Lynn Kilpatrick earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Utah, and she teaches at Salt Lake Community College. These micro-essays are part of a longer series, “Postcards from London,” which she wrote after taking students on a Study Abroad class to London where she stayed at a hostel on Cromwell Road in Kensington. Other postcards are about Kew Gardens, The British Library, the British Museum and the Prince Consort National Memorial. Other essays from this series appeared online in New World Writing. She’s currently working on a collection of micro-essays about Idaho and an unsolved murder called Missing You.
Postcards From London
This postcard comes to you from Cromwell Road, where I spent the better part of an hour, aimlessly turning the racks which displayed photographs of Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, Prince Albert Hall, Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Portrait Gallery. I coveted the over-priced water, fingered the coins in my pocket. I hovered to overhear the clerk’s conversation. I wanted to ask, are you always kind or only to me? I wanted him to choose me from among the tourists as the most sympathetic if not the most beautiful. Once, as I waited for the bus, he saw me outside and raised his eyebrows in greeting. Forgive me, for I fell in love with him, over and over again. He smiled. He asked, how are you? his accent thick with distance. I wanted him to forgive me my sins of coveting and envy. I envied his gaiety, his assumed approach to life that allowed him to enjoy this convenience store of cheap, breakable lives. I asked him, why do you smile? And he told me, I want to go back, but for now, the war is out there, not in here. We have to make our way as we can. He included me in his language, the We that the English constructed to exclude him, but that, as we stood there, included the continent between us, spanned only by his breath.
Roni Horn exhibit, Tate Modern
The photographs of the Thames hang silently, though their footnotes rustle like ancient tongues. Today, my eyes tire of reading and I want the world to be revealed instantaneously and without effort. I walk the stairs, up, and then down, among the families and the loved. I know that, like the Thames, the world is murky and deep, cold and toothless. I thirst, like a child, for comfort, which is found, here and there, in small nooks and dark corners. The repeated face of a girl in photographs reminds me of skins that I have shed, the snake of former selves that reveal the hollowness of who we are, just faces to each other, bottomless depths that do not speak but continuously cover ourselves over in dark water, murmuring truths that others cannot decipher.
Nowhere is quite so lonely as rush hour on the Tube. People smashed against me, I know not even one person’s name and I can’t smooth someone else’s hair out of my eyes or declare publicly that I am both peckish and knackered. Instead I read and when the train slams to a halt, a nearby man declares that if we are trapped I will have to read the entire book aloud. Oh, London, your seven million inhabitants stride right past me, looking neither here nor there, except, I will grant, that one time I saw someone I recognized. But he was a tourist too. Why do I tell you this? Because I am lonely and you must listen.