Notes From a Fragile Island. 24

October 10 2004 Croydon

Blue.

Click clack click clack. Footsteps behind me. A wonderful, feminine clatter spills across the concrete and glass and Saint George’s applauds and so do the pigeons and so do I. The arcade, everything, is suddenly charged: electric. I fall into a stroll and her footsteps fall in beside me. Fingers touch my left hand.

Sarah S wears Prussian Blue, kitten heeled, suede ankle boots. Her legs shine. She is dressed in a neat, dark blue, 3-buttoned suit with (I think) chalk stripes. A tangerine silk is knotted playfully at her neck. Her skin is as pale as it was a decade ago, her eyes instantly the same summertime blue, except now they are displayed behind round, wire-framed glasses. Her hair is no longer blue, but honeyed, and arranged in a bun at her crown.

We go to the Mojama Bar on Park Street. It is noisy with civil servants. We speak into each other’s ears at a long bench by the tinted window. Her neck and her hair and the tangerine scarf smell amazing. We reveal elements of our histories as we drink gin and tonics. We retell our own brief past. We touch each other’s wrist.

CP passes the crowded window. Her head is high, but her eyes look tired. She is on her way to meet me at The Ship at 6.

It is 5:55. “Already?” says Sarah S.

CP is only ever on time when she wants to borrow money, which these days, sadly, is often. Sarah S and I smoke another cigarette, spin out the ice-water gin, swap numbers and say goodbye in the doorway on the noisy street. “See you soon.”

“You don’t have to unless you want to,” she says. Sarah S crosses Park Street and disappears in the crowd and I step back onto St. George’s and walk slowly to The Ship. The sound of me on the concrete. The blue shopfronts.

October 10 2018 North Tyneside

Short, back & Shields.

H is grieving. His eyes are dry and red. An unwashed and weedy smell envelopes him. His clothes are rank. Yesterday, I said, “Next time you need a haircut, let me know.” He looked into the mirror – at himself, at me, at the room – and said, “This was mum’s last haircut. I want to keep it long, long as I can.”

However, today, H sports a new haircut. H is North Shields and, as such, favours a brutalist style known as a ‘short back and Shields’. When I mention his haircut he says, “Steph cut it.”

“Steph? Byker Steph?”

“Byker, aye. I needed a quickie. I’ve got a date.”

October 10 2021 Penn Beacon

Blankety Blank Verse.

M presents R with a charity shop volume of PB Shelley’s poetry. M makes a big deal of it to everyone gathered at the table. “There is no one else here whose love of poetry is as deep and honest and considered as this gentleman’s.” He gestures toward R, seated next to him. R looking a little embarrassed. “Please,” he concludes. “Do us the honour of reciting the first verse of Ode To Liberty.” M makes it sound like something plucked out of the ether.

R recites the stanza sonorously. M lays a palm upon his chin and gazes to a vague and misty space near the tele. When the verse is read all that remains is silence. R lays the book carefully on the table. “Utter tosh,” he says. M, moist of eye, is momentarily speechless, but recovers enough to say, “Shelley died aged 29. Imagine what he could’ve achieved.”

“Well, that’s not always the case,” says R. “For instance, had Hendrix lived he may well be hosting Blankety Blank by now!”

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