I cut the hair at the nape of her neck.
“There’ll probably be a bouncy castle, too,” she says.
“At the church?”
“No,” she says, suddenly serious. “Afterward, at the wake. But, yes, the way things are going, it won’t be long before the vicar is on the castle herself. Up and down, up and down.” She picks some of the hair out of her lap and rolls it into a yarn and wonders at something to say next. Her hands are laced with tiny scratches.
She has a jaw length bob. She has emptying eyes. She was once assistant manager of the furrier shop Bennett’s. She watches the people outside on King Street as I dry her hair.
Bennett’s is long gone. “It’s a race to the bottom,” she says sadly. “The town is a hell.” The trees are leaved with polythene. Hound shites litter the street: watch your step, kid! Dog-ends, everywhere. Newspaper sheets rustle and turn: tumble and rise and fall. Seagulls bark, laugh, cry, mourn. The empty shop doorway is shelter from the constant westerly for street detritus and drinkers. One – cross-legged, booted on a blanket, a buff coloured skinny man, is surrounded by cans and bottles and uneaten gifts – offers pie-eyed pearls to the passersby.
Sometimes, kindly (and quite the flirt), he’ll call out, “Lovely day, darling! Show us your knickers.” He has an infectious howl and biscuit crumbs for teeth. He proves himself an impressive shot with a pasty. As a catch though, I shudder to think.
“Your cat has really gone to town on you,” I say. Jo Baker clenches her fists and tries to cuff them. I don’t mean anything. It’s just chat.
1952: She would sometimes sleep Friday night away on a bus south. Coffee in a cafe and then, brim blowing, hem held and hair across her, the howling tube trains delivered her to Oxford Street, South Kensington, Camden. London was further away than it is now. The afternoon bus crept north and eventually, sometime that same day (or was it the next?) she would be at her door in Westwell with a clutch of plastic bags.
“I was quite beautiful once,” she says, looking into the mirror. I hold a smaller, second mirror up and she glances at her face and the back of her head at the same time.
“That’s you,” I say.
“Yes,” she agrees. “It is.”
Reverend Jackson appears. She is after a blow dry as she is presiding over the funeral. “Tomorrow in Chideock,” she says. “I have to look the part. I do enjoy a funeral. Well, you know, they’re so life affirming.” I say for her to take a seat. She drums her thin fingers on her chin, looks briefly beyond, and says that she may just pop out for a smoke first. When she doesn’t come back I clean the mirrors. The best way to clean mirrors is to spray them lightly with water and then buff them with screwed up newspaper. There is no need for detergents or vinegar to rid mirrors of smears. Ghosts are a different story.