south london, 1991

by uzwi

Dark green wainscot, poster red walls. A longhaired cat sleeps on the floor in front of the gas fire. Everything looks old but new. There are mint-looking tins of baked beans and black treacle stacked artfully on the shelves behind the counter. A whole fruit cake and pork pies under the glass. A postcard rack (clipper ships against a tinted sky), a chessboard with a game in process. Studiedly retro, yet believable. The tall middleclass girl behind the counter is addressed as “Lewis” by her boyfriend, a man in a black leather jacket & round wire-framed spectacles, who arrives at 7:00pm. The cat rearranges itself round his feet while he drinks a glass of rum. Then he & Lewis exit briefly for a smoke, banging the door behind them and leaving the rest of us–the cat, two customers & me–with the radio jazz, the warm air and faint smell of spirits. None of us looks out of place, although I wonder what I’m doing here waiting for someone I don’t know & probably never will. Lewis returns alone, cigarette half smoked, looking slightly less middleclass. We’re all middleclass now; we all aren’t. “I”ve got my love to keep me warm,” sings the radio. We’ve got Calor gas, which works quite well if the cat is anything to go by. Examining my reflection in the mirror behind the counter I decide that I look neither as old nor as unhealthy as I feel. What am I up to here ? Granted, my life fell apart earlier this year: but now I’ve been offered at least the appearance of stability. Why am I risking it like this ? Jazz & crockery, piano & cutlery. Old-fashioned sounds for a book I’ll never write.