Into Shoe Lane
A dry winter and farm laborers notice the increase in traffic, roads through fields heavy with carts and horses, back to the city, back to mass graves, to bodies tossed still warm and reeking. A curse, they say. Heaps and heaps of bare feet, palms, lashes, hips—dusted with ashes to dampen down the sick. It’s London dusted white and the birdmen with their leather masks who step between the corpses.
And while the King diverts his court at Oxford—dancing, silver bowls of hothouse roses, peacocks on the lawn—London bustles under low clouds speeding, blown by sea winds north. Most can’t afford to flee. There are rooms to be lit and unlit. Beds to be made and slept in again. From Petticoat Lane to Old Palace Yard, apprentices wake in the dark, dress in the cold, get to work killing or cutting or mending or burnishing. Ladies sleep between linen sheets, rise, dress, go out, return. An interminable progress of shoppers and vendors crowds the streets. In and out of a coffeehouse on Cheapside, a whore on Fish Street Hill. There is an Oriental acrobat upside down at the corner. And in darkness under a freezing fog, still the city pulses.
To anyone who stops, to pick up a fallen purse or a cabbage that’s rolled from the pile, to pull aside a curtain, look down into Shoe Lane, it seems the city never ceases, the river racing, the bells, clouds. In quieter streets musicians play. There is birdsong even in winter, even with open graves still gaping behind churches, red crosses on the locked doors of houses shut by plague. Icicles form as the day advances and Lord Broukner throws a party. The cook roasts mutton with spearmint and sugar. Next-door they dine in multicolored dresses on pork with sage and currants. A gravy is made with the brains of the pig. All glasses lift on New Year’s night when Samuel jumps into Mrs. Knipp’s coach, plays with her breasts and sings.