Sunday, 29 December 2013


Skin stretches over  bones’ threadwork
And worms to a crease at the head
The nightclothes where the faded lady lurks
Alongside the unmade marital bed.
Brings her knees up high to the ribcage
Yet her hands cling white to the sill
The silt of the tears of the window pane
Such finger-marks scatter and spill.
But what for each foot flat upon the floor
Like the hunters gore-spattered game
And the redundant roll as old breath pours
Into palms shaken senseless with shame.
For the night still thrills with his flickering tongue
Iced like the ceremonial slab
Which grows white beneath the cut cloth hung
Close to the wrists’ blood-ruddy tab.
The tap of the thumb is dripping still
Eyes a faucet forced open
The curtain of cold caught in a spill

Of this certain domesticated emotion. 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Contemplation Upon a Central Tree

She has stood longer
Opens a thin mouth to the wind,
Ejects it with laughter.
For here, the people gather
Clotting like leaves
Despite the summer
And their arms wander
Attempting to express time
With a significant gesture.

But the tree maintains her ignorance
For even as the sun climbs
She has seen it uncovered
Year upon year.
She projects her recognition of time
With her ceremonial clutter
Harsh and austere
Her branches beguile.

And sometimes, deep in her bark
Are the emotional imprints
With sick hands, glancing smiles
Of romance’s decay.
Yet people engrave their hearts
And ask her for answers
But still do not weep

As she collapses to flame.


The expanse of miles
Do not even perforate the bluest skies
Here, where eyes cross corrugated bookshelves
And you can find the essence of love
At night
In a stairwell.

Or between the lines
Where I find myself habitually
Caring for cadence which
Comes with the time.

For I, here
Hastily find expression
Amidst leaves and spines
In this human foliage,
This friction
We search ourselves for
Amidst the imperfections.

The single sheet mirror
And waiting for ourselves to surface
Though the tears, the charge
Thick through the slate of the human heart.

The pen slips as the
Morning breaks, to the
Scatter of light

The grating of feet. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013


The ceremonial removal of bone
I picture it
As an epitome of images
-          A hot sound combing through fragments,
An arm, fingers.
For I have seen them reaching
Consuming the inches for some greater home
Tendrils and sinews, chastising and melting.
Still the gulls scream
Down on the coast.

I have spent many a winter here
Lulling hot words around this dull mouth
Waiting to cry –
That the world is cruel, yet in this distant town
The sky is clear

And bodies move like clouds.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


 You do not know what you have
Until it is lost
Do not know what you have caught
Until the final run
And you see the streaked smile
Fading fast
Beneath the cool sick smile
Of the sun.
And you feel the waves
Will wash at last,
Burn until your body is dry.
For you lie with your head
Against the glass
And stare out
At an endless sky.

First Night

You lie just beyond me
Though the undulations of your breath
Teasing in their proximity
Telling of your strength.
Though the strange pane of the night
Questions if we possess anything here
-          Only fingertips on the curved glass
Of a lens
And the shriek of light

As the morning clears. 

A sudden sense of realisation

There is an absolute silence
On this easel of modernity
For we sustain a kind of artifice
Slick, unfurling
Like a crepe between the fingers
And a mesh within the mind.
For we all cry understanding
Constitute its art with paper
But still ignorant to its kind

Which will open to us later. 

A Familiar Complaint

For when I touch the paper and think of you
Discuss not, my long-exhausted ways
Which have been craft in tears, but only blue
For they fall upon an anxious face.
It is feeling the wafer-thinness of the page
Which I offer as an ideal distance
But the days thicken in their rage
And I live without existence.
Do not tell me that my ways are false
For I feel that from the ground and air
And the short sharp shocks of a human pulse
But it is not mine without you there.
Do not tell me to be strong
For strength includes a kind of hope
Empty without your smile to look upon
And between the fingers lies the rope.


The sun casts her hair out for the sky
Where beneath the beach lies waiting for the waves
And the berries on the tree give ground their time
Each offering a glistening arm and ruddy face.
A warm elixir of pure sound
Is shared by flock, and group, and heard
Though I lie here in a distant town
And offer you my thoughts, my words.


They kept a certain intimacy, clean in line
Like the last ray on an unsheathed knife
They walked.
I wondered
At the deliberation, lifting each limb,
The arms twice – as if broken
Or attempting to deal
With the provincial numbness.
Someone told me

It accompanied existence
Stealing thick hours from that flat night.

Just listless, those plum-red gowns
And the lull of advancing feet
Perhaps they thought themselves
Candle-lit, famous
Filing back through the streets.

Two still stood
On the pier, as if on a parapet
Staring out at that drowned blue
And imagining a place different.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

An Affair with an Artist

Mrs Carmen Stride was one of those provincial elevated New-York women who presented her outward deportment in such an elegant way; it was as if a layer of air had been slipped under her feet. She told herself that it was an adequate façade to cover a crumbling marriage – for she could sidle past her husband at some grotesquely-arranged party, offering only the sick gift of a sly smile. It was a societal sin to be passionate. Therefore, she became elaborate.
She was commonly described as a ‘frequent occurrence’ at parties, as if not a woman, but an event, melting in to the lacquered hysteria with not even a bat of an eyelid. It was strange, she thought, that some people lost themselves at parties. It was the clot of the crowd in which she found a certain kind of control.
Control does not equate to stability, control does equate to stability – she remembered the dull drill of the same lines from long lingering afternoons of deportment lessons when she was a mere girl momentarily absorbed in the superfluous supple bodies of young men. In high society, one has to typically cheat on own ideals. She appreciated, whether artful or not, the accidental brush of her arm against some fleeting young frame, enjoyed overhearing  the hot and hasty words of some dark adulterous confessions.
But if there was one thing crying to be captured – it was innocence.
Cameras were a rarely new novelty – the little black boxed-faces clicking and snapping, the smoke unfurling like a tell-tale breath of deceit. There was the usual scream of ‘smile!’ and then the next day Carmen would half-expect her face in the paper, her pinched-in cheeks and round doe-eyes so the image screamed with innocence. Sometimes it did. Sometimes Avory Flick, a pugnacious Broker from Long-Island would bring his own camera and  prefer to photograph the typical drunkards, the brawls and the buxom women half-intoxicated who as the night ran on seemed weighted closer and closer to the floor. Carmen thought the fun thing was that these people were captured by camera, their flavour of unrestrained wildness seeping through the black and white. She never thought the camera captured her.
She would reminisce fondly, as she let the sour notes of a highball anoint her throat, always leaning, hip-forwards in her usual delicate way at some party of another – of her childhood – how she loved the art of capture itself, restrained ants with the hot pulse of a magnifier, keeping spiders, snails, pet mice. Her grandmother told her that there was ‘always something beautiful about a menagerie.’ There was indeed, Carmen thought, as she would adorn the sweeping staircase with blood-thick roses and trimmed marigolds and watch the crowds sway drunkenly towards them. Women would shriek and clasp their hands within the whole pantomime, colouring roughly in the face, to which the cameras would turn – snap, snap, snap.
Of course, as Mrs Doubtwater had remarked to her one evening, there is always a place for nostalgia. Carmen ensured that there was not just a place for such, but an object – often adorning the magnificent longue with striped little morsels of candy. It was the same candy Avory Flick had choked upon one year, she remembered gazing with a semi-fascination at the naked convulsions of his face, Of course it was decorum to show outwards disgust, but by the time Mr Stride had hoisted Amory to his feet and Carmen had put him to bed the party was back underway again and candy was as ever present at the next gathering.
“I repeat mistakes until they are no longer so,” Carmen spoke with a bold execution of the syllables over the guests appreciation of the vol-ou-vents which still glistened with the gory vulnerability of raw fish.
 She did not aim her words at anyone in particular, nor did she especially desire for anyone to hear. It was pleasant like that, she thought – speaking, yet unheard. It was the condition she maintained a knife-sharp equilibrium with her husband, even as he turned to her in the night – metaphorically, of course, in the strange sleep-peelings of dreams – and his fleshy jowls would crease with an expression of disgust.
She could have even admitted, and did to herself sometimes, that she liked disgust. Watching the sour, silted faces of the women who had outlived the peculiarly short sentence of high-regard, she would see the familiar creases form, and look upon them in a similar fashion. The fashion of ‘looking’ is one which is particularly difficult to perfect – for the eyes may be often drawn to linger upon the vaguely comforting features of a face, the strange shadows skimming over a piece of material.
That was perhaps why she felt shame when she saw the artist – and then hate.
It was somewhere within the midst of one of those languorous summer evenings which seems to shed all sense of time and simmer down to a combination of colour and heat, when she saw him.  A peculiar air pervaded the place where he was sitting, just beneath the tortured glass of the bay window, letting the silt of a cigarette fall between his fingers slowly as if the weight of raindrops.
Detaching herself from an old friend she had met from the ballet, Carmen strode towards him determinedly, permeating the odour of male and female musk.
“Excuse me, but do you mind not dropping your ash on the tiles?” She allowed her voice to unfurl, deliberately cold and condescending. It irritated her that the artist, half-straddling his easel as he assembled it, only gave her a half-glance, evidently pre-occupied by the turquoise train of some screeching woman attempting to barter for the chandelier in the corner. Carmen would have her removed later.
She repeated herself.
“Excuse me.”
He looked at her suddenly, stricken, as if a piercing light had emitted from her mouth.
“What is it, my dear?” He paused, attempting to rearrange the slight catch of his accent, resolving to speak more slowly “It was very good of your… husband… to invite me.”
Carmen gave a little cluck of distaste and wondered why her husband had made the effort to invest in the appearance of such a man. She had seen her husband earlier, circulating in the far reaches of the room like a comet which has long-lost its magnificence, running through his beard with one hand and raising a wine glass to his mouth with the other. Thomas rarely allowed any one the privilege of his speech, and when he did, it was not a privilege – it was typically a rebuttal.  It upset Carmen that sometimes  she did the same.
“ Well I do not want you here.”
At that moment she wished for a mirror in order to observe how beautifully austere his lips were. Somehow, the artist seemed to sense this.
“Well, ma’am, you may not want me – “
“And I don’t.”
“- But how about a picture?”  He gestured to the accumulation of equipment by his side, allowing her to waver over him.
At her hesitation, he became animated, revealing a sketchbook of already completed portraits – some full-length and some half – to her.
“Look,” He urged “Here is Mrs Flatterly – she sat for a good while, you know, and here is one of Miss Spite…”
Her eyes jarred on the portrait of mention, almost stopping the sense in the rest of her body – only a jealous gaze left to rest on the fine painted contours of the body, the delicacy of the cheekbones. She knew that Mrs Spite looked not even half as magnificent in the reality of things! And then she felt an urgency, almost  a compulsion, within her frame, to allow herself to be painted, knowing that it would be more beautiful, more than anything Mrs Spite would ever dream of –
“I will sit for one then, just one, mind you.”
She arranged herself on a precarious-looking stool which had been arranged adjacent to the easel, letting her dress unfurl around her so she appeared to assemble the peaked waves of an overheated wedding cake. It was strange; she considered that this was a kind of surrender. She allowed her stare to surpass the artist, the odd curvature of his dark moustache and the strained expression of his ever-focusing eyes, she looked beyond the strangely passive flocks of  guests, imagined a kind of true touch upon her, her mouth curving slightly a kind of remembrance –
She stopped herself suddenly. It was not fashionable to be seen with a prevailing smile.
The acceptable aspect of painting was that the models eyes could wander without the body – the utter social convention of chastity, she thought, albeit a little heatedly, and consequently wished for her face powder.  She wondered, as she watched the blunt, almost restricting movements of the paintbrush as if gouging the easel – why Mrs Spite had not taken her painting. After all, Carmen admitted to herself, it was a striking portrait – something especially about the lips which she had not quite registered, could remember in the sweeping excitement of herself. She ventured yto move her mouth, hardly daring to expose the teeth she was so conscious of.
“Say, why didn’t Mrs Spite take her painting?”
The artist smiled at her, with an almost untold expression unfurling across his brow. She still worked, determinedly, almost awfully, as he spoke.
“Oh, you mean Miss Spite. I don’t know, she indicated she was in a hurry or something similar…”
Carmen mused slightly, biting her bottom lip slightly- Mrs Spite was now a Miss! She felt almost angered at the details she was missing, for she collected details – enough to compose her dresses from the rich trappings of magazines, society journals, diaries, and words, words, words. Her husband had once made a remark about her being addicted. That was when she started to hate him.
She hated him, especially, utterly, when he interrupted the plaintive plains of her thoughts – thoughts which did not require him. And yet he still appeared, both in mind and body, striding towards the artist, and almost smiling upon her! It made her sick and she scowled instinctively.
The artist let slip a laugh which was almost thickened by something vindictive.
“It’s a good job that the painting was finished before you pulled that face!”
A strange sensation bubbled in her throat – she must  have sat for hours, almost oblivious! And surely though she had not noticed, everyone else had! She felt a raging social consciousness strike through her cheeks like a raw bolt, her husband seemingly avoiding helping her to her feet and slipping to the side of the artist. He whistled inwardly, in a kind of long-anticipated admiration as he spoke –
“A striking likeness, my friend, I must say.”
“Thank you, Mr Stride.”
The two men seemed to share a smile between them which had the unnerving texture of the smile shared by accomplices in a crime – a smile of reckoning, a smile of recognition. Carmen felt a sudden hot burst of light fall upon her face through the bay window like the weight of a sharply stilled bird, a life still hot and promising. Despite her presence, the men still continued, trilling their tongues in whispers which were designed emphatically for her to hear.
It was her husband who went first, speaking with a kind of enjoyment, as if his voice was being submerged in warm, clean water – bold and amplified.
“And what about that slut, Mrs Spite, that was her name?”
Carmen revolved a little in shock, furthermore so, as the artists eyes somehow met hers as she spoke.
“Oh, her husband sorted that. Fair to say – he isn’t her husband anymore!”
The men  seemingly indulged themselves in a dual snort of laughter, Mr Stride raising his eyebrows with a  certain eagerness, still looking at  Carmen’s portrait, almost spitting the words as he spoke –
“ A similar course I will take, I expect!”
The undercutting anger in the tone seemed to catch Carmen in the throat, and she made an  attempt to stand, though the mocking tiers of her dress seemed to sway, almost like a preventative.
“What on earth are you talking about?” She implored. It was the first time she had addressed her husband directly for days, and there was still the same empty artificiality in her voice, she thought.
It was with a deft, almost violent movement Mr Stride spun the painting around to meet her, rising towards her like a kind of threat. For a moment, she ignored everything apart from a sense of heating pride at the glassiness of her eyes she typically aimed for, how the artist had captured her fluted nostrils without being unflattering – but then she looked own the image, letting her eyes fall.
How she had been sitting, her chest slightly thrust forward, shoulders back, picturing herself evidently in a kind of bohemia – allowed the sight of what she anticipated that her husband would never see. The slight, firm swell of her stomach. Her own body automatically responded, as if out of an urgent protection, her hand slipping to the soft swell beneath her clothes.
The soft well of imminent motherhood which only lit in her husband’s eyes.
“You little whore!” He spat.
Beneath the heat of his breath, the condensation on Carmen’s face slipped away to sudden realisation – the reason why Mrs Spite did not keep her painting was because it portrayed her guilt, the thick green-guilt, thick as what was evidently the lingering marks of a lovers kiss still engrained into her lips as she sat, flushed and flurried, to be painted. Carmen closed her eyes knowing that her image in itself was also such a confession. But she would not cry – for him – for either of them.
“Who is it?”
His lips seemed waxed back in s snarl as he crouched on his haunches and came closer to her face, unable to reach her through the furling of white dress.

She heard the snap, snap, snap of resigning footfalls tarrying outside, although her husband and the artist stayed where they were. People cried for photographs and as the night thickened, wandered aimlessly in search of the camera. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Two Different Sides of Town

The rotting of summer, or, The Natural Heat of the Woman

The days seemed to melt only into the slender hours of evenings as she skipped along the pavement, sashaying her delicate feet over the cracks as if standing upon an instep of air. People passing seemed to respond intrinsically to her smile – allowing a watery reciprocal of an upturned mouth to which sometimes made her laugh and clasp her hands in a kind of ecstasy.

All the men of the city held her in high regard – that she was a beautiful sweet creature. There was something in her presence which seemed almost rural, as if not capable of being accustomed to the relentless lights and late-night drawls on jazz emerging from cramped corridors in downtown London. It was that type of mystery which people cared for. It was somehow refreshing to the see an untamed red flare beneath the skin, compensating for the heavy powders and sharp rouges of the archetypal high society women. These type of women looked down at little Summer West, some remarked that she was ‘far to American’, despite her being as English as they were. This true shared similarity, along with Summer’s exceptional ability to beguile at least one gentleman per evening, often left her the subject of a perfect, sought-after envy. This generally irritated other women even more.

Ah, yes, little Summer West! Her true escapades are only known to a select view – for she is generally succinct at preserving the most marvellous façade of smiles which extend beyond artificiality. She once told me, a young man of twenty two at the time, that she found me ‘pretty’ and ‘wondered why it is not classed as the suitable provincial adjective for describing men, for I like it oh-so-much!”.

I told her I didn’t know – the answer most men gave.

They were the same words uttered by Edward Flynn, last Friday night – one of the usual young men standing upon a bed of euphemisms and uncontrolled young lust. I can only imagine the strange sensation running through his veins as he watched Summer West – the little girl so many men attempted to get – dissipate in front of him, layer by layer. Then dress went first, but then, and perhaps most crucially, the face. She would peel away the shock of colour across her lids, the thick dark lashes which intensified the pupil beneath, smearing and wiping until all was gone. The lip salve would be swiped away in an instant, whilst Edward’s mouth likely dipped open – watching the for forced form of woman suddenly relax into a bent back and strangely protruding stomach now the corset was peeled away. And she would always sigh and face the men, only her long languorous hair still taped in a bun behind her head, her feet now heavy on the floor and the words thick on her lips –

“I’m cold.”

For we’ve all get cold at some point in ourselves. It’s bittersweet.

Memoirs of a lonely clerk
I don’t know what I’m doing, scarcely conscious as to the reason I am writing this, ink seems to break on the paper as if emerging from an old wound – you could call it loneliness, despite the flushed warm body of another human being lying less than a foot away from me, the languorous odour of sleep still baked into the pillow. She is a beautiful thing – and I do not mean that in the sense of objectification – for this morning seems to surpass human definition, as if everything is somewhat alien. I made coffee as quietly I could – now it collapses to a kind of acid on my tongue. I wonder how our thoughts compare as she pulls the sheet more tightly around her so the a slight pink of pressure surfaces against the skin, whilst I wonder aimlessly into the white walls.

I envy her state of sleep, not really because of the perpetual tiredness – although that could be considered a factor -  but because it may stop me envying anything more. I am a dreadful person, although eventually my eyes will truly open with some form of stimulant and I will forget.

I absorbed  in envy towards this girl last night, I still am, even just moving the child-like curve of her mouth with lips so full they appeared to be some beautiful casualty of exhaustion.  There is an aspect of disturbed beauty only certain faces can perfect.

She talked in a certain way, I think that was it. I remember, even though the thickening vapours of alcohol in the bloodstream and the breath, watching her cross Trafalgar with a precision that was telling, one hand clutching a single silk handkerchief as if were a revelation. A pure brilliant white fluttering against dark hair emerged as if a pre-planned contrast. She had been one of late-arrivals for the tour – tours I lead around London in the hours I can, what can say, it pays the rent – but I was almost stricken as she strode up to me and almost forcibly intercepted my stunned palm. Her hand was so cold and delicate, perhaps with nerves, and her cheeks flushed as if the delicate skin was hiding some grave injury, I almost winced.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” She gushed “I’ve been having a bit of trouble.”

The content of her speech was thick with a vagueness I typically despise and turn away from, but there was something about the execution of the syllables – almost cruel, and thus close to the literal meaning of the word, which seemed to suspend my mouth open in the urgency of a reply.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry.”

It seemed drawn from me, almost medicinally, from a significantly feeling part of myself I have yet to identify. I had no time then, for I was soon lost beneath the accumulation of tourist traffic - the horrible grating combinations of accents and exclamations, the sickly swell of human sweat abounding air. It was the typical recipe I had grown accustomed to, allowing the familial façade to project from within me , losing any sense of my personal distaste –

“Right, ladies and gentlemen – now for some sightseeing!”

I had not noticed how close her body was to mine, but I felt the very undulations of her breath in my ear as she whispered in a tone dripping with an innocence that was almost suspicious –

“ I don’t want to see sight, sight is the only thing I see.”

I did not ask her what alternative she believed on, like most attempting to survive in the clot of living – I assumed it. I told myself I would let her see the opposite of sight, almost a blindness – the kind of darkness only inherent to familiar rooms, strange hands and human pressure. It was needless to say I invited her home after the tour, almost with a kind of urgency, the lines of my palms seemed creased with an ache I was uncertain of. It was the uncertainty of both or parts which was necessary, it induced darkness. As we tumbled in, the white walls of the flat were empty, the fanged shutters of the blinds allowing lone rays of light to traverse like silken chords in the hurry of people.

And now it is only light which permeates the pillow, seems to sew mocking spiracles within her hair. It was only a night, I guess. But here she is, still bathed in it. But lost in the perfect absence of sight, the absence she so wanted.

My starched suit aches as I pull on my shoes, deducing my threshold of permitted sound from the rise and fall of her breathing. There is a certain precision, like the distinction of the light. It  wakes all eventually.

The Incredible Sadness of Clichés

The whole world’s a stage but no one watches
You put a best foot forward, yet when you fall
You give people hell, but it’s only scratches
And to be better safe than sorry means nothing at all. 
There’s a bird in the hand, but none in the bush
They’ve bitten the bullet , more than we can chew
When we dig for gold, only to find a nugget
And when we bite the dust, no one asks “Who?”
Because out of frying pan, the fire can’t catch it
As you hold your tongue, yet warm your hands
When someone walks over your grave, but it’s only plastic
In a world that’s dog eat dog, but you’re just a man.
So don’t shoot the messenger, don’t bite the hand
Just look like ten new pence, though you feel ill
For life is like a blue whale beached on land
Dying inside, but dressed to kill. 


Leah tipped boiling water into the thin china cup, swilled it round with an uncertain hand and flushed it into the stainless steel mouth of the sink. She proceeded to make a cup of tea mechanically, as if almost unconscious - her pale hands moving listlessly, hardly permeating  the silence to which she had grown accustomed, as if in respect to an almost physical presence.

Even when she turned on the television, she kept the volume low, almost muffled – as if anxious of disturbing some paper-fine equilibrium. She stood observing the flickering picture, feeling the cup burn into her skin with its crass lips. On the screen, the plastic lacquered mouth of the News-presenter trilled over the state of the ‘pandemic’, lists of figures, the arterial ends of typed accounts from desperate eyewitnesses crippled in some country or another.

Leah struggled to push the tea to the back of her throat, feeling the indelicate sweetness of the cardboard-boxed milk stick to her tongue, mocking her like a sacrament.  Perhaps there was something  holy in being alive, she sometimes thought. She attempted to pride herself in that she had kept eating, kept drinking – the news said it was apparently important to maintain ones immune system as well. She had meticulously researched the nature of the pandemic on the computer – albeit frantically - her hands often greasy and senseless over the bulbous back of the mouse.  It was a necessity, she told herself, to be prepared.
It was the same message relayed to everyone.

However, this did not stop the university lectures from continuing, did not stop the Dean making this familial tracks down the  cobbled roads to the chapel – where the stained glass glistened a dewy green with a  kind of mocking resilience. Or so people told Leah. She communicated largely by telephone, for she hardly saw anyone these days and could not bear the greasy seals and spattered lines of handwritten letters sent by some relative or another. She burned them as they fell in the porch, dropped dead in their elusive metaphor.

She told herself she felt no guilt, she told Edward this too – Edward who as her roommate remained curiously passive and allowed her strange qualms to accumulate. Sometimes he would begin to reprimand her, although the intensity of her gaze told him that such was futile and he would soon stop. For the hours she would sit open-mouthed at various electronic sources of information, he would bring her tea she would not drink, her lips only tumbling open to tell him more about this ‘plague’, how she had personified it.
He could smell her fear and it incensed him.

Yet Leah told herself only the opposite, whistled to herself shrilly as if to block any other thought as she  let the contents of the kettle gutter out into a basin of her worn-once clothes, reflecting the raw red of a dress. She convinced herself that she felt vaguely relaxed, watching the scrubbed-pink of her hands dart about their menial tasks almost automatically, watching the clothes clot like organs – an awful externalisation of  her feeling body. In the background noises of the television mixed with the  morning congregation of birdlife upon the cliffs, she half heartedly listened to a debate about oil prices and wondered why it mattered.

Edward smoked a cigarette as he strolled up behind her, letting the ash scatter, almost with the weight of raindrops, against the floor.

“Stop it!” She hissed instinctively, turning around to the guilty upturn of his mouth, her hands dripping with the sheen of soap which coloured the skin beneath “You know what the news says about ash – clean it up, clean it up!”

He hated how she spoke about the televised news as some kind of divine authority – it seemed to infiltrate her life – even as he pressed his head to the pillow in the opposite room at night, he could still hear the monotonous mumble of some newsreader of another shaping their mouth to a politically correct and personality-drained cue. Her mouth pressed itself into the whole of a shapeless scowl as he stood there languorously, blocking her path to the television, nursing the cigarette between a  gentle pressure of his teeth.

He knew what would happen, he had seen it so many times before – her eyes would flicker and colour as if refracting the intensity of all those charts, those graphs, statistics and numbers she so often surveyed – he could see it now as he looked emptily upon the scraped-clean crockery of a frugal and overly cautious meal.
Her tone changed and she gazed at herself before facing him imploringly.

“My hands look greasy,” There was an emphasis of the imperative to her tone which seemed designed to make him reply in the affirmative “They do look greasy. That’s the first stage you know, the news says, overly-great skin is – “

Her painted red lips looked like a widening incision in her pale, pale face.

She mumbled disconsolately as she had so many times before, attempting to scrub away the imagined residue into the sink. Oh, he had seen her many times declaring that she was infected, rocking back and forth on her haunches with a rhythm she had convinced herself was a declaration of sickness, she screamed out her knowledge of its incubation period to him, how her hands would be next to inflame. She knew everything.

Perhaps it came as a hot quick comfort to her, suddenly, surely, as she fell against the sink and felt the pressure against her chest, the darkness she envisaged, perhaps she felt correct in something for once in her life – even though Edward’s eyes stared back at her as she laughed and shrieked and giggled until her head was stilled upon the cold tiles.

The knife of a diseased humanity was finally pulled from her side. Edward left a note next to her stating that she had suffered so much more when she was living.

Even the police struggled to know the truth of the matter when they arrived some days later. An ex-corporal with uneasy foot put a cautionary bullet straight through the television believing it to be the noise of suspicious breathing, and even the visiting doctor felt almost chilled to watch how the little glass shards still reflected the precision of the dead girls face as she lay some metres away.

 “That’s the horrible thing about technology,” the doctor whispered “You almost have a relationship with before it kills you, one way or another.”

History had been written, thick and horrible, in her bloodstream.

It had been a very intimate death.

Being Human

In light of the disgusting decision of the British Government to allow for the culling of Badgers. 

Summer blooms but then so does fungus
Wraps round fingers like a ring
Which  clouds the receiver with misty murmurs
Through which people talk, yet birds can sing.
We buy coats, yet other creatures just acquire them
We heel our shoes, if  just to make a sound
And we go to zoos, and it is despondent
When we survey ourselves, then look around.
For man can clothe himself, albeit with cruelty
The only creature that can feel ill with pride
For the better animals are in the cages
And it is the real exhibition which happens outside.
The paradoxical evenings where we drink ourselves dry
 Or calling up when there is no one home
And cry ourselves to sleep, but it’s only natural, as now

The telephone shrilling on its hook of bone. 

Considering Melancholy

For darkness lives where we abide
Through speech and words it shares itself
Like in the opened mouth of churning tide
Dashing life and voice  to hell.
Or the brain with its unnatural birth
Poised for the twisting of the knife
Is the condition many watch, but never learn
And feel, but most do not survive.
It becomes a bliss one cannot medicate
And lies, elevating subject’s ground
So no one runs to catch them when they fall

And still hear them breathe when they have drowned. 

Friday, 30 August 2013


A poem

The day’s numbers constitute material
Punched codes, bland, ethereal
Let speech shatter from house to house
Like a worn out drum 
We fight and push.
Sometimes for air
But life attempts to add measurements
To which some cry
And face a penalty
They never meet.
The phone shrills on its jawbone
Somewhere in the street
the kettle spits on the gas
And I wonder
Why the name of home
Has been prescribed to this.
I watch the windows mist
With tears, with laughter
I wonder after
If it was all worth it
Now another branch of the family tree
Lies exhausted.
Any reaching out is  limited
Sometimes, at night
I lie myself, wasted
And feel the tears on my cheek

And my hand on my side. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013


Out of  despair drips clarity. 

She sensed the curtain rustling and a body drawing forward, moving towards her in the half light. There was a kind of pervading emptiness beneath her ribs which she could not quite deduce, and she drew the blanket more tightly around her like a second skin. The artificial calm of some water feature or another irritated her.
“Hurry up,” She muttered hastily, attempting to adopt a tone that was still vaguely inviting – not that she needed to – the men would approach anyway. Some of them would be greasy and groping, others presenting a tenderness which peeled away to a tortuous aggression, others were silent and would sob with shame – all were desperate. She told herself that she did not care, that she was just a pawn in the social system and not capable of caring. But she did.

The man was pale with flaxen blonde hair beginning to darken at the roots. He moved forward uncertainly with sharp staccato motions, craning his neck as if to get a superior view, his hard soles seemingly echoing the slow sharp slogs of a drugged pulse. It irritated her, but was not unusual, that he was proceeding to do the opposite of what she instructed him. Perhaps he didn’t hear her.

She found any kind of teasing speech stoppered in her throat. Instead, she glanced round uncertainly, looking across the little room as if it was a vast and torturous landscape she had yet to familiarise with – the tortured twists of the faucet, the medicinal quality of her array of rouges and fragrances. A brassiere lay across a three-legged chair like a fallen bird.

“I need to ask you something.” The undulations of his voice seemed almost intimate as he sat down upon the makeshift bed at a seemingly polite distance from her.

She wondered for a second if he was a police officer, and then realised that that did not matter much either – there seemed to something carnal in everyone. The veins pulsed, almost screaming through the skin at the top of her neck and she quickly, with shaking fingers, seized the smeared tumbler of whisky which sat faithfully next to her, night after night. It cleared her throat to manage a throaty drawl she felt most men at certain stage of intoxication found somehow sensual.

“Ask away.”

But this man was evidently not under the influence, his breath seemingly thick and sweet as he aimed his voice specifically at her, and yet she did feel aware of its kind of universal quality. She subconsciously tied her hair up behind her head in an extended arc, as if to hear better, her dark lengths usually intrusive and muffling of the sounds of male despair she so despised.

“When is your favourite time of the day?” and then he paused, and smiled, sadly “or night.”

She was taken aback by the semi-philosophical quality of question, half-anticipating the ploy it could be part of – and yet, she was acutely aware of his breaths, shallow and almost eager – a sense of evident waiting which pushed the truth from her. The alcohol stung in her mouth.

“When I sleep.” Her own unexplained honesty shocked her.


She answered surely, despite herself, letting the cloth sheet fall through her fingers, not even awae of her nakedness.

“Because I seem to have a much better time asleep.”

She wondered if there was something sad in that revelation, as she typically reassured herself that she had been long-disjointed from human emotion – although now she felt different, almost curious, as the bone-white fingers of the moon pried and the miserable mouth of window and cast the man in a kind of starved light.
She usually maintained that she did not ask any of her clientèle questions – she intruded into and most likely complicated a lot of their lives which caused enough consequent collateral damage to please her, to allow her to forget them, to evade any kind of tenderness.

But now she broke.

“How about you?”

Her voice was muddied with alcohol, inconsistent and for what seemed like the first time, she was painfully aware of it – usually accustomed to the evasion of shame – yet now she curled her body around itself and waited.

“I love polishing my boots,” He mused, almost fondly, placing his finger close to his lips as if drawing on a cigarette, and with his other hand gesturing vaguely towards the tall tough boots which encased his feet “You know,  in a truly polished boot you can see the truth in everything – people’s faces, their expressions – don’t need to look over my shoulder when I can look at my boot…”

He let out a chuckle which seemed to enrich the air between them, deepening the thickness of the darkness as the night advanced and an owl shrilled like a murderer in the trees outside.

“What’s your name?” He asked simply, the question unfurling towards her as if the tender gesture of a hand against her face.


She woke for the first morning she could remember without the lingering pressure of hands across her body, woke without the usual drag of another’s breath thick through her ear.  The sunlight spangled uncertainly on a room which appeared exactly the same as when the strange man had entered – he must have left soon after their conversation – apart from he had left the curtains of her room closed and his boots were stood, side by side, almost like infantry together on the floor.

She only noticed the tin of polish nestled between  them as she swung one of her legs out of the bed and proceeded to move towards them. A little note nestled on top of the glistening tin, a note which seemed almost soot-blackened, and yet the writing style bold and determined, deliberate, thick between her clumsy and sleep-silted fingers –

Give it a try, you might like it.

A smile crinkled her still thickly painted lips, which lapsed to the usual grimace on hearing a familiar pressure behind the curtains.

“Yoohoo, sweetie. You want to see Maxie tonight?”

She automatically covered the window with its makeshift drape – though the only thing she lusted for was to see whichever man who stood behind the curtain shrink from the piercing shocks of new-day sunlight, bickering, howling.

But she told herself she had lost lust a long time ago – there in that little box-room which its thick lingering fume of lilies, almost funereal amidst the smoke-scared walls and gutted furniture. The whole thing stood like an assemblage of bone, even Eva, as yet another man crept round the divider and swayed into her arms, crushed with a fall thick with alcohol, unshaven and starving for contact.

She lay passively until he had finished with her.

It was one of the regular men she noticed  -  too exhausted to become frustrated – sometimes she would mention his wife, sometimes he would wail about the price of whisky until he lay insensible, breathing thick and damp into the old sheets. she wished that hate and pity were more compatible, especially when he raised his thick, bullish face afterwards, and began to speak, unfurling any kind of experience to her as if an apology –

“Saw my old friend Clive on the way here,” He slurred without any kind of control of his volume “doesn’t speak to me any more though….”

He mused upon his a moment before continuing.

“Had bare feet an’ all. Usually ‘as a pair of great big boots on. Anyway one of the blokes said he’s off to ‘make up things’ with his wife…”

At this remark he dug Eva teasingly, yet roughly in the shoulder, she shuddered at the sick scratch of the skin.

“Apparently ‘e hated seein’ her face in his boots – he told one of the lads he could see how very sad she was.”

She scattered ash thickly over the bedclothes as she smoked and spoke – a customary cigarette before he left, Eva thought with relief. She wondered vaguely of the strange man of the night before – Clive, he must be – she still felt the particular pressure as he had sat calm and collected at the end of the bed.

She assemblage her tiredness hastily to scramble to her feet, avoiding the grasping hands of her client and showed him to the door. Money did not even cross her mind, no, not then.

Light teased its way around the room as if on wings - for the makeshift drape danced and drew itself up in the wind like a free woman. She smirked at the thought, crumpling to her knees and looking back down again at the boots which had been left the previous night. Taking a little polish on her thumb, she pressed the toe of one until it shined back at her.

She smiled, and yet she watched, in the thickness of her reflection there – the tears fall thickly and heavily – against her face.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A Beautiful Woman

Edward Westman was one of those men particularly prone to entreating self-admiration, stooping slightly as he came across a reflective surface, praising in little whispers the contours of his facial features, his broad brow and finely shaped hands. He told himself that he constituted a vital area where his wife failed – Elisa Westman was a slight, pale woman whose gold-blonde hair seemed to fade into the morning air – and as Edward Westman mused, she seemed engaged only in the task of fading, from him, from praise, from everything. He attempted to better the situation in convincing himself that he had only married her in desperation to strengthen  his name, declare his dominance, managing – albeit with a slight sense of guilt – to ignore the sickly demeanour of his children.

But one thing the bold Westman convinced himself that he would never ignore, was society. At thirty two years of age, he considered himself a seasoned drinker without the folly of fatigue, a successful cynic without the impenetrable layer of pessimism he had seen so many older men fall subject to. A favourite engagement of his was to stroll down to the local club in the evenings, amidst the crowd of well-rehearsed masculinity, play a little poker, enjoy the sensation of spirits of his tongue which he told himself to be a greater confidant to him than the words of any woman.

For it was evident he enjoyed the company of men, appreciated the concealed emotion and protruding countenances with a kind of fondness. In the club, beneath the orange-polished beams and leather interior, women were infrequent visitors – it was more often the case that man spoke to man, complained of women, smoked, played cards. It reminded Westman of an older Manhattan, a still stalking nostalgia of his early years, despite now being in London – but he told himself he enjoyed it all the same, that the alcohol had a certain taste of vigour without the presence of his wife. Whenever he had taken his wife out for a casual drink on Mayfair or Convent Garden if he was feeling decadent, the wine somehow always tasted empty, as if reflecting the general situation of his marriage. He told himself that it did not depress him.

But of course it did. It did as certainly as an old friend from training – Avory Pinlayer – slapped him congenially on the shoulder.

“Hey, hey, well if it isn’t good old Edward Westman!” Avory spoke with the certain icing-sugar dusting of a game show host, his syllables were bold and enhanced and he spoke with a peculiar pronouncement of his lower mouth.

“Good to see you, Avory, as ever.”

Westman was tired and therefore thankful that Pinlayer proceeded to dominate the conversation – a rather ravenous attack on his most-recent wife, for Pinlayer was a real player of the filed – helpfully providing particular prosodic emphasis on exclamations such as ‘goddamned’ and ‘bitch’ so that Westman could join in nodding emphatically. He tried to tell himself that the whole subject did not depress him – but it did. Images of his wife’s inevitable searching stare swam before his eyes, the strange nasal ring of her voice seemed to chew at the lobe of his ear.

“… Better off without ‘em.” Pinlayer appeared to finish, seemingly triumphant, his finely-shaped dark moustache finally relaxing and his voice seemingly stoppered by a great mouthful of amber-coloured, almost enchanting bitter.

Amongst Westman’s circles, ever since the war, a general distaste towards the women one was connected with did seem to grow. Of course, that age-old respect for the mother continued – although silently – and the men were most emphatically and vocally opposed to their wives, as if threatened by their forced domesticity back at home. Some nights at the club, as the air thickened with smoke, would just be peppered with occasional adjectives of approbation, but at other evenings, usually late in the week, whole arguments ensued. Westman had experienced many of those nights, usually laughing whole-heartedly into his liquor in an attempt to inhale the fumes and conceal the nervous twitches to which he was sometimes subject. He usually maintained this act up until the point where everyone was either too drunk or exhausted to notice.

Yet there was a paradox in that although a dislike for women was evident, it was the subject of women, and even more so – their entrance in to the club – which absorbed attention. Over the five years in which he had been involved with the club, it had been a frequent occurrence that Westman would sit with a few ex- American Servicemen he was on good terms with and add to the general shrieks of appreciation when what they considered to be a ‘fine woman’ walked in.  Sometimes hands seemingly worn only by the repetitive past movements of installing artillery reached out, stricken, for the silk of a dress, the soft curve of a face. Sometimes the women would walk in coyly, in a small group, clutching little bags beneath their arms and attempting to prevent their laughter from disrupting their often bizarre arrangements of hair.

But over time, the men became discontented. The women visiting the club seized to laugh – they looked in a kind of disgust at the poorly polished tiles and would sneer and sidle away as the exhausted band struck-up some old tune dripping uncomfortably with nostalgia. Westman told himself women only laughed when they were nervous, and thus when the women seized to laugh, they had obviously accepted the club for the dull regularity which it was. But so many of the men,  including Westman, could not accept that.

“What we need is some new stuff,” he remarked one Wednesday evening, speaking through a large cigarette so that some of the ash fell thickly, patterning his poorly-washed cream suit – probably an act of vengeance by Mrs Westman “You know, what about dancing, or some new high-society girls. This is London, after all.”

It was that following Saturday night that Westman had retreated to the club in especial need of distraction – for his wife was sick and swollen, screaming obscenities at him as he attempted to call the doctor. He ordered a double whiskey and plumped himself into his usual seat, breathing in the avid combination of soot and distinctively male sweat with a kind of sentimentality. His drink tasted of nothing and he listened half-heartedly to a group of ex-servicemen talk alongside him upon the subject of poetry. Some of them spoke lines of Latin, and he watched their lips linger almost playfully over the mysterious sounds. The barman, Smithy, slid him another drink across the bar and Westman took his hand for a duration which passed the conventional.

This was interrupted, however, by a dramatic flutter of attention around the club entrance. Natural light seemed somehow constricted, and then suddenly enhanced, pirouetting in a million spiracles from the finery of an elaborate, stone-studded headdress. It graced the head of  a woman Westman thought to be the most beautiful he had ever seen. Her face was enhanced almost determinedly – bold cheekbone coated with rouge, lacquered lips, and seductively heavy eyes. The shine from her skin portrayed her to be one single tone in colour and thus expressed a perfection most men had hardly ever contemplated, except in some transfixed dream or another. The club was so suddenly silenced, half-full tumblers stoppered in so many hands rather than up to lips that one could hear the turquoise silk affair or her dress crackling close to the floor.

“My God,” breathed Smithy, close to Westman’s ear “Would you believe it?”

Another man on the barstool beside him, flicking a crop of greasy blond hair from his face, was also absorbed in apparent admiration. His fat red cheeks almost swaying as he spoke.

“ A gorgeous woman. Like I said to Pinlayer – what a woman needs is a fine face, a straight walk and something other than the hair on her head.”

Westman strained forward critically, looking at her strange advacements on apparently high shoes.
“She looks a little uncomfortable to me…”

Smithy interrupted bluntly. “Oh, who gives damn? Can you imagine the number of men who’ll be flocking in to buy her a glass or two of something tonight…”

His hands stroked each other as if in imagination of a fat sum of cold cash. He liked the cool green of dollar bills best, from when he had been serving in America, but had begun to accept that coming to England after the war was a sacrifice well made – the men seemed almost desperate for the comfort of alcohol, drank  as if it constituted the very blood in their veins.

The clot of men in their customarily dark and finely cut suits started to dissipate as the headdress advanced precisely towards them. Westman tipped his drink back nervously, opening his eyes to find the female face almost aligned with his.

“Well, hello there,” He managed feebly.

Her mouth, although almost misshapen beneath its layers of lacquer, seemed somehow familiar, sending him almost subconsciously leaning towards it. He gathered himself quickly, placing a hand firmly on the barstool only to feel more acutely the hairs on his arm, prickling, on edge. He could sense that Smithy was making some kind of obscene gesticulation behind him.

The woman began to talk as familiarly as she danced towards him.

“I’d like to speak to you,” Her voice emerged tightly from her mouth, slow and beguiling deep in tone, placing particular, almost mocking emphasis on the final word. “Alone.”

Her sharp, outlined yes captivated him, the strange almost emphatic sway of her hips and the fierce odour of her perfume incensed him as she seized his hand roughly with a certain kind of strength and dragged him back through the incision she had made in the fascinating crowd. Westman managed hasty, almost choking gulps of hot air as he felt hundreds of eyes suddenly upon him, a chorus of whistles, the floor almost surging beneath his feet, like crossing from tile to carpet and then back again. But the girl grasping onto him did not stop moving until they were well out on the street, at a distance from the club where he was suddenly conscious of the firm grasp of her hand on his – and he thought of the fortune of  a new life, being able to awaken with a new woman beside him, the new days sun spangling across silk curtains to bathe them both.
He must have been muttering, semi-drunk under both alcohol and anticipation as at the corner of a side-street, the woman turned to him and suddenly started laughing.

It stopped Westman in his tracks, horrified. The laugh was rich and awfully deep, as if stripped from the depth of her very lungs, He watched, stunned as her hand moved up her body as if her complete array of clothes was bound to collapse at any point, he stared and stared, almost oblivious to the faint yet evidently angered female screams on the opposite pavement.

Then there was only silence as the headdress fell to the floor and he felt the rough sharp slap of a hand on his shoulder.

He saw the ever-familiar crease at the corners of the eyes which distorted the eye make-up beyond repair. For it was not a woman at all – it was Pinlayer.

“You should have seen your face!” Pinlayer snorted, quickly removing Westman’s stunned still hands from his person “That’s the best nights entertainment the club has had in ages, jolly admirable how you played along, old chap…”

Westman flushed whilst Pinlayer continued, wiping his face hastily with a broad, damp hand, his body suddenly crude and obvious, straining against the delicate folds of the dress.

“It’s a real man who makes a perfect girl,” he laughed shrilly and awfully beneath a great growing smear of pink lipstick. “ Had you captured instantly!”

Westman left Pinlayer laughing as he hurried off into the night, threading the streets back home in an emotionless and automatic way often only acquired by taxi cabs and murderers.

The purpling shades of the night incensed Westman to the extent that he was almost delirious upon reaching home, groping up the pathway with an uncertain two feet, barely noticing the peculiarity of Elisa waiting for him in the porch. The intensity of her sudden stare made him feel roughly for the shrapnel wound beneath his breast pocket. He was not sure for that second whether he hated her or her immediacy.

“I saw you,” she spoke through the open door, her mouth moving ferociously as if chewing over syllables, the very energy of her actions ending her dishevelled dark hair haphazardly over one shoulder. Her eyes looked red and raw in the most vulgar sense, and Westman stared simply at her pulsing hands and attempted to tell himself it was a trick of the light. Tricks of the light came in handy, he thought.

But her tone was venomous, the tone he had only heard replicated by her once or twice in his life – usually as she held her hands to her face and shed fat, black horrible tears. Yet her face was comparatively dry.

“I saw you with another woman.”

She sounded triumphant in her distress. For once, it was a triumph Westman felt he could match, feeling smug as he opened his mouth and stared at the straining female body in front of him, her swelling hips marking profoundly against the fading nightdress, the lace all tortured and grey around the chest –

“I can explain.” He almost chuckled, remembering how easily he had fallen for Pinlayer’s dirty trick. He felt hot and yet somehow uncomfortable in his innocence.

“Don’t you bother,” She snapped, striking out against the night “I saw, the whole club saw, you’re a disgrace, an absolute –“

The smile still spread across his lips as he waited customarily for her to quiet, and yet, he could not help noticing that the tears had not yet fallen, that instead of crouching beneath her feigned distress and the tiredness usually tripping through her bones, she stood tall and guardedly in her bare feet. He never had before noticed that she painted her toenails – they glistened up at him like open red mouths in the act of approbation. A car accelerated shrilly on some neighbouring street and thrust him forward into the seeming reality of his wife’s apparent enjoyment of her speech.

“Not that it really matters now, anyhow,” She grinned at him, her lips almost offensive to him in a coloured shade he had not noticed that she wore. Taking at step forward, she stared up at him, clutching her swollen stomach as if it was something obnoxious to him “I’m going to have a baby.”

He felt the blood drain from his face, the alcohol fizzing in his veins and up into his throat.

“How does that not matter…?” His voice surged with an emotive concern he wished he did not possess. In the thickening night, with the kiss of cheap cigarettes still on his breath, he felt horribly helpless.

“Because,” She let her smile stay well after the last word, repeating herself slightly in her apparent ecstasy. “I’m having a baby, a baby girl – with another man.”

It was then Westman let his eyes finally fall to a hastily stuffed bag of her own clothes behind her, and Elisa watched him, as if taking a great substance from his apparent bewilderment, letting her long dark eyelashes bat against her face in the way she knew both irritated and beguiled him. It was the ideal conclusion for her, and as she looked beyond the shabby countenance of the man she had hardly known, she saw the car headlights she had been so recently accustomed to, threading towards her –

“After all,” she smiled weakly, watching the familiar car draw closer “It takes a real man to make a girl.”

Yet they were both crying.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Dinners of Mrs Donaught

Mrs Donaught was one of those women who generally excite the topic in terms of questioning why some people are in high society. In high society she certainly was, sweeping into parties and gatherings on Long Island with an almost excessive regularity, fashionably invited, decadently attired. Oh yes, she excited a kind of juxtaposition – even in appearance, with her customary bottle-green dress and red smock which she seemed to wear incessantly as if collecting the respective fragrances of New York residences. We assumed she was a sentimentalist by nature, as although she was aging unfashionably now – with some guesses being in the region of fifty – when the band of the evening thumped out a foxtrot or some kind of tune, she would hold her highball glass between slim fingers almost as if it were another body, mimicking the movements of the dance. Sometimes it excited a few laughs, but Mrs Donaught hardly noticed. It was that factor which only made people notice her further.

Wherever the party was held, seemingly customarily, she would always be the first to head to the dinner table, though executing such as if making a retreat. She moved with sharp staccato motions, almost like a small bird, which gave onlookers the ideal opportunity to evaluate the strange airy appearance of her tightly-curled blonde hair and heavily rouged cheeks where the bones greased against the skin. There was always a kind of mystery about this time of the night, as up until dinner, Mrs Donaught would not speak. I would usually be at an adjacent point in the room, with my hand wrapped lazily around Annie or Lily-Mae or some girl I had accompanied that night, and I would watch Mrs Donaught shuffling through stale smoke and female exclamations, speaking silently under her breath and moving towards the table. Although the nouveau riche at the time, still bathing in the new enchantment of recent adulthood would attempt to regard her with a kind of sullied contemptuousness, when Mrs Donaught headed towards the table, the rest of the party would instinctively follow – even Harvey Cunningham who would sneer into his champagne flute through that horrible twisted throat of his and fondle his shirt collar with his free hand, would follow all the same.  Everyone followed.

It was when I attended Gertrude Bell’s party hosted in a marvellous Baroque affair just outside Manhattan that I really began to notice Mrs Donaught, finding myself swept along in the general excitement towards the dining table as Mrs Donaught led – I was only a young man of twenty two then and still subject to it as everyone else was. She always had a particular place of sitting, somebody told me amidst the hubbub, usually at the far left corner. I saw that it was certainly the case, Mrs Donaught sitting down in a kind of stylised resignation, letting her wrists cross limply in front of her on the table and thus thrusting forward an indelicate array of thick silver rings which adorned nearly every finger. It was not acceptable, but certainly it was fashionable, evidently so as a girl sat across from me on the long table hissed towards her in an apparent exclamation of envy. There was something almost awfully excited in these young women by Mrs Donaught’s presence – it made them terribly self-conscious, anointing their cheeks and lips with a rouge which seemed to only allow them to blend in with the general artificiality of the room. I just looked more intently at Mrs Donaught.

Gertrude Bell evidently began to have an issue with this interruption of proceedings and hastily called for the menus – after all, as she declared earlier in the evening, she wanted a formal affair, none of this ‘buffet nonsense.’ The ploy seemed successful in that the painfully handcrafted menus with their lace fronts temporarily engaged attention, before the waiters threaded almost weightlessly about the party, taking orders. I ordered a confit, but I cannot remember the actual substance of it, whilst Annie ordered a mixed leaf arrangement with some kind of dressing, saying it was ‘good on the figure.’

Perhaps as she had anticipated in her seating choice, the waiter arrived at Mrs Donaught the last, his stroll towards her accompanied by her sharp shutting of the menu an in almost superior fashion. She flashed him a smile, which seemed somewhat odd, her teeth appearing too small and fine for her painted mouth – as if they had been brushed to such an extent of perfection they had worn down. For some strange reason I felt sorry for her.

“I’ll have the duck, please,” Her speaking voice was so distinct, I immediately recognised it at every party I subsequently attended – there was a clever, attractive emphasis on the last syllables of each word and an enchantingly feminine tone to accompany it, her lips seemingly letting the words escape, one by one.
But after absorbing the actual content of the words, the whole party seemed to revolve in a sudden shock – there was no duck on the menu! The waiter also knew this, bending his face closer to hers which only captivated the rest of the party to crane forward uneasily, the women’s dresses ruffling uncomfortably across the linen cloth.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but there is no duck on the menu,” He was evidently attempting a tone of authority, but I believed him just as captivated by Mrs Donaught as the rest of the party was, his eyes seeming to widen a little as he spoke.

She looked upwards more earnestly and placed a hand confidentially on his, speaking simply.

“Ask the chef, and see what you can find.”

Although her voice was not strictly imperative, the intensity of her stare and the strange apparent pressure of her words seemingly sent the waiter onwards without comment. Then, sitting back, it was peculiar – it was not a flavour of triumph which adorned her features, but a kind of child-like innocence, gazing almost playfully at the tableware. She met my stare once also, but proceeded to do nothing about it, nothing intrusive, just looked curiously and moved on. Sometimes she muttered a little tune beneath her breath and ran a silk napkin between her fingers. Her little pearly earrings glittered in the bulbous silverware of serving dishes as the food arrived. Gertrude Bell rose to make a declaration, the pale peach of her dress crackling eagerly, though noticing the general focus about Mrs Donaught, she sat down again huffily. A female servant was called to get some tissues and ‘get rid of that foul woman who is spoiling my party.’ But not even Gertrude Bell seemingly had the true heart to send Mrs Donaught away, and soon attention was lost in the receiving of food, and the usual crass comments on taste and texture, high-minded comparison with similar dishes in Paris and London.

Mrs Donaught was served last. The waiter seemed to almost tremble towards her with the dish, his voice perhaps unconsciously amplified as he declared.

“And for you madam, the duck.”

He plucked the silver lid away, and there, almost certainly, was duck – the quite dark almost caramelised meat with a little sauce and some wildly gesturing vegetables. Mrs Donaught smiled with a fondness which almost seemed emotional, and she began eating, delicately but determinedly, apparently unaware of the multitude of faces utterly fixated upon her.

Annie suddenly spoke out beside me – ‘And duck wasn’t even on the menu!’ – and this started a general hubbub among the women, expressions of disbelief, and generously painted lips moving ravenously over words rather than food. It was the same with the men, ranging from guttural sighs of awe, to a muttering incensed with alcohol and too many cigarettes – ‘And I would have enjoyed duck as well!’, and similar.
By the time the waiting staff re-appeared to remove the plates, believing they had given a suitable, polite duration for the meal, it was fair to say, that hardly any of the food had been touched – people were still absorbed in conversation, in amazement at the behaviour of Mrs Donaught, some women even slouched gracelessly across the table to feel more included within the satisfying surround of speech.

The plates were taken away, and there was evident focus on the fact that Mrs Donaught had almost cleaned hers – everything apart from a morsel of meat still attached to the bone. As the waiter exited with an armful of plates, attempting not to distinguish that of Mrs Donaught, Gertrude Bell gestured for him to come towards her.

“Give me that plate,” she managed, almost breathless with frustration, seizing the silver which she had seen taken from Mrs Donaught’s place. Gertrude gave what appeared to be an angered exclamation which caught the back of her slender throat before plunging her delicately lacquered fingers into the meat. The party leaned forward urgently, momentarily more concerned by the outcome of the action than its grotesque nature.
“And it is duck!” she declared simply, but with a note of hysteria trilling through her tone, slamming her hand heavily on the cloth.

It was not long before Gertrude Bell was escorted to bed in a confusion of tears, whilst conglomerating groups of party guests talked drunkenly about whether they should complain about Miss Bell ‘short-selling them with the menu.’ I sat in a darkened corner with my arm around Annie, feeling the bitterness of the olive from a martini pervade my mouth, letting my eyes wander through the general excited crowds, over to Mrs Donaught, still sat in her dinner chair, and back again. She looked upon the excitement of the other dinner guests with a kind of quiet satisfaction, seemingly unconcerned that she was the subject and apparently content in her seclusion, her well-heeled shoe tapping a little gaudy tune on the floor.

There were other dinner parties that month, parties I made an effort to attend, knowing that Mrs Donaught would likely be there. It was the case indeed – and thus the usual pantomime unfurled of her heading to the table, absorbing an almost ravenous attention, ordering an item which had never even graced the menu and still receiving it. Alice, a girl I was going with at the time, stared at Mrs Donaught with a kind of intense disgust which set little creases rippling across her pale forehead, plastering her pale mouth as she declared that Mrs Donaught may well have a good array of friendships with chefs, and thus was nothing much remarkable. But it was difficult to believe that was the case.

It was during another dinner party at George Adam’s place, a grand pillared house set back from the road in the usual expression of gentry, that Mrs Donaught ordered a chicken pate and received it – adorned with little leaves and crystallised circles of preserved orange – without it being on the menu. She ate with the same polite relish as she had done on every other occasion, and as had been the case at every other occasion, the dinner host requested her plate afterwards so they could trawl his or her hand through it and experience the subsequent horror in realising that it was indeed food never seen on the menu. Needless to say, with the strange social-consciousness of the times, it dissuaded many of these people from hosting another party again. It was sweetly scandalous. These people dwelled in disgrace, whilst Mrs Donaught only extended higher in the public eye.

“You know,” At George’s Adam’s party, an unremarkable woman with cropped dark hair and red lips leant over to whisper in my ear “She’s not even married, but goes with the title of ‘Mrs’ -  I’ve looked into it, no husband on the records, you know. Now what do you think of that?”

The woman’s voice was horribly ringing and nasal as she finished with an alcohol-incensed laugh, her eyebrows rising like little blades which mutilated her entire expression. Drawn-on or something.

It was a couple of weeks after that before I felt I had the endurance to attend another party where Mrs Donaught may well be present - it was not she was the problem, only the people so incensed by her presence that their voices would become amplified, almost hysterical, they would move with the exaggerated gestures of shock and distress which usually sent more than one wine-glass smashing to the floor and could not sustain unrelated conversation for the merest interval. Mrs Donaught, on the other hand, was looking healthier than ever, her cheeks seemed tipped with natural colour rather than the trickery of rouge and her lips relaxed in a way when she smiled absently so that her teeth did not seem so small and frail. It was strange compared to the general dishevelment and disjointedness of the other guests.

This was certainly the case at a party given by an old college friend – Amelia Chain – at her residence in Long Island. Mrs Donaught was wearing her usual party attire, and I , being unaccompanied for the night, as Alice was in bed with a head-cold and sniffing lavender-salts languorously, decided to follow Mrs Donaught as she went to the table. I anticipated that this would be an unusual state of affairs for her, as typically the chair at either side of her was left unoccupied, as if she was an exhibition.

It was strange, therefore, that she showed no visible shock as I sat myself uneasily down in the chair next to her – I sat next to Mrs Donaught, the uninvited connoisseur of nearly every party New York had known, sat next to the odd spiracles of air seemingly trapped beneath that fine gold hair, watched her thin mouth searching for words.

“You have to ask for things, assume things” She spoke airily; seemingly directed at no one specifically, though perhaps spurred by my proximity “Like my husband, I assume him.”

Her hands crossed an uncrossed, though in a gentle way, the deep blue veins almost like a kind of jewellery against her translucent skin. She seemed to suck down on her bottom lip, as if tasting the undulations of her own voice.

“It’s strange how things are,” She mused, almost fondly “How odd everything seems to be – as if the younger generation has completely lost its social decorum!”

She lowered her voice, gesticulating towards the rest of the table with muted, but still evident  movements.
“It’s almost like insanity.”

Her mouth seemed to expel the last word like a ring of smoke and her fingers clasped the menu shut before she had even scanned the pages.