My future ex-wife is a parchment faced German emigre called Amelie. She’s a striking albino with matted hair that, inevitably, every winter grows to such a length that it falls across her coat-wire shoulders like, oh, epaulettes, or wings. Amelie cuts her locks back with kitchen scissors every new year’s eve to her jaw, or thereabouts. She keeps the cuttings in a drawer; saying, this will bring me luck. Amelie sprays her hair with canned black paint; the kind you use on cars and concrete. Amelie points out that it is quicker and less bothersome than tint; tint having a tendency to slide from her pigment-free hair.
If you were around Saint Pancras as that decade faded, you’d have heard her, as I first did, on the concourse of the gothic train station; earning cigarettes and coins for her harmonium dirge and her cavernous, Germanic tongue: or else, maybe you’d seen her, schmoozing the hollow-looking characters who haunted the parade on the other side of the Euston Road between the corner of Crestfield Street and Birkenstock. You’d have heard or seen her.
We married in a rush next May in the registry office at Mornington Crescent. We squatted three rooms on a sanguine and scruffy square in Primrose Hill – the very address that a certain American poet briefly resided at a decade and a half before: but was not, as Amelie was fond of pointing out, the address where Plath had died. “That would’ve been morose.” She played by ear of an evening; her eyelashes, the colour of milk.
I worked a number of jobs, none of which stuck longer than a season, and as the heatwave summer blossomed, I was to be found at Highgate Cemetery, where (I said) I dug holes and mowed lawns; but mostly I swept gravel and slept.
The plots were to be left alone, neither weeded or cleared of the bunches that rose up like dead fists from the ground. The lovely words written on cards; the kisses on paper and cuttings and photographs, all faded. On occasion some were replaced by shimmering figures in the lawnmower haze. Some brought trowels and flasks of tea; some brought flowers; some shook spiders from old jam jars; some rubbed shoulders with Ambre Solaire. I laid in the sun behind the chapel of rest.
I went back to visit her one evening in November. She was sat as she was sat all the times before, after after busking on the concourse, in the window of The Continental Café on the parade. I stood on the street side of the glass and watched her sipping milky tea from a chipped white mug; her harmonium in its old case beneath her scuffed ankle boots; a mason jar stood beside her on the linoleum cloth and within this, a goldfish circled. I went in.
Amelie wears a blue woollen cloak; her hair like a pendant at her breast. She wears the same perfume; it is called Anais Anais.
I watched our kabuki faces in the darkening glass.