Days between stations
Illustration by David Lynburn
He used to think the acrobat had been brave in their love, because every night he threw himself into the air, ignoring that he had no wings
Joseph Ducrow stood at the edges of the East Coast of Scotland with his battered suitcases and pondered the grey sky above the water. The birds that moved above and beyond the horizon beside the distant silhouettes of boats were the only way you could tell that the sky and sea were not one and the same.
Portobello was like a terrible homecoming. He was on the outer boundary of the city that he had left behind along with his family and boyhood. Fun City, his place of work for the next few days, stood along the promenade. He picked up the heavy cases, sighed in the direction of the sea and walked towards the funfair.
He had taken thousands and thousands of photos. Like life, the quality of a picture depended on the light. The best part of his job was photographing lovers - some decades old, some illicit, some brand new; shiny like coins that didn’t know how they would be spent.
He liked to watch their faces as they collected their photograph, the moon a dreamy throne for all of their hope. They called him Scotland’s Moon Man. And he had travelled with his suitcases the length and the breadth of the country. He had even sailed to Orkney with some reluctant fishermen and set his paper moon against a treeless landscape praying it wouldn’t blow away at an island fair.
On occasion he wondered how he must look to others. Always a solitary figure, he knew that to most folks he must appear strange. In these moments he missed the circus he had grown up in. His mind would move across the smell of candy floss, of the animals that lived there, and wander to the arms of the acrobat with his muscles punctuated by the inky sketching of birds and the fading red and pink rose - the rose on the acrobats’ chest that he often lay his head on.
He used to think the acrobat had been brave in their love, because every night he threw himself into the air, ignoring that he had no wings. Whereas Joseph looked at the night sky with his feet on the ground, head spinning. It was safer to paint the sky as a backdrop. It was safer to look at love through a lens.
He existed on steam trains departing from station’s across the country. Taking him to his next job. He would sit with his hat in his hands looking out of the window while the last whistle blew, wondering if he would exist like this forever.
When he had arrived at Waverly station earlier that day he had paused before getting off the train while men pushed past him with briefcases and busy lives. He wanted to feel something other than regret that the city of his birth held so much heartbreak. To love outside of lines constructed by heavy-handed giants. To be able to stand hand in hand with your lover and have your eyes level with theirs.
Not scared of what you might see. That it was all just dream. Dreams that he used to write on paper and tear up, tear up and set light to with matches and send up chimneys, like prayers of misfortune. Never having to ask for forgiveness for the places that your heart belonged - to lie with the acrobat long after sunrise, that would be quite something.
Instead Joseph brought whimsical fancy to the lovers who were allowed, or were brave enough, to sit together on his paper moon.
That grey afternoon at Fun City, two boys, dressed in suits, with slim faces and lovelorn eyes appeared for a photo. They sat on the paper moon - the sky in beautiful acrylics behind them. Just before Joseph took the photo one of the boys placed his arms around the other and they leaned into each other.
As soon as the flash went off they tore themselves apart, as if they had never touched. Joseph had taken two photos and gave them one.
The other he hid in his jacket where his silver pocket watch lived. Time was moving forward, taking love with it.
The kind his acrobat used to find tumbling through the air with only Joseph’s longing gaze as his safety net.