A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



Sat, 12 Jul 2014 12:43:13


Marmalade. That's my name. Because of the colour I think. Bright orange. With just the occasional yellowy fleck. That's what he tells them. Me. The women. Him and Karem, but she doesn’t count. Well, I don't count her.

He doesn't bother me. He lets me come and go as I please. The flap and the garden, make this tiny, tiny flat liveable. He feeds me regularly. Well he does when - let's not dwell on that eh? He's over that now I think.

I try to be in when he is. Actually, I try to make an entrance just after he gets back from work. He seems to like that. It reassures him. And it reminds him to feed me. And that routine comforts him. It's the only time he talks to me. In a silly baby voice. He undoes my packet. The little silver pouches I like. I rub up against his leg. He puts a ready meal in the microwave. He watches me eat mine while his meal dings. Sometimes he eats it out of the plastic. Some of them smell so foul when he pierces the film, they make me gag on my chicken in gravy. Sometimes he east them standing up by the sink. I can't tell what he's thinking. But I know he's not happy when he does this. Sometime he will tip it out on a tray. Put on cutlery and a tea towel as a napkin, maybe a beer even. It means he has the energy to do the washing up and that's a good sign - or maybe it means that Karem is coming in the next day. She does the washing up for him. We keep our distance.

I know you're not supposed to say this, but Karem smells strange. No, no, pay attention, I didn't say she stank. Really, I'm the farthest thing you can imagined from a bigot. And I can eat a dead bird after a couple of days and keep it down. This isn't any kind of affectation of civilisation or nicety. We simply don't work like that. Really, from what I've seen, I'm fairly sure you wouldn't understand. You can bare manage with each other. I mean. For the love of God, look how he struggled, struggles. Still struggles.

Where was I? Yes, Karem smells. Not of BO. Not of Cumin. Not of fish sauce (he smells of that sometimes, Jeez Louise!). Not of Garlic. Not that she has any love of animals. I swear. She smells of dark, unremitting despair. And still that's not the reason I don't like her - she doesn't like me. Matter of fact. She hissed at me first. And also her singing disturbs me.

She truly takes Nietzsche's advice on this one and sings as if no one's listening. And almost no humans are when she's here on a Thursday morning. You'd have to go two flights on the fire escape two doors along to find old Mr Beakin (asleep probably) everybody else is at work, work, work. Proper madam though isn't she, letting herself in with a key, making herself a big pot of his good coffee. Making me think for a second it's one of his quiet Saturday mornings when it isn't. Helping herself to a half inch of his brandy. Washing up scrupulously to make sure she's undetected. And then it begins while she does the dusting. Always low and full. Somehow sounding as if it comes with its own accompaniment. Keening and ululating, even through the Hoovering. I hate the sound of the Hoover but it's a relief when Karem is singing, because it makes it just about makes the sadness possible to bear.

She's not mine. He's mine. And one's enough for any of us, trust me. But when she's singing like that I can't help thinking - What happened Karem? Did it happen far away a long time ago? Or is it happening now, here in London? Is it still happening. This big, big sadness, that makes you smell so strange.

Well, we'd had a good run that summer, I think you could safely say that. He had women back to the flat. Sometimes two different ones in the same week! And he was out some nights mid-week. Since I've known him this is pretty much unheard of. And the whiskey, wanking and weeping sessions until three in the morning? They seemed to be in abeyance. And thank fuck for that. Talk about not knowing where to put myself? Oh right? I'll just be going out then. And yes, he was still drinking, but there was a different look on his face. A different tilt to his gait. And he didn't ring her. Not once.

Then one weekend, we had a proper social whirl. He had this skinny thing home Friday night. Who only drank Evian and didn't eat meat, and didn't really seem to want cheese bread or vegetables either. But still, seemed to want to stay the night and did. And then Saturday. It seemed very hasty and un-planned, as far as I could gather, one thing leading to another after a supposedly casual coffee. Here she was in the kitchen, this not skinny thing. Who declared she'd eat anything, and did. Especially all the chocolate and red wine he could give her and some tins of Fois Gras at the back of his cupboard. On Tuc biscuits. Voracious. And so she stayed the night.

And then Sunday we had a barbecue. Neighbours and people from work. An actual, flaming barbecue. With sausages, buns and burgers and relish and Quorn burgers (I rubbed my arse against them when no-one was looking and tried to look innocent when I got shooed off the counter).

And everybody got pissed, but in a good way (except Mr Beakin, but even then he just passed out on the sofa). And red-wine-chocolates-and-fois-gras lady stayed the night again, though after having a go, they cheerfully admitted they were both too drunk to renew relations. But everybody had fun. And the place was a mess.

And I did wonder what might happen. Seeing as he's up and out at 6:30 every work day. And keeping the place tidy. Well it's always been a thing since we've been here. And if the place isn't tidy, well, it's a bad sign and even though things are going so well, we might be in for a night of Famous Grouse, Country and Western and DesperateMilfs.com. But he must have rung, or maybe even texted. Because around 10, when I was thinking about going out, the key turned in the lock and it was Karem.

But changed. I tried not to understand. We know too much you see. It's part of the deal, part of how and why it happens. And I'd known all along where this was heading. She didn't make herself a coffee. She poured herself, a huge, undeniably, noticeable brandy. Looking out of the French windows into the garden. It had rained overnight and everything was as they'd left it. Charcoal ashes were sludge. Beer cans. Soggy beer cartons. A bowl of coleslaw filled with rain. Then she hitched her skirts and when out into the garden and tidied. Hoiking bin bags out through the door until the garden was pristine again, if a bit flattened. And then she shut the doors to the garden. And methodically cleaned the whole of the flat - starting with the kitchen. Just like she always did on a Thursday. But I don't think I imagined it. This time. More thoroughly. More definitely. And she didn't sing. Not a single sound. She stayed silent, which made the Hoovering unbearable. I had to go outside.

And she never came again. I didn't hear him saying to anybody why. Although I think I'd smelled it. No I never saw her again. And a few weeks later a very young Polish girl turned up. She spent the first twenty minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the telly and from then on did all her cleaning with a music station on so loud she could hear it every room while she cleaned. Matter of fact, it was so loud, even Mr Beakin complained.