A Second-hand Emotion

I’ve been dancing and singing since morning.  I came in from the market with all my bundles feeling like Christmas, though that’s weeks away yet.  I shoved a tape in the old portable deck on the shelf above the kettle, and sang along with Ella

Two rooms and kitchen
I’m sure would do…

And later, with Tyne Daly, rather louder,

And what’s more, baby, I can cook!

There’s hardly room to move in my cupboard of a kitchen, but I’m swaying and stamping and shouting the words, like I have a whole dance floor.  That’s what you do to me.

You make me want to shout, yeah
shout yeah…come on now…

I don’t eat lunch, I’ve pigged on testing cake mixture and fresh baked scones, and the crusts cut off the sandwiches.  I’ve bought homemade jam and farm cream and special cheese and I can hardly wait to see your face.

You make me feel like dancing, dancing…

I lay my tiny table with the table cloth from the bring and buy at the school, and put out my ‘best’ china, bought from Jim- the- plates half way down market street, He sells beautiful stuff, which doesn’t match but all comes from posh-once-upon-a-time sets, and isn’t chipped.  I put out sugar cubes in a bowl the colour of strawberry blancmange, and balance the worn silver-plate tongs on top, and put the jam into dishes with lids.

Oh honey, honey
You are my candy girl

I look at the table: there is no room for the plates of food… What I really need is one of those desert trolleys, or a cake stand with tiers.  And doilies!  I have one doily, but I don’t want to take the carefully arranged jam tarts off the plate to put a doily under it now, and I’m not sure it will pass muster, I don’t think it’s clean.  I put out napkins, but not in the rings that I keep on the mantle shelf, napkin rings suggest I expect you to come back, to use the napkin again.  No, you need to understand this for the ironic gesture at tea-with-the-vicar that it is.  You could almost call it an installation, if this was Stoke Newington instead of the wrong end of Broad Oak.
Having checked that Neil upstairs is out, I run a hot hot bath, and turn up the deck so I can hear it.

One day he’ll come along
The man I love
And he’ll be big and strong
The man I love

Getting dressed, I’m in West side story mode,

I feel pretty oh so pretty
Oh so pretty and witty and gay
And I pity
Any girl who isn’t me today.

Although pretty is stretching it, I think I look pretty good.  I light the fire I laid before the bath; forward planning see, I usually end up with coal dust under my nails, but not today, today is going to be
Perfect, its got to be… worth it.
Too many people take second best
 but I won’t take anything less,
it’s got to be

I fidget with the curtains, wanting them pulled to keep in the warmth, but the room seems smaller, with that tall window smothered, and I love the almost dusk of the afternoon, with the sulphurous yellow of the streetlamp opposite making strange shadows… and I want you to see the welcoming glow of my lights…. Lights! I glance at the single overhead bulb, in its workaday metal shade.  It seems a little harsh suddenly, drowning the amber flicker of the fire.  I review options: pull the bedside lamp in? Too intimate.  No, it will have to do.  I compromise on the curtains, pulling them so that they don’t meet, but the draughty edges of the windows and covered.  Satisfied, I settle down on the sofa where I have a good view down the road so I can see you coming and run down to open the door just before you ring.

The view from this upper window is beginning to get me down, the cold comes off the glass like the arctic tundra and stiffens my face, but I can’t move away.  I curl up, pulling the throw off the back of the sofa and wrapping it round my shoulders, and across the lower half of my face.  It is too stiff to be comforting but gradually it creates a microclimate of body warmth trapped.  It smells of long ago meals and spilt cough medicine.  I pull my feet under it and rest my head on the back of the sofa, so I can still stare down the street.

I was only twenty four hours from Tulsa
Only one day away from your arms

My back hurts and there are pathetic trembling shivers running through me, like a small dog that wants to go home, now, please.  But I am home.  I have nowhere to run away to.  There’s a woman down on the street, child by the hand, waiting for the lights to change.  He looks about four, and is pulling against her.  I can’t hear, but I can tell by the shape of his mouth that he’s whining or grizzling.
She jerks him sharply, almost yanking him off his feet; I raise my head then can’t be bothered, I lay my cheek against the sofa and look beyond her at the bus stop; the school kids eating warm pastries outside the bakers, and the corner where the street market spills out onto the main road.  They are starting to pack up now, those who have sold all of today’s fruit, or who can’t stand the cold any longer.  The first stall is being trundled down to the lock up under the railway, two men straining to keep it under control, ignoring the traffic lights which are against them, nodding breathlessly at the indulgent bus driver, who lets them across, then slides to a halt at the stop.  The kids scuttle from the baker’s to the bus and I hear, faintly, cries of rage and laughter as one of them loses a half-eaten Danish in their hurry.
I look at them all, and then turn my head to look at the table, all set and waiting for you.
I’ve let the fire go out.
I didn’t turn the tape over when it finished, because I don’t feel like singing now, nor dancing, because you aren’t coming.
I stare down at the scurrying street again, and I wish I could swap my life… with anyone really; the kids on the bus, the market traders, even that four-year-old with the angry mum.
What would any of them give me for this life?  My two rooms and a shared bathroom, my shattered expectations…  If I were to push up the window and shout out my invitation who’d take up the offer?
I wouldn’t.  You haven’t.
I mean to get up, to clear it all away, but my feet tangle in the throw and…
When I come to, I’ve cut my chin on the broken teapot, and there’s butter in my hair.

Read at Liars League Leeds 2011

1 thought on “A Second-hand Emotion

  1. Pingback: A Second Hand Emotion, read by Gill Stoker | Cherry Potts, Writer

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