State of paralysis
The girls with the larger vocabularies liked to call her 'unorthodox'
but everyone else in high school labelled her 'freak'.
Just because she wore her clothes differently (layered tops, black baggy
jeans with rips in the knees) and she wore thick-icing eyeliner and
Marilyn Monroe cherry-smooth lipstick, and she had anarchy badges on her bag.
Just because she drew black hearts in her margins and
carved initials onto the inside of her wrist and she knew the name of
every artery in the circulatory system and
she taught herself guitar on her fathers old acoustic.
She dropped out at sixteen. The teachers all tut-tutted as she walked out
on the last day, didn't say goodbye to anyone and didn't look back.
They said later in the coffee-stain staffroom that she could look pretty if she smiled once
in a while. But she never did.
At home, her mother cried a lot and her father provoked arguments.
She left home in the summer; no one noticed she had gone.
Earned her living on the London streets, wet afternoons in the Tate Modern or
the National Gallery, carrying her guitar case
and her damp, curled-page lyric book with white knuckles.
Amateur artist trying to Make It. Night-black hair and wonderfully romantic,
tasted of kerosene and peppermint. He rescued her and gave her a home,
listened to her guitar solos and made love to her.
They drank expensive French wine together and listened to obscure
alternative rock bands. He helped her dye her hair black and she
showed him what dreadlocks were. He held her hand when they walked through the park,
and didn't complain when she wanted to go on the swings.
She introduced him to books he hadn't read and framed all his pictures for him.
She wasn't eighteen yet so they crossed the border to Gretna Green.
No family was invited, and the witness was a stranger from the street.
She wore a charity-shop black dress with netted veil,
powdered her face white and wore cerise lip stick. He wore
a black suit with a white tie. She kissed his cheek and left a mark that he symbolically scrubbed clean.
They signed the paper that told them they were married, and honeymooned in Edinburgh.
Paragon artist, wrapped up her heart in little glass bottles he put on the mantelpiece and
speared with out-of-season market flowers. Said it'd make a great still-life.
Sometimes he went out all night and didn't say where he was going.
On these nights, she stayed up for him and this is how she knew what the sunrise looked like -
it was like when she squeezed oranges to make a fruit cocktail, and the acid
ran right down her arm. In the mornings, sometimes she was sick and she thought that
maybe staying up all night wasn't a good thing.
So she spent all day in bed and he yelled at her when he came back, words that cracked the glass
on his pictures. He sold his cracked-glass art to a gallery and they paid him hundreds of pounds,
he claimed and spent on whisky. Came home at four a.m. and fell asleep in the hall.
The phone rang while he slept, and the woman calling didn't leave her name.
But the message was enough.
So now she lies in her black wedding dress, thin and white and pinched and broken.
Caterpillar tubes feeding on her arms and the irregular alarm of still-here beeping beside her.
Home-abortion kit thrown up into cardboard trays, kidney shaped for hospital irony.
Amateur artist dripping paint pots down the gutters, confused and
no longer a father (not that he ever was). Mother and father by the bedside,
paroxysm in the waiting room and she wonders why they are even here.
She would try and explain, but her mouth tastes like sand and bleach;
at last a whisper leaves her lips, ready to justify everything that happened -
but the lights have been switched off and voices don't carry in the dark.