By Stephen Kingsnorth
A lower middle class affair, though I knew nothing else; a serviette bound napkin ring, unrealised it taut. The cloth for granted taken ironed spread of shining white - swept after, brush and crumb pan, Edwardian no doubt. Place mats were blossoms blooming, japonica was mine, botanic chaenomeles - aka unknown to me. The telephone stopped ringing - it was a party line - but woe betide the ringer if interruption came. We sat, started together, no elbows dining top, no speaking while yet chewing, desert was ‘seconds’ termed. The only social media - over-table talk reports, not scripture told by Luther, but commentary, passed day. The menu was quite simple, two courses home-cooked food, a chicken, Christmas special, Sunday, jelly afternoon. No food was ever wasted, the bib was folded, rolled, when everyone had finished, please may I leave the table? Grace had been said before.
The streets are crowded, good intent - but word twist, that screw turn of phrase, leaves gaping potholes in the plan, pavement battle, asphalt uncurbed. I plunge into the kitchen sink - this drama, act two, past the gate, soft hand-soap clears the city dirt, but not the dig hurt, outside grid. My simmer watching boiling pot - mash brewing monologue of thought, bubbles from nowhere streaming out, they escape, but I nurture heat. I know that I can close the scene - resentment shouts me, keep it long, the curtain-down must sometime come, but not while I can smoulder, burn. Will it be flowers or chocolate box - though neither fox will truly bring; his tiptoe tells try working out a strategy, gym somersaults. How far before I should call time - not yet I feel, his first to move. A cup of tea? The usual plot, as though the pot will steel the show. In silence he assumes a mug - a sweeter mood will change the facts. Then dregs remind me future leaves are in my hands; decide; sigh; smile.
Stag, multiplied skull branches bait, sweeping tussocks, grass-trailed plait to magnify his headpiece crown - as if the Green Man come to town - rutt locking horns to take herd, mate. Grouse complaints, exhibition fights, run-bubble calls, flutter jump flights to magnify their sex appeal - as if the feather spin-reveal will turn conjugal rites to rights.
My name is Stephen, with ph
As only lonely child with Dad - he called me Step - when my new step’s boot meant taking strides away from flat, his notes scribed to hostel room, distant-paced, infrequent from the first, marked, not newsy stuff, but greater stages on his path, where he had trod, how and why, lines with rebuke of my poor effigy. Now cross-legged, harmonica in my hand, to new faces, sleepwalk pavement, passers of my hat, I always introduce myself, ‘It’s Stephen with ph’ I say, not diminutive as Steve, asserting I exist. They search their banks - That Strange Man, to recall my given tag, finding the prompt to fire the start ‘It’s Stephen with ph’ they say, and I think, ‘another step’, knowing with another pace, they wane. The Beard, environmental nursery lad waves, digs his mind, sees the beer drowning slugs, taking the usual alkie line, ponders home pot of pointing blades, mother-in-law’s snake acid tongue, questions my unbalanced mind, knowing I grounded, wishing he nutrient tilthy rich, imagines testing my pH. Bifocal Man, the chemist, nods, eyes far-peering past his nose, but, returning to his lab, the Ph phenyl group, with a contrasting aromatic bond, and shining memory, my label rings, Pink Tie, his teacher mate, maybe pauses at phosphor P, a bit fresh, imagines I am glowing in the dark, maybe on a Viking rafted funeral pyre, even under water, still a fire. Along with strings of others, bowed, The Brooch, a musician, scores by hearing p - her softer notes, italicised, besides my tinny organ fare, and with the briefest rhythm rest, remembers me as an incidental note, and wonders, with my moniker, why, and, as I, who I am.