She call them lollygagger, adjusted the folds of her scarf, let them watch her fingers trace the sweep of her collarbone like a wink but not an invitation. Clutched at the other hand with smaller, damp digits unsure eyes flickered from her to the jackal-backed boys circling their cigarettes, tongues dragging across their teeth. Nothing to be afraid of dear.
One of the men lifted his head and looked at me as we sloped past the ash fields, and rows of toilers like grey bamboo canes if bamboo was stooped and bent with brittle hands knuckle white against the plastic handled hoes. Her hands, smaller, firmer, sure, came down on my shoulders shadowed his face with fear. An explanation in a classroom pretending it isn’t an excuse claims to be progress, claims to be a new world built on the broken bones of the last. Mothers scream during childbirth. There is blood and pain and sometimes death. We are lucky we are not all toiling. If the old world had their way who knows what would have happened? We are smarter these days we can laugh at the facts that shattered when the world changed. Who know what will happen at the next night rise.
Stung between garden fences twilight coaxed you outside, to the square of wilding lawn uncut from summer’s end, the coils of wood smoke streaked with petrol rising above an evening glow of light behind closed panes as one by one they too flickered out.
You. It’s burnt into my memory that open mouthed gape swallowing my words, and the back turned mid-sentence on an answer to a question you had asked only for the slow spin, arm triangled over your head as you scratched your scalp, and those frown scrunched nostrils somehow still flared in a state of confusion when I refused to speak to a man not facing me.
And I wondered if the sight of me wavering excited you. Like a candle flame dancing, your palm held just inside the heat. Contemplating the risk of snuffing me out altogether. Extinguishing that light with one blow one fist closing tight. Did I excite? Not the exact word for tonight’s Quadrille prompt, but a form of it is there, and according to the rules that’s alright.
I’m very English sometimes, apologising to the stranger staggering by, shoulder swung into mine, sorry caught in the air with the dust cloud he trails. So I’ll repeat in case repetition makes up for distance, for an inability to find fire until much later on when I am a city or more away and still thinking about bone and muscle and a sharp snap of ‘move now!’ No please.
I braided a basket of my fingers, in case I was required to catch you if you fell from any sort of height or perhaps needed a boost to reach a shelf or a step on a ladder I could hold once I’d unwoven these hands to grip the rungs better if you eventually decide to climb.
Someone comments that she’d never really worked. Not a proper job. Not a nine-to-five, sit down at a desk, shuffle the papers, count the numbers, find the words sort of job. She just ‘helped’ her parents in their shop, then ‘helped’ her husband. At Christmas my mother, her daughter, takes the carving knife. Skills become ingrained when you park a pram in the backroom of a butcher’s. They get passed down on generation to the next. Not always perfect, but present like the bark and callous of their hands when they take mine. Evidence of everything they’ve given. She says she never really worked a proper job, not a nine-to-five, like I have. Passes me the cutter for scones that won’t be as good as her mother’s, because she hasn’t got the knack like she had. She was only ever ‘helping’ not working, not like her daughter does, not like I do. She was only ever there in the background. Autumn is not Spring, but beauty still grows in her and there is worth there.
Some days I don’t need a husband I need scaffolding. So I can tend to the broken, the busted windows the cracking paint, the guttering that doesn’t drain when the rain comes in and all the sediment circling the drain but never quite clearing. Some days I need that from you, and nothing more.
The peas have podded. I’m not sure if it’s the snap, or your bog standard, good old trusty garden type, but they’ve podded first with the white petals of the flowers still stuck to the green of their shells. Inside the crop is still too small, too young. I checked today. Popped my nail into the seam, slit through the flesh, cracked it open. New growth, old book. They both sound the same. They are not ready for harvest, but when you bite down they explode. They taste like spring, or summer, or something else that’s hot days and sudden rain storms. They tasted like they should do. New and fresh. It’s been a wet one, this spring, this downpour of water thickening the green.