Monday, 27 April 2009


""What's your name?" he asked, as i took his coat, checked it, and replaced it in his hands with a slip.
"Julia," i replied. "Julia".
"Julia", he repeated, treating each syllable in his tongue like a legend.
"Julia Grace." I don't know why i felt the need to offer a middle name. but i was always vainly fond of the way the two names sounded together. 'Youthful' for Julia. 'Blessing' for Grace.
"Have you worked here long?"
I shook my head. "Just two weeks now," i replied.
He looked me up and down, the way they do. The gaze that takes you in, appraising, a horseman's gaze, checking posture and bone structure and seeing through the counter that kept me hidden, to make an estimate of what lay beneath, what value could be found.
"Quiet little thing aren't you?" he asked. more to himself than to me, i knew that this was a question to which i didn't reply. a tricky one, making me in itself quiet. "But pretty, you know you have a flower of a face."
i smiled coyly, the way Roberta, my friend, the girl who lived in the boarding house with me, had taught me to do. "Smile with your face to the side," she's instructed. "Not bold like, but more like you don't know how to take the compliment." She demonstrated and got me to copy her. I hoped and prayed i copied it right.
Two hours later he came to collect his coat. "Here's my card," he said firmly, qualifying the square in his hand. "I would like it very much if you called me up sometime."
He handed me his card. It was nicely printed, on creamy card that made you want to put it in your mouth and lick the frothy milk from it. His name and details were printed in a swirling italic print that stank of sophistication. "James DeLaney".
"Is this your name?" i asked, feeling suddenly foolish.
"Yes, James DeLaney."
"Julia," i replied, with an odd sense of wanting him to remember my name. "Julia Grace."
He looked at me curiously. "Is Grace your surname Julia?" he asked. "I had a fancy it was your middle name."
"Oh, yes, well, it is. Taylor is my surname. Julia Grace Taylor."
"James DeLaney."
Under the card he had placed ten pounds.
I walked home from the club at the end of my shift, feeling suddenly exhausted, the ten pounds burning in my pocket book like some kind of strange volcanic rock that i had picked up from the scene. "I could use this to get a taxi," i thought to myself. "I could use this to get a taxi and then i won't have to walk and then i won't feel so tired." But then, the taxi driver would wonder in his mind why i had ten pounds, why a girl alone walking home late at night would have ten pounds, his mind would tick over questions and assumptions and i wouldn't know the answers that he conjured up in his head but i know i would feel ashamed somehow, as though it was my fault i had been given ten pounds, when i hadn't asked for anything, i had never wanted to find ten pounds under the card as he handed it to me, i had never asked to be told i had a face like a flower.
i walked along the Camden road, turning off as i reached the house where i lived, that rose up to me in the dark like a grey gravestone, that made me toss on my pillow asking why the devil had i come to London, it's cold windows like a glare from the school mistress who had scolded me, it's door like a cavernous mouth of the dead body i had seen by the railway line, the shorn grass and privet hedge just a marker of the endless boredom of the streets i walk down on the way home, to this house that could never be a home, a haunted house, drab with the dullness of just being one more house on a row of identical houses, all bored, all mean mouthed and cruel eyed, just one of the row, the rows that continued to stretch and wind past the eye can see.
"I'll buy something nice with the ten pounds," i resolved. "I will go out with Roberta and buy the nicest thing i can find. it'll be elegant and make everything clear to me, and afterwards we will go to the pictures, and i will have this nice thing with me and then the ten pounds won't matter, because it will be transformed into something i own, and i will no longer be able to think about it in any other terms."
As i let myself in the gaping front door, the clock in the hallway struck ten, a bell for each pound.

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