The Carlton

Hope and Glory sign

I’d never been in there before, though I’d often walked past and wondered what it was like. It’ll be full of old ladies, he’d said, laughing at my suggestion. It doesn’t matter, I’d said, I like old ladies. It was on the first floor, its row of windows looking down on the street. I always feel a little nervous walking into an establishment with which I am unfamiliar. Do I order here? I asked the girl at the counter. No, just take a seat and I’ll come to your table. Only about half the tables were taken and there were several free banquettes. I took the one in the corner. The seat was soft and cushioned. Three men were seated across from me partly obscured from view by a heavily decorated Christmas tree. They were speaking Welsh. The man who was facing me had cow-eyes, with dark heavy rings. His hair was snow-white. In the far corner a couple were eating gammon, chips and peas. She talked as she ate. He chewed and swallowed it down with tea. I took my book and glasses out of my bag and stared out of the window. What can I get you? the waitress asked, pen poised. An Earl Grey tea, please. A sensation of pure bliss over took me. It was a quiet feeling. I wanted nothing else but to sit there watching the afternoon sink into night. Replete with life.

What was the bliss about? I’m not sure. I’d stepped out of my usual routine. I’d done something different. Stood still. Given in. It wasn’t our usual kind of place and there was something rather restful about that. No one knew me. I could just stare, or read, whatever I liked. There was peace in that. And the waiting. A good kind of waiting, with no expectations other than time passing.

 

I never see him outside. Does he go out? His skin is pale pink. No sunlight. You wouldn’t get me down the Prom in this weather, he told him the other day, not like your lady wife. He was at his window smoking when I passed by. Have you been away? I asked. Yes, he said, Berlin. So he does go out. Though I’ve never seen him.

A tall student walking up Penglais hill with a girl wearing a woman’s negligee, his arms and legs bare. The rain was heavy, the wind strong.

No umbrella again this morning. There was no point. Drenched. Rain-soaked face. Cleansed.