Photographs as yet untaken of people who don’t exist

by Maddy Costa

the room is made of whispers. there are blinds over the window,

slats slightly parted (lips waiting to be kissed), bright sunlight – 

summer, afternoon – streaming through, dust of course, 

luminous streaks of it, dancing with the lines of shadow,

walls layered with sheets of newspaper, ochre of cigarette-stained teeth.

her room and also not her room. her prison.

she is old and lying on the grass, skin translucent, hair a white cloud,

lips slightly parted (waiting), bones fragile, ready to snap 

with the slightest wrong move. desire, desire, escape, eternal youth



he is old too. hair white – no, grey – no, lost; eyebrows bristling;

a three-bar electric heater in the fireplace – 1930s, mottled brown tiles,

the kind most people now rip from their homes. it hasn’t been redecorated

since the 1970s: you can see the wallpaper, right? textured, beige, 

discoloured with age (a theme is emerging),

and a green carpet – patterned – floral, or leaves, ravaged by moths beneath the armchair

where he sits, silent, alone, thinking of his daughter, who died (somehow)

and a girl: who is she? why is she here?  

there’s a song in her head, a secret, a wondering, 

and he brings down boxes from the attic, detritus of a life


in possibility

this one is younger and dressed in pyjamas, walking London’s streets

at night. trainers, soft tread, Thames the colour of contaminated oil,

works in the City and doesn’t believe in magic, but dreams 

skulk and unsettle his nights so he’s walking the dread away, 

walking desire away, silent, not silent, muttering to himself, 

alone, thinking of his       ?

who died somehow (a theme is emerging) – 

across the river, a woman in a wedding dress, suspended 

in the spotlights of a bridge, shimmering in the petrol pre-dawn,

and he’s running running running because  

it’s the same woman – is it? – but when he reaches her, she’s


a figment

frozen in imagination

like the leek abandoned on the bench of a tube station

to which he (someone new now) gives the name of a made-up

phobia – like the phobia of one lost shoe, or the phobia of 

buddleia, or aubretia, growing through cracks in a wall – 

and when the accident happens he is thinking

is this happiness? 

is this a life?

enough to swear by?

enough to bother?

desire, desire, detritus, alone, lying in a coffin 

thinking of the man she never met

(we never met)

who might have been a taxi driver

or a bank manager

or stolen gold coins from his grandmother

or she’s walking across the marshes with the boy who died 

(it keeps happening)

who was always more secret than friend

or she’s dallying by the sea in Cornwall with a woman whose face is gauze


moonlight softened in drifting clouds





Maddy Costa is a writer and dramaturg, and a co-host of Something Other.

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