The reflection in the mirror
Turned her stomach. A scrap of paper,
As if stuck to the glass—
She could reach to peel it,
But felt nails clinking on the hard surface.
Tantalisingly beyond reach.
Even in backward mirror-script,
She could sense its stomach-turning.
Man came into the bathroom, a stolid individual—a fireman
Of the first water, with brylcreemed hair.
The marriage had indeed been a series of fire-fighting.
The odd burst of flame from a once moribund fire in the old days' coal-grate. The sudden ignition of a garden bonfire after hope had been given up of it ever catching. The chimney fire streaming smoke and setting all the local kids a-goggling—as they ceased, momentarily, their game of hopscotch or hide-and-seek. The conflagration that beset a local factory—a memory from childhood that would remain beyond the reach even of the final fire of all: a seething furnace which nothing at all could douse.
The marriage and more.
Now old, the man still retained
Deep respect for anything untoward.
Alert for any emergency. Lack of imagination
Prevented him being scared of anything.
Sanity was his watchword.
Approaching the mirror,
Devastated to see the reflection
Of a woman's face—blushing
To the roots.
He no longer had stomach for it.
Wife cremated only yesterday;
Not even left a suicide note.
(published 'Edgar' 1999)
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
A collaboration with P Jeffery & B Lewis
Published 'Broadsword' 1995
The princess, wandering amid beds of bright flowers and along avenues of cool fountains, paused to place her nose to the delicately involuted petals of a rose. In the soft earth at her foot was a double slotted depression, as though a pig had rooted amongst these royal bowers. I felt sure that the princess had failed to observe the mark. Lurking in the shadow of the trellis where the honeysuckle twines, I observed all. Such is my station.
For sixteen seconds, and the twelfth part of a seventeenth, the princess paused, nose to petal. I measured the time by the pulse at my wrist. All has to be set down to twenty-four decimal places in the royal accounts. Once, I recall, old Scalthwaite had forgotten to carry a nought - well, the less said about him the better.
The princess passed on her way, and it was time for me to leap from cover. Four seconds later, the slots were obliterated and the spilt rose pollen swept away. A droplet of fountain spray clung to the wrong leaf. That, too, I righted.
When she stopped by the lily pond, I was under the water, staring up. If she saw my eye, unwinking, she must have taken it for a fish. A willow leaf circled downwards. More mess to which I must later attend. As she walked towards the house, I levered myelf from the pond - not forgetting to ensure, of course, that its surface was left exactly as I had found it.
I knew she would not turn back, because she never did. Despite her carelessness, she was most precise in her habits. One walk around the garden and it was time for her slumber. Never would she discover me fussing in her wake - since that would make her late for Scalthwaite who kept a strict reckoning of her whereabouts. In her world, the timetables were more awesome than anything - even than God. But that didn’t mean she could skimp on her allowance of minutes for praying to God, of course.
But suddenly, she spotted me climbing from the pond and returning an autumn windfall to its stalk. I was aghast. How would she view me? I knew myself to be uglier than most misplaced things.
“Why have you been cleaning up after me for all these years?”
Her voice was even lovelier than her face, if that were possible. It was the first time I’d heard it.
“Because - I love you, sweet princess.”
I noticed that she winced as if my voice were tree bark become sound.
“Follow me,” she instructed. “At least you seem to be experienced at that.”
Her soft steps took me to the lily pond where she wrapped me in her smooth arms. However, she had trodden accidentally upon her beloved rose. She screamed as she saw the petals drop slowly from the flower’s crimson heart. Her body shook with horror, threatening, 1ike the beautiful bloom she was, to crumble in the process. Crying, I stroked her hair in the crazy belief that it might revive her - but clumps came out in my hand. I shall never forget the way she smiled her last smile as I scuttled off to allow Scalthwaite and some other servants to carry her inside. But he had overestimated the number of servants required, in view of the lightness she was fast becoming.
A smile is not the mouth. It’s what a mouth does. So a ghost is not its body. Merely what a body does. I grab my broom and decide to answer this renewed call to duty for the residual moments of my own life, because now I truly sweep what makes me weep - watched, if only by her smile.