At six the cup of tea is set down.
How the cup of tea is set down.
Quietly, or with suppressed fury.
Jim looks at the face of his wife sleeping
and decides to be horrible.
The bathroom was cold.
He forgot to put on the fire.
He crosses to the window in a rage
and draws the curtains back.
How the curtains are drawn back.
Gently but firmly,
or practically ripped from their hooks?
Jim thinks her room is too hot
and throws the window up.
She wakes in a panic, sitting up in bed.
‘Where am I? What am I doing here?’
(She has on her scarf.)
‘It’s only me, dear. Time to go to work.
Me of course, not you.’
She makes her noise. ‘For God’s sake
come home with something interesting tonight.’
Jim crawls to his place of employment
and sinks down exhausted at his drill.
What can she possibly have meant?
She’s seen the rubber aprons and sheets,
protective floor coverings
and face-guards from Asbestos,
machine maintenance slack.
He’s taken her lubricated gloves,
heavy duty cooling agents from Cosmetics,
bone meal from catering.
What more could she desire?
An industrial caution perhaps?
A concrete overcoat? ‘Oh yes,
love needs funding,’ he reflects sadly.
After work Jim steals a disused
tarpaulin from Bulk Haulage,
a bottle of turps from Ancillary Staff,
a cast-iron alibi from Personnel.
He’s going to forgive his wife this time
if it’s the last thing he does.
He can hardly wait to get home.
How the table will look
laid with the soiled tarpaulin.
How the glasses will shine
brimming with tomorrow’s tears.
‘Oh yes, love needs funding, dear,’ he remarks,
imagining some in-home gratitude
on the stolen Axminster.
He’s out of luck. Mrs Jim
takes hold of the tarpaulin in her teeth
and runs out into the road.
How the turpentine drains into Jim’s old
factory work boots and socks.
How Jim reminds the alarm clock
of another working day.
Jim flips his wig
The first white hair was the first
screw coming loose. He took no notice.
He smoothed it down with his brush.
Now a whole gang of little pubic horrors
is springing from his skull at all angles,
putting up their hands in class
to ask Jim what they’re for.
Jim doesn’t know. He cuts them short.
He thinks he’d look more intelligent and smart
without any hair at all, so he pulls it out
in handfuls and throws it away.
As he turns to admire his handiwork in the hall,
comic book mainsprings and bells
burst from his head like an overwound
alarm clock, bringing the house down.
See how his long dark hair
conceals a curly fright-wig underneath.
What a great idea to come as Harpo Marx!
Jim sits in glory in his home-made chair,
one hand slightly raised, holding a ten pound note.
His face and moustache are smeared black.
His widow’s peak is visible under the brim
of a stetson. Bunched at his throat,
a dozen gaudy ties, the gift of petitioners.
On the walls of the reception area, a Marlboro ad,
naked women, a plaque thanking Jim
for a miracle. ‘If you visit, please make some
donation to my needs, or help with the cleaning.’
I hold his gloved hand in mine
and whisper how handsome he is looking.
He makes no reply. His eyes follow me round the room
as I light candles or scrape wax from the floor.
I tap ash from his cigarette and place it
in a polythene bag, for everything in the world
is Jim’s and has to be put away.
He turns a page of Playboy magazine.
His bottle of gin he keeps in the Air France
flight-bag slung on the arm of his chair.
When he feels like a drink I tip him back
and pour it down his throat. It won’t be long
before he is singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’
and quietly wetting himself.
‘What am I supposed to do, let myself
be covered with earth, seeds and moss? Leave behind
nothing but my jawbone and teeth, a little mound
with flowers on top and nothing underneath?
I’d rather stew in my own juice.’
I remove the plastic basin from his chair,
take off his nylon suit and haul him up
into the roof, where the talk goes on like that
far into the night. ‘What am I supposed to do?
Burn? Shriek? Turn into a brand? Blackness?’
The empty bottle goes in the filing cabinet.
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