Tag Archives: old age

Number 59- the only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box


Number 59 – The only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box.

And even when she says it, the moment the words leave her mouth, she knows that they’re not true.
That this truth belongs to her mother and her mothers life.
Nowadays, almost no one dies in their own home and even if they do, a neat black van will take away the body, probably, although, she has no first hand knowledge of course, probably in a body bag or on a stretcher.

More and more, she finds that her mother is somehow inhabiting her mouth, phrases pop out
“ take your coat off. You wont feel the benefit”
“ a nice cup of tea and scone “
“ I don’t hold with…..”
“ in my day”

They make her feel old, they make her sound old and she isn’t, not really, not truly old.
75, it’s no age at all, not nowadays, not like in her Mother’s Day.

There are women far older than her in the Tuesday Aqua robics class, in fact she is one of the younger ones, well, slightly younger ones.
They all wear sensible one piece swim suits, usually blue or black, with sturdy shoulder straps and modestly cut legs.
She has, once or twice, dared to wear her bright red costume, it makes her feel cheerful, makes her feel a little Baywatch, but her mother’s voice crept up on her last time she wore it
“ mutton dressed as lamb”
“ no better than she should be, that one”
And so, it’s stayed in her underwear drawer and she’s dug out the black one instead.
She does refuse to wear a swim hat, even a frivolous one with pink and green flowers bouncing on top when they run on the spot in the shallow end of the pool.
A swim hat is an admission of old ness and she’s not ready for that, not yet.

Aquarobics is part of the week’s routine.
Monday is community choir
Tuesday aqua robics
Wednesday book group
Thursday is lunch with the girls and Friday, well, Friday is mother day, being a mother day, being a dutiful grandmother day and once a month, she tries to be a dutiful daughter day and visits her own mother, well, her own mother’s grave for a spot of tidying.

And of course, on top of all of this there is the garden, tiny but perfect, her allotment, walking the dog with the 4pm dog walkers and a bit, just a tiny bit of cleaning and grocery shopping.

Other women, the many other widowed women who sing and read and swim and fill their week with busyness, complain about how much they miss cooking and cleaning for husbands, now dead and children, now moved on.
She, on the other hand, cannot get over it the liberation from domestic tyranny, no more standing at the fridge, desperately trying to think of what to cook, no more cleaning and then turning her back and finding the mess creeping back again.
She has discovered ready meals, jacket potatoes, cereal for dinner and toast at any time.
She delights in her Spartan washing up, one bowl, one cup, a plate and one knife and fork and has discovered that a woman who goes out most days makes very little mess and the mess she makes is comforting when she does put her key in the door at the end of a busy day.

The dog, the last dog is very little trouble too.
He is some sort of a terrier, small, brown, fond of toast, they often share a slice in the morning while radio 2 plays something cheerful, sometimes she sings along and he looks quizzical before returning to his crunching on the toast crust.
They walk every day around the park with the 4 o clock dog walkers, the retired teacher, the man who doesn’t say much, the girl with lots of piercing and a boy friend who is on dialysis and needs a new kidney, the other older woman with the four sheep dogs all called after footballers, who wears her team scarf even when it’s not really cold enough.
They talk about the dogs, about other dog walkers, about the youth who sit on the kids swings, saying and doing nothing, but somehow exuding low level menace.
The youth are the reason why they walk together and why the man who doesn’t say much always walks with these women, keeps them safe, keeps an eye on stuff.

75 she thinks, no age at all, even when she occasionally looks in the full length mirror in the bathroom, no age at all.
Still got boobs.
Hair defiantly coloured, currently mystic violet. She knows it annoys her daughter and entertains her granddaughter.
Stomach soft now, a little thickening,but still acceptable, still able to wear a size 14.
No age at all.

Her mother’s voice whispers in her ears as she stands, naked in the bathroom
“ making a fool of yourself “
“ don’t draw attention “
“ act with dignity”

And then she picks up the little brown dog and waltzes into the bedroom stark naked and sings, badly, to whatever tune is playing on the radio.

Her neighbors make her laugh sometimes, especially the young ones, the ones on their first homes, crawling up the property ladder, the ones with plans and lives that start at 6 am and finish after 8 as they collapse onto their sofas.
They ask her questions about the neighbourhood, make statements about the good old days, assume that they know about her life
“ I bet it’s all different here now”
“ I bet you didn’t have to lock your front door when you first moved here”
“ I bet this was a real community back in the day”

Mostly, she just nods and smiles, Even when inside she is raging, on a bad day, or laughing silently, on a good day.

Just how bloody old do they think she is ?

The days they’re talking about are the 1970s.
Miners strikes
3 day week
Power cuts
Rubbish piling in the streets
Grave diggers refusing to dig graves.

Of course they locked the front door and the back door and made sure that all the windows were closed tight.

And she likes the new community, she likes chicken tikka masala, she likes the helpful family at the corner shop who open 7 days a week, she likes the polish man two doors down who popped in last week to tell her his wife was expecting their first son, she likes the 2 boys with the very neat beards and the pale pink front door, she likes the way this street looks and feels now.

75, she thinks, no age at all and she hums, loudly, a little tunelessy to drown out her mother’s nagging voice
“ 76, your father, when he went “
Your grandmother didn’t know what day it was by the time she was 70”
“ at 75, my body just fell apart”
“ I thought I’d live forever and look what happened to me”

No, she says out loud
75, no age at all.

And she wonders if she has time for a Pilates class this week.


Number 56- that’s the house where the old lady was eaten by her dogs.


The old woman at 56 was eaten by her dogs.
This is a true story, perhaps.

Ruth was my neighbour and this is my 20 year too late apology.
I’m sorry your dogs ate you after you died.
In fairness, they didn’t actually eat you, just nibbled around the edges, but by that time you had been dead for 3 days and they were hungry.
I’m sorry that I didn’t pay more attention, didn’t do something when I noticed that you were failing, didn’t pop round, offer to get some groceries in, make that phone call to social services.
But, I didn’t because I was younger and selfish and besides by then you smelt a bit and your house smelt a lot, so I stayed away and I’m part of the reason why number 56 is still known as the house where the old lady got eaten by her dogs.
It’s a great line, a pinging start to any narrative, but, it’s not the only story about you and it’s not even the best story about you.
This one is.
I don’t know it all, so I’m going to make some bits up, sex it up a bit, give it a narrative structure, a bit of plot pruning.
Lets run with it, it won’t be any less honest than the story of the lonely old woman eaten by her dogs when her body sat neatly on the sofa, undisturbed until someone, someone better than me, noticed the milk bottles piling up on the doorstep.

Ruth worked all her life in the boot and shoe, but not on the factory floor, not her, not a clever girl like her.
And one day, when I made an assumption, she was quick to correct me, not in the factory and her body gave a tiny shudder, not with the machines and the shouting and everything that goes with factory life, not her. She worked in the offices, in accounts, had her own desk ,moved money and numbers around. A nice clean job, a job with prospects,a job that made her parents proud.
She was sharp at school, could have gone to grammar school, should have gone to grammar school, but and there is a world of pauses in that but, a litany of regret, but, she was offered the boot and shoe, a decent job, clean hands, sitting down work.
So, she finished school on the Friday, started work on the Monday.
She liked the work, like the rows of figures, enjoys her own ability to move numbers around, see patterns, instinctively know when a row of added up just right.
Her ledgers were neat, handwriting clear and crisp, often she worked her sums in ink, was brave enough to do without the faint pencil marks the other girls used in the days before auto correct and predictive spelling and even tippex . Back in the days when mistakes stared you in the face, might even mean the difference between keeping a job and loosing a job.
At school she had held herself apart, worked hard and survived the taunts of snob and the mutters that one day she would get above herself.
If she hoped that work might be different, that she might find another type of young woman,ambitious, clever, eager to get on, she didn’t show her disappointment, didn’t seem to mind her loneliness, her continued isolation.
The problem, the growing problem was boys or more accurately now, as she was suddenly 16 and 17 and 18 and 19, young men.It wasn’t as if she was shy around them or scared or made awkward , they simply seemed to have no relevance,and they, feeling this , simply kept out of her way.
And then the other girls began to drop away, ritual letting go always the same, the initial coy display of the engagement ring, white gold and a chip of diamond,too small to call a solitaire, then the wedding plans, the homemade wedding dresses made by that clever cousin and sometimes daringly in 1950s provincial life, a registry office and then …..pouf….gone in a puff of rice and confetti , never to be seen again.
Ruth kept working, got promoted, offered the chance to go to night school at her own expense to train as a bookkeeper and she grabbed at it, because by now, she had a plan and was patiently, steadily working towards it.
And then, in 1963, her uncle George died and to her and everybody else’s surprise left her 1,000 pounds.
A very large amount of money indeed and the assumption from everyone around her, mother, father, younger brother, was that she would do the decent thing, keep a few pounds for mad money, buy herself a dress or two and dutifully hand the rest over to her parents, but she didn’t.

She took every penny of her savings, £400, scrimped together over ten years of living quietly at home and bought,outright the house she lived in for the rest of her life.
It set her even more outside the world of other young single women, distanced herself from her family, raised eyebrows when she moved into the neat terraced house with all her possessions not even half filling the little van that the office manager borrowed one Friday night from the factory and there she settled.
Woke up each morning at 6am, ate her two slices of toast at the table with the wipe clean table cloth, once a cheerful green gingham pattern which over the years faded to a uniform yellow green.
Smoked the first 2 cigarettes of the day, the cigarettes she smoked until the time she became too wobbly, too frail to make the short journey to the corner shop at the end of the street and by then she was nicotine coloured, cigarette thin herself.
At first, the radio kept her company and then later, when she could afford it, she bought the first of her televisions and later still the dogs, always in twos and always loud, barking, energetic types .
Dogs that never got walked but roared around the tiny back yard, throwing themselves against the gate whenever anyone walked past.
She stayed in the same job until retirement, went to the same office, moved numbers up and down columns and became middle aged and then older, but always capable, hardworking, a good, sharp mind that watched the world and felt herself outside of it.
We lived next door to each other for ten years and I never saw a visitor walk to the front door and , never heard a phone ring, and never, ever noticed her to go anywhere except the corner shop for cigarettes and the co-op for a small carrier bag of groceries, mostly, I guessed dog food and bread.
I was young, even though then I thought that I was all grown up, too busy leading a life to see that hers was fading.

So, I’m sorry, I’m sorry Ruth, my neighbour, I’m sorry that I didn’t do that tiny thing, knock on your door,offer to pick up some shopping.
I’m sorry that I didn’t make that call, get some help.
I’m sorry that when the dogs barked for 3 days without, it seemed , stopping for breath, I’m sorry that I did nothing, just turned the stereo up and cursed you and your unruly, noisy dogs.
I’m sorry.


NANOWRIMO 2014 – Day 9 – a child sized silver and gold charm bracelet, circa 1935


 

 

And in this dream she holds her grandmothers wrist,

Skin translucent,

Bird boned

Pulse racing to catch up with everything else….everything already gone

 

And her grandmother is wearing her charm bracelet, her wrist so thin, so tiny that the bracelet has never needed to be re-sized.

This fact a boast in adult life

” my wrists are the size of a 6-year-old child”

Spinning around on feet, lotus flower feet, hardly filling the black patent shoes she wore all her life.

 

Everything about her tiny

But tiny like a razor blade, able to give more hurt, more blood than seems possible from such a tiny, tiny thing.

 

The first charm then, aged 6, a single ballet shoe, hanging in splendid isolation on the thin silver chain,

But she knew more would come, birthdays, Christmas, a first communion, bridesmaid gifts and all chosen by other people, all to tell her something about herself, something about their view of her, something, a blueprint, on how to be a good 7 and 8 and 9 and 10-year-old.

 

The charms multiply

A horse’s head

A tiny ( see, here’s that word again ) crucifix

A car

A handbag

A lucky clover

A horse shoe

An ornate key

 

And more and more and more

Until, in adulthood, the bracelet weighs her down, keeps her earthbound, a tracking device for high days and holidays.

Just follow the chink, chink, chink, as reliable as thread or stones or breadcrumbs.

Fairy story themes for the least fairy story grandmother of them all.

 

And in this dream, as she idly picks up the charms and lets them hit against each other, she sees another bracelet, another grandmother, another wrist.

But this wrist is fleshy, soft to the touch, warm, inviting and she cannot help but rest her cheek against this flesh and carefully, slowly touch and stare at these new, these other charms.

 

With the absolute truth of dream logic, she knows that these are the other charms, for the other life, the tiny ( see, here it is again) talismans her grandmother would have chosen for herself.

A pair of silver wings…no longer earth-bound, flying free.

One hob nailed boot….in this life, this dream life,  her feet will hit the earth, stomp, stomp, stomping. Each step sending a jolt of potential through her bones, making this, this other bracelet rock and shake and fill the sky with noise.

A pair of golden scissors, able to make the first cut, the deepest cut, the cut that tears away the traces….setting her free.

And, a single solid pewter heart, no cutesy cuts, no need to join it to another to make a whole, complete in its own shape, it’s  weight in a palm, comforting,finished.

 

And finally, hanging in the very centre of the piece, a slice of cake, silver swirls of icing, a chip of Ruby to represent a cherry.

Fairy sized for fairy appetites, but in this life, the grandmother takes up more space, makes more noise, has more hunger and more right to fill these hungers.

 

When the woman wakes, she finds her own fingers encircled around her wrist,,thumb and fore fingers not quite able to meet and full of hungers that she knows can only be filled by

Cake

And long walks in shiny red doc martins

And noise, much, much noise.

 


Hunger 5


The memory is so vivid, so real that he feels his mouth pucker, fill with sweet saliva, he can almost taste the blackberries, warm pastry, the goey joy of Birds custard.

Blackberrying – 1939

His mother, hair covered by a silk scarf, wrapped, turban like around her peroxided sausage curls, ranges ahead, using a walking stick, kept especially for this purpose, to pull down the sweetest, hardest to reach fruit.
He, knees scabbed from a failed attempt to tight rope walk the entire length of the garden wall, works in her shadow, reaching out for the best, blackest berries, dropping them in slightly pulpy handfuls into the saucepan on the ground.
His sister, smaller, more easily distracted, wanders from bush to bush, picking, eating, sometimes remembering to drop a token berry into the saucepan with the broken handle.
And afterwards, when he has watched his mother roll out the pastry with a milk bottle left to cool in the larder and cut two perfect leaves from the off cuts to decorate the pies’ lid, he waits, while the smell of almost autumn fills the kitchen.

Another memory and he surrenders himself to it, smiles as he remembers his sisters’ suspicious, almost doubting face.

Banana – 1945

His sister, who is too young to remember their life before the war, pokes the fruit with a cautious finger.
He, 15, almost old enough to join the Home Guard, if peace doesn’t break out soon, can, if he concentrates, remember bananas, banana sandwiches. White bread sliced with the razor sharp bread knife, the banana itself, perfect circles covering every inch of the bread and then a sprinkling of sugar on top, but he has no memory of the taste itself.

The banana has sat, an exotic visitor amongst the slightly wizened, slightly battered apples, the last of this years’ crop, waiting for Sunday tea.

His mother carefully, deftly un-peels the fruit, making sure that none of it is caught within the skin and then slices it into 3 equal pieces.

Brought back to the now, the present, he realizes that he has no recollection of the actual eating, but the waiting, the anticipation is as clear as if it were yesterday.

He lets his mind drift, wool gathering, killing time.

Drinking red wine from France – 1950

He knows about beer, slightly flat, warm beer, drunk on Saturday nights, while they look at girls and wait for something, anything to happen.
He doesn’t much like the taste, but enjoys drunkenness, fuzzy inebriation, the sense of possibility that alcohol gives.

The bottle of wine sits on a kitchen table, between him and Roy, old school friend, university boy, someone who got away.

The cork screw, attachment on a swiss army knife is produced, the bottle opened with great ceremony and then the bottle ” left to breathe”.

Covertly, he watches it while Roy talks about girls and books and people he has never met.

The taste, when finally it comes, is disappointing, reminds him of the bottle of Sarsons vinegar, used liberally on the high days and holidays treat of chip shop chips, never eaten from the wrappers, too common, but placed in a pyrex dish and kept warm in the oven before being served at the table.

But, the drunkenness is glorious, makes him feel smarter, more than his everyday self, can, briefly, imagine himself seated at a Parisian cafe bar, watching girls, French girls stroll by.

The memories are coming faster now, the dead time between lunch and tea flying by.

Spaghetti Bolognaise – 1955

He doesn’t know it now, but this is the girl he will marry, but at this moment they are both stiff with awkwardness in this newly opened Italian restaurant on the High Street.
They have ordered half a carafe of house red and he has squirmed with embarrassment while the waiter has gone through the ritual of pouring an inch of the cheapest wine on the list into his glass.
The spaghetti is served with a spoon and fork, the pepper mill, longer than his forearm is wafted over his food, Parmesan offered and nervously refused.
They both look at the cutlery offered and she more confident, more able to admit confusion, shrugs and calls the waiter, asks for knives and carefully they cut the long strands of pasta into bite sized pieces.
The taste of the food, rich, oily, stays with him until he carefully cleans his teeth the next morning, anxious to remove any hint of garlic before he goes to work.

Cream Tea, Ilfracombe – 1958

He leans forward, happy to have any reason to touch her in this public place and carefully, using his handkerchief, dabs at the blob of clotted cream on her nose.
The beach-side cafe is genteel, silver pots of hot water served alongside the tea pots with the spouts that always leak, just a little.
They are on honeymoon, hoping for sunshine, but happy with rain, happy with anything that allows them to lean into each other, stay close.
The cream tea is a luxury, carefully budgeted for, she piles cream and jam onto the fluffy home-made scone, bites down, the yellow of the clotted cream, the deep red of the plum jam oozing together and smiles with pleasure.
He smokes a Senior Service, carefully nips the tip and puts the half smoked cigarette back into the packet before he spreads butter thinly onto half a scone.

Heinz Chocolate Pudding – 1961,

The baby leans forward, mouth opening in anticipation, he, mindful of his work suit, his white shirt, still 2 days away from needing washing, carefully removes the red lid from the tiny glass jar.
He picks up the spoon, stirs the contents and then carefully, loads the spoon.
The babys’ lips wrap around the sweet desert, smacking together in pleasure as the pudding is devoured.
Her hand, small, soft, wrist ringed with fat suddenly darts towards the spoon, grabs it and drops blobs of chocolate onto his hand, his wrist.
He pulls away, trying to avoid splattering his only decent suit and the speed of the movement frightens her.
He smiles, while still trying to check what damage has been done and then relieved, he offer her more of the desert and almost without thinking licks some of the spilt food from too near his cuff.
The sweetness is intense, almost over-powering.

Tapas – 1968

She, bored of the luke warm Heinz tomato soup, the over-boiled vegetables served every evening at their hotel has found a teen age baby sitter and bullied the thick legged rep into telling them about the nearest proper Spanish restaurant.

And now, they are sitting, skin tingling from too much sun, eating tapas.
The table is piled with tiny brown ceramic dishes, he cannot help thinking that they have ordered far too much food, can already feel the heaviness that will sit on his chest all evening and into the morning, but her delight at the excess is infectious. She dips into a bowl of tiny sun dried tomatoes, he only knows what they are because the waitress has carefully described each dish to them.
She aims the fork at his mouth, laughing at his discomfort and then, because they are on holiday, because he does not want her to think of him as a man scared to take a risk, he opens his mouth and allows her to feed him.
Later, when all the dishes has been cleared away and the waitress, unbending as she sees their pleasure in her mothers’ cooking, has placed a bowl of freshly picked cherries between them, it is he who now places a perfect cherry between his wifes’ lips.

Fondue – 1973

The children, bribed with Radio 1 in their bedroom and allowed to take a whole packet of chocolate biscuits upstairs have been exiled.
His wife has spent days hunting down the exotic ingredients needed for this, their first ever fondue party.
Items are ranged along the kitchen work surface, garlic, nutmeg, a bottle of white wine, a strange cheese, whose name he cannot pronounce and which could not be bought in the local co-op is leaking an unfamiliar smell around the house.

He has been allocated bread cutting duty, the baguettes need to be chopped into neat equal cubes and absently he pops 1, 2, 3 into his mouth until his wife, lips thin with anxiety shouts at him and then he stops, focuses instead in filling the woven bread basket.
He is somewhat surprised, almost disappointed, after the days of preparation to discover that fondue is at heart complicated cheese on toast.

The fondue sets sits on top of the kitchen cupboard for years until the kitchen is re-vamped and it is bagged up and left outside a charity shop.

Muesli – 1979

His daughter has become a vegetarian, is debating veganism.
Meal times have become a battle ground and looking for middle ground, a truce, he has driven her to the local whole food co-op.
The shop reminds him of his childhood, sacks on the floor, brown paper bags, old fashioned weighing scales, but the staff have none of the comfort of Mr Ridley and his dusty brown grocers’ coat.
They sport piercing, pony tails, clothes that are ripped, shabby, but he suspects an artfulness,a deliberation.
His daughter wanders happily, picking up food items that seem joyless, mostly colorless and waiting, he starts a conversation with an older, less threatening man who is carefully bagging up a mixture of oats, nuts and fruits.
They smile at eachother and the assistant, pausing, tells him that this is muesli, a breakfast cereal and that he can tell a lot about a customer from the type of muesli they choose.
He waves a be-ringed hand at the shelf and the father, still waiting, grabs almost at random a bag.
Later, when he examines the cereal more carefully, he sees that it has dried bananas and apricots and wonders what it says about him.

Chicken Tikka Masalla – 1985

The microwave pings, mindfull of the steam burn from the sausage and mash last night, he pauses for a few moments before he pulls away the cellophane.
The chicken is an unlikely orange, cubes of meat suspiciously symmetrical floating in a thickening sauce.
He stirs it cautiously, pulls a plate from the mismatched pile in the almost empty cupboard and then smells burning, the naan bread, left, forgotten under the grill has burst into flames.
He grabs at it, burns his fingers and drops the blackened bread into the washing up bowl, managing to cover last nights’ plate, cup, bowl in burnt ash.
Sitting at the one chair at the too small table, he shovels in the food, missing the naan bread, he uses the crust of a loaf to mop up the sauce and wishes that he still smoked.

McDonalds Happy Meal – 1993

His daughter, vegetarianism long since abandoned, shrugs apologetically, mutters that the kids like it, will eat everything and it’s cheap.
The children start a chant for a Happy Meal and he offers to take them to the counter while she balances the newest baby on her lap.
At first he is perplexed by the queuing system, waits to be served, while giant teenagers push past him until finally, his grandson takes him by the hand and leads him to a counter and confidently orders two Happy Meals.
He is bemused by the choices on offer, has no idea what a Filet of Fish, a Big Mac or a Mcrib could be and aware of the press of people behind him, smiles at the girl at the counter and says he too will have a Happy Meal.
There is a pause and she shakes her head,almost dislodging her red baseball visor, tells him that he cannot have one, only children are allowed happy meals.
He stares at the menu board behind her, has no idea what to order, wants to ask her what is good, what will he enjoy.
His granddaughter feels his discomfort,his anxiety and when the pause has gone on too long, tugs at his hand and whispers that her daddy always orders a Big Mac with cheese.
So, he does.

Sitting with his family, he is surprised that the burger is so tasty and when the children are distracted by the plastic toys, he steals their fries, suddenly ravenous.

And then, he is back in this day, this room.
The door opens and a pinny clad girl, not one he recognizes pushes the door wider with her foot, her arms full of tea time trays.
She approaches bed, smiles vaguely and goes to place the tray of food on the bedside table, she has to push the untouched lunch tray to one side, not really noticing she leaves the tea tray there, just out of reach and is gone.

He wonders, if today, this evening, anyone will remember to come and feed him.


The Blurs’ last job.- part 1


Too much red wine and S & I invent a character, Serge “the blur” D’Beville – get away driver extraordinaire.
I will have to persuade S to share his story here too, just for purposes of comparison and hilarity.
This is my take on a character with such a splendid name.

The habit is too ingrained now, he couldn’t change it, even if he wanted to, green cigarette paper, the smallest amount of tobacco, every spare shred carefully collected up and returned to the packet. A prison thin roll up, 3, 4 drags and it is gone, leaving behind just a hint of tobacco and smoke.

Harry “the hat” is still talking between bouts of coughing and gasps for breath, Serge tries to ignore the oxygen cylinder that sits between them and the ache in his own knees, tries to pay attention, to drown out the over loud television, the clattering of a tea trolley and the bird like chirping of Mrs Wright, who has , as speech deserts her, developed an arsenal of noises which make Serge simply want to walk over and smash her face in.

“One last job”, Harrys’ tone is wheedling
“One last job, get us out of here, get us set up somewhere warm, sit on a beach, watch the sun set”

Serge looks around, takes in what here is, the high backed, wipe clean seats, the television, switched on at 7am, switched off at 8 pm, the ever-changing ranks of pinnied girls and the underlying smell of bodily functions masked, badly, by industrial strength lavender air freshener. As institutions go, and Serge has spent time in a lot of institutions in his life, it’s in the middle – better than the Scrubs, not as good as Broadmoor [ very good class of biscuit there], but he understands Harrys’ hunger to be somewhere else, somewhere better, so, he leans forward, tilts his head to make sure his best ear can catch all of the conversation.

Harry has a plan and for a moment, Serge is taken back to the 60s, meetings in upstairs rooms in smokey pubs, sharp Italian suits and sharper cuban heeled boots and downstairs, waiting, the girls, posh tottie, drawn like well spoken moths to the East End bad boys. it was one of these girls who gave him this name, said that Stephen Derby was boring, that he needed a name with more glamour.
At the beginning, the name felt like his first ever Saville Row suit, seemed to be more than he could ever be, but he grew into it and was always surprised at court appearances when they called out the old name, the other name. Somehow, he felt diminished, made smaller, more ordinary.

He realizes that he is wool gathering, drifting back into the past, something he finds himself doing more and more and hates himself for. He leans forward, ignores the familiar twinge in the small of his back and starts paying attention. He knows that Harry is just playing, passing the dead time between lunch and the afternoon tea trolley, but then he starts actually listening and gets that feeling, that little lurch deep in his gut, the one that says that this plan could actually be a go-er, that they could do this.

Harrys’ plan is simple, once a month, all the salaries for the 9, 10 care homes owned by Mr “we’re trying to create a home from home” Simpson, come here to be sorted before being dispatched out, wages for 3, 400 staff , there’s no security, Just Mr S himself doing the bank run and the money is left in the back office until the end of the working day, so, Harry reckons, cause a diversion, grab the dosh, into the get away car and off – over 400,00 to the better.

He leans forward, grasps Serges’ knee
“thats where I need you, the best get away driver in the business, this is our last chance, the last job.”

And despite himself, Serge feels the excitement mounting, it could work, they could get away with it. His fingers begin to drum on the chairs’ arms, begins to calculate what they need, tries to push back the excitement.

He nods at Harry
“car, decent motor, bit of muscle, young muscle and a diversion” and the he carefully rolls another cigarette and thinks about Sobranie Black, boxes and boxes of Sobranie Black and decent whiskey and a new suit.

TO BE CONTINUED………………………..

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Nocturne – On the night bus – 13


The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round and I’m stretching out the rock the pram handle, but there’s nothing there, so round and round the garden, like a teddy bear, one step, two step and I look down, expect to see his baby fat hands , wrists so edible you just want to sink your teeth in, but it’s all wrong, this hand is old, wrinkled, the knuckles are ugly, not like my Christophers’ hand, nothing at all like his hands.
Rock around the bus tonight, rock, rock, rock the baby.
Eddie loves the dancing, every Saturday night at the Palais, he knows all the moves, throws me over his shoulder and I’m as light as a butterfly and my shoes are red, my mother sniffs, says good girls don’t wear red shoes, but I love them and I look down to admire them and my feet are cold but the things you wear on your feet, sometimes brown, have laces, Eddies’ are shiny, pointy, those things, the things with buckes, they’re not there.
My feet are cold.

And where’s Eddie, when’s he going to come, if we don’t hurry, we’ll miss the bus, miss the first dance, miss that man, what was his name, people used to cut up cinema seats when they heard him, what’s his name.

My dad says that Eddie is no good, won’t amount to anything, but he doesn’t see us dancing, me like a butter fly in my shiny red shoes.

My mum says only bad girls wear red shoes, but there’s a baby, my Christoper, was I a bad girl, is that why Eddies’ not coming.

I’m really cold, but I’m waiting for the bus, waiting for the bus to take us to the Palais, waiting for Eddie.

I went to school and they said wait, so I sat with my hands folded in my lap and I’m sitting like that now, no-body can say that I’m a bad girl, see I’m not even wearing my red shoes.

I have to be careful, they say that Eddies’s not here, they must think I’m daft, like Eddie would ever leave me, leave his butterfly girl.

When you make a picnic, you need to pack enough sandwiches for the men, the men need to eat, keep their strength and I make tea, strong and sweet and pour it into the thermos and we walk down the beach and I feel the sand on my toes, but I don’t know where we’re going and I’m scared and I want my mummy.

I’m thirsty, want a cup of tea, you have to keep on at them, else they forget, forget to make a cup of tea and I say
“I want a cup of tea, I want a cup of tea” and the girl, the one with the glasses, she says
“But you’ve just had one”
They lie.

I wish the bus would come, I keep looking for it, looking for the lights.
I don’t know where the rest of the crowd is, we used to go to the Palais, every Saturday night and Eddie knew all the moves and I was his butterfly girl.

I keep looking for my baby, my Christopher, I know they’ve hidden him and I keep looking, but they’re clever, they’ve made my legs old, tired and I can’t walk far and when I look at these hands, these old hands and they scare me and I shout
“What have you done with my hands?” and someone always tells me to hush

Hush a bye baby on the treetops, when the bough breaks the baby will fall.

I see the lights of the bus now and I think to myself
“Well, you’re in for the high jump, Eddie my lad, standing me up on a Saturday night” and I swish my skirt, 6 layers of net, but it doesn’t feel right and it’s not my lovely red felt skirt with the black poodles.
Someone has stolen it, put me in this old nightie and I want to cry and I want my Eddie to come, but the bus is here and I’m going dancing.

“Speak up” said Mrs Green, “speak up girl, don’t mumble”
So, I get on the bus and I smile my best smile and I say, as clear as you like
“Single to the Palais”, but he doesn’t seem to hear me, the man driving the bus and I try again
“Single to the Palais, I’m meeting me Eddie, I’m his butterfly girl”

And his face is cross, the man on the bus, a cross man.
We must feed the men enough says my mum or they get cross and his mouth is moving, but I don’t understand and I’m cold and I wish my Eddie would come, but I’m a good girl and he can’t see my red shoes, so he doesn’t know what kind of girl I am.

This must be the wrong bus, not going to the Palais at all.

I need to sit at the bus stop, my hands folded in my lap and wait for my Eddie and listen to the swish of my 6 net petticoats.

We’re going dancing at the Palais, me and my Eddie, I’m waiting on the bus, the right bus and then we’ll dance, me and my Eddie and I’ll be his butterfly girl.

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The photograph


it was in the drawer next to his bed

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next to this bed, the last bed.

Not the real bed, not the marriage bed.
Not even the interim bed, the one he moved into when she died, the spare bed, the spare room, when we wondered why, he said
“because”
“because, in the big bed, I am lost, floating, all at sea…………rudderless”

We marveled at the poetry, coming unexpectedly from of such a prosaic man.
We didn’t know then that language, sense, meanings were unraveling, it was not just in bed that he was lost, floating, all at sea.

The photograph creased, handled, the paper softening, edges curling, placed, neatly in a box with everything else,
Afterwards,

False teeth,
reading glasses, arms snapped, not needed on this voyage
key ring to a house, long gone to pay for this last bed
a copy of the racing post
three Christmas cards
a tube of smarties
2 lighters from before, before he forgot that he smoked, forgot how to smoke, forgot.

But the photograph, the girl, pretty, posing, poised,
No-body that we know
And too late to ask, not just by days, but years and years and years as he floated, compass broken, rudder snapped, captain at the helm as the ship went down

I fragment,
You fragment,
They fragment,
We all fragment.

But the photograph, important enough to move from home to homes to here carries some weight, some significance, some something,

So, we take it home and unsure of what to do, place it in the drawer beside the bed and sometimes wonder who and where and mostly why,

But generally, we forget.