Strange Tales of the North-West Passage: The Window

A short grubby true tale of a window, exhibitionism and Patsy Cline


The realisation crystallised through the whisky fug that WCA had disappeared for some time. A quick recce around the pub confirmed he was gone.

In the side street off the pub TLT and I picked up his trail via the pools of the creamy korma curry glistening in the streetlight. We found WCA sitting on a step in an alleyway, phone glued to his ear and talking to someone interspersed with leaning over and depositing more of my delicately spiced korma on the stoic weeds.

“Bloody cheek. I ground all the spices and made that curry from scratch for him.”

Loud music drifted up the street from an open window nestling in the crook of the street. The bottom part of the window was shrouded by grubby net curtains but the top part of a room was harshly lit by a swinging bulb throwing shadow shapes on the walls.

“That’s strange. That window…the song.”

Patsy Cline was singing:

“See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sunrise from a tropic isle
Just remember darling all the while
You belong to me”

I walked towards the window followed by TLT.

“I’ve walked past this window four times a day for the last two years. It’s always lifeless. The curtains are always drawn, the lights never on. Now look at this.”

And then a naked woman suddenly bounced-up into view, did a star jump and descended out of sight behind the veil of the grubby net curtains. And did it again. And again.

“What the…”

“See the market place in old Algier
Send me photographs and souvenirs”

“Do you like what you see?” said a voice behind us.

“Just remember when a dream appears
You belong to me”

“What!” I replied.

I turned round and a small man was standing beside me. He wore a cap pulled low and exuded an aura of slumped misery.

“I’d be so alone without you
Maybe you’d be lonesome too and blue”

“That’s my girlfriend. Can you watch and wave for me? You must watch her.”

I struggled to catch his voice. Perhaps he thought that if I couldn’t hear this, it couldn’t be happening.

I turned back and the naked woman was still trampolining away, using an unseen bed.

“I’d be so alone without you
Maybe you’d be lonesome too and blue”

I groped for something to say. “You’re a very lucky man.”

TLT cheered unconvincingly through the cigarette dangling from his lips. He called over to WCA to come and look but received a shake of the head that indicated he could not or would not move. He leaned over to trouble the alleyway once more, slumped against the wall and returned to his phone conversation. We all lapsed into silence, watching the woman happily bouncing away doing star turns, waving or making a funny face before she descended out of sight. The man’s misery was beginning to sober us up. Patsy Cline, in repeat mode, continued to haunt the street and taunt the man.

“Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it’s wet with rain
Just remember till you’re home again
You belong to me”

A couple strolled down the street and the man sidled up to them and murmured out of the side of his mouth. The couple looked unconvinced and started walking off.

“No please. You have to watch. Just for a minute. Please keep watching otherwise…I’ll…it will be difficult.”

By now TLT and I were losing interest and thinking of food. We grabbed WCA from his menacing of the weeds and as we turned out of the road I looked back. Patsy was still singing to the street, the woman was still happily bouncing away, and the man was still skulking away in the shadows ready to gather an audience for her.

We deposited WCA and a kebab in a taxi. He went home, sat in his armchair, unwrapped his kebab and promptly passed out. He woke-up eight hours later looked down at the congealed meat on his lap and punched the air with hangover relish.

“Marvellous service. Breakfast is served.”

The next day I walked past the widow. The curtains were drawn and the flat looked abandoned and empty as ever before.

It has remained that way ever since.

About the North-West Passage

‘Some of these rambles led me to great distances, for an opium-eater is too happy to observe the motion of time; and sometimes in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eye on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and head-lands I had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatical entries, and such sphynx’s riddles of streets without thoroughfares, as must, I conceive, baffle the audacity of porters and confound the intellects of hackney-coachmen.’

De Quincey, Thomas, Confessions of an English Opium Eater

6 thoughts on “Strange Tales of the North-West Passage: The Window

    • Thanks Matt. Actually, rather embarrassingly, this was a little too recent. But I know what you mean. It was like something out of those glorious and dubious days in Manchester and Brixton. Thanks for the kind comments! By the way – still the same in some ways but Brixton has changed a lot since our time there.


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