk to Joe about nothing and fuck Phoebe when I’m bored. Other than that I work and work, and forget, and drink. I go to football matches, low-scoring European football, and feign interest. I smoke. I go out at night and pretend to be into the music, the night scene, but really it all sounds the same to me, and I can’t get the music out of my head when I try to sleep. I don’t sleep.
There’s an old manor house about twenty-minutes from my college, with gardens open to the public. It’s like something out of Pride and Prejudice. I go there when I absolutely can’t stand it anymore, the stink of sex and ink and weed and English beer.
I smoke and wander through the grounds. There’s a small grey lake, lawns, some trees and deer, and a broken sundial. The paths are lined with towering rhododendron bushes. No matter how cold it is, or how much sleet and mud I have to endure, just being there is enough to keep me sane.
Outside, in the real England, the modern England, little things threaten to unhinge me. The constant sound of traffic and the smell of gasoline. The crowds. The weather. The bloody football. The food. God, the food is worse than anything. Mushy peas and mashed potatoes. Thick greasy sausages. Sugar-smothered puddings.
Other guys from the States love it here. They tell me they’ve finally found civilisation. They’re never going back. They’ll stay here, become lawyers, buy a house in the country and a London flat. I tell them, Sure, sounds great. These days, that’s my token response to everything except heroin.
My roommate thinks it’s okay to never wash his clothes. He doesn’t shave either. At four a.m. he wakes me sometimes, moaning and laughing with a needle in his arm.
He never works. When I try to study he turns his music up. I escape to the library and pretend I’m twenty years older, a professor, bent over my studies. Maybe there’s a wife waiting for me at home, but when I try to picture her face my head goes empty. The fantasy ends. Maybe I’ll always be alone.
Maybe it’s better that way.
Mom doesn’t write to me anymore. Dad never did.
One night I’m walking down the street, coming back from a party, and there’s Phoebe sitting on a low brick wall, making out with someone. I’m drunk, I’m stoned, and even though I don’t really care I run up and pull the guy away. Of course it’s Joe.
“What a fucking cliche,” I say to them, because it’s all I can think.
I don’t throw any punches because I can’t be fucked. Let her have him. Let him have her. I’m tired of being stuck in her web, waiting to be devoured. Let it happen to him instead.
I walk off into the night as though nothing’s happened. Phoebe’s high-pitched giggles follow me. I tell myself I’m not going to cry about it, but I know that’s a lie.
How many months can I stand? How many years? I go back to the States whenever I can but it’s always a brief reprieve. An exercise yard. I’ve been doing time at one of the best universities in the world. Poor little rich boy.
To combat my claustrophobia, I’ve started going to London every weekend with a group of acquaintances. We check out the nightclubs and bars and pubs. We pick up random girls. During the day, when everyone’s passed out at the hotel, I go to Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the Tower of London, the British Museum and London Bridge. I pretend I’m a backpacker. I pretend this is just a stopover between America and Amsterdam.
I pretend, like I’ve been pretending since I was twelve years old, that I’m another guy. Any guy. A normal guy, with a normal name, normal family, normal life.
I can’t get away from the truth. I don’t know how to live, how to be healthy, or even how to love. And I don’t know how I’m going to get out of bed every morning for the next fifty years. Should I even try?
I can’t stand myself. I can’t stand this self-pity.
I don’t sleep. I go jogging every morning and can’t stop until I’m about to collapse. Oxford is beautiful at dawn, no matter what the weather, but I can’t focus on anything around me. My mind won’t stop ticking, constantly ticking. I need to make it stop.
I need to stop. I drink myself into oblivion but I can’t sleep.
I’ve had insomnia for a long time, but never this bad. Nothing’s ever been this bad. Maybe it’s just the lifestyle here, the drugs and the food, but it feels worse than that. A hammering in my skull. A pain that won’t be silenced.
I buy London Calling just to learn the lyrics.
The ice age is coming,
the sun is zooming in.
Engines stop running,
the wheat is growing thin.
The song is making a joke. Mocking the doomsday prophecies and hysterical fears of our time. Contradictory reports of our certain demise. At the end, the singer says he’s never felt so alive.
I don’t feel alive. I feel like it’s the end of the world. I just
wish the world would go ahead and end.
I spend more and more time at my secret getaway, the old manor house, but instead of wandering around the grounds I stay beside the lake. I stand at the edge, hands in my pockets, a cigarette between my lips. I stand there for hours, freezing my butt off, unable or unwilling to move.
I don’t think about anything here, except the lake.
It must be cold. The water is so murky, there could be anything sunk in there, even old treasure. Even old bones.
Would they ever find me? Would they even look?
One night, after a few too many drinks, I drive to the manor. I walk to the lake.
It’s as though I’m under a spell. Bewitched or mesmerised. I feel like I’m thinking clearly for the first time in my life. At the same time, I’ve no idea what I’m doing.
It’s a cloudless night with a feather moon, in late winter, and in the light the lake is black and silver. The trees are grey skeletons against the sky. It’s so cold, the water’s turned to ice-slush. I wade in up to my waist, shivering, my pockets full of rocks. I’m planning to pull a Virginia Woolf. If any man can pull a Virginia Woolf, it’s me.
I’m laughing as I walk further. The alcohol and cold have made me numb. I don’t care if they never find me. I don’t mind if they never look for me. Let them wonder. Let them forget.
I’m holding my breath, about to dive in, when I see something on the opposite shore. A glimpse of red, I don’t know what.
I look closer.
It’s a woman. A petite woman. Standing there, looking at me. She has white skin, red hair. A heart-shaped face. Her eyes are sharp and cold. She’s wearing a black business suit.
“What the fuck?” I whisper.
My breath fogs the air in front of my eyes. When it clears, the woman is gone.
I wade back out of the lake, shake myself like a wet dog, and jog around to the other side, to where she was standing.
Nothing. No sign.
I walk the circuit of the lake, calling out, “Hey!”, but no one answers or appears. There’s nothing more to be done, and by now I’m practically suffering from hypothermia. I run back to my car, soaked and shivering.
I should feel miserable. I don’t know why I’m smiling.