A hundred peacock eyes watched as Brenda
In a fire-red and antique-gold taffeta skirt
Broke cover from the wallflower ranks.
Skipping from the girls’ side of the Palais to the boys’.
We stood, a straggle of Burton’s dummies,
Swaying like laundry on a summer breeze line
In a cloud of testosterone,
Old Spice, Brylcreem, and Mum roll-on.
Camels and Marlboros,
Bought to make us look cool,
Were crushed underfoot or
Docked behind ears for later.
Dappled by the dance hall glitterball,
The spotlight full on her,
Brenda became the sudden object of desire
Of countless obscure gazing eyes.
Shirt buttons strained as chests inflated.
Who would she skip to and offer her hand to jive
To Norrie Paramor and his Orchestra, live?
I was another face in the crowd,
I sent up a silent prayer,
‘Please God, let her pick me’
God was busy elsewhere.
Brenda chose another.
So no change there.
I found a table, smoked a Camel
Relishing the spectacle
Of Brenda’s skirts swirling
As her legs swung wide and high
For her thighs to grip, fleetingly,
Her chosen partner’s hips.
And when Norrie Paramor
Slid into the slow number
That closed the show before
The National Anthem dash for the door
Brenda came straight over
Pressing tight against him –
The same guy as before.
Lost in the romance of the smooch
Brenda closed her eyes as
He winked to his mates,
Who wished their hands, not his,
Were roaming the antique-gold taffeta.
They left, arm in arm,
The fastening pimpling
The back of Brenda’s blouse
Should have been mine to fumble
After we sneaked indoors
And swigged Mum’s gin
Topping the bottle with water
Up to the red ink marker
And crushed together
Hot and breathless
On the cut moquette sofa.
But she took the last bus home with him
And leaned her head on his shoulder.
I watched over summers
Her belly swelling with child
And swelling again.
Winter trudging Poundshop streets
Her buggy buckling under
Carrier bags and kids.
I watched at her at school gates
Her eyes raw from tears or
Blackened from ‘tripping kerbs’,
We never shared a word.
Buying a Valentine’s Day bouquet
A last-ditch desperation effort
To win back a fast-estranging wife,
I spotted Brenda standing
Outside “Smell the Roses”,
Barely a pavement away,
Looking spent… eroded.
‘Bugger the wife.’
I handed Brenda the small bouquet
She took a look, shook her head,
And walked, dejected, away.
The flowers brightened my room instead.
Over time the water greened,
The dying parchment petals
Drooped and fluttered,
Landing on the growing stack
Of legal letters ‘pending’ in the hearth.
The terminal ward has a particular smell,
A blend of Dettol and flowers – hers.
And a délicatesse of urine – mine.
Our grandchildren visit,
I wish they wouldn’t
They finger the stents
In our parchment arms
Make too much noise and brawl.
I don’t recall their names
Except for Tommy or is it Timmy?
They’re all the same to me.
As nurses curtained Brenda’s bed
I waved a final flutter.
Perhaps she fluttered back,
Maybe nodded her head.
A cleaner busied into the ward.
All trace of Brenda was erased.
Her ‘personals’; slippers, grapes,
Dressing gown, Lucozade,
Vase of wallflowers
Were scooped onto a trolley.
And the bed remade.