Dream as Leng Montgomery

Artefact: Talk, ‘Why we need to listen to trans people tell their own stories’, given by Leng Montgomery, TEDxLondon, 24 July, 2018. 
Leng is in a strange state
Constantly between sleep and waking
The days are off
Don’t make sense
Strangest he’s known
His life has been
What you’d call
Up until now
You know
Regular bouts of weird shit
Other people’s hysteria
Friends careering off the rails
A few late-night carpark disasters
A and E
Leng’s quite level-headed about the past
Makes self-deprecating jokes
Shrugs shoulders
Expects trouble to show up again
With a reassuring predictability 
But, now
The whole world has been tipped on its axis
Everyone everywhere, freaked out
Here too, in his city
His street, office
Chip shop
Leng, also, a bit
In the last week people have begun to calm
He can feel that in his stomach
How clenched it is when he wakes in the morning
Releasing a little each day
Less of a knot
They’re beginning to recognise that it’s less critical
That it’s going to go on for a long time
A long time is going to pass
He sees disoriented stares
Not knowing
Cold computer eyes
A dot of wild panic in the centre of the iris
Friends, neighbours
Still losing people at a distance
Readjusting to these new separations
Severed, newly

Leng is sometimes fast asleep
Walking the aisles of the supermarket
Trolley, holding him up
He’s supposed to be there now, once again
Masked up
Got the OK
After weeks of emptiness
And then calling in
Checking on colleagues in an approximation of care
A twenty-minute drive away
From his lounge
Bookshelves, tidied up
Erotica, moved
Got a mic and a headset delivered through the post
He’s proud of this job
Proud he’s not writing applications anymore
Not doing the interview rounds
Asked the same predictably-depressing questions
Small rooms
Awkward air
Plastic wood-effect tables
Polyester static
Leng shudders at the memory
His brogues journey up and down the aisles
Produce, Canned Goods, World Foods
He likes being in this vast space
Likes driving between stores
Replacing the sky of bright-white strips
With another
Each retail heaven glowing down on the shelf-stackers
The check-out assistants
The security
Always handsome
Out-of-your-league date material
Who hover
Fast-twitch muscles on standby
Next to the ever-sliding doors
Breathing the outside in
Flanked by a wall of the dailies
Numbers, wailing
Fear splashed out each morning in red and black

The staff canteen is off limits
Taped with a hasty circle of plastic stripes
Chairs upturned
So Leng takes his break out in his car
Door open
Feet on tarmac
Reduced price custard slice in hand
Radio playing
Billie singing of bad guys
Dua Lipa singing of getting physical
Back to Billie again
The playlist whipping around in obsessively tight loops
The sun shines
Leng’s slice tastes good
Pastry warming up where it sits on his palm
Old couples pack their shopping slowly
Care workers lift bags into boots
Packs of juice, litres of milk
A scrum of seagulls wheel over the floodlights
Off now
Waiting for sundown
The evening customers
The twenty-four-hour souls