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Chapter 5: Jazz
The box is mine just mine and thatís the way itís going to stay. Treasure doesnít know about it, and thereís no way Iím going to break up her pretty-happy make-up world by showing her whatís inside. The people in Granís house know, but the things they reckon are in there I made up because I could tell from the way that they stood with their hands on their hips and their eyes open too wide that they are the kind of people who reckon the worldís a better place if everyone knows everyone elseís business. Well itís not.
Iím in this old guyís house. He lets me spend all night on the internet if I want. I did that a few times but I wonít do it again because all it did was make me feel like Iíd accidentally dunked a fried chicken drumstick into my brain. Itís bare hard to get to sleep with a chicken drumstick where it shouldnít be. The box helps, though. The box does help. I like to see the person that gran was before Treasure or me or even mum or her dead twin were alive, back in the sixties (or whenever; I had to guess, since thereís no date on any of the letters). Nice to see that youíre not stuck being one person the whole time youíre alive.
Iím sorry I never wrote a goodbye note. I picked up the pen but then I heard dad at the top of the stairs and I knew that if I didnít leave then, I never would.
It was quite scary though, at first. London was very big and noisy after the farm. I was very lucky though, because I was taken in by this woman named Jill. She saw me lugging my bags through the rain somewhere near Kingís Cross, and she offered for me to come into hers and have a cup of tea. We got on so well that the cup of tea lasted well over a month!
You would like Jillís house; itís even bigger than the manor. Do you remember that house in the Sunday paper that you cut out and pinned onto the board next to the larder? Well itís just like that Ė velvet tassels and the like. You should come down soon because Iím not sure how much longer Iíll be staying here for.
Another reason you should come down, is that Jill is dying to meet you. She knows practically everybody in London Ė including politicians and actors and other famous people Ė but when I told her all about you she said sheíd never heard of a more interesting and admirable young woman.
There are other reasons, too: there are buses here, so you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. You can walk along the river or hang around a train station or go to a teashop or any other sort of shop Ė there are so many! Ė or to the stalls in the east end where you can get a coat and a dress like the ones in the magazines for hardly any money at all! Iím a make-up girl in the Boots on Oxford Street, so Iíd paint you up for free. Then we could stroll about, arm in arm, and it would be exactly the scene we used to dream when we were little.
So please donít hate me for leaving you up there with dad. You could come down here, too, if you wanted. (He keeps his money in the bottom drawer of his desk in the study Ė I left half for you). Come here, and forget all about him. Come; be free; be free here, with me. For the first few days you wonít be able to sleep because youíll be scared heíll find you; then you realise that London is a very, very big city, and that youíre safe. I am safe, but Iíd rather be safe with you.
I love you but I couldnít stay in the house any longer on account of my dreams. I dreamt that me and Mary were playing hide and seek in the garden. I was the seeker and Mary was hiding. After a really long time, I found her behind the cowshed. I heard her squeal before I saw her. When I saw her it was very strange because she wasnít by herself; she was with you. She looked into my eyes. Her mouth opened as if she wanted to tell me something but then I woke up. I had this dream every night for a whole month. Every time I saw you, I had it again.
When I first got to London it was such a big change that I forgot all about the dream. But now that Iím settled in my own flat itís coming back; each time it comes it is clearer than the last, and sometimes, it hangs over me all day. So I was wondering whether youíd know what it meant.
Dear Mr Biggins,
I was woken up by a rag and bone man this morning and I thought of you. I thought of that time I was playing by the river and you got me to watch the dog whilst you and Mike lifted that car out of the river. You rolled it up onto the bank and the water gushed out all over you. I was so amazed that you had managed to move it at all, I didnít notice when the dog ran off.
After working out how much money youíd get for the metal, you noticed the dog was gone. I said that I didnít know where it had gone and Mike muttered, ĎIn-bred cretin.í You told Mike to shut up. Then you asked me if Iíd known you could make so much money out of scrap metal and I said, no. You sent Mike away to look for the dog and then you sat me on your knee and you told me that now that everyone wanted things new and shiny, there were more scraps than ever. You jiggled me up and down. You said that soon youíd have enough money to go to Spain and see a real bull fight. Youíd seen them on telly but you wanted to see with your own eyes how anyone could tame a beast that big with a handkerchief that small.
Mike came back with the dog and you let me follow the two of you back to the garage. You let me stay there watching you clean the car for the rest of that day. The radio was on and I danced in the shadows. I pretended I was on stage in London, which is funny because thatís exactly what I did the other day. (It wasnít a theatre stage, not exactly, but there were lights and beyond them there were faces that were looking at me.) When it started getting dark, Mike asked where the in-bred had gone. I crept further into the shadows. You said I must have slipped off earlier.
Ever heard what happened to the sister? said Mike.
Sister? You said. I thought it was the mother. Yes, it was definitely the mother who went to the loony bin.
Never, said Mike. She wasnít old enough. And I thought she ran off with the circus, not to a loony bin.
Strange family, you said.
You didnít say any more after that. You smiled at your car in the way that I smile when Iíve sewn something really pretty. I could tell you were about to leave, so I snuck out of the door and back home before you could see me and know that I knew what things had come out of your mouth.
I didnít have anything to give the rag and bone man; neither did anyone else on my street because it isnít the sort of street where people have things spare. But I almost ran out to thank him for letting me know those things which I donít really believe but that make my belly and my head feel a bit les like jelly when I think about Mary not being there anymore. I hope that a lot more people drive into the river so that you can go to Spain.
You know how you sometimes used to creep back to our house after you were gone? Well I was wondering whether you could creep all the way down here to London. Iím not friends with Jill anymore and it can get quite lonely.
Dear Mrs Scrump,
I honestly donít know how that lipstick got into my handbag. All I know is that I didnít put it there on purpose. Please let me come back to the store, oh please. I loved it there. I loved the lights and perfume-thick air. I loved giving some colour to all those sour women in mackintoshes. I loved listening to the other girls talking about the dance halls.
Iím not desperate or anything; Iíve got a new job. Iím a cabaret girl. This man heard me singing as I walked down the street and he asked if I wanted to perform at his restaurant. Itís very exclusive. All sorts of famous people go there, only I canít tell you exactly which ones because itís so smoky that I canít see the customerís faces as they stare up at me from the tables. This is just as well because Iíd start telling them what shade of blusher they should go for Ė and that would ruin the whole show!
I should be grateful because it pays the rent and there are plenty of girls who would kill to earn money for getting people to admire you. The thing is, however, that I just donít feel as at home up there on the stage as I did in the store, between the eyebrow pencils and the mascara. In the store, I changed people by moving my hands just so; now I am the one who must change. The restaurant owner tells me, ĎSomething Caribbean tonight.í Or, ĎA little less saucy than yesterday.í He stands so close that he spits on me, but I have to wait until he is gone to brush it off otherwise heíll be offended.
I do hope youíll let me have my job back.
There are other things in the box, too. There are black and white photos of a man with a walrus moustache and a girl and a baby. Theyíre all fatty boom-booms and look well vexed. One thing I remember from history is that in the olden days people had to pose for time if they wanted to get in a photo, so maybe thatís why. Or maybe itís because the house behind lets in too much cold and wind through itís big windows. Maybe thatís why Treasure was always telling stories about girls who could never get warm.
Thereís another photo of a metal thing in a field. I donít know what it is but it has sharp rusty teeth. Also, colour post card of Big Ben. A patch of fabric decorated with pink flowers. I reckon Gran found it somewhere and wanted to get it made into a dress but never did because there was no more of that material left anywhere else in the world. Or maybe there was but she couldnít afford it.
What there isnít, is anything about my granddad. I donít know anything about my dad either, so when that box spilled open the first time, I was really hoping. When I saw how upset that Caroline and her husband were by my story, I kind of expected it to be true. I didnít know where it had come from, but it felt true. Sometimes, I pretend it is. Like, when Iím bunking off school with my mates and theyíre talking about some girl they got off with, I think of my granddad going from place to place looking for work and everyone telling him to piss off.
That time when they got Carly down on the floor of the basket ball court and pushed me on top of her and pulled down my pants, I thought of the boat with the steam and the waves rocking it from underneath. I was walking back down the gang plank to this island where everything was green or red or yellow and there were all these people clapping and saying how glad they were that I came back. They were patting me on the back and giving me this golden food that I reckon was fried bananas and then I was in a hammock.
Whilst I was doing all that, my mates were pressing me up close against her and she was making noises. I didnít like her noises and I didnít like the feel of her skin against mine either. When they started hitting me round the head and flicking my dick and laughing because it wouldnít stand up, I tried to get further into the island but instead I was shivering. I pulled up my trousers and I ran away. They wonít let me go around with them anymore because they say Iím gay. Iím not though; I just havenít ever got close to a girl and felt like kissing her. They all liked climbing on top of Carly in the basket ball court but it made me feel sick; I donít know why.
I reckon dad really was from an island but from Sri Lanka, not the Caribbean. Before I went around with the lot that I donít go around with anymore, I went around with Prabu. All we did was play computer games and talk about them and draw pictures of them, but I felt kind of calm when I was with him. I liked the sound of his voice and the coconut smell that came off his hair.
Once, I went round to Prabuís after school. His mum made me this huge sour pancake with coconut sauce and some other sauce that was well spicy. I told her that I liked the fire it made in my belly and she smiled. Prabu let me run up and down the stairs with his brother and his cousins. Later, the adults called us back into the room where weíd eaten, only I thought it was different one at first because the tables and chairs had been replaced by giant sparkly cushions and musical instruments. They gave me a wooden thing with beads inside it to shake. Prabuís mum sang, his sisters danced, his brother played something that looked like a guitar and his cousins played something like a piano. His dad played the hand drums. I didnít know what the music was called or what language the song was in but I shook my thing and although the sound got lost in all the others I felt at home then, I did. I never felt that way before or since. I tried to sing the song to Gran but I couldnít remember it and even if I could, I donít think it would have sounded as good with me playing on my own. I wished I had stayed friends with Prabu instead of going around with that big group; then Gran might have had one night less coughing and one more night of peace. Anyway, thatís why I reckon that my granddad was from Sri Lanka.
Still, I guess at least I know where Gran came from. I know a bit more why she was always making things up and why Treasure does now. I know why mum went away and why I always end up with no one to go around with, and why itís so difficult to keep my mind and my body in the same place. I donít know whether the things she wrote were true or whether the people she wrote to were real, but I can imagine her living in that room. I can see her sitting in front of the window and writing those letters. When she has finished writing, she folds them up into the box and says sheíll send them later. Sometimes, I see her writing out copies and sending those. Other times, the box is all there is, but I donít mind; Iím just happy not to worry about how much she mustíve hurt after her insides were outside and in the sink. I donít have to worry about whether I shouldíve told someone about her insides being outside and whether if I had, sheíd still be alive.
I keep the box under my pillow and although it digs into the back of my head I donít mind. Itís actually a comforting dig because it reminds me of the way her nails dug into me when she picked out my nits that time. Then I remember that other thing she said about there being a place where everything that ever happened is still happening and will happen for ever and Iím asleep before I have time to decide whether or not itís true.