They told me not to be frightened of the T Rex, the first time we went to see it. I wasn’t. I wasn’t scared of anything there, not the gigantic Blue Whale on the ceiling, or the phones with elephant sounds on the other end, not even of the dinosaurs. I remember trying to touch the T Rex teeth to see how sharp they were and getting told off by the man in the suit. We had dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for lunch and got a tube back for tea. The tube was far more frightening to six year old me than anything in the Natural History Museum had been. It was dark, and crowded, and everyone was pushing. “Mind the Gap,” a lady’s strangely mechanical voice boomed, and I decided she must be a robot lady, because real ladies don’t talk like that. I looked around for the robot lady and couldn’t see her, even though I could still hear her, and that frightened me even more. “Mind the Gap,” as the sliding doors closed on one station; Mind the Gap” as they opened on the next. Everywhere I went there was a gap that had to be minded. When the door opened I would look down into that gap and it was so black that I thought I would fall in there and keep falling forever. I squeezed my fingers around my dad’s strong hand as tightly as I could manage, and mind that I didn’t fall into the gap.
I was taking the tube to memory lane. South Kensington, home of the Natural History museum, where I’d first discovered dinosaurs and my love for geology. Fulham Broadway, where we used to get off to visit my dad’s aunt I was scared of, the one they all said “wasn’t all there” and I used to wonder where the rest of her was if she “wasn’t all there.” Hyde Park, where we used to go for family picnics in the sun and to hear the religious, political and other fanatics proclaim their prophesies from their chairs and tea boxes on Sunday afternoons. And the lady’s mechanical voice was the same everywhere the tube stopped. “Mind the Gap,” as the sliding doors opened. “Mind the Gap,” as they shut.
London is never still. Every time I went back it was different. But the gap that had to be minded was still there, dark and ominous. And it’s harder to mind gaps as you get older, when you’re too big and too old for the reassuring grip of a parent’s hand to be enough to stop you falling. I’d stopped minding the most dangerous gap of all and now it was so wide and cavernous I felt like I was already slipping into the black. Aged just twenty-three, I would lie awake and night and think that life had already passed me by. I would think about all the dreams and plans I had for adult life and wonder what was stopping me from living at least some of them. The gap between the life I wanted and the life I was living had grown so wide I wondered if it was too late for me to ever bridge it. I was too young to give up, to accept that this frustration I was living would be my life forever. I had to change something, change my life, or change me.
Mind the Gap is a novel currently in progress, set primarily in modern-day Dublin. This is the opening of the novel in the voice of its protagonist, Marianne.