Sophia entered
the late Mr Cutt's room;
she scanned the room
where the old man had died.

She drew the curtains
to let in light, and opened
the window to let in air.

She was cleaning the sink
by the cupboard,
when Benedict came in.

What are you doing here?
He asked.

Cleaning the room,
preparing it
for the next person,
she replied,
why are you here?

I've come to make the bed,
he replied.

She smiled:
for us?

No, for the next man
who comes,
he said.

My father said
I'm not to see you again,
she said, zakazana,
he said in his Polish,
forbidden.

Why?
Benedict asked,
what have I done wrong?

She put down
her cleaning cloth:
you do not go
to Mass each Sunday,
she said.

I can't go each Sunday,
I have to work,
he said.

I know, I told him,
but he said zakazana.

She smiled at him.

But we work together,
he said.

I know, but he is
a cloth-headed man,
she said.

Benedict laid the sheets,
blankets and cover
on the small dressing table.

Will you be long?
He asked.

Depends on you,
she said in her low voice,
how quick you are.

No, I mean
cleaning the room,
he said.

She pouted her lips:
fifteen minutes or so.

I"ll come back,
he said.

No, wait,
she said,
we could here,
if we quiet and quick.

Zakazana,
he said
and left
and closed the door.

She sighed
and carried on
her work as before.
A boy and girl at work in 1969
They lifted Grace
from the bed
to the wheelchair;
her blind eyes
stared into darkness.

One nurse went off,
the other wheeled her
out into the grounds
to get some sun
and fresh air.

Grace held
onto the sides
of the wheelchair;
she sensed the sun
on her face,
voices from afar.

The wheelchair
came to a halt,
and the nurse said:
call if you need
one of us.

The nurse went;
voices talking;
birdsong on her right.

She felt vulnerable;
as if afloat
on a dark sea.

She moved her hand
down to where
her bandaged
leg stumps were.

She felt around
where legs once were.

She thought of Clive
that last time together:
the dance and after
back to her house,
where after a few drinks,
they made love.

Dead Now,
she mused,
killed at Dunkirk,
just before her house
was bombed.

She sensed his lips,
stuck in her brain,
filed in some drawer
in her mind.

Someone laughed;
another sang;
she stared at the sounds,
blind.
A blind, legless woman in hospital in 1940
Nima sat by her bed;
the doctor was talking to her
about her addiction
and the new programme.

She wanted to look out
at the view, not listen
to the quack's chat.

Whatever you say, Doc,
she said, hoping he'd go then,
go see another,
but he looked at her,
looked at her eyes,
trying to engaged
with her deeper.

He spoke of her parents
(friends of his;
fellow doctors),
he spoke of the future,
of her making her way
in the world free
of her addiction.

She wondered
what Benny was doing,
what his plans were
that weekend.

The sky was a bright blue,
the kind of sky
in Monet's art;
traffic passed
on the road
across the way.

She unheard,
not listening
to what the quack
had to say.
A girl in a hospital with drug addiction 1967
Victor never returned;
the War had swallowed him.

Anne hoped; built dreams
for them; pretended he
would return and all
could be mended.

His baby died;
few weeks old
when the house was bombed;
she elsewhere
as her mother minded.

Some nights
when she sang
in the jazz clubs
or other joints,
that song took her back
to that time when he and she
did that last night
before he had
to go back
for the Second Front
(although neither
knew it then).

She often reflects
on her daughter's death,
and her mother's too
when the bomb fell.

Her father said nothing
about that, nor the War,
nor what the ****
they were fighting for;
he worked or drank
or went to the races,
and went to her
for dinner Sundays.

She wondered
how Victor died;
suddenly unknowing;
taken by chance
out of the blue;
on beach or field
or battleground.

She'll never know now.
Just that song
and her singing,
the ghostly sound.
A woman reflects on the War and loss 1946
Milka was in a mood:
her mother had moaned
about the state of her room,
and her laziness,
and talking back.

She was hanging
out washing
when Benny rode up
on his bike.

He walked towards her,
his bike parked
against the fence.

Being helpful?
He said.

She pegged
the washing
with a suppressed anger.

Of course;
don't I always.

He studied her body
as it moved at its task.

Her jeans were skin tight;
her hair brushed
and tied in a ponytail.

Coming out?
He asked.

She pegged the last item
before answering:
if I'm allowed,
if her highness permits,
she said angrily.

He saw fire in her eyes;
her words almost set fire
to dry grass around.

Problem?
He said.

Not with you,
with her,
Milka said,
spitting out the words.

They went into the kitchen
where her mother
was preparing lunch.

Hello, Benny,
she said
in her warm
motherly voice.

He smiled,
and said hello,
and sat at the table
while she made him coffee.

Milka said nothing;
she sat in that silence,
deep and dark.

The radio
was playing music softly;
it oozed into the room.

He watched her mother move
to the music
in a gentle
middle-aged groove.
A girl and her mother and boyfriend 1964
They had dragged
Ada's body
from the Thames;
a policeman came
and informed her employer.

She'd been missing
for a day or so;
the other maids
were shocked
at the news
as it seeped down
to them below stairs.

I told her to be careful
sleeping with Master David,
but would she listen,
Iris said
in the scullery to Doris.

Poor mare,
Doris replied.

He's got one of those
la-di-da girls, now,
Iris added,
washing dishes
which Doris dried.

Nothing was said
above stairs
about the goings on
between Ada
and Master David.

It was briefly mention
about her sad demise
by them over dinner.

Another maid
was employed
to take her place;
some thin girl
from Deptford
with dark hair
and a lazy right eye.

Poor mare,
Doris said;
shame she had to die.
A maid drowns herself after an affair with her employer's son ceased his secret affair with her in 1901
The bath had been prepared:
a few extra kettles
of hot water
had been poured in.

Mary undressed
now she was alone
in the room,
and stepped in
the steel bath.

The water was soapy
and grey and white.

She rubbed with the sponge
and soap the love-bites
Magdalene had given her
the day before;
but they wouldn't budge.

She placed her lips
over them, remembering
the lips of Magdalene there.

They had lain *****
on Mary's bed
while her father was at work
and her mother in Dublin
visiting a sick cousin.

She'd never let one
of stinks at school
do that as much
as they'd no doubt like,
or so they said,
especially Connelly.

She washed her body over;
recalling lips moving there;
hands embracing, touching.

Once Magdalene had left
she felt soaked;
felt as open as a flower
after rain.

She stood up
and washed below;
rinsing away dried juices.

She sat down;
someone knocked
on the door.

I've nearly done,
she said,
pushing images
of Magdalene *****
from her head.
A girl in Eire in her bath night 1963
Next page