Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Janice Pearce

In Flight

A haiku before breakfast – keep alert, no slacking; keep the mind active; imagination dies – this had been her adolescent mantra (how long ago), use it or lose it; keep positive.
Cloud cover was low and dense and a bitter wind scythed across the leaden sea. The strand was empty; she leaned into the wind and tried to make progress. Things could be worse. I could have retired here with everything past and the sea still grey and the day still heavy. So what’s to look forward to? I play a mean clarinet; know the principles behind particle acceleration and can compose a decent sonnet. What does that make me? Fucking unemployable that’s what. Calm, calm.
Between paint-peeled wrought iron curlicues, she doubled up on the bench and opposed the sea with a frown. Keep hopeful; mindful.
The wind snatched most of his words but she heard ‘coffee to warm’ and saw encouragement in an outstretched arm inviting without the pressure of contact. Why not? The steamy warmth, low murmur of voices, gentle clatter and rush of released steam provided great comfort after the wind. He looked familiar, local she guessed, but couldn’t place him. Difficult to age – under forty, well-kempt and wearing some sort of uniform under his overcoat. He brought two cups of coffee to the table very carefully.
“Thank you. What a wind.”
“Too cold to be sitting out.”
The voice was strangely monotonal and the eyes slightly unfocussed but the kindly intent was evident. He asked if she lived nearby.
“Yes.”
“I live here too. Peter.” He held out his hand. She took it, and as she said ‘Jo’, he went on “I’m a pilot.”
“Sorry,” they both said and she laughed and he frowned until it was clear she was laughing at the brief confusion, not him.
“That’s amazing.” But it was odd too. Intuition warned against further questions, and then the syncopated strains of Benny Goodman made her sit up.
“I like the music here too. Do you play?”
“Yes, the clarinet, since I was a child.”
“Do you play every day?”
There was something so intimate about the question that Jo felt she would be giving much away, but she answered nevertheless. “Yes, every day.”
He nodded. “I must get back to work. Will you come?”
“To the airport?”
“It’s just a short walk.”
Trust in his goodwill overcame the strangeness and she followed him out of the café. Conversation was impossible, and walking a struggle. He gently pulled her arm through his making it clear by the slowness of the action that this was a practical measure and nothing more. She thought he said ‘Nearly there’ but knew they were a long way from any airport. He stopped and indicated the entrance to the lower station of the funicular railway; he was inviting her to precede him in. Out of the wind again, he smiled at an elderly man limping out of the office who looked warily at Jo.
“ ’Ad your break, Peter? No punters today yet.”
“This is Jo. I can take over now Eddie. I’ll just take my coat off.” As he turned to go into the office, Jo noticed for the first time a long scar running just above the hairline from his temple to behind his ear. Eddie was watching her:
“ ‘E’s a good one; the best. Some call ‘im an ‘ero.”
Peter had given her time to turn and leave but she was still there when he returned.
“Shall we take the plane up? I’ll show you the engine room.”
“Yes”, she said, “let’s fly.”

 

Lifted

Ever, after many years of marriage, suddenly and inadvertently signed yourself by your maiden name?
No, you probably haven’t; probably kept your maiden name, or at least held onto it when it mattered. Well, it’s as though you’ve remembered an old secret, and I felt like that today in the lift – or elevator as I’ve failed to call it for the past twenty years.
I remembered another lift back in London and my mother’s aversion to them. She wasn’t daft, and regularly took the lift to her lab on the 15th floor, but she avoided them when she could. She found them unnatural – people thrust close together, inactive and moving. She preferred the shared, thoughtful, effort of the stairs where you might meet others climbing or descending.
It was a cold, wet, December day shortly before Christmas when she led me along Queen Victoria Street towards Skinners Lane. I was to sit the Graduate Record Examinations for which I was perilously unprepared, as I was then for so much else.
I knew I was brilliant in some respects and whatever I could not or chose not to shine in, I dismissed. My scorn for my worthy and often intelligent contemporaries knew no bounds. I took no pains with anything of practical use; certainly not with the business of negotiating the streets of the City I had lived in for 21 years.
It held no interest for me and the organisational skills and sacrifices of my mother avoided the need to address such failings. Yet I wasn’t really sure of the value of what came so easily to me and I felt the lack of a cause. I had drive, but I was uncertain of direction: so I watched television.
It had been a difficult term. I had been trying to decide if sex was important, discovered that this was not a question to which I could apply a detached analysis, and got hurt.
Cambridge was well-equipped with counsellors, but they didn’t have the way with words or the depth of understanding my mother did. She lifted me out of my depression and carried me through to the vacation. I decided the Ivy League beckoned; no one who was anyone studied Eng. Lit. in England only. It was all so late.
I left myself a day to prepare for the GRE, and of course it became the vital key to my Future. My anxiety and self-recrimination found their usual outlet – I blamed my mother. My lack of preparation for this and for all else was due to her inadequacies. I saw the hurt I caused and I relied on her strength and love to overcome it and carry on lifting me.
We approached a bright modern office block through the chill, dripping lanes of an earlier time. I hadn’t even been able to get to the exam on my own. She would have left me at the door but I made her come in. The immaculately dressed receptionist called ‘second floor’ and directed us to the lift. I saw my mother hesitate. She wanted to take the stairs; it would remind me of the need to work to rise, that it takes effort to get to places worth reaching. She followed me into the lift.
My mother came with me to New York, organised the practicalities, saw me settled. I have succeeded with an ease that I sometimes find embarrassing – publications, prizes, my work on standard syllabuses; I have been the subject of numerous doctoral theses. My mother has been back many times, often when I needed lifting.

 

Revenge

After a long, hot day at the office, laden with a chic leather backpack; plastic-covered dry-cleaning in one hand and a gym-bag in the other, Poppy strode down the narrow passage towards home.
A tall man, of mixed race appearance (as she later described him) pushed past her. It occurred to her that people usually ran, if at all, in the opposite direction, towards the station. He stopped at the end of the passage, looked quickly up and down the road and then turned back to her and said “Give us yer bag love.” It was a chilling conflation of endearment and threat.
Poppy turned to run back and straight into an accomplice blocking the passage who pushed her to the ground. She was unclear as to the precise order of events that followed, images became kaleidoscopic; she knew that she screamed throughout and never lost contact with the coat hanger.
Her knuckles scraped against one rough brick wall and her shoes were dislodged against the other. She did not try to protect her backpack but while one man pinned her arms and the other tried to tug it from her back it was just not possible to release it. As the scuffle became more desperate she took a blow to the face and as she jerked her head round she saw another pair of legs nearby.
She screamed louder, was winded by a foot in the midriff and saw the legs move closer, stop, and then slowly back away towards the sunlit end of the passage where she glimpsed a woman writing. The men shouted at each other and she gasped as one produced a Stanley knife.
Her cheek forced against the ground by a knee on her neck and shoulder, they sawed through the straps of the backpack ripping through her jacket in the process. Then it was over. They ran off with the bag, straps trailing. Stunned, shocked, breathing heavily but still crying out, Poppy pulled herself up and sat against the wall. A woman hurried to help, retrieved her shoes and supported her back into the July sunshine.
“I got the registration, I’ll call the police. Do you want an ambulance?”
Poppy shook her head. She felt sick and battered; she just wanted to get home.
Two young men stood by – she recognised the third pair of legs.
“I thought it was just mates having a laugh. You know, just mucking around,” said the head that was attached.
“Yeah,” said the other, who didn’t meet her eye; had he done so he would have been startled to see a deep contempt that overcame shock and pain.
The police took statements, took Poppy home and, after a call a week later to confirm that the car was stolen and had been involved in similar incidents and to chastise her for choosing that route home, she heard nothing further.
The days were getting shorter and it was late when Bruce left the pub. He had tended to avoid the passage after dark, being well aware of the danger: ‘Hell, what am I, a girl?’ he thought, taking the short-cut. He was almost at the end when he was grabbed from behind and something sharp at his neck pierced the skin.
“You move, I’ll slip – right through the jugular.”
When he was found, hands bound by his own tie and ankles by his belt, Bruce still had his wallet, but absolutely nothing else.
“I’ll call the police.”
“No! It was just . . . just mates having a laugh. You know, just mucking around.”

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