At boarding school the Spanish master used to call me Medium Bell. My elder sister having gone before and my younger soon to follow. My eldest sister put chewing gum on his chair. I think he was quite sanguine about it though my parents had to foot the dry cleaning bill. She just wanted to come home. That’s all. She couldn’t stomach it. Not at all. Not at all.
I didn’t know whether they’d go for the fact that I’m a medium as well, said the head of Ceredigion toilets. She is a major character in a new BBC Two Wales documentary. Coastal lives. There is an Elvis impersonator and a couple who keep snakes. It’s all about proper cleaning, she tells me. We’ve won top loo over the years and platinum, and Aberaeron who’ve got gold keep saying how comes you got platinum? It’s all about proper cleaning, I say. It isn’t enough to just swish a mop around, she says. You’ve got to do the skirting boards too.
Fifteen minutes. Fame. Fifteen minutes of fame. Do you know who he is? she asks. Oh, I say. Yes, I heard about it. He was on telly yesterday, she said. I saw his picture on the front of the paper today. A gentle young man. Small, slim and white-faced. There is no bandage. The tear is still bloodied. They cluck around him. Poor love. Poor lamb. An innocent. The man on the radio keeps asking him if he did anything to warrant it. Not at all. Wrong place, wrong time. He was wearing a poncho. The perpetrator. There must’ve been blood. Will you press charges? I ask. Of course, he says, I ‘ave to don’ I?
There’s Farter, he says, stopping the car to let a man with a grey-moustache wearing a brown anorak cross at the junction between Thespian Street and Terrace Road. Farter? I ask. Yeh, Non the Pon said he is notorious for farting in the Nat Lib. They all call him Farter. He can’t help himself apparently.
Early November brings a birthday and an anniversary. How old is Peter Noon? he asks. I know, I say, exactly the same as you. That’s right, he says. That’s right. And the anniversary? Eighteen years married. And in between five years divorced. Not really, he says. No, I say, it wasn’t. In my head we never divorced, he said. No, I said.
We watched the fireworks from the window. The sky was smoky white. I remember the sparklers spitting sparks onto my gloves. That miasma of burnt wool. I loved Sparklers, white-hot and fizzing. Parkin, he asks, what’s Parkin?
Mrs Eglin was our baby sitter. A local. A true Lancastrian. As a girl she worked in the textile mill. Once we visited her in her home. She had a Chihuahua and a canary in a cage. On Sunday nights she would sing along to Songs of Praise. If we were good she’d take out her teeth and show us her gums. Up the apple and pears, she’d say. She reminded me of Nanny Clarke. Long gone now, long gone.
I don’t like rain, said Iris. It poured. Now the sky is a Titian-blue. Nothing lasts, good or bad. The clouds scud. Faster now. Shall we walk this afternoon? Have a blow? Yeh, then tucked-up tidy. Mmm, sounds nice.
Two cups of coffee and we talked of the Brontes. They used the name of Bell, I said. Really, he said. Yes, Acton Bell, Currer Bell, I said. I couldn’t remember the name Emily took. Was it Ellis? Charlotte saw them all buried. Such sadness. Such passion. I hope we can go. Yes, though I mustn’t force it.
How is the man? The dying man. I miss you, she wrote. Yes, I miss you too. Let it be. Don’t fight it. Let it be. Don’t rage. Don’t fight. Let be. Let be.