The Awful Truth of How Sweet Life Can Be
Helen and Chris are married
and they live in a terraced house
on the seafront, though their view,
being South-facing, is not of the sea
but of the detached Edwardian
house over the fence. Every Friday night
they spend at the Wild Rose,
a ‘charming independent with a cool
interior and reconditioned furniture’,
overlarge cocktail glasses
and album covers on the walls.
Friday is live music night, and Helen
and Chris get there early to be sure
to have a table, where they will sit
until closing time, Chris drinking two pints
to Helen’s every double gin and tonic.
They watch the act, typically a two-piece
of local youngsters belting classics,
raptly and clap after every song.
Few words will pass between them
except to praise the band.
They also watch other people;
old sods, cheeky mums, lads bawling;
Helen will smile at the sight of a girl
being spun and picked up so high
her knickers show, Chris will shake
a rueful grin as a long-haired lifetime
scally stumbles on his way to the bar.
They watch it all attentively and seem
grateful to be there, to contribute
in their own small way to the fun.
When the big lights come on they nod
and smile to the regulars they nod and smile
to weekly, and thank the bar staff,
and on a lucky night the band outside smoking,
and walk the ten minutes home. Does Chris
put his jacket over Helen’s shoulders
and tell her she’s his world? Does Helen
grab her husband suddenly and wrap
her hands over his bald head and kiss him
under streetlight? Do they say anything at all?
Maybe these things, or maybe others;
for there is so much we cannot know
about Helen and Chris.
Miss Chislehurst, as she had been
when she taught at Caldy Primary,
has spent her whole life in this parish.
‘Why would you ever leave’ she asks
as she waters her kaleidoscope
of potted plants on the kerbside.
She became Mrs Westerfield in the sixties
but was soon recast as Ms; ‘a philanderer,
Les’ notes Charlie, long-time president
of the Neighbourhood Resident Association,
as he sweeps gravel around on tarmac.
At fifty she came into her next name,
Mrs Barrington, though she is long-separated
from the man who gave it to her; ‘an alcoholic’
she comments as if upon the weather,
‘as so many men are at that age.’
He died in sheltered accommodation.
‘Perhaps the selection process wasn’t quite
what it could have been’ grins Charlie
with a glance at Number 20. ‘Oh, don’t worry
about Charlie,’ she smiles, ‘I keep him in check.’
She spends a summer day sitting amongst
her flowers and talking to whoever passes by,
some of whom still know her as Miss Chislehurst,
their first teacher. ‘All the boys turned
out alright’ she proudly claims, and offers
gin and tonic, and introduces herself
as who she started as in 1936; Marjorie.
Guy Elston is currently studying a History MA at the University of Amsterdam. In 2019 his poetry has been included in Sarasvati, Burning House Press and Writer's Block Magazine.