What the neighbourhood came to
Steve Armitage & Caron Freeborn
Remembering how it felt to be a one-
in-the-morning girl – though now, not striding
towards hot sex but home to a straight-laced
cup of tea – that’s when she saw him, by that
pink and blue reminder of what used to
be Raquels before it died.
Two kids walked the line by his rat-and-roll
blanket, that he’d piled with paper bags off
the stall, sticky with ferment. They booted
them, and three battered satsumas got involved.
One boy hawk-spat. Want a job? My dog shits
twice a day, you can lick it up for a quid.
She let the wine run into her heart. Fuck
off you heartless little beggars, she said.
They didn’t even turn to insult her.
I’m sorry, she said to the man. Scrambled
for her purse.
It’s not your money I want,
he said, It’s your company.
His ex-one-in-the-morning girl paused. Cold
out here tonight. Bitter, like those plums no
one wants to eat but which are too pricey
to waste. Her excuses – a bus, a cab,
a child, a man – puckered on her tongue. Spat
them out, unused. I’ll sit with you a bit,
she said. He didn’t look surprised, simply
shoved over on his blanket, arse wiping
the gob as though protecting her from it.
The woman – let’s face it, those girl-in-the
-morning days long behind her – hitched her tight skirt,
struggled to sit. His smell snuggled up, ripe
and vomit-heavy and she held her breath.
But he moved to face her, his eyes huge with
whatever gear he’d been able to afford.
I’m so sad tonight, he said. My babby –
ain’t seen her in weeks. Will she remember
I’m her daddy? Eyes scraping her face, hard.
And then the woman knew. You, she said.
Her kind bowed under that sight. Blindly touched
his tattooed neck, feeling for the bloody name
among thorns. Little Baby Grace, she said.
Man’s head shot back, so sharply that he
knocked it, hard, on the royal blue door. How d’you
know? he whispered. How the fuck can you know?
She felt her palm decompose on his lips.
Tried not to show how much, how little she felt.
I made a poem about you, she said.
Saw you and Baby Grace at the bus-stop
and I wrote you down. His grey tears washed out
pink traces. I love you, he said, and for
that light flash it was one-in-the-morning
and she thought she’d have to fuck him, to make
it right. Instead, she listened to his tale
of imaginable cruelty. She held
his hand to her pitted heart, after sour
flesh had been sucked away, listened with all
she had (which in truth didn’t amount to much),
against the only colour in this peeling
part of town, on a thin, rancid blanket,
keeping the rumour of God alive.