LODGE ROAD, SOUTHAMPTON (1-3)
Determined, the bus belches its way up the incline.
Inside, cold white faces stare at me, unseeing.
They look at me but don’t watch.
(I take care not to stare
as they pull up at the flaky green bus stop
But I do watch).
Out from the bus steps the girl with the long, greasy-blonde
hair. I have seen her often. The sort of girl
you really shouldn’t fancy
(so, of course, you do).
This morning she pressed her body
into an envelope of black plastic,
stuck down the edges with a gash of make-up,
and posted herself to another pointless day.
Tonight she puddles her way home again.
Scuffed red shoes perilously splish-splash their way
past my heart.
A tight little ball of sex
and lost dreams, no longer hopeful,
and not pretty enough for her clothes.
On the corner of the road with the playground in
Pepe closes up Pepe’s Italian hair-dressers.
Winds back his shiny new awning
and gazes with smiling satisfaction at the light streaming
from his windows.
Lighting up the pavement.
Everyone will see what a warm inviting place his little shop is,
as they crawl home in the wet.
They will look at the bright lights and Panther hair tonic
and the piles of unbought faded yellow Durex packets
(“Something for the weekend, Sir?”)
and remember they needed a haircut.
(Pepe learnt all this from his father.
so it must be true).
As I pass him, he looks straight through me.
He does not recognize wet people in anoraks.
Only dry, springy heads of hair in need of
conditioning and cheerful chatter.
Next door at the late night grocery store
the till-girl who wouldn’t be working for the Indians if she had
any choice, but you know how work is,
reaches new heights of indifference.
As we all drip politely on her recently straightened pile of
Evening Sports Echos she is already in her lover’s arms.
Proud and defiant, she stares down confidently at all comers
in the local disco.
“He’s mine,” she sneers, “All mine!”
Rich without money, a coarse, virile possession in an
26p pint of milk kiss
74p curly smoked sausage groping urgent hands
62p Mother’s Pride Thick Sliced last Saturday in his car
it was the first time with him
won’t be the last
She doesn’t even see me as her mind on automatic pilot
calls out my bill.
Well, why should she?
I press my nose to the drizzly window of the video shop,
waiting for the crush inside to die down.
Wonder if they’ll remember I owe them a quid?
The little tubby girl is serving, all stupid shy smiles and
dimples. She’ll let me off even if she remembers.
Little black boxes of freedom from thought stacked neatly
row upon row. Boxes of dreams.
Don’t get that one, it’s rubbish. Saw it last week.
(Can’t tell you though.
Don’t want to be thought the sort of
bloke who talks to folks in video shops.)
Trot home clutching our escape route for the night.
Never mind what it is, dear.
(Not that we do anymore anyway).
You stare at him, and I’ll watch her, and when they do
(as they always do)
we’ll clear our throats self-consciously
(’cause we don’t, so much, anymore.)
There was a time when we did.
Watching them at it would
probably have sparked us off.
But the spark went out.
(Should we have got a comedy tonight?
Always should when it’s raining. How come it’s always
Now, out there in the street,
the dirty old bus putters his way home,
leaving a last late commuter cut up on the kerb.
Impervious, inexorable, the great yellow Leviathan trundles into the middle distance,
unaware that my TV screen has turned to a little white dot
that seems to want to suck me in.
As you quietly wander up to bed
I listen sadly to the occasional late-homer,
full of the desperate cheerfulness of a
drab pub where at least someone talks to him.
71 Poems & 1 Story is available in printed format and as a download. Share of any profits to the Bali Childrens’ Foundation and Alzheimer’s Australia