A Question in a Gallery by F.C. Malby

‘Mind the gap, please.’ The voice sounds cool, void of emotion.

I push through the doors, the signs for St Paul’s Station lining the walls as though I might miss my stop. I have managed to avoid the rush hour, having taken the day off work. The air is thick with anticipation, or maybe it’s fear. I don’t know.

I weave through the tiled corridors and find the bottom of the escalators. There are more signs – the St Paul’s wording replaced with To Street, like an instruction on a board game. Posters pull me into a world of colour and cabaret. A woman holds the hands of two small children, as they pass me travelling in the opposite direction. They fight over who will hold the moving handrail. Her face remains unchanged, as though they do not exist.

Outside, beyond the ticket barriers, the sun tucks itself behind a few grey clouds. The cathedral looms overhead, its usual grace eclipsed my by nerves. I already know what he will say.
I enter through the side door and climb the stone spiral staircase. A couple, each holding a camera, walk through the door in front of me. I follow them and scan the gallery, then press my ear to the wall. Nothing. I follow the narrow, circular stone floor until I see his face.

We stand still for a moment and he takes my hand. He kneels down but I stop him, knowing what will follow.

‘I can’t,’ I say.

His face drops. I am out of breath and I try not to say any more. I knew that this would come, it’s what he promised but my feelings didn’t follow the plan. I kiss him goodbye, turn towards the door and leave. Reaching the station, I slip away into the underground back towards Waterloo station.

F.C. Malby has travelled around the world, teaching English in the Czech Republic, London and in slum communities in the Philippines. She is also a photographer. Her novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People's Book Awards 2013. Her short fiction has also been published in various online journals. You can find more about her here, and follow her on Twitter @fcmalby

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