Roll up! roll
up! Stop and look. No, not where
he looks – up to the double-glazed heavens
– at him. Stop and look at him. It’s an open invitation.
All are welcome, no charge. It’s fine. Go ahead. Feel free
to stare. He won’t heed your gaze. His clear, blue eyes won’t
make a sudden swoop and catch you like a swallow does a fly.
He won’t bring a blush to your cheek and make you turn away.
Look at that posture, how thoughtful he seems, as though his
every reflection is petrified. Each shift of his head brings a new
thrill. His body cannot help but frame itself perfectly to its surroundings. That’s it, seamless. The chin up a fraction! There.
He’s created a perfect chevron, directing the eye to the heart of
the picture. Hold it. Just like that. Beautiful. Perfect.
Our subject is a rare bird – the eternal muse – a portentous
and soulful somnambulist gliding through his days. He’s
the sort who moves effortlessly through life, shifting
fluidly from one classical pose to another. In the
supermarket queue he’s Michael
‘David’, the archetypal
contra posto; sleeping pissed on a platform he’s
Flandrin’s ‘Jeune homme’, the paradigm of manhood;
even on the privy he’s Rodin’s ‘Penseur’, perfectly
Today, in the park, he’s surely Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, bounded in
a nutshell. You can almost hear him ponder how ‘conscience does
make cowards of us all’. See, even his jacket obediently ruches the Elizabethan way.
Come, poets, painters and philosophers! Come sculptors, voyeurs
and unrequited lovers! Come and feast your eyes. Follow him out
into the pastoral scene of your own imagining. But a word of
caution: do not walk on the grass. You see in bed, he’s bound to
be a dreadfully selfish lover and conversationally and he’d bore you quite to death.
Sadly, art very rarely mirrors life, so the two
should be kept pretty much apart.
AT THE CROSS ROADS OF THEIR LIVES
Him with his cartographer’s
nose. Her with her librarian’s
lips. No ice creams on Sunday
for them. They have their eyes
fixed on the future, their paths
all mapped out. Together they’ll
make Baedeker babies and travel
the world, with books, on bikes.
‘I’ll dress in black,’ she told him, ‘even though it’s a sunny day. You’ll do the same.’
He nodded and smiled. Then the smile slid, bemused, to one end of his mouth. ‘Why black?’
‘So that we’ll stick out amongst all the colour. It’ll help you to find me, and me to spot you.’
‘Good idea,’ he said, thinking that perhaps she’d done this before. ‘Then what?’
‘Well, I’ll be sitting at one end of a bench, near the water. I’ll get there at two and read a magazine till you find me.’
‘Any particular bench?’
‘No. An empty one.’
‘What if someone joins you?’
‘Well, wait till they’ve gone.’
‘Do I have to tell you everything?’
‘Yes. Erm. It excites me.’
‘Then you’ll catch my eye… or try to.’
‘And you’ll smile?’
‘And I’ll sit down next to you?’
‘No. You’ll not have the confidence to do that straight
away. You’ll keep going and come back.’
‘You’ll think I’m a stalker.’
‘Would that turn you on?’ She considered this. ‘No. I don’t think it would. Anyway, you don’t look like stalker.’
‘I will be all in black.’
‘What if I were to wear white trainers?’
‘You’d look odd.’
‘But not stalker-odd.’
‘No. That’s true… And you bring lunch.’
‘No. You’re out on your own. You’re a single man. Why would you have made sandwiches for two?’
‘Because I’m really hungry?’
‘But you’re watching your figure.’
He looked down at his belly, which smiled back up at him. ‘That’s true. I forgot.’
‘Anyway it would look presumptuous. It’d be like carrying condoms in your wallet.’
‘But I do.’
‘No you don’t… Do you?’
‘No. But I used to.’
‘Anyway, you’ll offer to share your lunch with me.’
‘Ham and piccalilli,’ he said dreamily.
‘But I hate piccalilli.’
‘Yes, but I won’t know that.’
‘Then you’ll sit down at the other end of the bench and, bit by bit, move towards me.’
‘And if someone sits between us?’
‘You’ll put your sandwich there, so no one can.’
‘Then you’ll move in to kiss me… or try to.’
‘And you’ll let me?’
‘Then you’ll fall for me all over again.’
‘It’s true,’ she admitted. ‘I might.’
BEATING AROUND THE BUSH
Time and date
‘Now what?’ he’d asked before they’d even entered the park gates.
‘I don’t know. We could just walk for a bit,’ she says and lightly bites her lip.
He shrugs and buries one hand deep in his low-slung pockets, so that she can’t take hold of it; the other is armed with his mobile phone.
‘I bet Snoop Dog doesn’t take walks in the park,’ he thinks.
At least they’re on the path; the urban reassurance of tarmac consoles his feet.
He doesn’t want to get any dirt on his top of the range running shoes.
Petulant and sulky, he sits down, without warning, on a bench.
He moves his watch up his arm, to where it looks coolest.
He continues to play with his mobile phone, asserting his nonchalance.
She isn’t so easily arms-lengthed.
She sits, confronting his introversion.
He pretends to pick out a ring-tone.
He fends off her questions…
… with evasive beeps and jaunty, classical clips,
distorted and shoe-horned into a sinister fair-ground tempo.
It irritates him more than it does her.
Clear the cache
She’s at ease in the situation and in her body.
He can feel the warm pressure of her knee on his thigh.
It makes his pupils dilate and his heart beat faster.
Despite himself, he longs to touch her hair that dangles invitingly.
He suppresses an urge to kiss her on the shoulder.
Instead, he starts to scroll through his address book.
The Andys and Ashas… he can feel their scorn, see their sneers…
Beanie’s jibes and Deanne’s rolling eyes.
He comes to her name. Laura. But it says:
He hadn’t put it in. He’d just put ‘L’.
‘L’: a letter to speak a whole tumult of emotions.
‘L’ as a symbol. ‘L’ meant ‘aura’. Laura.
He’d not thought there could be any other word of importance that began with the same letter.
But now, here it is, spelled out: ‘Love Laura.’
Who did it? Has L noticed?
He looks up and meets her eyes. When she smiles her text of confession, his phone snaps shut and his hand finds hers.
Their mother took them up the hill every year to celebrate their joint birthday. The three of them would sit on its pinnacle and enjoy a picnic. They had the works – fat and flakey sausage-rolls, a rabbit moulded jelly, homemade lemonade and two little fairy cakes, one for each of the twins.
‘Can we go to the zoo now?’ the girls would chorus, like Miner birds with a shared vocabulary.
‘Not this year,’ their mother would say.
There was always an excuse. ‘It’s shut today because the animals are taking a bath.’ ‘They’ve all gone on holiday back to the countries they came from.’ ‘Dear me, I’ve forgotten my purse!’
Their mother would solemnly shake her head, affecting her disappointment for them.
‘Maybe next year…’
Then, just as they reached the gates, she’d exclaim: ‘Oh look, I’ve got my purse after all!’ or ‘They must be back from their holidays, it seems to be open.’
And the girls would squeal with delight and cover their mother with kisses, their pleasure doubled.
They both wanted to see the elephants first, but it was good to assert difference, from time to time.
The girls had never minded being twins, identical ones at that. They were life members of an exclusive club with a capacity of two. They dressed in the same clothes – though they weren’t made to – dreamed the same dreams and were ill with the same ailments. Throughout their lives they elected to share everything… everything, that is, with the exception of their husbands. They married very different men.
Where one was wide-shouldered and burly, like a farmer, the other was pale and thin, like a bank clerk. But the men got along well enough and the two couples bought houses on the same street. Every day the sisters walked to work together.
They were cleaners for the same rail network and wore matching uniforms. They were always having fun together. They shared their jokes. They liked to play tricks on the passengers as they waited for their trains. One of the twins would leave a platform, only to miraculously appear, seconds later, on the one opposite, leaving the commuters to rub their eyes.
Every year, they continued to make their birthday pilgrimage to the hill, breathing in the view and the slow passage of their lives. Their mother and their husbands would join them and there’d be jelly moulds and sausage-rolls, capped with a trip to the zoo.
Today Twinnie sits alone. Her mother and husband have gone and now her sister too. Death was the only thing they’d not been able to share. Towards the end, they’d been living in the house where they’d been brought up, even sharing the bed they’d been born in. Her sister had been losing hold of her memories for some time;
one by one they’d slipped through fingers deformed by rheumatism. It was horrible to bear witness to: the bed wetting, the incoherence, the calling out for her husband interpsersed with those terrifying moments of lucidity when her exiled self was permitted a brief visit to her body.
‘Make it stop Twinnie. Make it stop.’
Now it had stopped.
Today she’s come to the hill alone. She breathes in the year that’s passed, deep enough for two, and she can feel her family gathering around her. She glances down at the zoo and lets out a girlish giggle. The animals, she knows, are back from their holidays; they’ve all had their baths and she’s remembered her purse.
Time for the elephants.