woodpigeon pink

She looked at the cat, now lying on its back beneath her forearm and fingers, and whispered the words “Farrow and Ball”. The cat lifted its soft grey head and opened its mouth in acknowledgement, the sound of its lips smacking open then shut making Alice smile. She patted the cat on the head, reassuring it as she slid carefully down into the bed. She lay back and looked at the ceiling. Her mother’s brass lamp needed dusting and could probably do with a polish. She’d not touched it once in four years other than to change a bulb and, once, to hang a damp shirt from it. The cat wiggled beside her, demanding another tickle. “Farrow and Ball,” said Alice again. “They’ve gone for wildlife now.” She could hear the woodpigeon from its perch on the chimney stack, its throaty gurgle echoing into the room from the fireplace. She listened for the pattern Paul had pointed out at the weekend. “It stops during a phrase, listen.” And they’d both paused the action of pulling on socks and pants. “Listen!” There it went again, stopping on the second crotchet of verse on a slightly higher note than the previous three. “I wonder if it starts from the next note,” said Paul, “or from the beginning again.” They’d both remained standing, still as they could, waiting for it to continue. But it never did, so they went downstairs for breakfast. Here, now, she could follow it again. She listened and noticed that Paul was right: it started from where it left off, in the middle of the verse, or “the phrase” as he’d put it.

At noon, Alice took a chair and sat in the front garden, warming herself in the sun beneath her neighbour’s yellow roses. She was trying to come to terms with the colour of her front door. Since the break-in that summer, she’d decided to buy a new door, one with double locks top and bottom and special metal bolts on the hinge side. It was heavy wood, not PVC like the old one, and she had wanted to paint it the colours of a woodpigeon. Grey, violet, pink, green, blue. A mix. “Woodpigeon pink,” she’d told the door manufacturers in Edmonton. The man had laughed at her. “Don’t bother with Farrow and Ball,” he’d said, “that’ll just cost you. Pick a colour and go to Homebase to get it mixed.” She had explained to him that the colour she wanted didn’t exist, as far as she knew, that it was a combination of woodpigeon feathers. “They can do you anything, girl,” he replied, “just go to Homebase.” But Alice hated the industrial shopping site above the North Circular. She yearned to have a little paint shop at the end of the street, the sort her mother used to visit when Alice was a child, when she’d be left in the car with her two brothers watching their mother inside the shop, disappearing into the back with Mr Peacock. She used to tell them they’d be fine for 20 minutes because they had the dog. “He’ll bark at everyone,” she’d say, “and we can have Fudge bars for tea if you stay right here and don’t open the door to anyone.”

Looking at the ceiling now, still listening to the woodpigeon, Alice began to cry. She hadn’t intended to shoot the one in the shed. It was supposed to be a bit of a joke. The gun was a toy gun she’d found on a walk along the Mynd. It had been lying there on the moss. She didn’t realise that the cork pellets could actually kill. But the pigeon had fallen from the pergola and landed with a thud on the decking. Dead. There was no blood, and Paul suggested she’d hit it so accurately on the head, she’d knocked it out. But it never came round. So in the evening Alice had walked to the bench at the back of the garden, sat down and plucked feathers from its neck, belly, its back and tail. Then she threw the bird into the long grass for the cat. It took several weeks to rot down, and her neighbour had hinted several complaints over the fence. But what upset Alice most of all was the beauty of her door. She loved the colour like she loved velvet and pink prawn chews. Each time she walked through it, she felt she was walking into childhood, as if nostalgia was oozing through the gloss. She knew, she thought to herself every evening, she was home.

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magpies on the maracas

I know the sounds as I know my own skin. I know which cat has slid through the cat flap and planted its nose in biscuits. I know who is walking down the alley on the other side of the wall because I’m accustomed to their patter. Depending on the force of the kick, I know which group of kids is playing football in the street and whether Nathan is there, or Raoul, or Drew or Kofi. When I hear the acceleration of a car engine and then the squeeze on the brakes I know which household on the adjacent street is going out for a drive. I can distinguish between the postman shoving letters through my box and the boy delivering the local paper every Tuesday. I can even tell when my neighbour is taking an afternoon nap because Radio 3 fades to silence, the regular thudding up and down the stairs stops, and the phone rings and rings and rings and eventually rings out. So of course I also know that something is not quite right when three men, three white English men with Cockney accents and grey tracksuits with hoodies and green trainers, approach my neighbour’s house all together in a group, crowding around the front door. She never has white visitors or visitors  whose first language is English and who speak with an east London lilt. Why are they crowding around the door handle, banging on the window, shouting over and over, Is Anyone in? Is anyone in? Anyone at home? and then pulling out a metal lever and ramming it between the edge of the plastic door and plastic frame, pushing it down and in and forcing the front door to open. Less than two seconds, I reckon. They scramble into the porch — one, two, three — squeezing into the tight space between the pair of front doors while the leader levers door two. Of course I know they aren’t just friends, as one of them claims when I pitch out of my top window and yell as loud as I can, What the hell do you think you’re doing? I’m not expecting an answer; I’m expecting them to run. But they turn round and, as soft as you like, the tall one says, We’re just friends. We’re visiting. What, with a crow-bar? I shout back. Is that how you normally visit friends? Get the fuck out of here! Go on! Go! Go! Where is everyone, I’m thinking? Is this a set up? Now they look almost alarmed and start jogging then cantering down the road. I scramble down the stairs and out the front door and watch as they drive away, smoke pouring from the back wheels, spinning off at high speed, all the way to the bottom and around the corner. I’m getting old; I couldn’t read the number plate. My ageing body. For a few long seconds, that’s all I think about. Then a sense of achievement. Frightened them away, didn’t I. Nice work, Pawson.

Back inside. All quiet. Then I notice the buzz of the laptop and from the open window, the magpies start playing their maracas bullying the poor old persian, and Buster the puppy lifts his chin and pines for the whole of London, and the little girl at number two whose mother swears “is gifted” runs her fingers up and down the keys for her afternoon warm-up scales, and the builder working on the house at number twenty-eight which has just been bought by a cinematographer from Highbury pulls out the last bit of tiling around the fireplace, and Shirley at number thirty-one who came from Clapton says that crime is on the rise because the area’s “gone too rich” calls over the fence to the teacher in the playground and complains, I’m still getting cigarette ends in my fuscias, and Wolfie down at number fifty-three rings the council to remind them he wants to move out ‘coz it’s eighty percent muslim and I don’t belong here no more’. 

cut (i)

Back at the house, I put a chair on the porch outside my room, and sit in the shade for the afternoon, transcribing the morning’s recording onto my laptop. I’m almost at the end of the interview – listening back, it sounds like a catalogue of suffering – when I’m joined by the two dogs of the house. One is a little white thing with smudged pink eyes, a miniature poodle of sorts whose name I can never remember. Her son is Alberto, a long, low, blond, the spitting image of a Dandy Dinmont. I’d find him hard to resist were it not for one particularly unpleasant habit he has, a daily indulgence often performed in front of me. Here he comes, sidling up to his mother, now cowering by the wall. He edges closer and closer then throws himself on top of her, proceeding to hump his hips against her head for several long and painful minutes, pausing briefly to catch his breath, then to slightly alter the angle of assault by shuffling his hind legs in a frantic pirouette. Finished, he trots off to the flowerbed and flops on to his ribs, panting and contented beneath the shade of a bush. His mother, now pitifully sad, is pawing at the dollop of semen between her ears and repeatedly sneezing. What I find most disturbing about this performance is that she never attempts to defend herself from her son, not even to run away. She simply crouches down, her stained tail tucked hard as a bullet between her hindlegs, and waits miserably for the business to begin.

round here

‘My stomach was in my throat. In my throat. I thought I’d be, I don’t know now, sick, maybe. I just couldn’t go there, couldn’t think about it, that they’d been there when we were all here. And it must have been a couple because they took both of them. You couldn’t do that alone, could you? They must have been watching us. Waiting for it to rain.’

‘Oh they wait for the rain alright. It’s the same on the allotments. They wait for the rain. Or the snow. The moment it snows, it all goes.’

‘We’ve noticed our gate. Open in the mornings. Before the milkman’s been. Before the post’s arrived. Wide open. Last week we found a man in the garden. When we asked him what he was doing, he told us to mind our business, that he was busy sorting things out. In our garden!’

‘They do that.’

‘I found the basket half way up the street. They must have ditched it in the getaway.’

‘Should we keep it? Evidence? Won’t they want to fingerprint it? Have we destroyed the evidence?’

‘The suits won’t waste their time on this.’

‘We haven’t even got a station any more. They’re not going to bother with this kind of stuff are they.’

‘Well maybe we should bolt our gates. Get padlocks?’

‘Or cameras? Have you seen number 120? They’ve got two cameras. Not for the front door either. For the whole street. Won’t walk down that side any more. Makes me feel odd it does. I walk on the other side, on this side.’

‘But what will we tell them when they get back? It might give her another turn. Should we tell her? Should we warn them? What if she has a turn? How shall we tell her?’

‘We won’t tell her. She’ll see for herself.’

‘And what if she has a turn? Loses the baby? Then what?’

‘Then we’ll cross that bridge.’

going West

Charity shops in some parts of London sell second-hand dresses for £149 and linen shirts for £30. The clothes are arranged according to colour — a white zone, an orange zone, a khaki zone, black, purple, red, blue and so on — and the shop manager’s entire being appears to be trained on vanishing the idea of shame from the second-hand experience. No one who comes to these areas need feel poor: you are philanthropic and possibly anorexic, but definitely not desperate. It is also likely that you donate to The Dog Samaritans.