fifty pairs of peacock eyes watched Brenda
in a fire-red and antique-gold taffeta skirt
break cover from the wallflower ranks,
skipping from the girls’ side of the Palais
to the boys’
dappled by the dance hall glitter-ball,
Brenda became the object of desire
of a hundred obscure gazing eyes
the lads stood in a cloud of testosterone,
Old Spice, Brylcreem and Mum Roll-On
a straggle of Burton’s dummies swaying
like washing on a summer breeze line
Marlboro or Camels smoked to look cool,
were crushed underfoot or
docked behind ears for later
backs straightened, chests inflated
who would she offer her hand to jive
to Norrie Paramor and his Orchestra, live?
‘please God, let her pick me’
God was busy elsewhere.
Brenda chose another –
no change there
I grabbed a table, re-lit my Camel,
sneaking glimpses of Brenda’s knickers
as her skirt swirled
and her legs swung wide and high
before her thighs squeezed
her partner’s hips
and wished those hips were mine
when Norrie slid into the smoocher
Brenda came straight over,
pressed tight against him –
the same guy as before
she shut her eyes as
blissed in a clinch
they cheek-to-cheeked
the jammy bastard in her arms
with ‘right to roam’ the taffeta
winked at envious mates
making the most of it
they left the Palais hand in hand
just before
the National Anthem dash for the door
I followed close behind
that fascinating fastening pimpling
the back of Brenda’s blouse
should have been mine to fumble
after we crept inside her house
and swigged her mum’s gin
topping the bottle with water
to the red ink marker
and crushed together
hot, sticky, panting,
on the living room
cut-moquette sofa.
but they took the last bus together
she leaned her head on his shoulder
I watched over summers
her belly swelling with child
and swelling again
I watched winter after winter
Brenda trudging shuttered-shop streets
her pushchair buckling under carrier bags and kids
I watched at the school gates
her eyes raw from crying or
blacked from ‘falling downstairs’
or ‘tripping over kerbs’
we never shared a word
through the window of “Smell the Roses,”
buying a Valentine’s Day bouquet,
a last-ditch try to save my marriage – do or die
Brenda was just a pavement away
‘bugger the wife.’
I handed Brenda the small bouquet
she shook her head,
and walked, dejected, away
the flowers lit up my room instead
over time the water greened,
the petals turned parchment, drooped
and fluttered onto the growing pile
of invoices ‘pending’ in the hearth
‘Pathway Ward’ has a peculiar odour,
a blend of Dettol and flowers – hers,
and a délicatesse of urine – mine
our families visit,
I wish they wouldn’t
they bring their children,
the brats finger the stents
poking in our parchment skin
make too much noise
with their brawling
I don’t recall their names
except for a Tommy or is it Timmy?
they’re all the same to me
I watched nurses curtain Brenda’s bed
I waved – a final flutter
perhaps she fluttered back,
perhaps she nodded
the screens opened.
a cleaner busied in
Brenda’s personals,
grapes, wallflowers
pink slippers, dressing gown,
unopened Lucozade
were trolleyed away,
and the bed remade.

© coolhermit 2023
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critique and comments welcome.
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A life time in all it’s promise and disappointment. So sad so real so brilliant. Great stuff as ever, Rick.
I don’t comment on all of your works, but I know they are all good.


A fascinating slice of life. Smooth transitions from one stage to the next. As Beckett said “we are born astride a grave” and the balance needed not to tip into it takes much effort and focus.

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