Picture by Nicobobinus: Acton Town Station
The windows in Acton Town stretch all the way to the ceiling, so far above ground that there must be space for anything: a trapeze display, a pyramid of elephants, another tube station, thousands and thousands of balloons. One day Terrence works out exactly how many thousands, and it would be enough to lift the whole building, tunnels and all, pulling it free from the tubelines and floating it into the air.
The next morning he brings the first balloon and lets go. It’s red, and it bumps off the lights on the way up. The ceiling is so high that the staff don’t even try to get it down; it’ll fall on its own soon enough.
It doesn’t, though, and a week later Terrence brings in another. A month after that and the cluster’s big enough to draw attention; half a dozen pictures turn up online, and a girl with a green tartan skirt and a HAPPY BIRTHDAY 4 YEARS OLD! balloon of her own gapes as she looks, then lets go. Her balloon bumps upward too, and hits the ceiling, and stays there.
After a few years Terrence gets a raise, and starts bringing in two balloons a day. By now the sunlight through tall windows is patterned at the top, glowing playground-bright, shifting slowly through the afternoon. On Fridays he brings five, to make up for holidays and weekends.
After another year he makes it into Time Out, and suddenly it’s a cheap way to spend an hour with your kids: take a balloon to Acton Town, let it go and make a wish. By the time he retires, tall youths have to duck to get through the turnstiles; parents reach up to take a balloon from the mass for giggling toddlers.
Three years later, a week before calculated take-off, Terrence dies in a traffic accident. He feels only relief as a breath slides away and he recognises it as his last; he’s been worried for half his life that he got the numbers wrong, all those years ago, and he hasn’t ever dared to check.