Although this story has already been cited in this parish by the good Naomi Frisby (and isn’t actually my personal favourite in Williams’s justly-lauded collection – ‘Smote’ is as close to perfection as it gets), ‘Alight at the Next’ shows how a train, even the most squalid packed Tube carriage, and a short story can together stop time and open time up. (This story also contains Williams’s wondrous recognition that her ‘spirit animal is probably a buttered roll.’)
In Attrib. and Other Stories, Influx Press, 2017. Read it online here
I first heard this story read by the author at the launch of Isabel Waidner’s Gaudy Bauble (2017) at the Horse Hospital in London. It struck me then for its humour and tenderness and the effortless way it knitted us together as an audience. For Williams, language and love are never far apart (and that is probably already a commonplace in Williams Studies), and a love-object will always be mediated through language and seduced by that rather than, say, gesture. To read this is to entangle word and world. While the narrator overthinks a (what other’s might describe as a mere) kiss in cascades of rhythmic prose, the loved-one has leaned in and done it without thinking. You can find Williams’ Personal Anthology here.
…my hand a melting tessellation could feed you crushed Oreos and moon parings, my hand not quite in yours, but not yet quite out, the starting track at a race track when a white flag means surrender and Black Flag means punk bands formed in seventies California and I cannot tell whether you or I are leaning nor if the attendant is approaching…
First published online in The White Review. Collected in Attrib. and other stories, Influx Press, 2017
I first came across Eley Williams when her short story ‘Smote, or When I Find I Cannot Kiss You in Front of a Print by Bridget Riley’ was shortlisted for The White Review Short Story Prize in 2015. It was Williams’ second shortlisting in two years. Yes, she is that good.
‘Alight at the Next’ is my favourite story in her debut collection. The narrator stands inside a tube carriage. The train is in the station and the doors are open. As the narrator hesitates, contemplating asking their companion to come home with them, a man tries to step up into the carriage. The narrator halts him by placing a finger in the middle of his forehead. The whole story then takes place with the characters in this position. Williams perfectly balances desire, fear, humour and word play.
From Attrib. & Other Stories. First published in 3:AM Magazine and available to read here