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Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne

Out-Tissoted

Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

The One-StarJamie McKendrick
Close
Close

Moving away in the taxi, I could just see myself
    climbing the marble steps and stepping through
    the plate-glass into a lounge-cum-vestibule,

its floor inlaid with a pink star of mineral grains
    and roughage – a breakfast for the after-life.
    Beaded oak cladding, electrified oil-lamps,

a pharaonic desk-clerk. The air was cut and dried
    as though reconstituted in the basement’s lungs
    and laid out, and folded, in cool parched reams.

The Shining was obtainable on the video service
    but would be scrambled after several minutes
    if you failed to press the ‘Confirm’ button

– otherwise it was a sex film I was embarrassed
    for the glamorous Thai receptionist
    to know I was watching. So I tried to read

The Temptation to Exist feeling conspicuously
    absent and uneasily aware
    of being ironed flat, flatter, by the clean sheets

and of the bedside table’s inbuilt clock
    with its defective digits: every minute
    was a minus sign or a gnomon, every hour

was missing a slant side to its parallelogram.
    I closed the eyelids of the two nightlights;
    then mine ... until I woke as though I’d feasted

on finely-ground enamel. There was nothing for it
    but to go home – some home! – but first why not
    spirit away the bar of opalescent soap, the small

urn of bath-foam and the shroud-sewing kit
    the size of a matchbook, with loops of thread
    five different shades of grey

or maybe it was the light? I had a good mind
    to mend the inside lining of my coat
    but instead went down in the shiny lift

and sank in an armchair by the crystal ashtray.
    Was I a Mr John Ashbery, someone asked me.
    No, I replied, not Mr Ashbery

– but pausing mysteriously mid-sentence as I felt
    he deserved a couple more guesses for being
    somehow on the right track, if not exactly warm.

The pause obviously disturbed him. He didn’t
    like that pause. Well tell him
    if you’d be so kind that his taxi’s waiting.

O yes I could just see myself doing that.

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