COCK-EYED ~ Melissa Mann

September 19, 2007

Annie leans forward on her stick, watching the tiny tumbleweeds of afro hair cart-wheel past the bus stop from OJ’s, the barbers on Wandsworth Road.  She pushes the thick bifocals up her nose with the bunched fist of her hand then leans in closer, eyes squinting. 

“Well I never did,” she says, looking round for someone to tell in the empty bus shelter.  “Like seeing someone’s life passing before your eyes.”  She prods the hair balls with the rubber bung end of her stick.  “Not that I can trust my eyes as far as I can throw ‘em these days,” she says, taking off her specs.  “Nothing wrong with my ears though.  Got ears inside my eyes.”  She breathes a frozen pond on each lens.  “I hear things I’d rather not, private things, like the fella next door with his lady friends.”

She rests her head back against the route map.  “Lovely fella, black.   Not married of course; don’t seem to go in for it much these days.”  She looks up at the speechless grey sky pressing down on the parade of shops opposite.  “Fifty-two years me and Jack were married.  He said to me once, ‘Annie,’ he said, ‘we’ve been happily married haven’t we.’  I answered him of course, squeezed his hand and fed him the rest of his porridge.”

A 77 pulls up at the stop, engine grumbling.  She smiles at the driver and waves him on with her stick, her thin red mouth like jam bleeding out of a cheap Victoria sponge.

“Fifty-two years…,” she says, looking at the watch lashed to her wrist.  For the past four years it has forgotten what comes after three o’clock.  It was Jack’s watch before they archived him in Lambeth cemetery. 

“Yes, ears inside my eyes I’ve got.  He’s at it for hours sometimes, black fella with his lady friends,” she says, gripping her stick.  “Quite acceptable these days of course, putting yourself about a bit.  I wouldn’t’ve minded a change from Jack, I’ll be honest with you.  Wouldn’t’ve minded a black man come to that… you know, just to see.  Just to see how I’d get on…”

She plucks the hair stuck to the end of her stick.  “So dark and wiry,” she says, rubbing it between her fingers.  “Not like mine.  Mine’s all thin and fly-away now.  Used to have a good head of hair once.  Yes, a real looker I was; turned many a young man’s head in my day.”  She fluffs a cloud of pale hair.  “Face like a fairy-tale ending, Jack used to say.”  She presses a hand to her cheek.  “Not now though, not after the stroke.  Face is like someone’s pulled a tablecloth out from under it.”

“Yer say som’ink?”

Annie jumps, turning to see a girl sitting next to her.  The girl pulls out her earphones.  “Can’t ‘ear a fuckin’ thing wi’ these in, yeah.”  She pops a full stop with her gum.  “What yer say?”

“Oh, don’t mind me lovey,” says Annie, taking in the girl’s bare thighs and tight t-shirt.  “I was miles away, talking to myself.  You wanting the 77 cos it’s just gone, and the 87.”

“Shit!” says the girl in a voice burned black at the edges.  She looks down Wandsworth Road.  “Fuck!”

The girl pulls out her mobile phone and starts barking into it.  ‘How confident she is,’ thinks Annie, fiddling with the hem of her cardigan.  She looks at the swallow tattooed on the girl’s mid-riff and feels suddenly nostalgic, nostalgic for the girl she never was.  ‘Lovely to be able to grow up in your own skin like that, not caring who’s looking, who’s listening, what they might think of you.’ 

“Boyfriend’s gunna come pick me up, yeah,” says the girl, snapping her phone shut.  “Poxy buses, innit.  Never one when you need one.”

“Yes, bit like policemen,” says Annie, nodding her head at the road opposite.  “Though I did see a pair of ‘em over there by the Tennessee Fried Chicken place when I was sat here yesterday.  Looked like they were holding hands.  Yes, you see all sorts sat here…  Pretty,” she says, pointing her stick at the girl’s tattoo.  A hair ball drops off her stick and floats away.  “Did it hurt?”

“Bit,” says the girl, turning to look across the road again.  “Two coppers?  Holding hands, yeah? Fuckin’ weird is that!”

“Oh don’t mind me lovey.  Mind forgets what it thinks sometimes,” says Annie, taking off her specs and rubbing her eye with her fist.  “I envy you, you know. I do.  I envy you young girls today.  It’s like… it’s like your living my share of a freedom I wasn’t allowed.” 

A blue Golf with a suck-me spoiler pulls up at the bus shelter.  The girl climbs in the front seat, takes hold of the man’s face and kisses him violently.  “That’s it, you live your life lovey,” Annie shouts over the sound of the engine revving.  “No-one ever died of being young!”  The car speeds away towards Vauxhall, baseline pulsing out the back window like an ECG.

Annie swallows, feeling words catch in her throat, whole sentences of them buttoned up to her neck.  A gust of wind rattles the shelter.  She cocks her head – footsteps, heavy boots loping along the pavement.  Annie leans forward and looks up the road towards the Beaufoy Bar.  A man is walking towards the bus stop, a black man, skin shiny as patent leather, a woollen hat, red, gold and green nodding to the beat of his steps.  Annie struggles to her feet, squinting right at him.  Her stomach has turned to sand and is falling towards her ankles like an egg-timer.  Eventually a grin like an open wound appears in the powdered folds of her face.

“Well I never did,” she says wiping her mouth.  He is standing in front of her now, smiling down at her from his six feet of tall; smiling down at the frail old lady who is laughing so much she has to sit down. 

“Oh lovey, I nearly fell out my pants!” she says, hand pressed to her chest.  “Thought all my Christmases and birthdays had come at once.” She points at his dreadlocks, which are so long you can see them hanging between his legs.  “I thought it was your cock!”

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2 Responses to “COCK-EYED ~ Melissa Mann”

  1. Hi M, I loved this story, and thought this line was great:

    She looks up at the speechless grey sky pressing down on the parade of shops opposite

  2. Suzie Sue said

    Darling, this is great! I am using my time in the office wisely as you can see. Is it true? Did you see the old lady in person?

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