Image © Copyright Amy Charles Media 2014

9 Jul 2014

Flat 15C - A Life on Auction

John joins the ladies in the blue rinse brigade;
the chuntering chorus of Rive Gauche girls.
Quilted coats and clouds of magnolia,
deceptively sweet for the devilish tongues
when the tram arrives two minutes late.

It's a funny old ride nowadays,
considering everything that's happened.
Everything that's changed as his life passed by,
and how it all looks destitute and foreign.

As the tram takes John from Malin Bridge
down Holme Lane to Hillsborough Corner,
and down Langsett Road to Shalesmoor
where he worked for most of his life,
the buildings baffle him one by one;
as if he's travelling through Stockport or Stuttgart or Sydney.

And as so often on the journey
that saw various degrees
of wrinkles in his grimace,
all beneath an unflinching hairstyle,
John exits the tram at Shalesmoor
and shuffles across the roundabout

There's a big tall shiny bastard of a building
right there on the corner;
driven like a stake through the heart of the cobbles,
with its glass exterior, its laminate flooring;
its jaunty angles and its "young professionals".
The same bunch of saps in the suits that surround him,
dodging swarms of students by the inch;
eyes locked insatiably on intergalactic gadgets;
limbs all on autopilot, minds in a trance:
he'd clip 'em 'round the bloody ear if they gave him half a chance.
It makes him feel sick.
We're meant to be in Sheffield, for crying out loud!

The crowd parts,
and the traffic stops,
and he's stood on the corner of Doncaster Road.

There it is:
next to the second hand car garage.
The beacon of his former being.

John finds his brain tingling in places he'd long since forgotten.
His weary, exhausted and cobwebbed exterior,
reflected with serenity
by the old Ship Inn.
His beloved "Dram Shop".
The haunted tavern of Kelham Island,
and the principal owner of his deep rooted nostalgia;
still knotting his stomach as though the decades had been days.

It was inside the walls of this tavern, in 1957,
shortly after MacMillan told Bedford, "we've never had it so good",
that his spectacled gaze caught sight of Edith,
and he danced for the very first time.
She, finding her second love;
and John, his one and only.

He has to steady himself as he scans the chalkboard;
a glimpse of The Ship Inn, 2014.
It paints a pitiful portrait of the house he used to know:
free WiFi, jacket potatoes,
ales from as far afield as Saltaire, Huddersfield, Ossett.
West Yorkshire?!

He passes the Nichols Building where his cousin Roy once worked.
Turns up Shepherd Street:
luminous condoms scatter the pavement.
Graffiti, empty warehouses.
Turns left onto Scotland Street:
a Chinese supermarket, a paintball emporium.
His head starts spinning and he goes to sit down but he can't seem to move for broken glass.

The sooner he gets this over with the better:
this is what he's dreaded since the day he's been alone.

Beyond the events of this morning's auction,
he sees no reasonable remaining existence.

John rests against the doorframe
of A.E. Dowse & Sons,
as if he's back at the crematorium
for Edith's last farewell.

The room seems much busier than it ought to be on a sunny Saturday morning.
Or at least, busier than expected; busier than he'd hoped,
which to be perfectly honest, meant anybody being there at all.

Every person that enters the room now poses a potent threat.
He's offered a seat, but decides to decline and pace around on tenterhooks.
He'd never struck himself as being sentimental,
but now he stands there choking on the simplest of artefacts,
and wrestling with the will to dart outside.

A few lots pass with mild amusement.
Cigarette cards, 45s; stuff anybody 'd sell.
Stuff John wouldn't mind collecting himself if he could bring himself to bother.

They almost serve as fleeting anaesthetic;
providing brief distractions from his thoughts.
But all the while he knows it's his possessions creeping forward,
and he finds himself completely out of sorts.

Because, and John's said this several times,
when all's been said and done, they're not his possessions at all.
He might well own them by law.
Might have every God given right to do whatever the Hell he likes with them.
Christ, most of 'em have been in his living room for forty odd years.
But those ticketed items at the back of the room,
tucked behind a Chesterfield armchair,
those possessions are only Edith's.

The auctioneer calls an unnecessary break,
and John takes a step outside.
The breeze that sweeps down Scotland Street sends a chill right through his bones.
His bottom lip quivers;
he hides this with a scowl.
"Don't be such a silly old fool,"
he snaps, "she's dead.
They're no more use than if I chucked them out to sea."
He senses concerned awkwardness from his audience behind,
and deems the second half more preferable
to sympathetic remarks.

His lot's first lot to bid.
"A selection of vintage furniture and homeware; all been well looked after,
starting with this G-Plan cabinet.
G-Plan cabinet, lot #615, who'd like to start..."

John's fragile chest contracts,
as the sturdy G-Plan cabinet
that Edith's parents donated on their 10th Wedding Anniversary,

is pawned
so candidly
for cash.

The Ercol suite from Midvale Avenue.
The Ferguson radiogram she'd cherished in the '70s.
The wedding dress she'd snoozed in, every single Christmas,
and her father's set of medals from the War.

Edith's existence
in a bundle of banknotes:
sixty years of memories
in twenty measly minutes.

Wheelers and dealers,
hustlers and pimps;
thrusting envelopes with bidding notes
and wedges full of cash,

into a fist
no longer fluent
in the currency
of value.