You’re As Tall As Me!

This season’s obsession with rain. An orchid flourishes on the warm windowsill, placed in the sink once a week, on a Thursday, and drenched in water from the tap and its leaves, its flowers glisten. We pause within the sentence on the position of a comma, and one, next to the orchid in the sink, pauses, as they do next to the warm windowsill with the cold rain falling beyond. The blinds contain behind them all the chill that has collected there throughout the night, and when the blinds are opened, the chill rolls on out over the retracting hand, slender fingers and wrist. The little girl sits at the kitchen table and writes out tickets for each member of the family. On the ticket, she writes—Kum to mylas sow. Irritated on her soft skin, she has removed her hallowe’en costume, and walks around the room, handing out the tickets, then declares that the show is about to start. She collects the tickets at the door to the living room. The younger, much smaller sister, is still sitting at the kitchen table, drawing with a black pen lines atop lines atop lines, primitive crosshatch. ‘Do you want to come to my show?’ her sister asks. ‘No,’ the sister sister responds, drawing line atop lines atop lines. She dances around the living room, clumsy and whimsically. Applause. The same dance again. Applause. The same dance again. The tired audience retreats; the grandmother, drunk on champagne, stays.
    A couple of hours before dinner, she is exhibiting a box of chocolates gifted from her aunt who has lost two babies. ‘O!’ says I—‘Animal bars! I love animal bars!’
    ‘Here. Have it.’ she says, offering it up willingly.
    ‘No,’ I say—‘you have it, darling.’ Kiss on the top of her head. Her hair is wavy, locked up in braids for a couple of days then untwined and spun outward when she dances, the tips straight blonde from the sun & age.
    I refuse and tell her that she may keep it, but that she is very kind.
    A lot later I am reclined alone on the sofa in a quiet room. She comes up to me, gives me the animal bar and a note. The note reads—Dee ukl ris. I lova yoo. lova Myla xxx. On the back of the note is a drawing of me and her holding hands. ‘Is that me and you?’ She nods. I thank her with a kiss. ‘You are as tall as me!’
    There is a packet of chocolate buttons clasped to glass underneath the windscreen wiper, placed there by a wedding photographer who learned it was the little girl’s birthday.
    A quid a can down the supermarket. The last time I drank this I was in a hotel bar in Florida, full of brylcreem, undone top buttons, deep tans and corrosive chatter. I sat there, trying desperately to tune into the Spanish guitarist who competed with the sound of basketball playoffs and networking. The humidity outside got caught in my throat. I drank alone, unable to sleep the same time as everyone else. This time I picked it up after work and carried it, shaking, to the train. At the first stop a young lady got on and sat next to me. She was especially beautiful. She may have been not yet twenty, but she was striking all the same. Her phone was plugged into the cleaner’s socket, and she began a conversation. She did not wear a mask and talked very loudly. Sleep with Dylan in the middle of the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ and not long enough for the call of ‘Judas’. How had I forgotten about Fourth Time Around? Once upon a time I listened to that on my walk to the university bookshop. Once upon a time I listened to that when I was in love. Once upon a time that song was ruined for me. Once upon a time I heard someone talking over it. The young lady began to shout—‘Lewis! Lewis! Lewis! Lewis! Lewis!’ and she burst out cackling. People in the carriage took notice, or they sighed Friday fatigue. She alighted at C—r and not a stop too soon. I pulled one of the beers from my backpack. It sprayed & pissed, then ran all over the floor. There is a packet of tissues I won in a pass-the parcel my sister-in-law arranged for my niece’s birthday; she knows I have hayfever; it is a thoughtful gift. I mopped up the spilled beer, sighed and left the tissue on the floor where it glistened like orchids. For the rest of the journey, two beers for two quid; staring into nothing, smiling and keeping my heels out the spill. Walked home in the rain that had started to fall
    Another missed call from my landlord but my hands split and bleed in autumn.
    It is hallowe’en. The doorbell does not ring. My mother decorated the place and made it look real good; the grandchildren were happy and excitedly scared. The pair of them turned up with their faces painted. I had set up my old desk in my bedroom and was drinking coffee while playing chess. I beat an Algerian and a Russian. I messaged both in English, but they did not understand me, so they could not be my friend. Both Arabic and Russian would have been lost on my British monolingualism anyway.
    She gives me my black americano and, before she releases her grasp, says—‘How many of these do you have a day?’
    I pause, almost offended. My fingers are on the paper cup—‘Two.’
    ‘That’s not too bad,’ she says, and relinquishes the hot beverage.
    ‘… But I have a cappuccino first thing in the morning, and then another pot of black coffee in the office because I’m running out of grounds, but that’s only, like, two cups, right?’ She shakes her head at me. I have already seized the cup, it is too late for her to recover. She laughs, but, as I see her every day, she knows me and my order, I suspect that she likes me. Middle-aged Spanish-speaking women baristas have always had a soft-spot for me, as long as I can remember; I suspect it is because I go to coffee shops alone and do not speak to anybody. Apparently there is at least one nation where half the population think that my behaviour is endearing. I smile at her, she smiles at me. She wishes me a good afternoon; I wish her a good weekend.