Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Other

Sister, busy as you may be, you perhaps wonder how I occupy my time now that you have gone. Knowing you as I do, I feel sure that you assume I have been at a loss, becalmed in the house we shared as two girls grown up off-kilter. But it pleases me to tell you that since you smuggled Eric into your life like a file in a cake and made good your escape, I have kept active.
After all the long private years I have edged my way back into the world. I have taken baby steps into the public spaces where spare people collect like blown litter, the places where an invitation is not needed.
Sometimes I'll sit in the public gallery in the Magistrate's Court, sometimes I'll nod away an afternoon, unnoticed among the relics in one of the larger museums. And sometimes, for variety, I'll slip in at the back of a funeral service.
But I prefer the living. So most days I spend at the register office. And most afternoons some couple, either friendless or hasty, will ask me to stand as their witness. It is something to get dressed for, and this is all I expected it to be. But now there is this.
Because, dear sister, it seems I may have bested you yet. I am wanted, not once, but twice over.
The first to ask was the registrar. I had always thought well of him. I admired the way he could say the words of the ceremony day after day and manage to sound like he meant them, as if he was saying them for the first time. I liked the way he'd put the bride and groom at ease with a little joke and it would always work. He'd say, 'I've been here twenty-five years. You don't get that long for murder!' And the wedding party would smile and relax.
His name is Tyrone. I almost laughed out loud when first he told me, but now it seems to suit him. His mother was film-mad, evidently. I'd hate to become involved with someone with a boring name, one that made him sound like some tanktop-wearing aficionado of sheds.
The first time he invited me, he caught me as I was leaving. I waited for him to say his piece. He stood on the tarmac with his hands behind his back as if he'd just stepped out to catch a breath of air. He complimented me on my outfit, although it was only my usual Monday one, the dogtooth jacket, navy court shoes, black Crimplene slacks.
He took me to a nearby pub, quite a nice one, no jukebox, a non-smoking area. We sat near the window. In the silences we watched the home-time traffic. He talked about his coming retirement and how he didn't want to be one of those men who while away their days in pubs like that, staring into space, alone in their grey leather-look shoes.
He is a sayer of occasional lovely things, a maker of occasional moments. He says how he'll miss his work, will miss seeing the same people coming back down the years, two, three, even four times, giving it all another try. Some lunchtimes we sit in the park across the road and swap sandwiches. Once we had a go on the swings.
But I know that what got me his attention was the attention of another. Nobody is wanted like the wanted. I had noticed Brett, the tall South African at wedding after wedding, a presence on the edge of things, not quite a guest, and not quite a friend of the family. He has what your cherished pink and white hardbacks would call a cruel mouth.
He introduced me to Carlos. His hair is black like liquorice, his eyes brown like toffee. You would writhe in an anguish of jealousy if you saw him. He tells me of the home he left, tells me of people who disappear, then reappear on the other side of the world. People who fall off the back of lorries.
Neither of them is worth me.
I know what Tyrone wants me for. Fear is all over him like dead skin. The final working Friday looms with its goodbyes. And beyond that, flatlands stretching to the end. There have been people in his life but he has been careless at keeping them, replacing them. Me, I rescue nobody.
And then there is Carlos, transparent in his beauty. His need is simpler but just as clear. As you know, I always did love a documentary. I'm not completely naïve. He would have to pay good money for somebody else to marry him to secure his stay here. But already I am proving less economical than he expected. There's no price I can put on the turning heads when we are out together. I take his hand in public and I can feel the agony of his embarrassment like static on his palm.
Sometimes when I am with him I think of our late, dear mother, waving her inhaler at the television and muttering, 'Honestly, they bloody come over here…'
For now, and for some time, I have no need to decide, and that is delicious. Each will ask of me and I will smile and say, 'Really, all these offers.'
I will hold this choice, letting these two unexpected tastes mix on my tongue.

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