Portraits from a town 11

He winds down the window. Music is pumping out of the car. His head is nodding in time. He thinks its in time. It might not be in time. He looks in the rear view mirror. The trailer is still attached.

He puts his elbow on the door frame. He looks at the grey streaks in his hair. What’s that phrase-‘silver fox’. His paunch pushes against the seat belt.

There’s a notification from social media, a new video. He is following a 23 year old who does yoga on instagram. He messaged her about his ‘downward dog’. She answered. He thinks they have a connection. He is wearing beige trousers.

He has taken off his wedding ring especially for this trip to take the cardboard to the recycling centre. He turns up the music.

He thinks of his wife wandering around the house in flip flops and bold prints hiding her stature under swathes of fabric. He has definitely connected with that yoga girl, even though he isn’t quite sure what a downward dog is.

The music is something he found on his son’s phone, it’s probably the latest. He gets the thundering bass but the lyrics are a mystery. Every word is said so fast. Still soon he thinks, he and yoga girl might converse more and he wants to seem modern. He sees a woman walking along the street, middle aged, no make-up, nameless trainers. She looks at him. She will not know this music. He is sure of that.

He arrives at the recycling centre. Parks up. Checks his look in the mirror. He gets out of the 4WD, looks around. If he isn’t wrong, he is the most attractive man at the recycling centre at the moment, maybe for the day, even the week. He hitches up his trousers. He wished he was wearing a shirt, he’d undo a button, show some chest.

The recycling bins are quite high. You have to throw stuff to get it in. He is ready. Pumped. It is not a competition. If it was a competition, he would win.

He has borrowed his son’s trainers. He hopes the lad will never find out as he begins slinging cardboard into the cardboard recycling. There is something macho about slinging cardboard he thinks. Its primal. Like throwing a spear or something.

He has taken up a lot of space parking. That’s ok, every man here must feel inferior in his presence. They can probably tell he works in banking. Well actually in a building near a lot of banking headquarters, its almost the same thing. He works in the banking district.

He wished he had a bigger trailer for the car. His trailer is a tiny little box thing. Of course he could have fitted all the recycling in the back of the car but who does that when they own a trailer? He liked the way it felt to shove all that cardboard into a confined space. How it felt to hitch that trailer so hard to the back of the car.

And then there is the added difficulty of driving with a trailer. He is very good at driving with a trailer. It might even be his super power. He imagined yoga girl watching admiringly as he hitched that trailer. Then he noticed, Mrs whats-her-name across the road peeking through the curtains. She is so old, so very old. He wonders if he will ever get old. He’s not sure if that bit of cardboard went in. He should have brought his glasses

He looks around to see who is watching him. No one is watching him. They are focussed on getting rid of their recycling. Probably partly intimidated by his masculine stature.

Where’s the car key? Oh no, has he lobbed the car key into the recycling? He will have to call his wife to come and bring the key. In the fiat 500? Where’s his phone? In the car? He will have to ask someone else to call his wife. He doesn’t know the number. He is not good with numbers.

And then, a flood of relief as the young man in the parking space next door says, ‘Excuse me granddad, but I think you dropped your keys.’

He hates the way young people have no respect for older people. He goes home.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

She looks at the girl across the street. The loose fitting uniform, the smug jacket, walking beside the older woman, probably her mother. Her own uniform is tight. Curves. She likes it that way, in any event there is no money. She watches them from her spot on the wall. They don’t notice her.

The girl is talking to the woman. The woman is leaning into listen, brow furrowed as if she is thinking about what is being said. She wonders what that feels like. She wonders what the woman is thinking, what the girl is thinking? Probably they are both bored.

Her world is mostly shouting. She has not had a conversation like that with anyone recently. She is always talking loudly, too loudly. Everybody says that. She does that because she hopes they hear. But it seems no matter how loud she speaks no one hears. That girl, the one over the road is not speaking very loudly at all and still her voice is being heard. Perhaps if she looked like that?

She whispers things to herself in the night. But only silly things, like, you are really pretty. But then sometimes other things, like, you aren’t worth anything. Silent tears because she is never alone, there is never space in the house to be alone. No one notices. She is better off out here in the world. There are boys, boys out here. They are not the kind on the telly.

One of them grabbed her once, well actually it was two of them, but the details aren’t important she tells herself. At least it was a human touch. They just felt. They didn’t do anything. She had kicked one of them. She knew she had kicked hard. She hoped it hurt but worried that it hurt too much. She wanted to be a good girl, but a good girl for who.

For the boys? ‘Let me touch, but don’t tell’. For the teachers? ‘Study hard and if not be quiet so others can’. For her Mum? ‘Be invisible, you were a mistake, if you can’t be invisible be quiet.’ They all had a definition of a ‘good girl’ and she fitted none of them. She was loud but still no one heard. Soon she suspected she would have to choose what kind of ‘good girl’? There would be no time. It would be random, chance. There was no one to tell her. No one to listen to the questions she had.

Somehow she knew she would choose the boys. Everybody did, didn’t they? Maybe not the girl over the road. She wasn’t over the road, she was here on the wall. Soon she would be drinking, maybe try their drugs. She didn’t know. She was gravitating towards the people who could give her something, anything. She would be popular. She would belong. She would be their kind of ‘good girl’. She didn’t want that, but at least they heard her. Sometimes at least. It was touch, human touch.

Still she looked at the girl across the street, walking and talking with the woman who was probably her mother. How did that kind of belonging feel? She wondered. Someone to listen. Someone who thought you might have something to say. She could imagine the measured tone, the careful answers. No shouting. Sometimes her mother looked right through her, at one of the others, at something they had done.

Inside her head she knew stuff, knew she could know stuff. She was clever, it was such a long time since anyone had told her she was clever. She was the only person who knew she was clever. She kept it hidden. There simply wasn’t the space for it. If she just hadn’t had to scream so loudly for someone to notice, to please notice. What was it like to have someone who noticed?

The getting home time was getting later and no one noticed. The clothes were getting tighter, not just because that was what she wanted but because that was all there was. No one noticed.

She knew chances and time were running out. She had the urge to run across the street and grab the woman by the arm and scream, me, me, me, listen to me, I am worth it. She looked at her shoes. She knew she wasn’t. Wasn’t worth the teachers time, her mothers time, her father-no idea. No ones time. No one had time to listen. The voice had gotten louder, the actions more outrageous. She was a lost cause. No going back, just going on further and further down the hill. Like a car crashing over the barrier and down the bank.

They could put on the brakes, any of them could reach out and put on the brakes. But her car kept careening down the hill. The louder she was, the less she was heard. No one heard her scream as the car slid into the bottomless lake at the foot of the hill. She sank quietly into the mire. Seen without being seen. Loud yet voiceless. Even as she struggled through the water, she imagined a hand reaching down. What had happened to that girl across the street, in the nice uniform, where was her hand.

There were simply no hands. She struggled for every breath. Still she drowned in the weightless expectation of a failure that wasn’t hers. Screaming as loudly as she could. She drowned. No one noticed.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

She sits next to him on the train. Not always, just sometimes. He never seems to notice her. He has eyes only for his phone, for the slightly illicit morning conversation with the woman in the office. The one who’s butt and legs he fancies. Really he should have set that phone for a smaller font but he is so imbued with the importance of his own subterfuge he doesn’t care who sees. She thinks he thinks that he is too important to bother with discretion.  

He isn’t particularly observant. He lives one street away. She’s walked down that street sometimes. Knows which door he comes out of. Has seen the wife. The woman with perfect skin and bleach blond hair, gel nails, whose hips have widened out but who still fills her jeans and wears her boots with aplomb. She supposes she must still feel sexy. She thinks perhaps he never notices.

She needs glasses to read but she can still read his texts. She sees the words he writes to someone else. She sees someone else’s answers, coquettish, then open, then desperate for a compliment-‘I’m sure its nothing you haven’t seen before’. He replies about what he likes and how its ‘like’ their ‘together’.

She can see the wedding band, has watched him emerge from the house where he lives with his children that very morning. He kicks his bag accidentally on the train. No doubt he is thinking they are all consenting adults. In his bag is the lunch made for him by his wife. She makes lunch for him as she makes lunch for the children. He wonders how the wife  has let herself go so much after only two children. He rests his phone on his paunch. Poorly manicured nails hurry over the screen. His mother had three boys and was still glamorous until her grave. He takes up space on the train. Legs splayed, bag in front of him. He is important. She sits huddled in the corner and watches. She knows she shouldn’t.

She has often thought of just slipping a note to his wife through the letterbox. Nothing malicious, just a heads up, you should check his phone. Then just wait for the ‘for sale sign to appear. It is a non descript house, neat on the outside, with a family car on the drive and a middle aged man car beside it. She never did leave that note

One day he arrives at the station looking more haggard, then she sees the for sale sign a few weeks later. Perhaps someone else left the note? She sees the texts to the woman on the other end of the phone as he tries to extricate himself from something he had never intended. They had all been consenting adults. He has gone a bit far perhaps. He can’t understand her anger. It was a bit of fun between consenting adults, he’d enjoyed flirting like a teenager again. He had no idea she thought he genuinely cared. He looked through the texts, does the phrase, ‘its like we’re together’ indicate anything more than it said. His wife seemed to think so. That line had sent her over the edge. Its also the one that HR were talking about-amongst a raft of others.

His wife seemed to have grasped the seriousness straight away. It still eluded him. The stress has made his belly sag. He clearly has been leaving somewhere without looking in the mirror some mornings. The other woman is reassuring, he is still attractive.

Later that same week, she sees the text, the woman on the train. She notices now that he smells a bit. She thinks its his socks. Not washed. Perhaps she won’t sit here again. She watches. Observes. He clings on to something he never wanted because if he doesn’t HR will want to talk again. He doesn’t even recognise this woman in the conversation on the phone. He thinks about wide hips and tight jeans, boots and gel nails and the comfort of bleached blond hair and wonders where that has gone. He tries not to think about his kids. The bag on the floor is empty. He is buying lunches now. They are the best meal of the day.

He comes to the station via a different route. His shirt unironed, his bag empty, the trousers sagging as the stress takes its toll. She does not always sit next to him. She thinks about passing him a note. ‘Please wash your socks’ and then another day, ‘I think there is snot on the sleeve of your shirt.’ She sits there sometimes wishing she had a pen and paper. She was there the morning he broke up with her, the one who thought he’d seen it all before. The day he told her, it was like they were together doesn’t mean the same as we are together, or I want to be together, it just means ‘its like we are together’ but we are definitely not together. Its just like that. 10 minutes later, there is the summons to HR with a ‘please explain.’

Sometimes, even on a train you are privy to a private moment, to a transformation, a revelation. She sat there one morning, knowing he didn’t see her or recognise her in anyway. She was invisible to him. She looked at the haggard face, the sagging eyes, the sullen complexion, but she was lucky enough to witness the moment, that moment when he finally understood, a moment of vigour and life as he suddenly realised, ‘I am an idiot.’

Portraits from a town 2

I have chosen words for my picture. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town. Who lives somewhere like that.

In the darkness she touches herself. There was boy once, when she was young. They fumbled behind the shed, each eager to make a new experience. She adored him. And then he met the other. Her, perfect skin, long hair and that was that. She had stoically remained friends but he never answered her hello’s again. It was like she had ceased to exist. Her feelings she discovered had been hers and hers alone. She buried that humiliation and never let it near the surface. Perhaps the other girl was dead by now. Died young or something.

There had been another boy after that but then perfect skin, perfect teeth, long hair had intervened again. She had at least the thought of that one never having seen her near naked. No one had ever seen her fully naked. She wondered if she had ever been beautiful. In any event it was too late for that now.

She often walked past the same younger woman in the street. She always said hello. She wondered if she should have gone in that direction, but then that direction had never been allowed when she was young.

There were two brothers and a gaggle of nieces and nephews. She tried to help, to be part of their lives.  One was married to a perfect skinned, chiselled cheekboned woman who never wanted the help. The other brother, the one she almost never saw, she thought he harboured a dark secret. He didn’t want anyone to know. She suspected but stayed away. The door would always be open to his daughter, no matter what. Families were difficult.

She was the second daughter, the one born to look after parents in their old age. Parents who had in the end, died regrettably young. The other daughter, the sister so close when they were young, is gone, somewhere far away. Married. Happy. She doesn’t hear. There is family in the old country. She has meaning there and yet the walls are filled with smiling faces who have never visited.

She is not unhappy but happiness has eluded her too. A sheltered life, she wished she’d been braver. What if she’d taken off her knickers behind the shed. She thinks that now, but then it was a sin.

There never seemed to be a time when the opportunity was there and the morals noose she had been brought up with had loosened to allow it all to happen. She had been ready to fall in love when she was young, but could not bring herself to ‘give in’ too early in the game. Now she was ready for the physicality of it but the opportunity never presented itself. The moral noose had loosened, long after the body had its day.  She looked at the men on the train in the morning. At hands with wedding bands and hands without and tried to make sense of why some had found love and some had not. She remained perplexed.

The house was hers. She owned it and she was proud of that. Her own space. No one, not even the government could take that from her. It was small but with only her it always felt bigger than she needed. The immaculate dining room that was never used, she ate in front of the telly, dinner on her lap.

The kitchen where she cooked more food than she could usually eat. Her clothes always washed and ironed, what else was there to do. The abandoned exercise bike in the room upstairs with the empty bed for the people who never came to stay. She enjoyed her job, thank goodness she enjoyed her job. The grass was done, the garden done, she paid someone, couldn’t be bothered to do it herself.

In the mornings she washed herself deliriously in the shower in the morning, full of life and vigour –maybe once but not anymore. The bones creaked more often now and the hair had more signs of grey. The home done colour would not last for much longer. She struggled into panty hose a size too small and told herself no one noticed the lines cutting into her midriff. No one did, it was expected of a woman of her age. Her hips were built for mythical children that belonged to a mythical man. All she could tell you about him was that he had a moustache. She liked the idea that it would tickle. There was nothing else about him she could really envision anymore. The perfect sculpted boy of her youth had eluded her. The gentle aging with children at her feet had passed her somewhere in the night.

She was not happy. She was not unhappy. There were friends and holidays and her job. There were box sets and movies. It was simply not how she expected it to be, there was no narrative that had prepared her for this life. The spinster aunts she had known had all found a way of parenting another’s children. She had not. She touched herself in the darkness, it made her happy.