Holes in the road
The M1 is an asphalt lullaby, a concert of ambient noise that drags me into slumber as surely as it does towards my destination. It’s strange how active the mind can be while half asleep in the back of a car; how the memories of similar journeys blur together or ping-pong back and forth in time, leaving me staring out at passing landscapes, half real and half remembered. I raced raindrops on the window as a child, and now I'm doing it again: tracing their hesitant progress down the glass, only for thoughts to distract me before the race is decided. How many times have I come this way, driving home through the dark? I pay more attention to distant street lights than to the stars, travelling through a transposed cosmos, with its shifting constellations of headlights and cat's eyes. I drift toward Sheffield’s heliopause in a homesick astronaut's hypersleep dream, but I always wake before the journey's end. In years past, it would end at the Tinsley cooling towers, their familiar silhouette an unspoken ‘I’m home.’ Now it ends when I note their absence. I am trying to locate the city of my childhood; trying to determine how much of the Sheffield I remember is fiction and how much is simply gone like the towers. There are memories I know to be unreliable, like those of winding, shop-lined subterranean streets that could not possibly have existed. Yet, just as soon as I dismiss them, I discover a space where these hazy images start to fall into place. The Hole in the Road isn’t there anymore. In Castle Square, there is now a tram station over the site, surrounded by a circular patch of scar tissue. I can no longer walk the passageways of the Hole, or gaze up at the traffic circling above, so I may never know how much of my memory is accurate and how much is invented, replacing that which has slipped beyond its event horizon, or was buried within it when the council brought in the bulldozers. Still, those memories, invented or not, remain vivid. The chatter of crowds and chill of the air through underground passageways. Dimly lit shop windows and the shuffling homeless. What happened to them, the crowds that circulated through those tunnels, the shopkeepers, the destitute and the drunk? When the black hole suffered its second collapse, maybe they were cast adrift, lost to the mercy of inertia. Or perhaps they were dragged deeper, spiralling towards the dark until the rubble blocked out the sun, victims of uncivil engineering. It might be that I’ve met some of the Hole's refugees. The guy with the shabby beard, rambling back and forth in the city centre, cliché brown-paper covered bottle in hand who, when the mood took him, gave any woman unfortunate enough to be nearby a lecture on how to be a good mother. The man in the bar of the Showroom, who asked for directions to the station, only to spend the next twenty minutes telling me how much I reminded him of his best friend: a dead police officer. Or perhaps not. Maybe, by stumbling across a few testimonies and images, I’ve merely found a convenient match for my memories or my fictions and transposed them along with the night sky. On the M1, I awake to the city’s approaching nebula.