Gin Palace

Wire letter sample (1)

Their chatter relaxes me. It is inconsequential, a kind of background noise that they use to interact with their clients. It’s all ready for you, she says, nice and cosy. Pop off you clothes and hop on the bed. I brace myself as she presses down the cloth strip onto the warm wax, ready to rip. How was Dublin? I ask, remembering that last time I was there she and her colleague were anticipating their Christmas Away-Weekend. We take it after Christmas, she’d said, when it’s not so busy. Dublin? It was fab, she says. Underarm as well? That’s it. Did you go on the amphibian craft? I ask. No, she says, there wasn’t time in the end. We went on a bus thing instead. How about restaurants? I ask. Any good ones? To be honest, she says, it was more of a liquid weekend. I don’t drink much usually but we found this gin palace. A hundred and fifty different kinds of gin. With different garnishes. It was fab, she says. I don’t drink much usually but with gin I’m fine. No ill effects whatsoever in the morning. There, that’s you done. Take your time. Open the door when you’re ready.

Something white is bouncing about on the beach. The breeze catches it, lifting it up and then dropping it. A white puffed-up thing. It twirls about then comes to rest. I move closer, straining my eyes in the morning dark. Its an inflated plastic bag. I think of American Beauty and the young boy filming the dance of a cellophane bag. Concentrate on the detail. Pay attention.

It’s end of term. Crowds of students like shoals of fishes at 4.00 am in the morning slowly moving down Penglais Hill. A boy lies down in the road. There is a frisson of tension. A taxi cab drives down the hill slowing its speed. The boy bounds up. A girl voice drawls, Craig, the g extended like a sigh. On the prom a large boy is smoking by the railings. I kick the bar and turn, walking towards him. He looks at me, and as I draw near he says, Sorry, I was talking to someone else. That’s alright I say, smiling. There was no one else there.

The path through the Quad is littered with branches. Crows are building their nests. We can hear the scrape of seagulls’ feet on our roof. You have to be careful, he says at breakfast, they can be vicious around their young.

The radio peppers my day with delights. A programme about Anne Sexton, mostly filled with her two daughters’ anger. We called her Joyce, one of her poems ran, so we could call her Joy. As parents we start out with so much expectation of happiness. They will change our lives, we think. How can they? I dreamt of a baby last night. It was right up close to my face and petulant. Then a short story this morning. I only caught the beginning. A lollipop lady knitting baby clothes for other peoples’ babies. The night before I dreamt that she told me that she didn’t want me to contact her anymore. The shock of it. The grief of it. Then I was in a room. It was white. All the furniture was covered in dust sheets. More radio. A snippet of Henning Mankell’s memoir. I felt relaxed, he wrote, as I always do when nobody knows where I am or who I am. Later on DIS Gloria Steinem talked of her mother. Like many women I’m living the unlived life of my mother, she’d written years before. At 81 she has much grace. And a quietude.

We were six at church. A new person. A red-haired young man. He scuffled past me to the back pew. The old man with the fluffed-up hair came to talk to me. I asked about his accent. I couldn’t work out whether it was Yorkshire or Lancashire, I say. He pulls a face. Yorkshire, he says, North Riding. I see it now. I hear it now. Cosy. Always. Though I don’t say that. He tells me he used to be a gardener for a large stately home nearby. I worked till I was 75, he says, until they sold it. It’s luxury flats now. I ask if he has a lovely garden. No, he smiles, I live in a flat. At the end of the service, a palm cross in my hand, I stride off down the apse. I hear my name being called. It is the old man. Gosh, you walk fast, he says, catching his breath. I had to take two for every one of yours. He walks with me out of the church. There must’ve been a wedding, he says, looking at the confetti that has blown against the edges of the turf. Their not meant to use confetti. It’s nice though, I say. He continues chattering. He is deaf. Usually I hear the bells, he is saying. Then he tells me that the man who usually sits next to him in church is in New Zealand. He’s been all over the world, he says. He seems to know everyone’s name. Have a nice Easter, he says, turning left towards home his hand raised in goodbye. I am touched to be so singled out. I always am.

Paul Daniels died. A part of my childhood. I found him a little excruciating as a child, never having been comfortable with what my mother would’ve called a ‘show-off’. It was later, much later, when Louis Theroux did his programme about him that I felt a warmth, a sympathy, a compassion for him. There was a sadness behind the showman that was both intriguing and pathetic. Rest in peace.

She was standing on the rocks. A young black woman in leggings and a tight vest. She was curving, stretching, holding yoga poses, her body strong and lithe. She laughed as she wobbled, then re-gaining her balance her face became serious, staring, concentrating. We walked on a little more and I saw the photographer crouched amongst the rocks, camera lens pointed at her. I knew him.

He, her husband, called them ‘as dangerous as Lucifer matches’. Letters. Her letters. Charlotte Bronte’s letters. Many were burnt.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.