danger: void behind door

15Jun08

Late one night, not so many years ago, I found myself sitting in tearful confusion at the back end of the southbound Bakerloo Line platform at Waterloo, waiting for the last train through to the Elephant. This wasn’t, I’m afraid to say, a wholly unpredictable state of affairs; given how much time I’d spent over the preceding few weeks shivering by the ticket barriers at Lambeth North station waiting for – well, let’s call her K – to turn up, or to not turn up, as the fancy took her, her sudden recollection at closing time on this particular evening that she had a friend staying over, and thus had to go back to her flat rather than mine, hadn’t really come as too much of a surprise. The numbing predictability wasn’t honestly much consolation, though, and – as I sat there on the plastic bench, trying to find solace in the chunkier, less-easily-blurred print of the Easyjet advert opposite – all I could think about was how, at 8.30 that very morning, I’d lingered pathetically beside those very same barriers in faint hope of just one tiny off-the-shoulder glance backwards as she’d glided away coolly towards the lifts and her desk at the BBC.

This was the point at which I found my bleary eye suddenly caught by the words on a small yellow hinged panel at my side.

DANGER: VOID BEHIND DOOR.

They were, in truth, words I’d read a hundred times, mostly from inside a waiting train. But, being a rational sort of chap, I’d never really given them much thought; for even had I been prepared to countenance the possibility that some sort of diabolical netherworld did actually exist, and that its formless howling darkness might in places lie mere inches below the surface of our own familiar realm, the idea that a functioning portal into such infinite mind-terrorising nothingness could be found behind a small yellow door on the southbound Bakerloo Line platform at Waterloo was clearly utterly preposterous. Obviously this didn’t help to explain what the words did mean, but – Lambeth North is the next stop so, once we’d pulled out of Waterloo, I’d generally have more important things on my mind than obscure TfL signage, like whether to pop into Costcutter for some milk on my way home.

But as I read those words on this melancholy evening, I remembered something else that had always puzzled me. Whenever I lingered in the booking hall at Lambeth North to watch K’s carefree morning sashay away from the ticket barriers – a not uncommon occurrence, in truth, as red wine, it turns out, often prevents recall of last-train times – there was always a point at which she slipped from direct sight and I had to turn my eyes to the nearby CCTV monitor, eagerly anticipating her arrival inside its fuzzy grey image of lift doors. And here’s the thing: although those doors would have been at most a dozen size-4 steps away from the point at which she disappeared, the screen always remained empty for six whole seconds.

It had, as I say, always baffled me. But now, suddenly, in my emotionally-heightened state, the explanation seemed obvious: at some point between the ticket barriers and the lifts at Lambeth North station, SPACE AND TIME HAD BECOME DISLOCATED. To anyone actually making that walk – a five-foot-three Scottish brunette with eyes that sparkled like moonlight on the deep dark waters of the Esk in winter, for example – nothing would seem awry; but, to anyone watching, for six whole seconds, she would be… elsewhere. Where? Well, I couldn’t say for sure. But, as I sat there listening to the singing of the tracks and the distant rush of air somewhere down the tunnel to my right, I became convinced that, were I to yank open that small yellow door at the very moment she disappeared, then I would see her, trotting brightly across the eternal black void, mind on other things, still failing to look back.

Once I’d got home, I left a message on her answerphone, asking her what she thought.

It’s been nearly ten years now.

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