While travelling the London Underground (occasions which might include her fortnightly trip to her poetry group in Queen's Park, forays to the Royal Academy for Friends' special events, quarterly visits to a hairdresser in Great Portland Street undeserving of her loyalty) Ms M (she stuck resolutely to 'Ms' refusing to allow her title to reveal her past: remaining single for far too long, a marriage far too brief to a man far too dull, years of bearing the status of divorcee for which she had done nothing to earn), who believed herself skilled at people reading, liked to fit passengers to their station of em(or disem)barkation. This wasn't so easy in Zone One; people travelled for different reasons and were rarely residents (or at least identifiable as such) and bore no physical connection to the stations they used. Or maybe in not doing so they in fact did. This was the kind of philosophical conundrum with which Ms M enjoyed occupying her mind.

   Ms M liked to think she was an unlikely user of West Finchley station. She imagined other travellers' (who would be engaged in similar sociological observation) surprise that she didn't leave the train at Highgate: "What? With that hair, that jewellery, that dress sense? Perhaps East Finchley then?", which was in Ms M's mind surely the last outpost of sartorial bohemianism, and how shocked they would be when she and her grey locks piled up on her head, her embroidered devore scarf and Moroccan influence earrings sailed through Finchley Central and as the train pulled into the charming West Finchley station (open platform at street level, iron passenger bridge, waiting rooms decorated with gingerbread bargeboard) this figure of Zone Two eccentricity hauled up her colossal tapestry bag and tripped lightly off the train.

   So when (Ms M was going to have lunch with her cousin in Marylebone High Street) this thing of beauty boarded at Archway (Archway? How much better it would suit Ms M to speed through Hampstead and Belsize Park) Ms M was a little delighted in the connection she felt with someone so equally at odds with their tube stop.

   Of course there were a million reasons why this divine young man (he recalled for Ms M a young Nureyev, except taller but still an unmistakable air of the dance about him) might find himself at Archway (a disgusting place with its own micro-climate - a never decreasing wind swirling around the tower, a horrible junction and one way system divided by the incongruously named Flower Mews). He may have got on the wrong train and had to change (Ms M was glad he had), he may have been visiting someone at the Whittington Hospital (Ms M hoped he hadn't been attending himself for some difficult treatment of a painful condition) or he may have been lured by the promise of fame (through vanity perhaps) to a seedy photographer (Archway was the sort of place such people might live and who wouldn't want to record for posterity the glorious presence this young man bore?)

   It occurred to Ms M that he may be Spanish (she wished it hadn't, she had an unaccountable phobia of all things Spanish and whilst she recognized this as not so much a cultural gap as an impassable ravine, she could only venture as far as an occasional obligatory indulgence in tapas). It was his hair, which he wore long enough (to the bottom of his neck) straight and unlayered over the crown but raggedly chopped around his face to perfectly frame his cheekbones and praise that gorgeous straight nose. Ms M believed this to be a Spanish style having once seen a similar cut on a poster at Baker Street station advertising a visiting flamenco dancer.

   Ms M became intrigued by the way that quite ordinary scarf (multicoloured thin vertical stripes, an accessory she was getting somewhat tired of seeing warming the necks of young men) draped itself insouciantly around him revealing a tantalizing glimpse of a startling clavicle. Ms M shifted slightly in her seat adjusting to the sensation of having a thousand tiny insects simultaneously hatching in the cotton gusset of her (Autograph range from Mark and Spencer) underwear (she wore just glamorous enough matching bra and briefs). Ms M was uncomfortable with this reaction for at the same time she felt a sensation in her eternally empty womb, (something she hadn't felt for decades since what was probably the optimum time for her fertility and reproduction that circumstance had disallowed to transpire). It was the tugging at an imaginary umbilical cord connecting her to this angel in the seat opposite. She knew without reservation that this was the son she would have borne.

   As this pain (it had indeed become a pain) took grip, her own past and memory was replaced with a newer, more vital one that had her sighing over images of a small, delicate boy eschewing the attentions of rough and tumble friends. He was artistic, like her, and of a peculiar sensibility that demanded constant stimulation and exposure to the refinements of life, always preferring to sit in a corner with a book than engage in playing monsters. (Ms M had introduced him to the classics at an early age; David Copperfield had become a firm favourite by the time he was ten.)

   Ms M did not inquire of herself (her own mother's voice relaying its looped message "It doesn't do to go into things too deeply dear" whenever it crossed her mind to investigate the origins of her thoughts) how her son, this son, came into her life, who his father may have been (if there were any inheritances that she was forced to consider, naturally they were all positive qualities). She held no memory of her pregnancy or his birth. No. He came into her life as a fully formed invention, necessitated by her longing and her lack. Imagination, now turned memory, filled in the details.

    Forced to confront his maleness, Ms M couldn't refuse him the natural propensity of his gender to fact gather but (Ms M was sure) rather than be able to name all participant athletes in all of the 20th Century's Olympics and their winning times and medal positions, her dear boy could give the Latin names and classifications of all 946 recorded varieties of geranium.

   At seven he requested to learn tapestry and the two of them sat in the garden (of their Art and Crafts Hampstead Garden Suburb cottage in the shade of a pear tree, Ms M in a large floppy straw hat and kaftan, trug of just picked roses, delphiniums and alchemilia at her feet) on wooden deckchairs petit-pointing (oh how she'd laughed when they both reached for the same wool at the same time and she'd had to explain to him that the correct name for that particular colour was not "mustard" but "ochre" and he'd said "I meant Dijon, not English") their way through cushion covers, napkins and footstool upholstery (her choosing details from Italian masters - a Caravaggio fruit bowl on a bell pull was one she was particularly pleased with - and him sticking determinedly to botanical designs).

   They adored pottery. While his contemporaries attended sanitized cafes with time limited sessions to paint (or colour in) ready made plates, mugs or puppies (regulated spontaneity, Ms M called it), she and her little treasure were throwing clay pots in the studio at the end of their garden, working their way through the vessels of ancient Chinese dynasties and their identifying forms. Glazing was not their strong point so they attended a class in Bloomsbury to help improve their technique. He became intrigued by the Bloomsbury Group (as a result of their wanderings through Gordon and Tavistock Squares on the way to their class) so they took a day trip to Charleston ("I believe we used to live here", he told her and her love and admiration for her little man reached saturation point and she began to believe herself that this had indeed been the case) and back home he would stand in front of the mirror for hours restyling his hair trying to identify the exact location of the Ralph Partridge parting.

   And on those rainy afternoons they sat side by side on the sofa in front of the fire, his head resting on her shoulder, (toasting under a Chenille throw of their favoured colourings, mulberry, olive green and butterscotch, discovered in an antique shop in Rye) her arms wrapped around him, taking it in turn to read aloud the Shakespeare Sonnets as they sucked on mint humbugs.

   A severe braking of the train (Ms M deplored such inconsiderate measures) just outside Camden Town obliged Ms M to abandon her memories. Her son had removed a book (a slim volume in translation, she was pleased to note) from the battered leather bag he wore crossways over his fine chest and was fully engrossed in what Ms M could only imagine were intricate phrasings describing unfamiliar personalities whose virtues and transgressions were designed to readjust the soul. He hadn't seemed to notice that the train wasn't moving and it wasn't until a perfunctory apology for the delay delivered in a nasal twang (did no one have their adenoids removed anymore?) broke the silence in the carriage, that he looked up from his reading. Ms M was, of course, staring directly at him. Due to the combined weight of her hair piled up on her head and her enormous earrings Ms M's focus generally appeared to be lower than it actually was, and the thing of beauty looked at her and apparently thought she was trying to view the title of his book. He lifted it and held it up, his expression neither one of annoyance or pleasure and Ms M, at first uncertain how to respond, settled for a slight tilt of the head and a small smile that she hoped he understood meant "thank you". His response was to open his mouth wide and offer what he clearly believed to be a smile of appreciation, welcome and joy.

   Acid rose in Ms M's throat. That beautiful mouth, those perfectly pink lips arched carefully in the shape of an almost kiss hid nothing more than a terrifying collection of different sized, different coloured (how many shades of ohcre were there?) randomly placed visions of hell, not one of them singly identifiable as what a tooth was commonly expected to resemble. What kind of a mother never took her son to the dentist? (In her memory his natural straight white teeth were the envy of adolescent boys everywhere forced into hideous girl-repelling steel traps.) Ms M could only stare hoping the horror that had temporarily closed down her breathing was not visible. What was the minimum amount of time respectfully required before she could break eye contact without him guessing the processes of her mind as her false memory broke itself up, its component atoms combusting like distant stars, the residue entombing itself deep in her brain, hoping never to be recovered and her real, actual (equally blessed) past soothed its way back into place? How glad she was not to have to have risked the unlikelihood of any son of hers delighting in her own pleasures. How delirious she was not to have to have risked the possibility of shaming and embarrassing a son who rejected her cravings. And how thrilling to be back as herself, a Ms M contained and content in her neat world of only intermittent intrusion.

   The train moved. She gathered up her belongings. As the doors opened at Camden Town Ms M disembarked and without looking back left the platform and the station to catch the number 27 bus.